Since the first ever Northolt Nightshoot taking place back in January 2009 and with only around 60 photographers in attendance, Northolt has set an undoubtedly high standard when it comes nocturnal photography shoots in the UK. Jamie Ewan and Adam Duffield headed to west London to see what the 16th event of its type had to offer.
Originally scheduled to take place on the 13th March, the first event of the 2014 Northolt calendar was postponed and rescheduled for the 27th March due to a number of aircraft pulling out for operational and technical issues, making the viability of the event on the 13th uncertain. Thankfully Phillip Dawe – the man behind the scenes – and his small team at RAF Northolt, along with the participants, managed to work with one another and make the event possible just two weeks later.
As with previous editions, the French were more than happy to take part with the Armée de l’Air sending a pair of Alpha Jets. Sadly, the Civile Sécurités Grumman S-2F-T Turbo Tracker that was down to attend had to pull out of the event due to icing conditions en-route. Another cancellation was that of the Royal Navy Westland Sea King HU5 which was due to fly in from 771 NAS, cancelling due to technical issues.
Support from the Royal Air Force came in the form of a 45 (R) Squadron Beech B200 King Air and from the home team with one of Northolt’s very own British Aerospace BAe 125 CC.3 operated by 32 Squadron making an appearance on the line.
Two more ‘locals’ joined the line up for a short period – one of the Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit’s (MPSU) Eurocopter MBB-BK 117 C-2, more commonly known as the EC-145, and the London Air Ambulance who operate the MD900 Explorer . Both arriving as the light faded, the MPSU EC-145 departed prior to the evenings main proceedings with a welcomed 360-degree turn in the hover before lifting into the air. The London Air Ambulance was towed back into the aircrafts hangar shortly after being refuelled on the line.
The star of the event came from the Irish Air Corps who provided one of their CASA CN-235-100MP Persuaders. Making the types first appearance under Northolts floodlights, the aircraft arrived just before the event and departed during giving the gathered enthusiasts a good look as it taxied past.
Irish Air Corps CASA CN-235-100MP Persuader – 252
Entering service in 1994, the ‘an tAerchór’ operate two of the type in the Maritime Patrol role by 101 ‘Maritime’ Squadron based at Baldonnel which is also home to the rest of the IAC’s aircraft under the 1st Operations wing. Operating seven days a week, the aircraft work in close conjunction with the Naval Service providing an aerial platform for patrolling the Irish Economic Zone, an area of approximately 132,000 square miles. Both of the IAC’s aircraft were upgraded in 2006/2007 by EADS CASA to the FITS Persuader standard with enhanced radar, forward looking infra red equipment and a new electronic and avionics suite. More recently the type saw action during the Libyan conflict to evacuate some 40 plus Irish civilians from the troubled area. The aircraft can be equipped with 6 hardpoints to carry AM-39 Exocet-Missiles or Mk.46-Torpedos and are also used in the air ambulance, military transport, Search and Rescue top cover and parachute operations roles.
Armée de l’Air Dassault Dornier Alpha Jet E – E156/705-TI & E170/705-RY
Designed as a light attack and advanced trainer aircraft, the Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet was co-manufactured by Dornier of Germany and Dassault-Breguet of France. Used by the Armée de l’Air in the advanced training role, the French have around 120 of the type in Service. The two examples that attended are operated by EIV 03.013 (Auverge) / SPA 85 ‘La Folie’ based at Tours/Val De Loire (BA705) airbase in central France. The aircraft are used for advanced jet training for new fast jet pilots and are examples of the non weaponised variant of the aircraft used solely for flight training. The first production Alpha Jet for the French Air Force performed its first flight on 4th November 1977. A total of 176 production Alpha Jet ‘E machines’ were delivered up until 1985, rather than the 200 that had been planned. The French variant, known as the Alpha Jet E (the “E” standing for Ecole, French for “School”) or Alpha Jet Advanced Trainer/Light Attack aircraft, was introduced into service in May 1979 replacing the Canadair T-33 and Fouga Magister in jet training and the Dassault Mystère IVA in weapons training role.
Royal Air Force Beech B200 King Air – ZK455/O
Operated by No 45(R) Squadron as part of part of No 3 Flying Training School, the RAF has eight of the type in the advanced multi-engine training role based at RAF Cranwell. The aircraft was first introduced into RAF service in 2004, replacing the Jet Stream in the same role. Powered by Two Pratt & Whitney PT6A-42 Turboprops the aircraft has a top speed of 259 knots and operates with a crew of three. The course with 45 Squadron is split into basic and advanced phases. In the basic phase, students learn essential multi-engine techniques such as general handling, asymmetric flying, emergency handling and radio-aids navigation, and consolidate the multi-crew skills. During the advanced phase, the emphasis shifts towards developing captaincy, crew resource management, and managing the King Air’s advanced avionics systems as well as learning advanced skills such as formation flying, low-level flying and airways navigation.
Royal Air Force British Aerospace BAe 125 CC.3 – ZD703
Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit’s Eurocopter EC145 – G-MPSC
London Air Ambulances MD Helicopter MD900 Explorer – G-EHMS
As well as the above participants, Northolt once again played host to some of its resident aircraft, including a 32(TR) Squadron BAe 125 CC.3. Having started the night in one of 32 Squadrons immaculate hangars in the Southside complex, the aircraft was towed out for a stint on the line before heading back into the hangar. Before closing the hangars doors to start working on the jet for the next days flying, the team allowed the enthusiasts a few minutes to get shots of the jet with the beacon and navigation lights blinking away.
With the Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit EC145 arriving during the event, those that were gathered were given the chance to see the aircraft head out for a shout demonstrating the speed with which the crew got the aircraft off the ground – a pertinent reminder of the critical abilities which the Air Support Unit provides to police forces on the ground.
The distinctive red colour scheme of the London Air Ambulances MD902 Explorer was a welcome sight on the line. After arriving back to its home base, the aircraft was towed to the line for a brief appearance whilst being refuelled before being placed in her dedicated hangar.
Once again, Phil Dawe and his team pulled out all the stops to ensure that the event went as we as could be. It was an obvious disappointment to lose two of the events planned highlights however it is a stark reminder that no matter how well the planning is performed, every event can suffer unexpected cancellations and it is certain that the team will continue their efforts to bring these aircraft to events in the future. Rumours of an expected appearance from a New Zealand Air Force P-3, which is visiting the UK for Exercise Joint Warrior, were confirmed by Phil however it also suffered issues and was delayed in Dubai therefore unable to attend. However, the debut for the IAC’s CASA 235 was certainly a highlight especially thanks to the extra-long ground run that was performed. As the nights start to draw out and we move towards airshow season this may have been one of the last nightshoots for a while but no doubt Phil is already planning for their return of these excellent events.