For the ninth gathering of night shoot aviation photographers held at RAF Northolt, situated to the west of London in Middlesex, there was a slight change to the usual format for the event. It was to last over three hours, instead of the usual two, so that it could include an evening, sunset as well as the usual night photo shoot. With a finish time of 10.30pm, I had booked a room in the Days Inn Hotel, which is right next to South Ruislip tube station, so I could stay to the end rather than having to leave early to make train connections for the trip home to Cambridgeshire. Not sure what Phil Dawe, the organiser of the night shoots, is doing but his sacrifices to the weather gods seem to be working. Apparently there had been terrific rain and thunderstorms in the area that afternoon which had even disrupted traffic at nearby Heathrow Airport. It was raining when I arrived to book in to the hotel but by the time I made the short walk to the White House Gate Entrance to RAF Northolt, it had stopped, the clouds were parting and the sun was shining.
After the usual meet and greet and check in at the Main Gate, it was the short drive around to No 32 Squadron car park for the final briefing of what you can and can’t do airside. Not long after we were let loose to fill up our memory cards. Flying had ceased for the evening at RAF Northolt and with the sun setting in a clear sky, Phil went off to seek permission for access to the pan. There was then an opportunity to photograph in the late evening sunshine, the visiting aircraft with the sun behind us.
At the far end of the line up was a Squirrel HT1, based at the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury. Although it was displaying a civilian registration of G-DOIT, the military serial is ZK199. Next was a French Armee De L’Air Alpha Jet E fromTours AFB and although from the French Air Force, it was being flown by a Belgian exchange officer. The Belgians were out in force for the nigh as the Belgian Air Component had flown over an Agusta A109B helicopter. They were going to bring over a medevac version but that went unserviceable. The star of the night had to be from the Polish Naval Aviation Brigade in the shape of the twin engined M-28B-1R Bryza. It had been due to arrive during the afternoon but had to sit it out at Nordholz until the rain storms had passed through and had flown in as we were waiting at the main gate. The only non-arrival for the evening had been the Sea King HAR.3 from RAF Valley. The weather on-route was proving a bit of a problem and with the possibility of volcanic ash from the Icelandic volcano, that was erupting at the time, making it to RAF Valley before the helicopters return the trip had been cancelled. A pair of 32 Sqn 125s had touched down just before we arrived along with a BAe146 and were available for the shoot, although they were parked on the civilian arrivals pan tail on to wards us. The hangar doors were also opened so we could photograph the local A109’s.
Having been ushered back to our usual location for a night shoot, in front of the hangars, there was a bit of a wait for the sun to finally set and nigh shooting proper to take place. Cloud had rolled in on the horizon, obscuring the sun set, but it did make for some very nice red coloured cloud effects. Advantage was also taken of a pair of air stairs that had been positioned together for an elevated platform in front of the Belgian A.109.
Dusk was turning to darkness and the visiting air crews were returning to their respective aircraft for some extra photo opportunities. It stated with the Belgian pilot of the French Alpha Jet. He switched on the electrics, opened the canopies and lit up the lights of his aircraft. He put on his G-suit and sat in the front seat with his helmet on and then stood by the side of the Alpha jet so we could get some photos of him in full kit. The Polish crew in the Bryza then wound their twin engines and after that the Belgians had the rotor on the A109 turning. With engines running, there is plenty time to move positions to photograph the aircraft from different angles. As the A.109 rotor was winding down the nigh shoot was coming to a quick end as we had slightly over run the 10.30 finish time. Airside was being quickly cleared of photographers so the SERCO ground crews could put the aircraft to bed.
Many thanks as always to the Station Commander Group Captain Tim O’Brien for his permission to hold the event and especially Phil, Lee and the rest of the volunteers at Northolt and the Service personnel in attendance and the SERCO team for a very enjoyable evening but especially the visiting air crews from the continent for winding up their respective aircraft and the Belgian pilot of the French Alpha Jet for a bit of posing in his flight kit inside and outside of his aircraft. ‘Mr June’ he called himself as I showed him one of the photos on the back of my camera.
Night Shoot X has already been approved for sometime in October and will possibly have a Search and Rescue theme.
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