During the cold and dark winter months outside of the airshow season many aviation photographers find themselves trying to explore different avenues to get their ‘fix’ with one such option being night shoots. These have become ever more popular with a number of organisations arranging events across the country but one of the most well-known has to be the night shoots ran at RAF Northolt in London. Adam Duffield reports for AeroResource.
Organised by Philip Dawe and his team, April 12th saw their first night shoot of 2012 and their twelfth time of running such an evening to raise money for the restoration of the World War 2 Battle of Britain Operations room. The early list of invited aircraft included a number of interesting items including possibly the most eagerly anticipated – the chance of a Polish Mi-24 Hind. Unfortunately the team were unable to secure this visitor but the final pre-event attendance list was still an impressive read with aircraft from Ireland, France and Belgium traveling to join the UK participants.
On arrival at the gates of RAF Northolt the forecast rain showers had still not materialised and the sun was managing to poke through the ominous looking clouds. After a quick briefing on how the event was to run we were led out onto the 32 squadron pan to reveal the aircraft that had arrived for the event.
It was soon clear that there were a few gaps in the anticipated line up with the Army Air Corp Gazelle, 22 Squadron Sea King and both Alpha Jets from the Belgian Air Force missing. Whilst a disappointment these things cannot be blamed on the organisers who can only do their best with what actually arrives on the day. The addition of both an AugustaWestland AW109 and, after returning from a flight, a BAE 146 from 32 Squadron certainly helped to fill the flight line and provide some additional subject matter for photography.
With sunset in mid-April being fairly late there was ample time to catch shots of all the aircraft in the fleeting sunlight as well as during the sunset. With darkness upon us, the first engine run of the evening took place with the French Air Force Eurocopter AS555 Fennec firing up. Due to its position, the line of gathered photographers had to be moved back for safety reasons whilst the Fennec lifted and re-positioned further back. Whilst not a major issue with the aircraft repositioning the photographer repositioning seemed to cause a funnel effect with a number at the front either unwilling or unable to move to let others in. With the engine run complete there was enough time to grab a few more static shots before repositioning for the second aircraft run.
The Irish Air Corps with their AugustaWestland AW139 were next up for an engine run. The aircraft, relatively new in service, is used in a range of roles including personnel transport and air ambulance duties and looked good under the floodlights in its dark green colour scheme. Positioned behind the line of photographers was a pair of air stairs enabling pictures from a different angle which certainly seemed popular with a steady queue of people patiently waiting for a space to appear at the top.
With the AW139 shut down the French Air Force pilots who had brought 2 Alpha Jets from Cazaux had been working on their aircrafts pose for the evening. Unlike with the rotary attendees there is little benefit of running the engines therefore a different approach was taken with one aircraft post-flight tagged and the other with open canopies and flight helmets positioned hanging from the sides.
The final engine run of the evening was the Eurocopter EC145 of the Metropolitan Police Force. After arriving in the dark earlier in the evening it provided something different from the military aircraft with its contrasting dark blue and bright yellow colour scheme and numerous camera and lighting additions. After a brief period of ground running it lifted, performed a few circles whilst in the hover and then departed back off for operational duties. For the massed photographers, the downdraft during the hover was certainly an experience although it's not clear how many will have managed to get any usable pictures whilst holding their camera gear down!
The end of the engine runs signifies a final chance at getting those final night shots of the aircraft with less people all in the same place as well as, within reason, allowing movement between the aircraft in order to get different angles. In particular, it allowed access to an unexpected visitor that had been sat quietly in the background all night – a Government use Fokker 70 from the Netherlands. This aircraft had arrived at Northolt a few days previously and whilst not part of the official night shoot, photographers were led out to be able to capture a few shots. After a final walk up and down the line of aircraft for the usual ‘just one more shot’ the time had come for a quick cheeseburger and chat before packing up and heading home.
With the ever increasing numbers of night shoots appearing the quality of Northolt’s seems to set the standard by which all others are judged. The lighting provided by the pan floodlights is brilliant and its white colouring means little white balance adjustment on pictures is required. The attendance line up is always interesting, and whilst last minute cancellations can’t be avoided even by the largest of airshows it is how the organisers deal with it that counts. Talking to a couple of the attendees it’s also clear that I’m not the only person with this opinion with people travelling in excess of 5 hours to get the chance at shooting the aircraft present. Phil and his team certainly know how to put on a good event for photographers and many must surely already looking forward to what he has planned for the next.