Following on from the highs of their Cosford Nightshoot just the week before, it was the turn of the Senior Service to take the Threshold.aero limelight. Dubbed Navy Wings II, Jamie Ewan made his way to RNAS Yeovilton, the home of Navy Wings, in March 2018 for a night with some of their collection along with a couple of very welcome guests.
Home to the likes of the Fleet Air Arm’s Wildcat Force and the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF), RNAS Yeovilton is by far one of the busiest airfields within the United Kingdom – some 100 aeroplanes (both front-line and training) call the airfield home. That said it is the aeroplanes sitting in a hangar on one of the quieter parts of the airfield that catch the attention of most – types such as the might twin-boom Sea Vixen, the venerable Swordfish and the mighty Phantom.
Having held their first successful shoot involving all things Fleet Air Arm (FAA) back in October last year, the second edition was to follow the same format – arrive at the location, listen to the safety brief, play aeroplanes, drink tea talking about them and then head home. With that in mind, it was admirable to see the guys behind the event take on the feedback given after that first event – the aeroplanes being positioned slightly further back and additional lighting being used. To ensure this edition was not an exact copy of the first, the aeroplanes were turned to face the opposite direction – facing right instead of left.
With the majority of the Navy Wings conclave comprising the Royal Navy Historic Flight (RNHF) and the Fly Fly Navy Heritage Trust (FNHT), the night’s line-up comprised of the formers Sea Fury FB.11 and Swordfish I W5856 – the world’s oldest example – while the FNHT were on hand with their Sea Vixen FAW.2, known the world over as ‘Foxy Lady’. Joining them was another example of the Fleet Air Arms ‘big jet’ days, Phantom FG.1 XV586 adorned in its 892 Naval Air Squadron colours, which it wore when it was delivered to the very same base back in June 1969. Not to be outdone by their stablemates out on the ‘line’, the RNHF’s Chipmunk and Swordfish II could be found in the hangar – both currently undergoing maintenance work and appearing with their engines ‘out’. Sat further down the hangar was an example of a type synonymous with the FAA, the Sea Harrier FA.2 (among a gaggle of general aviation types) fitted out with Sidewinders, ADEN 30mm gun pods and an inert 1,000-pound bomb on the centreline hardpoint. With the planned appearance from one of the based Wildcats falling through due to operational commitments, it was down to a Merlin HC.3 of the CHF to add the nights ‘modern mil’ flavour – ZJ130/’O’ doing the honours as the first active British military participation at a Threshold event. However, of all the hardware on show it was an appearance by a type needing no introduction that made the event even more worthwhile, the mighty Sea King!
Operated by HeliOperations or HeliOps, the chopper – the one and only XV666, better known as ‘Damien’ – gained a new chapter having been one of two leased from the Ministry of Defence by the Portland-based company to train German Navy aircrews in the art of Search and Rescue (SAR). Arriving from Osprey Quays, it was clear to see how much pull the type still has with many people hanging about the approach in the hope of catching ‘666 arriving. Almost as if they knew, the crew hit the circuit for nearly 45 minutes before setting down – a delightful sight and sound.
Sadly, in the days leading up to the event it was announced that although having been planned from the start, the night itself would see no engine runs during the event – the decision coming from the top at Yeovilton. That said, the team did ensure that both the Sea King and Merlin were hooked up to a Ground Power Unit so the lights could be switched on. Although there was a laugh, up and down the line when the Sea King exercised his spotlights, blinding the crowd somewhat… someone didn’t get the memo on flash photography!
Despite losing the extra dynamic that engine runs create – though many waiting for the last bus did see ‘666 spin up for departure – the night was still hugely enjoyable with enough time to shoot everything from numerous angles during both the ‘blue hour’ and when the lights took over.
As mentioned in a previous review, the gents at Threshold had worked incredibly hard to secure a new date for the shoots following the Cosford shoot (have a look here – http://www.aeroresource.co.uk/events/raf-cosford-nightshoot) taking the original slot. Hard work that continues well before and after the event, everything from the positioning of the aeroplanes, not just dumping the lights down and leaving them, making adjustments and taking suggestions. De-tagging the aeroplanes is just one small thing which makes photographs of the aircraft look more dynamic and saw pretty much everyone came away with the shots they wanted. In fact, despite a cut of time of 2000 hours, many found themselves still clicking away as 2100 hours approached.
It is fair to say that Threshold.aero are setting a standard in the aviation world with their photo shoot events, Yeovilton saw some 150-odd attendees on an active base, shooting aviation assets past and present as the modern day FAA went about their business – Merlins and Wildcats coming and going throughout the night and all for £30.00!