Once again, October signals the end of the airshow season, the drawing in of the nights and the turning of the weather but, for those looking of a way to fill the short autumn days with interesting aviation subjects, Northolt was once more set to try and deliver with Nightshoot XIX. Adam Duffield returned to West London for the latest installment of nocturnal photography.
These events really should need no introduction to any enthusiast with many travelling long distances to attend the planned three hour nightshoot. Organised under the knowledgeable leadership of Phil Dawes and his small, but dedicated team, there is almost always something unique and special that makes the journey worthwhile.
Once again, the early lineup for the event looked interesting and included two slightly larger items than normally seen. However, as is always the chance with these things, some cancellations came in ahead of the event and some hopeful acceptances not materialising (and most likely not for the lack of trying). Hopes of participation from the Polish Navy along with a Royal Netherlands Air Force Alouette were unfortunately dashed but the largest impact to the nights proceedings came from operational re-taskings leading to the cancellation of the Irish Air Corps Casa CN235, RAF Puma HC.2 and both NPAS EC-145 units.
Despite this, there was still plenty to see on the night including a number of first time attendees. And, unbeknownst to many until they got to the gates, those that had made the journey were in for a special treat.
Embraer ERJ-145LR CE-03 – Belgian Air Component
One of two ERJ-145s operated in the passenger and VIP transport role alongside the smaller ERJ-135 aircraft, both types are often seen as support aircraft at numerous UK airshows but the appearance of CE-03 marked a debut of the type at a Northolt Nightshoot. The ‘LR’ in the name denotes the Long Range variant of the ERJ-145 series and is capable of carrying 50 passengers, 13 more than the smaller ERJ-135.
Operated by 21 Squadron, 15 Wing based at Brussels/Melsbroek airport in the centre of the country, the unit is responsible for the operation of all the passenger and VIP transports of the air component. Standing out clearly are the Belgian Armed Forces crest tail markings carried on all the aircraft. Much less visible is a marking to the side of the passenger door remembering the centenary anniversary of World War One – a marking carried on a number of Belgian Air Component aircraft.
Dassault Falcon 2000LX 231/F-RAFC – French Air Force
Another VIP transport jet was present at Northolt Nightshoot and, once again, marked a first appearance for the type. The French Air Force introduced F-RAFC, the first of their two Dassault Falcon 2000LX twin engined jets, in 2011 as part of the passenger transport fleet based at Villacoublay air base situated just to the south west of Paris.
Emblazoned with the French flag across the whole of the tail of the aircraft, it is operated by L’Escadron de transport 60 (ET 60) alongside a number of other transports ranging from Airbus A330 to TBM-700. The unit is no stranger to Northolt Nighshoots with one of its Super Puma’s attending a previous event.
Westland Gazelle HT3 ZB627/G-CBSK – The Gazelle Squadron
The Gazelle Squadron have made quite an impact on the static displays at UK airshows since their inception in 2013 taking various marked examples of the type with them and allowing the public to get up close and personal. For the Northolt Nightshoot it was the turn of ZB627, also affectionately known as ‘Ginger’ to star under the lights for the teams first appearance at the event.
Designed and delivered as a training variant for the Royal Air Force, ZB627 first flew in 1982 and spent most of its flying career at RAF Shawbury with 2 Flying Training School (FTS) before being retired when the Helicopter training was outsourced to the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS). The airframe still retains its 2 FTS markings which appear in excellent condition.
BAe Hawk T1 XX342 – Empire Test Pilots School/QinetiQ
One of two Hawk T1s operated as part of the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS), QinetiQ have been ardent supporters of previous Northolt Nightshoot events. Whilst the more standard ‘black’ schemed example XX154 was scheduled to be present at Nightshoot XVII but cancelled at last minute, this was the first time that the more ‘interesting’ schemed XX342 has been planned to attend.
XX342 is the only fast jet aircraft in the fleet to still retain its very attractive Raspberry Ripple paint scheme. After being introduced in 1976, the scheme became the standard for aircraft that flew in the test and evaluation role, replacing a number of disparate schemes used previously. Following the privatisation of a number of the responsibilities to QinetiQ, the scheme has slowly been replaced by more conventional operational colour schemes.
Boeing Chinook HC4 ZA712 – Royal Air Force
The surprise visitor of the event was one that has eluded many throughout 2015. With 18(B) Squadron celebrating its 100 year anniversary on 11 May 2015, Chinook HC4 ZA712 has been adorned in an impressive special scheme reflecting the Pegasus that is on the Squadron crest. Inclusion of an aircraft from the Squadron is even more relevant this year given that RAF Northolt is 18 Squadrons birthplace – something linked perfectly with the special scheme.
Delivered to the RAF in 1981 as a HC1 configuration airframe, it was later upgraded to HC2 standard before receiving the HC4 upgrade as part of Project Julius which included upgraded engines and digital flight deck. The HC4 standard airframe has provided the 2015 RAF Chinook display which, as always, has gone down a treat with the general public. Whilst the plan was to use the special schemed aircraft for as many displays as possible, the airframe went ‘tech’ during the RAF Northolt Centenary Open Day event and marked a long period of absence from the circuit making the nightshoot the first time of seeing the scheme for some.
Helio H-295 Super Courier G-BAGT – Privately Owned
For a Northolt Nightshoot, the inclusion of a Super Courier is most certainly ‘something different’. The type was designed originally for private usage and a number of features such as automatic leading edge wing slats, enlarged tail control surfaces and landing gear design all combined to provide an aircraft that had exceptional short take-off and landing (STOL) and slow speed handling capabilities.
It wasn’t long before the United States armed forces took note of these flight characteristics and employed them under the U-10 designation for a number of purposes, and in early 2015 this aircraft was repainted to represent one such variant. Carrying the tail code ‘EO’ it represents U-10D Super Courier 66-14374 which operated as part of the 5th Special Operations Squadron, 14th Air Commando Wing, USAF out of Nha Trang Air Base. With the performance abilities of the type it made it perfect for operating on short, unprepared airstrips throughout Vietnam giving the ability to land where almost no other aircraft could.
Of course, a nightshoot wouldn’t be complete without some of the locally based aircraft making an appearance. The London Air Ambulance G-EHMS MD-902 Explorer has been based at RAF Northolt for some time now and has become a regular, albeit brief visitor at the events. With little downtime between shifts to allow for cleanup and maintenance you have to be quick to grab a shot before it is tucked back into its hangar for the evening. However, the open hangar did give a chance to catch a glimpse of two Agusta A109s G-CDVB and ZR322. Also within its hangar was BAe 146 C.3 ZE708 operated by 32 Squadron. With the retirement of the HS125s that were often seen at the events it was great to see ZD621 in its new role as gate guardian lit up to the side of the 32 Sqn hangars following its instalment in this position a couple of months prior to the event.
The event itself ran to the usual format – the static aircraft spread out on the line – however many had some concerns about the layout on arrival. The Helios Super Courier was tucked up behind the Gazelle whilst the ETPS Hawk was situated a long way out from the permitted area. These initial concerns soon subsided as things became clearer. The positioning of the Courier and Gazelle was to allow the manoeuvring of the Air Ambulance back in to its hangar once it arrived back from its daily ops and, as soon as it was clear, it was started and taxied out to a much more agreeable position for photography with a lengthy ground run afterwards. The Hawk on the other hand remained somewhat distant but, thankfully, small groups were allowed to walk out onto the ASP to get closer shots. Looking back at the images this appeared to work well although the allowance of only a small group at a time meant some lengthy delays whilst waiting for those shooting the Hawk to clear the background of images.
The arrival of the special scheme Chinook at the far end of the ASP set many running from one end to another but luckily the gas and go permitted a substantial period of time to shoot it ‘at rest’ as well. But, with the Gazelle about to start up, news came through that the Chinook was then about to start and depart back to Odiham causing another stampede down the flight line to watch its exit before the Gazelle could complete its run.
With a recent increase to a £25 donation to the Battle of Britain Ops Building restoration fund and a £6 surcharge on the gate for crew accommodation fees the subject of entry costs is a tricky one. Some may feel this somewhat high for the offering but, when compared to other similar events, it is still very much equal in terms of cost and unique in terms of lighting and aircraft quality. It should also be noted that the inclusion of two private aircraft in the nights proceedings may well have had an impact on costs but, whilst these aircraft may not be the latest and greatest military hardware, their private ownership almost guarantees their attendance giving a great safety net of participating aircraft given the short notice re-taskings that can take place with military assets.
Overall though, Northolt Nightshoot XIX was yet another success with an interesting variance of visitors. From biz jet VIP transports to Vietnam era props, the cancellations didn’t damage the event too badly and, with the surprise arrival of the 18 Sqn Chinook (which was, in the authors opinion, an excellent idea to leave as a surprise – something missing from many events nowadays) it really was a unique chance of catching something different. With the 20th installment no doubt already in the planning stages, it’s almost certain that the team will be looking once more for something special to attend and AeroResource will be there once more.