UK Aviation Events

MAY 17 2012
Aviation Events >> RAF Northolt Night Photoshoot XII

Nightshoot XII came about as the culmination of Phil Dawe and his team springing into action quickly after Nightshoot XI, with the event taking place just four weeks afterwards in order to take advantage of the Typhoon deployment to RAF Northolt for Exercise Olympic Guardian.

Despite it being a close call as to whether I would make it down in time after work, I decided I would make the effort and head down for this significant evening – having to endure the Circle Line at rush hour would be worth it, I told myself. On the tube I looked around the packed carriage and wondered how many of the commuters in the city knew that the Typhoons would be protecting them this summer. Thankfully everything was running smoothly and I made it bang on time. After the security checks and being signed in a fantastic sight greeted us as we walked out onto the ramp.

Making the type’s debut at the event were three Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s, two from 11 Squadron and single machine from 3(F)Sqn, all from RAF Coningsby. With this being the first time RAF fighters had been based at Northolt since the 1940s I was relishing the opportunity to capture this unique occasion on camera.. The fast jet element was joined by two 32(TR) Sqn Augusta A109Es and a lone BAe 125; the Met Police Eurocopter EC145 also popped in to provide the only runner of the night.

A good variety of angles were available to the photographers in attendance with the Typhoons, with two angled left and right as well as one side on. Both A109s were also in different positions and as usual some airstairs were also present to allow for some elevated shots, especially of the 3(F) Sqn special.

The undoubted star of the night was the 3(F) Sqn 100th anniversary schemed Typhoon FGR.4, ZJ936, which looked very smart under the floodlights. It’s been very smartly done, including the Squadron motto ‘The third shall be first’ and ‘Larkhill 1912’, that being where the Squadron was first formed. One of the other Typhoons, ZJ933, was adorned with mission marks from Operation ELLAMY over Libya in 2011.

I was surprised to find that the ground crews were incredibly helpful in assisting the photographers, rolling up some of the ‘remove before flight’ tags so they were less obvious, changing the position of the canards and, as it got darker, switching the lights on and opening the canopy on one of the jets. It would have been perfectly understandable had they not wanted to do any of that, although they are there for our enjoyment and photography, they are still frontline RAF fighters. Their efforts were well appreciated.

It was great to be able to come down and see the aircraft that had been making regular appearances in the sky above my home just north of the M25, not only nice from my aviation enthusiast's point of view, but quite reassuring in a more general sense, given the role they were, and will be, performing around the capital. I rarely get military aircraft overhead.

The Typhoons obviously had a big effect as the event saw its highest numbers yet, with 229 booked in just before the gates opened. The numbers did make it tricky at times, particularly when the intake cover was removed from the 3(F) Sqn special and photographers were not allowed beyond a certain point – leaving 200 odd photographers to cycle through a small area to get the shot.

With it being May we would have had a sunset shoot which the cloud put heed to, though luckily it stayed fairly dry for the most part, the rain only beginning to fall for the last hour or so. Many a shot of mine was ruined by rain on the lens – lesson learnt, I’ll definitely remember my lens hoods next time!

With high attendance there were bound to be more familiar faces, and some good laughs were had catching up for a few hours. I got to see fellow GAR team members Chris Wood and John Higgins again, but somehow managed to miss Kevin Wills for the second week in a row!

As is to be expected with modern military aircraft there were some cancellations, including the Army Air Corps Gazelle AH.1 and 22 Sqn RAF Sea King HAR.3 – but these didn’t detract from the overall shoot I thought.

It really was a privilege to get Typhoons under the lights, even for a warbird fanatic like me - it’s certainly not an opportunity that arises very often and I was glad I took the trek down there after work. A big milestone for Phil and the team!

I couldn’t help reflecting on the fact that the return of modern day frontline RAF fighters to RAF Northolt has helped to raise money towards the restoration of the Battle of Britain Operations Room, from which the Typhoon’s 1940's counterparts, Hurricanes and Spitfires, would have been directed to intercept Luftwaffe attacks.

Whilst I still have a keen interest in modern military aviation I can’t wait for the day the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight participates in one of the nightshoots, it nearly happened this time with one of their Spitfires, but the weather had other ideas!

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