If a certain Danish brewery did Night Photoshoots …….
Night photoshoots have become all the rage in recent years and now pop up all over the place. However the trend was started at RAF Northolt in West London several years ago. Northolt’s biannual events have become very popular and are now firmly established on the aviation calendar. Chris Wood reports from the latest nightshoot, with additional photography by John Higgins and Neil Dunridge.
The Northolt Night Photoshoots are arranged by Phil Dawe and his small team of helpers. They don’t take place however without the co-operation and support of RAF Northolt, which is an operational airfield catering to a large number of executive jets, including some carrying VIPs. This presents a number of challenges when trying to arrange for hordes of photographers to enter the airfield whilst it is active.
All the monies raised go towards the restoration of Northolt’s Battle of Britain Operations Room, known as Building 27, work which is predominantly carried out by Phil himself.
Building 27 was the ‘Z’ Sector Operations Block, constructed in the inter-war period and being completed in 1928. It was the prototype Second World War Station Sector Operations Room, designed by Air Marshall Hugh Dowding in the mid 1930s as part of the development of Fighter Command and the ‘Dowding System’: a method of communication to allow the various elements of the command chain to communicate efficiently and effectively in the understanding and intercept of enemy aircraft; the first such system in the world. Building 27 functioned as the Sector Operations Block until mid September 1940 when the functions were dispersed off-station for safety, to a temporary operations room near Ruislip Gardens Underground Station. From this time onwards, Building 27 functioned as both a training facility and as the Night Intercept Room, prototyping a methodology for night fighter direction.
The latest event, Night Photoshoot No. XXI (21!) was by far the best, definitely a coming of age! Normally Phil has a wish list of aircraft that he hopes will attend. Regular attendees are used to discovering that the various exotic aircraft that Phil was attempting to entice along to grace Northolt’s concrete, under the lights, have sadly not turned up for some reason or another. Not this time! Every aircraft he’d invited showed up, and boy what a line up! A dozen aircraft were lined up on the apron, with not one, not two, not three but no less than five RAF aircraft in special markings making an appearance.
As well as the UK, there were aircraft from Ireland, France and Poland, all countries that have been strong supporters of the Photoshoots over the years. The French Army brought a pair of SA342M Gazelles, one of which was in tiger markings left over from this year’s NATO Tiger Meet at Zaragoza in Spain. They were operated by 3 RHC (3 Régiment d’Hélicoptères de Combat) based at Etain/Rouvres in north eastern France.
However, much more unusual was a Pilatus PC-6/B2-H2 Turbo Porter, one of only five operated by the French Army’s ETCM (Escadrille de Transport et de Convoyage de Matérial), based at Montauban in the south of France.
The Irish Air Corps provided one of their CASA CN235Ms from 101 Squadron at Baldonnel.
The Poles brought its bigger brother, the C295M from 13 Eskadra Lotnicza (13 EL) at Krakow.
They also brought a pair of PZL-130TC-II Turbo Orliks from 42 Baza Lotnictwa Szkolnego (42 BLSz) at Radom. The Polish Air Force has a strong connection with Northolt, as their squadrons operated from the airfield during the Second World War, notably during the Battle of Britain, and there is a Polish War Memorial just outside the airfield.
The home team were out in force. A large number of RAF squadrons have recently celebrated their 100th anniversaries, resulting in a number of aircraft being painted in special anniversary schemes. Four of these aircraft made it to Northolt: 32 (The Royal) Squadron’s BAe146 CC2 with anniversary markings was present. Visiting was one of a pair of 45 (Reserve) Squadron King Air 200GTs that carry special markings.
Also visiting was 47 Squadron’s anniversary Hercules C5.
Additionally 27 Squadron’s anniversary Chinook HC4, known as ‘Nellie’, dropped in for a ‘gas and go’.
Another highlight was the desert pink Operation Granby Tornado GR4, affectionately known as ‘Pinky’, which was painted to honour the types 25 years of operational service since the liberation of Kuwait in 1991.
Rounding off the RAF’s contribution, 100 Squadron sent one of their Hawk T1s.
Finally a Puma HC2 from Benson also dropped in for a ‘gas and go’. This aircraft was one of a small number bought from the South African Air Force, and was the last Puma delivered to the RAF.
As usual a number of the aircraft were started up by their crews to provide some more dynamic shots for the photographers. First off was the Hercules.
This was followed by both of the Orliks.
Then it was the King Air’s turn and finally the French, with the tiger Gazelle followed by the Turbo Porter as the finale.
In between the runs, the two Support Helicopter Force aircraft, the Chinook and Puma, departed having sat rotors running for a few minutes. Also heading home was the Irish CASA 235.
Phil and his team are to be congratulated on putting together such a strong line up, and thanks must also be given to the staff at Northolt, the Station Commander Group Captain Dave Manning and all of his team, for allowing the event to take place and helping out on the night. Thanks must also be given to the crews who were willing to hang around and start up their aircraft. In terms of number and quality of participants, Phil will be hard pushed to top this one, if only because the ramp appeared to be full, but he will undoubtedly rise to the challenge. Northolt Night Photoshoot XXII is provisionally planned for March 23rd 2017.