The nightshoots at Northolt have become a ‘must do’ for many enthusiasts and often set the standard when it comes to lighting, aircraft and organisation. Adam Duffield headed to London for the 17th event – the second of 2014 – to see what organiser Phillip Dawe and his team had managed to attract. Additional photography from Mark Kwiatkowski.
Northolt’s nocturnal events need little introduction nowadays with two or three occurring each year. Always well attended with enthusiasts travelling from afar as Holland, it’s a unique opportunity to get night shots of operational aircraft not just from the UK but from nearby countries.
The initial line-up for the event looked to be one of the busiest of recent years with extensive participation from UK forces and excellent support from across the channel. Unfortunately, as is always the risk with inviting operational assets, planned participation from the French Air Force in the form of an Alpha Jet and special scheme Eurocopter Fennec was cancelled the week before the event – whilst the night before, the Sécurité Civile Conair Turbo Firecat had to also cancel as all available aircraft had been deployed to fight an outbreak of a large wildfire in Corsica.
However, that was not to be all the cancellations as a few more aircraft were lost in the final hours leading up to the event. Heavy fog over the Lizard Peninsula meant that 771 Naval Air Squadron’s Sea King HAR5 could not lift from RNAS Culdrose, whilst the Army Air Corps Lynx AH.7 that was due to attend suffered technical issues that kept it on the ground. The Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS) Hawk T.1 (XX154 – the prototype of the Hawk) also had technical issues leading to cancellation, however was replaced at the last minute by a QinetiQ Alpha Jet, a worthy substitute. Special scheme versions of both the Tucano and Hawk T2 were also originally planned to attend however both aircraft carried standard operational schemes. Despite all these cancellations, there were still plenty of aircraft in attendance, including two notable first time appearances.
Army Air Corps – Apache AH.1
The surprise attendee, and quite possibly the star of the event, was Westland WAH-64D Apache AH.1 ZJ174. Having taken over the pure attack helicopter role from the Army Air Corps Lynx fleet, the Apache has proved itself to be a formidable foe and has been used extensively supporting troops in Afghanistan. The attending airframe was delivered in 2000 and is currently operated by 663 Squadron based at AAC Wattisham, part of 3 Regiment Army Air Corps and a unit of16 Air Assault Brigade. As commonly seen, ZJ174 was fitted with a pair of CRV7 rocket pods, a single AGM-114 Hellfire and a Collective Training Missile (Hellfire simulation round).
Royal Air Force – Tucano T1, Hawk T2 and Puma HC2
With the most substantial of the UK Forces participation at the event, the Royal Air Force provided a trio of aircraft with two of them making their first Nightshoot appearances.
The Tucano T1 is the RAF’s primary basic trainer aircraft, taking over the role from the Jet Provost in the late 1980’s. A single engine turboprop, it is a license built version of the Embraer EMB-312 that is in service with a number of countries, especially in South America where it is used not only in the trainer role but for Close Air Support and light attack. As part of the UK Military Flight Training System contract, the RAF’s Tucano fleet was due to be replaced in 2015 and in fact the day after the event it was announced that the Affinity bid for replacing the Tucano with the T-6 Texan II had acquired “preferred bidder” status with the Ministry of Defence. The Tucano attending was provided by 72 (R) Squadron based at RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
Making its type debut at the event was Hawk T.2 ZK030. Based at RAF Valley on Anglesey and operated by 4(R) Squadron the T2 is the latest Advanced Jet Trainer for the RAF and is a heavily updated version of its predecessor, the T1, featuring a digital cockpit, advanced radar and data link amongst many other features. This means that the training is provided in an environment akin to the operational aircraft students will progress to such as the Typhoon and, in the future, the F-35. ZK030 was delivered in November 2009 and is one of 28 aircraft on strength with the RAF.
The second debut appearance was that of Puma HC2 XW213. The HC2 programme will deliver a total of 24 upgraded HC1 airframes to the new standard which includes more powerful Makila 1A1 engines, digital glass cockpit, increased fuel capacity and upgraded defensive suite. The first completed HC2 was handed over in September 2012, three months prior to the withdrawal of the HC1 from service. Based at RAF Benson as part of the Joint Helicopter Command force the Puma HC2 is operated by both 33 and 230 Squadrons. XW213 was first delivered to the RAF in 1971 and released back to the RAF after completing the upgrade in 2013.
QinetiQ/ETPS – AgustaWestland A109 and Dassault Alpha Jet
Recent events have seen some excellent participation from QinetiQ and its subsidiary ETPS and this was no different with two of their varied aircraft fleet attending (despite previously mentioned technical issues with one of the planned aircraft).
Representing ETPS was AgustaWestland A109E ZE416. The Empire Test Pilots’ School is responsible for the training of test pilots and flight test engineers on both rotary and fixed wing assets. Based at MoD Boscombe Down alongside QinetiQ, they operate two A109s as part of their rotary training fleet. With distinctive instrumentation probes that visually set ZE416 apart from others examples of the type, it is internally where the majority of the differences lay with dedicated suite of flight test engineer consoles and a full glass cockpit.
From the fixed wing stable, a QinetiQ liveried Alpha Jet ZJ647 replaced the intended Hawk prototype in a similar story to how the company acquired their Alpha Jet fleet. With a requirement for the Hawk T1s that originally fulfilled the role to return to training service, QinetiQ procured 12 Alpha Jets from the German Air Force with 6 being used for flight testing and the remainder as fleet support spares.
Bronco Demo Team – OV-10B ‘99+18’
Tony De Bruyn and his Bronco demo team are well known on the UK airshow circuit having attended and displayed at many events over the years. Following his serious accident at Kemble flying OV-10B ‘99+32’ in 2012, it was great to see him back in a different Bronco at Abingdon in 2014. North American Aviation OV-10B ‘99+18’ G-ONAA was originally built for the West German Air Force as a target tug during the 70’s. Following the types retirement, it was put on static display at Manfred Pflumm International Aviation Museum in Villingen-Schwenningen before being acquired by the team for restoration to flight. After more than 20 years of being grounded, ‘99+18’ took to the skies again in 2012 and, with luck, will return to the UK airshow circuit for aerial displays in 2015.
Locals – BAE 146 CC.2, BAE 125, MPAS EC-145 and London Air Ambulance MD902
One of the advantages of holding the event at an operational base is the guaranteed attendance of some of the based aircraft and this time was no different.
Already at the end of the line-up on arrival was BAE 146 CC.2 ZE701 from 32 Squadron. One of two CC.2 variants, the 146 fleet was strengthened in 2013 by the arrival of two C.3 model aircraft that carry an all over grey scheme. Also from 32 Squadron but tucked neatly inside a hangar were three of six BAE 125s that are in operation (ZD703, ZE395 and ZE396). As has become a regular occurrence at recent events, the Metropolitan Police Air Support (MPAS) Unit flew in with EC-145 G-MPSC however, no sooner than they arrived, a shout was received requiring them to make a swift exit.
Returning to its evening home, London Air Ambulances MD902 Explorer G-EHMS arrived as the dark settled in, positioning onto its moveable landing pad to allow for shots to be taken before being towed back into its hangar for the evening.
The event followed a familiar schedule of arrival, briefing and then aircraft ground runs. Due to the time originally allocated, the Apache was the first to run having arrived prior to photographers being let onto the pan. With the Air Ambulance arriving in the background before the Apache departed there was a gap in proceedings whilst waiting for the Puma arrival. What then occurred can best be described as a frantic 15 minutes with both the Puma and Bronco running at the same time at opposite ends of the area and the brief MPAS appearance also mixed in. An unfortunate clash of timings, however it did help to ‘thin out’ the crowds around both making it easier to find a slot to shoot. The only disappointment being with the way the Bronco was presented. With a number of re-positions of the aircraft throughout the run (something that is not normally seen) it was difficult to predict how long the aircraft would remain still as no warning was given. Combined with the landing lights being turned on an off at regular intervals a sense of frustration was evident amongst those trying for longer exposures.
As always though, the Northolt nightshoots really do set the bar in terms of lighting and attending aircraft and this was no different. Cancellations are always a risk, and the number of aircraft that did make it to Northolt was still on par with most events. The surprise addition of the Apache also made many people’s night, more so due to not having the forewarning of its attendance. For the first time in the history of the event, the cost of the night was increased to £25 (plus a £5 surcharge for crew accommodation and the Bronco running costs) however when you look at the aircraft attending and compare against other events of its type, it still remains brilliant value for money and, given the attendance levels, certainly didn’t put anyone off. Once again, many will already be looking forward to what Phil and his team can pull out of the bag for the next Northolt shoot.
For a video of the aircraft participating in the ground runs, head over to the link below on the AeroResource YouTube page.