In the last 12 months or so, more and more nightshoots have started appearing all over the country ranging from small quiet civilian affairs to busy evenings on an operational airbase. On Saturday October 29, it was the turn of one such base to open its doors for around 200 keen aviation enthusiasts. With the promise of some ‘heavies’ on show, the first RAF Brize Norton Nightshoot was a chance to catch something a little different, and a little larger, to the norm.
Over the last few years, the Royal Air Force’s transport hub of RAF Brize Norton has seen a significant change to the types based there with the venerable Tristar and VC-10 making way for a modernised fleet of A330 Voyager and A400M aircraft. With a high operational tempo and deliveries of the latter still taking place, their appearance at public events is has until now been rare. Therefore, when it was announced that 70 Squadron (also known as LXX Squadron) were arranging a night photography event at the base featuring a number of the home team’s aircraft, many enthusiasts jumped at the chance. A more than reasonable £25 donation secured a ticket with all proceeds being donated to the Jon Egging Trust.
After being transported on to base and a short briefing inside 99 Squadron’s bar, it was time to head out and explore what was on offer. Set out in front of the attendees was a lineup containing some of the RAF’s largest, and in many cases newest, types. Stretched out along the length of the dispersal, crowds were free to roam up and down the cordoned fence line whilst awaiting the impending darkness. Unfortunately, with thick grey clouds and the night drawing in, decent photo opportunities were few and far between but it did give a good chance to scope out locations and angles for the eventual onset of darkness, as well as watching the operational comings and goings taking place across the rest of the airfield.
As the light faded, artificial lighting started to take hold of the line up. Thankfully, the organisers had opted not to rely upon the installed floodlighting (which gives a nasty yellowy colour cast) and placed a number of lighting tower units along the dispersal that gave off a much clearer white light. As a first attempt, this was welcome to see such an important detail had been thought about and, even more so when an extra unit was found to help fill a gap in light coverage before darkness had fallen.
During these types of events, there is very little point in engine running jet types, two of which were present on the left hand side of the lineup. One of the two special schemes present, Boeing C-17 ZZ176 represented 99 Squadron’s contribution to the event. Adorned with a Black Puma covering the entire tail surface (taken from the Squadrons crest), this particular special scheme is somewhat different to many that have appeared over the last year. Unlike those units celebrating their centenary, 99 Sqn haven’t quite reached that milestone and have instead elected to celebrate rather fittingly after 99 years. During the evening, a ground power unit positioned in front of the aircraft enabled the exterior and cockpit lighting to be turned on including the green ‘slime’ lights. The second of the jet types on display was that of Airbus A330 Voyager ZZ343. Unlike the C-17, the aircraft remained locked up for the duration of the evening and seemed to receive little attention.
The first engine run of the night was from the only non-based asset of the evening and provided a stark contrast in size between all the other participants. The all over red scheme of de Havilland Chipmunk WP903 gave a nice bit of colour in between the expanse of modern air force grey and a lengthy engine run gave plenty of time to grab photos. During the run, not only was the oversized anti-collision light on top of the canopy more evident than ever (fitted during its time as a Royal Flight instruction aircraft) but the unusual sight of blue flames spitting from the exhaust stub was very different – the Chipmunk hardly being a type known for its potency!
Following, and the first of the two large aircraft engine runs, was Airbus A400M ZM400. Operated by the evenings hosts, LXX Squadron, ZM400 was the first of its type delivered to the the service almost two years ago (Ed Note – AeroResource were at Brize Norton for that delivery, more of which can be found here http://www.aeroresource.co.uk/news/first-raf-a400m-delivery/). Now with numbers delivered climbing in to double figures, the Atlas has become a regular sight in the skies around the Oxfordshire base. Starting up with true RAF precision at the advertised time of 19:45, the engines were ran for over ten minutes giving plenty of chances to move around and shoot from different angles including the use of a pair of air stairs that had been provided and situated in line with the aircraft.
Whilst not technically a Brize Norton asset, Shorts Skyvan C-GKOA is one of two that are operated from there by Summit Aviation. Providing a platform for parachute operations, they are contracted by the Ministy of Defence to provide and carry out training for various UK forces. After a quick repositioning of the barriers to move the crowd line back slightly, the twin prop Skyvan started up and reversed back before taxiing off to its own ramp for the evening, seemingly as quickly as it had started! It was a real shame that an extra few minutes couldn’t have been given to the run and even a slight pause before it taxied off to give a different angle.
One of the stalwarts of the transport fleet carried out the final run of the evening. The RAF have been a long time user of the Lockheed Hercules that has played important roles in many conflicts around the world along with providing vital humanitarian assistance the world over also. The airframe provided for the evening was C-130J C.5 ZH880 carrying its impressive special scheme commemorating the centenary of 47 Squadron. Operating the type, albeit in different guises for an unprecedented 49 years, the unit were based at RAF Lyneham prior to its close that saw them subsequently moved to Brize Norton. With another run of just over ten minutes, this again gave plenty of time to move around for different angles and the eventual shutdown brought to a close the nights proceedings.
Despite the nightshoot being a first for the staff at LXX Squadron and RAF Brize Norton, considerable thought and effort appeared to have been put in to the layout and organisation of the nights proceedings. That said, a few small issues were evident that could easily be overcome. Positioning of the Skyvan so close to the barriers and directly obscuring the view of the C-130J for the majority of the event was one of the biggest and something that, with hindsight, hopefully not to be repeated. The positioning of both the Skyvan and the Hercules facing east at the furthest points of the lineup also meant that they received the least amount of light – especially on the nose of the aircraft although little could be done to rectify that on the evening. It may also help for future events to bring the engine runs forward in the event to allow time for attendees to slowly make their way back to the transportation and grab a last couple of shots on the way back as they do so.
None of this though should detract from what was a very good evening on the base. Given the rarity of such large types at any other nightshoot, it was an excellent chance to grab something slightly different to the usual. All the staff on hand were more than happy to talk about their roles and the aircraft present whilst the expanse of the area provided meant that it rarely felt crowded even with around 200 present. With over £5,000 raised for the Jon Egging Trust, it was great way of engaging with the enthusiast community and generating funds for a good cause. Hopefully, 2017 may see a similar event ran and, if so, AeroResource will certainly be there!