Having missed the first event last year, I welcomed the chance to shoot some of the Yorkshire Air Museum’s aircraft, including the Handley Page Halifax under the lights.

Based at the former RAF Elvington on the outskirts of York, the Yorkshire Air Museum is home to aircraft from the early days of flight through both World Wars and the cold war. RAF Elvington was a World War Two airfield used extensively by Allied bomber crews during the war and large parts of it including the control tower, hangers and airfield still in place.

The event kicked off with a briefing from Neil Cave from Timeline Events who were running the night and Grant Sparks the museums Operations Manager in the Naffi to the 70 or so attendees. There were to be 2 engines runs planned at 7 and 8pm for the museum’s stunning WWI Royal Aircraft Factory SE5A replica as well as an engine run from the Douglas Dakota IV in between. We also had the opportunity to shoot the museums other aircraft which were on display although these would not be officially lit. After this it was out into the fresh Yorkshire air for the first photo opportunity  with the Halifax.

The Handley Page 
Halifax proceeded the Avro Lancaster in to RAF service in November 1940 with 35 Squadron. Powered by Bristol Hercules engines as opposed to the Rolls Royce engines seen in the first and second versions of the plane. As well as a heavy bomber, the Halifax III and later versions also served in Coastal Command and in para-trooper and glider towing roles with the Airborne Forces. Halifax production totalled 6,178, with the bomber versions flying a total of 75,532 sorties in the Second World War.

Yorkshire was the home of 4 and 6 Groups Bomber Command and three Halifax Squadrons were based at Elvington, first 77 Squadron, then two French Air Force Squadrons, 346 (Guyenne) and 347 (Tunisie).

The Yorkshire Air Museum’s Halifax reconstruction is based on a section of the fuselage of Halifax II, HR792, which carried out an emergency landing on the Isle of Lewis in 1945. A crofter, Mr McKenzie, purchased the fuselage section for use as a hencoop. The wings came from Hastings, TG536, at RAF Catterick. The reconstruction is named “Friday the 13th” in honour of Halifax, LV907, which completed 128 operations with 158 Squadron, and is representative of all examples built.

The Halifax was pull out of its hanger and a series of cameo’s set up with the RAF re-enactors who posed as crew and engineers in the last of the evening light. Sadly there was to be no sunset and the sky was quite grey. As the natural light levels fell the lights were turned on and each scene was recreated 2 or 3 times to enable everyone to get the shots they wanted.

At 7pm it was time for the first engine run from the superb replica Royal Aircraft Factory SE.5a. The SE.5a was one of the outstanding fighters of the First World War. About 5,000 were produced, serving with twenty Royal Flying Corps (later Royal Air Force) squadrons over the Western Front. They also equipped the 25th and 148th Aero Squadrons of the US Air Service. Four squadrons flew the type on Home Defence duties.

Designed by H P Folland in 1916 and built at the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough, the SE.5a was a single-seat biplane ‘fighting scout’ powered by a Hispano-Suiza derived water-cooled V8 engine. It could climb to 10,000 feet in 11 minutes 20 seconds and it had a service ceiling of 20,000 feet. The 200hp Viper version had a maximum speed at sea level of 138 mph. Armament was a single fixed .303in Vickers machine-gun, firing through the propeller and/or one .303in Lewis gun with four 97 round ammunition drums mounted over the wing. Four 25 lb Cooper bombs could be carried under the fuselage.

The replica at the Yorkshire Air Museum is now restored to ground running condition and the pilot dressed in WWI style Royal Flying Corps trench coat, long gloves and flying helmet froze in various poses inspecting the aircraft before climbing in and firing her up.  We were then treated to the sounds of the water cooled V8 engine powering the wooden prop with plenty of opportunity to move around and grab different angles.

It was then just a 180 degree turn to shoot the Douglas Dakota IV which was sat nicely with the control tower in the background. After warming the oil up for several hours in advance she fired up each engine in turn to give us a near 10 minutes run before hastily shutting down as she started to spit flames out of the exhaust pipes. As the main light was turned back on the RAF SE.5a this left a nice under lit view of the Dakota with the Control Tower glowing in the back ground.

A second engine run and pilot cameos with the SE.5a around 8pm gave another opportunity to shoot this before I succumb to the lure of the Naffi where hot food was being served. I gave up the opportunity to shoot the De Havilland DH104 Devon which was lit with its navigation lights on and instead tried a bit of light painting of the Handley Page Victor. The K.2 tanker variant had the very eerie urban glow from the city of York behind it which gave a “nuclear glow” to the scene. It was fitting that the Victor was the last aircraft I shot as I’m hoping to return to the museum in October for the Cold War collection night shoot.

The event was well run and the inclusion of the several aircraft gave additional interest. I would like to have seen more opportunities to shoot the far side of the Halifax with the markings and also some vehicles to add some alternative foreground interest to the Halifax. Having said that it was a great night and I look forward to the next one in October.