This autumn’s night photoshoot season has been a busy one. After a three and a half year year hiatus as a result of runway resurfacing and the Covid 19 pandemic, October saw the welcome return of the Northolt night photoshoot. Chris Wood was there and reports for GAR.
The Northolt night photoshoots have became a staple of the aviation events calendar, and uniquely offer a chance to capture images of active military aircraft on an active military airfield. The man behind the scenes working the magic is Phil Dawe, who has two super powers: the ability to entice interesting aircraft to Northolt at the appropriate time, and the ability to control the weather (or at least it seems that way!) He’s not working alone, though. He has a small team of helpers and, of course, none of it would be possible without the consent and assistance of the personnel at RAF Northolt.
When he’s not organising photoshoots Phil spends his time restoring Building 27, now known as The Sir Keith Park Operations Building. The Operations Room was used by Hugh Dowding between 1936 and 1940 to develop what became known as the Dowding System, which is considered to be the birth of the Integrated Air Defence System. The Ops Room is being restored back to how it was in June 1940, and all the money raised by the night photoshoots goes towards this restoration.
The latest photoshoot took place on the evening of 13th October 2022, and was blessed with benign weather. The subject matter comprised a Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CC-130J Super Hercules, a Royal Air Force Airbus A400M Atlas, an Irish Air Corps PC-12NG Spectre, an Army Air Corps Gazelle AH1, Historic Helicopters’ Westland Whirlwind HAR10, Hurricane Heritage’s Hawker Hurricane Mk I and an AgustaWestland AW109SP, on loan from Sloane Helicopters to 32 Squadron whilst theirs was on maintenance. Unfortunately, a hoped for French Army Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter cancelled as it was unserviceable and, tantalisingly, a 658 Squadron Army Air Corps Dauphin arrived whilst the assembled photographers were being checked in, but sadly this didn’t stay for the photoshoot!
Once checked in and following a safety briefing, the photographers were allowed out on to the apron. Part way through the evening the military aircraft started up, paused for more photographs and then taxied to the runway. First to leave was the PC-12, followed by the C-130, then the A400M and finally the Gazelle. Meanwhile the Hurricane and the Whirlwind took the opportunity to run their engines.
Phil is to be commended for pulling the proverbial rabbit out of the hat and conjuring up an interesting mix of aircraft, mostly not seen before under the lights at Northolt. The next night photoshoot is planned for 16th March 2023, and there is now a dedicated website so keep an eye on it here for details.