RAF Northolt Night Photo Shoot  XIII ~ 18th October 2012

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The only thing missing from the arrival of the Army Air Corps was the 'Ride of the Valkyries' blasting out from some speakers.  With a bit of a lul in the action, 63(QCS) RAF Regiment arrived with one of their Panther and Ridgeback armoured vehicles with a WWII Jeep for display. In the night sky we could hear a deeper wop, wop, wop approaching. A special forces Chinook touched down and taxied into a parking spot, was static for a couple of minutes and then disappeared into the darkness again. Meanwhile the Met Police had arrived in their EC145.

Thirteen may be an unlucky number to a lot of people, but to the photographers that turned out for the 13th RAF Northolt Nigh Photo Shoot, the number was anything but unlucky because of the variety of helicopters that were on the ground and appeared out of the darkness that evening. The static line up did look a bit spartan on arrival with a Sea King and two A109's parked on the 32Sqn dispersal but there was a promise of more to come. Subject to engineering and tasking requirements of course.

Advantage was taken to catch and photograph the little bit of setting sun reflecting off the helicopters. There does come a point just after the sun has disappeared below the horizon when there is not enough natural light to illuminate an aircraft but it isn't quite dark enough yet for the artificial lighting to have an effect. Usually at this point small groups form to socialise and catch up on gossip until the lighting conditions improve.

Having spent slightly longer on the ground than the Bell 212, the Army Air Corps Lynx and Gazelle headed into the darkness followed not long after by the Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit crew and their helicopter as they headed home to their base at Lippits Hill. Following an excellent evenings night shooting it was time for a cheeseburger and hot drink in the coffee shop in the VIP terminal.


A very big thanks to Phil, Lee, RAF Northolt Station Commander, Flight Ops, SERCO and everyone else at Northolt who help make this event possible.


Equipment Used

Sony Alpha SLT-A57 camera with a Sony 16-105mm f3.5-5.6 lens.

Non rotors turning taken using a tripod and long exposures, with rotors turning using the in-camera 'Hand Held Twilight' mode.

The Bell 212 was first to leave, after about an hour on the ground, on what ever night flying task it was involved in and this time we were braced for the downdraught. It was then a steady walk to the top end of the dispersal as the Belgian A109 crew were preping their helicopter for rotors turning.  We were hoping it was going to hover but the wheels stayed firmly planted on the concrete during the ground running. Before the A109 had finished rotors spining, the Lynx and Gazelle powered up so we all moved down the line.

Darkness had fallen and the orange glow of the west London street lights lit up the sky. From behind us we could hear the distant sound of wop, wop, wop growing louder as it got closer. From our left and out of the darkness, three sets of aircraft lights could be seen following the line of the runway but only one helicopter could be heard. All three hovered and then the Lynx was directed to its parking spot followed by the Gazelle and finally the deafening sound of wop, wop, wop from the Bell 212 and the terrific downdraught that nearly sent photographers and tripods flying.