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2013 Aviation Events : REVIEW

RAF Northolt Nightshoot XIV

‘Nightshoots’ have become very popular in the last few months, but their popularity really started with the RAF Northolt. On the 14th March, the station held its 14th Nightshoot organised by Phil Dawe and his team which included a superb line-up of rare military and civilian aircraft from the UK and Europe.

Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.

RAF Northolt’s Photocalls and Nightshoots have been the very best events of their kind for a number of years thanks to some excellent photographic opportunities, organisation and a range of rare and exciting aircraft that often haven’t appeared in public anywhere else.

Of course, as soon as something proves popular others will follow and that is certainly the case. While there have been some excellent events at Bruntingthorpe and the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, it hasn’t escaped the author’s notice that some other events and airshows are being tempted to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ perhaps without thinking things through.

Northolt’s Nightshoots are so popular and successful for a number of reasons. Firstly, the facilities at Northolt are well suited to hosting such events. The Nightshoots take place outside 32 Squadron’s impressive new complex of hangars which feature very high powered stadium style lighting columns that cast a brilliant white light onto the large concrete apron creating ideal conditions. This allows people to walk around the pan to get photos at their own will rather than following a small set of lighting which has to move from aircraft to aircraft with its power supply and limiting ‘personal space.’

Secondly, a great deal of thought clearly goes into inviting the various participants and parking them in a manner than offers the best angles for the photographers. Equally limiting the event to an appropriate number of photographers also helps. Too many can lead to problems and despite the increasing numbers at Northolt I’ve never actually seen or come across any problems that sometime occur at other events.

The way Northolt Nightshoots are run and what’s on offer means that I, like many others, are quite happy to pay the money (up to £30 when the surcharge was included this time) for the event. My biggest fear is that other events or venues including airshows will see Night-time photoshoots as an easy “add-on” supplement of income without doing the research into what’s required; the appropriate level of thought about set-up plus the added expenses of proper stewarding and adequate lighting equipment (including the right type and amount of generators – we have seen some promising events stumble and become frustrating after their generators simply couldn’t cope!)

For this latest edition, Phil Dawe had brought together some cracking aircraft from around Europe together. There were welcome return visits by a L’Armee De L’Air Dassault Alpha Jet E from Tours and the Irish Air Corps AgustaWestland AW139. As ever, there were a number of 32 Squadron aircraft available too including the AgustaWestland A109E Power and BAe 125 CC3. The squadron also had one its latest additions on show in the form of the BAe 146 C3 in the line-up. The C3s have been converted from TNT Airways BAe 146-200QC Quick-Change Passenger & Freight transport aircraft from use in Afghanistan. Two aircraft have entered service and have been conducting training and trials flights with their newly installed self-protection equipment before deployment.

Local participants included the Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit Eurocopter EC145 and the London Air Ambulance MD900 Explorer which was also washed while at Northolt!

An unusual participant for a Northolt photocall was a private warbird in the form of the Historic Aircraft Collection’s Hawker Hurricane XII flown into the event by Charlie Brown. On arrival Charlie gave some spirited passes for a number of Polish veterans attending an event in the Officer’s Mess before taking his place on the 32 Squadron Apron. Later in the evening Charlie performed the only ground run by any aircraft during the night too.

Joining the L’armee de l’air Alpha Jet was a very rare Eurocopter AS332M-1 Super Puma from EH.03.067 "Parisis" based at Villicoublay. The aircraft is based on the civilian stretched version of the Puma and is configured for VIP transport. While French Army Pumas are often seen in the UK, examples of the French Air Force are very rare visitors.

But the star of the line-up came from the Swedish Air Force Flight Test Centre in the form of the North American (Rockwell) Tp86 Sabreliner. This aircraft has been used in testing for the Gripen program and flies just 20 hours a year operationally. Sabreliners are true classic jets first appearing in 1959 and their name reflects the similarity of the aircrafts wing and tail to that of the F-86 Sabre. The aircraft has been used by the US Air Force, Navy and Marines as a trainer as the T-39 as well as a successful business jet. The Tp86 entered service in 1981 and has a very varied test career including GPS tests, missile detection and meteorological investigations. The aircraft was also used in the testing of the Carabas Radar which was designed to detect features below the ground service.

As ever it was an enjoyable event at Northolt despite somewhat cooler conditions that normal. Huge thanks must go to Phil Dawe and all at RAF Northolt that make these events happen.

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