UK Aviation Events

APR 30 2012
Aviation Events >> RAF Northolt Night Photoshoot XI

Thursday 12th April was the date set for the first Northolt Night Photoshoot event of 2012, so me and my usual partner in crime, Swanny (Barry Swann), decided we would make a day of it, seeing as we would be travelling down from Manchester. So, an early start beckoned to catch some departure shots from the Esso garage at Heathrow, before moving across London to RAF Northolt for the evening's shenanigans.

The weather had been very changeable for most of the day, whilst at Heathrow. Indeed, our journey across London was hampered by heavier than usual traffic, not helped by the torrential downpours just as we were leaving. Phil Dawe, the organiser, does seem to have the weather gods on his side for these events though, and the high winds and rain we had experienced at Heathrow subsided, and we were left with near perfect, calm and dry conditions for night photography, if a little on the cool side.

We arrived bang on time at Northolt, being processed and parked up within ten minutes, although the news upon arrival wasn’t what we really wanted to hear. The pair of Belgian Air Force Alpha Jets had cancelled, and the Army Air Corps Gazelle AH.1 was looking very doubtful, having been re-tasked earlier in the day. This was a real shame as these were the items we were looking forward to shooting the most. There was however, one unexpected bonus, in the shape of the Dutch Royal Flight's Fokker 70, which was night stopping.

In these current austere times, we have become accustomed to things cancelling at various airshows and photoshoots; let’s be honest, we are quite lucky that opportunities like this are even possible in the modern age of military cutbacks.

The night photoshoots have increased in popularity ever since the first one was held back in January 2009. Me and Swanny were amongst the fifty or so people that attended that first event. Today’s night shoots attract around three times as many people, and nowhere else in the country can match the lighting and location that Northolt affords us photographers.

The modern daylight lamps make night shooting a much easier undertaking than at most other airfields in the country and it’s fair to say that these events are as much about the social side of the hobby as anything else, with the same old faces attending most of them. It’s always good to catch up with friends from the hobby who you haven’t seen for a while, whilst waiting to be allowed out on to the ramp to go and shoot some aircraft.

Once airside, it was apparent that things were much more spread out than normal, this was partly due to building work going on, on the ramp. Also, the Metropolitan Police ASU EC145 was much further down the ramp than anything I had seen at previous events, due to the fact it had to depart during the event. One of the large gaps in the line would soon be filled however, by the dusk arrival of one of the home team, a 32(TR) Squadron, BAe 146 CC2.

Sadly, another one of the gaps, left for the 22 Squadron Sea King HAR.3, would not be filled, as the aircraft was unserviceable at RAF Wattisham. Alas, through no fault of Phil’s, we were four aircraft down from the nine expected for the event.

So what did turn up? Well, as mentioned earlier, the Metropolitan Police ASU again brought one of its Eurocopter EC145s in from Lippitts Hill; it was on the deck when we arrived and departed during the event, hovering and pirouetting for the photographers on departure.

The star of the show for many was the Irish Air Corps' AgustaWestland AW139 from 301 Squadron at Baldonnel, although one had previously attended the Northolt Families Day in June 2009, this was a first for most of the night shoot regulars. As with previous photocalls, a pair of air stairs had been placed out on the line, allowing elevated shots of this cab, which I personally took full advantage of when the crew ran her up for the assembled photographers.

A pair of Armée de l’Air Alpha Jet Es, from ETO 01.008 ‘Saintonge’ based at Cazaux also made it in, one displayed with covers and “remove before flight” tags, whilst the other jet was clean, with canopies raised, and pilots' helmets hung in place, so you could vary your shots of each jet.

The Armée de l’Air was out in force - it had also brought a Eurocopter AS.555AN Fennec along to Northolt once again, this example being from EH 03.067 ‘Parisis’ based at Villacoublay, which was run up and hovered for the photographers.

The home team, 32(TR) Squadron, once again provided a couple of items in the line. The first was one of its Agusta A109Es, commonly involved in these events. In addition, and a first for me, was a BAe 146 CC2.

As usual due to tasking, these aircraft very rarely make it out on the line for the photo shoots. The previous events when this had occurred, I had been unable to attend, so this was a most welcome addition for me personally.

The surprise of the evening was the immaculate Dutch Royal Flight Fokker 70, that was night stopping at Northolt, and had been parked on the ramp to allow us to take shots. Towards the end of the event, the assembled photographers were permitted to walk out onto the ramp to allow much better images to be had.

A pretty rare opportunity to get up close and personal with this particular aircraft, and a great way to end yet another superb night photoshoot at RAF Northolt.

As with previous events, there were a few no-shows for various reasons, which is always a shame, but Phil consistently makes admirable attempts to get some very rare items involved, which may or may not pan out.

Most importantly however, more money was raised for the restoration of Building 27, the main reason these events occur. So it’s a win-win situation for all parties concerned, long may it continue, and so, until the next one………

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