As autumn heads in to winter and the days get shorter, the night photoshoot season gets underway. A number of venues are well established on the night photoshoot calendar in the UK, but a new venue for this season is RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Chris Wood got his tripod out again and reports for GAR.
RAF Brize Norton is home to the RAF’s fleet of large transport aircraft, and the aim of the photoshoot was to provide examples of the various aircraft types based at Brize, under the lights, for the visiting photographers. The other aim of the photoshoot was to raise money for the Jon Egging Trust, set up in memory of Red Arrows pilot Jon Egging. Around 200 photographers made the journey to Brize and between them raised over £5,000 for the Trust.
An example of each aircraft operated by the Brize squadrons was lined up on the 99 Squadron apron, plus a couple of extra aircraft. It had been hoped to get an example of each type wearing special markings, and this was 67% successful as unfortunately the 100th anniversary 70 Squadron Atlas C1 was tucked away in a hangar.
Some thought had obviously been given to the layout. The barriers were set well back, and the aircraft parked in positions that allowed a variety of angles for photography. Portable lighting units had been provided, some of which were adjustable, and they were used in preference to the fixed, orange sodium floodlights, which were switched off. To give some elevated views, two pairs of steps had been positioned together.
First in line was one of 99 Squadron’s Boeing C-17A Globemaster IIIs, with 100th anniversary markings.
The squadron was reformed in November 2000 to operate the C-17, and the first of the initial four aircraft was delivered in May 2001. These aircraft were leased initially, until 2008 when they were purchased and additional aircraft ordered. The C-17 fleet currently totals eight aircraft.
Next to the C-17 was an Airbus Voyager KC2, a military version of the Airbus A330-200. This particular aircraft was the last of 14 ordered for the RAF, under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract with AirTanker. Of these, nine aircraft are considered to be the core fleet, with five extra ‘surge’ aircraft, available to the RAF when required. However one of the ‘surge’ aircraft is currently on a three year lease to Thomas Cook. The Voyagers are operated by 10 and 101 Squadrons, both previously operators of the VC-10, and AirTanker. The aircraft are a mix of KC2s with two underwing refuelling pods, and KC3s which have an additional centreline hose for refuelling large aircraft.
Next was an example of the RAF’s newest tactical transport, the Airbus A400M. Known by the RAF as the Atlas C1, 11 of the 22 aircraft on order have so far been delivered to 70 Squadron. The example on show was the first one to be delivered, arriving at Brize in November 2014.
Completing this line up was a Lockheed C-130J Hercules C5, wearing 47 Squadron 100th anniversary markings. The RAF purchased 25 C-130Js; 15 of the stretched C4 version, and 10 C5s, and they are operated by 30 and 47 Squadrons, with training provided by 24 Squadron.
Joining the based aircraft were a couple of civilian aircraft, in the shape of a De Havilland Chipmunk from the Henlow Chipmunk Group and a Shorts Skyvan operated by Summit Air, from Yellowknife in Canada.
This Chipmunk’s claim to fame is that it was the aircraft used by HRH The Prince Of Wales when he learnt to fly, and he achieved his first solo flight in it at Bassingbourn in January 1969. After being demobbed, it spent time with the Senior Service, being bought by the RNAS Culdrose Gliding Club (hence its registration G-BCGC) in 1974. It retired from Naval service in 1996, and returned to the RAF in 2001 when it joined the Henlow Chipmunk Group. It is painted in the scheme it wore during its Royal days and still features the red warning lamp, apparently known as the ‘Parrot’, from that time.
The Skyvan is one of a pair that are currently operating from Brize Norton for parachute training.
All the propeller driven aircraft were started up and run for a period of time; ample time for the photographers to move around and get different shots from different angles. The Chipmunk was first, and with its ‘Parrot’ light and a few flames from the exhaust, looked quite impressive (for a Chipmunk!)
Next was the Atlas, which didn’t produce any flames but did run for quite a while.
Once it had shutdown it was the turn of the Skyvan. This started up and after a very short period of time moved off to its parking area on the other side of the airfield, so you had to be quick to get a shot of it!
The good thing about this was that, as it had been parked in front of the Hercules, it now left the Herc in clear view for its run which, this time, involved all four engines (unlike its appearance at the recent Northolt night photoshoot!)
The nightshoot concept has it’s supporters and detractors, however this was a great chance for a relatively small number of aviation enthusiasts to gain access to an operational RAF station for some unique photographic opportunities. Whether the event develops into a recurring theme remains to be seen, however all the Brize personnel who gave up their Saturday evening to make the event happen are to be thanked for their efforts in putting on an excellent event.