As the dark nights draw in and the airshow season becomes a distant memory all is not lost for the aviation photographer as RAF Northolt in North West London holds is bi annual RAF Northolt Night Shoot. After a unique evening shoot in June following the cancellation of the March event it was business as usual under the lights for the autumn event, organised as a fund raiser for the RAF Northolt Battle of Britain Ops Building restoration fund by Phil Dawes and his band of volunteers
With a small but high quality line up there were a few cancellations with the L-19E Bird Dog unable to make it due to poor weather enroute during the day and the Heli-Operations Sea King HU.5 also unable to attend due to operational commitments. This left eight airframes for the assembled photographers to enjoy including a couple of nice surprises on the night. All six of the prop or rotary aircraft provided engines runs creating a very frantic hour as photographers hastily made their way from one aircraft to the next with barely a gap in between the runs.
Running first was the Tucano T1 from 72 Squadron. Unfortunately the Centenary special scheme painted in the colours of a World War II Spitfire as operated by 72 Squadron during the Battle of Britain went unservicable and so a standard scheme (ZF377) was provided.
First of the two surprise visitors was the Westland Lynx AH9, ZG885. Complete with a 50 cal. gun, which the crew were very keen to move around. This is one of the last of its type that is due to be retired very soon, so this was a great opportunity to see it under the lights before its finally gone.
The second surprise, arriving as the photographers were gathering in the car park was the Apache AH1 (Z225). Initially parked frustratingly at the back making getting a focus lock on the dark paint scheme very difficult, it departed just after Lynx engine run, thankfully taxiing close to the crowd line before departing allowing some great shots of this menacing looking aircraft under the lights.
The French Armée de l’air are great supporters of the Northolt Night Shoot and this time provided a special scheme Alpha Jet and two Embraer EMB 121 Xingu’s. Alpha Jet (705-ND) from the Ecole de l’Aviation de Chasse (EAC 00.314), Base Aérienne 705 Tours-St.Symphorien features a twin special anniversary tail scheme. The jet which was also on static display at RIAT features a dedication to squadron SPA 85 “The madness” who are celebrating their centenary year alongside portraits of legendary pilot Eugene Bullard, the boxing and fighter pilot legend of the Lafayette squadron on one side. On the other side facing the crowdline is a dedication to renowed and talented pilot Maxime Lenoir, who was amongst the first pilots to perform a “loop the loop” in 1913 in his Blériot XI before going on to be fighter ace in WWI. A very fitting scheme for the reformed Alpha Solo display jet.
The two Embraer EMB 121 Xingu’s were provided by the Ecole de l’Aviation de Transport 00.319, who also brought along a tableful of merchandise to keep the collectors happy. First to run was the blue\grey Air Force scheme (ZF/090) followed by the white\grey version from the Naval Air Arm (YE/078). Produced by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, Embraer, the French armed forces are the major export client of this twin turbo prop utility aircraft.
A very rare visitor and providing the seventh and final engine run was the Belgian State Police Air Support Unit’s MD520. Featuring an exclusive NOTAR® (no tail rotor) system which makes it much safer for the crews and noticeably quieter although of course one less rotor to catch the movement of in our photos.
The final airframe on the line was Hawk T2 ZK027 from 4 Squadron. Positioned at the east end of the pan and not catching very much light it was a difficult subject to capture and would have benefited from some additional lighting if at all possible.
With the engine runs out of the way just in time before the rain started, the line of photographers very quickly thinned out although it kept fairly light so it provided a different look to the photos, particularly those from the double elevated stairs that were provided in front of the Tucano. With a very high number of engine runs, RAF Northolt Night Shoot XXIII was a great event with some rare and unlikely to be repeated airframes. The event raised £4,700 towards the ongoing restoration of the Northolt Battle of Britain Ops room.