Originally starting as an invite only event for a very small number of lucky people, the Abingdon Nightshoot has been opened to all over the last few years and as a result become an event in its own right with around 60 people attending the 2016 edition.
Held the night before the airshow (Ed note: have a look at our review here – Abingdon Air and Country Show 2016), the Abingdon Nightshoot makes use of a number of participants who elect to arrive a day early for the show. Over the years, this has included some of the foreign military participants along with display acts who take the opportunity to perform a final practice over the venue. With the show being held on the first bank holiday weekend of May, it is also one of the last regular nightshoots on the calendar and with sunset not occurring until after 8pm leading to a long night for both those attending and organising.
The format of the evening is also slightly different to that of similar events. The majority of the aircraft taking part are normally parked in the positions they need to be in for the following day and therefore can be sat some distance away from each other. Luckily, the organisers are used to this and employ a mobile lighting tower that is towed around the airfield and used to light a handful of aircraft at the same time.
With plenty of time before the sun was lost for the day, photographers were free to wander around the aircraft and take advantage of the quite possibly the widest range of types – including a number ex-RAF basic trainers, a Second World War flying boat and even a frontline military helicopter from Europe!
Unlike previous years, those attending were also treated to a couple of engine runs that were started off by Scottish Aviation Bulldog XX624/G-KDOG. Parked next to a Ferrari 360, the run surprised many due to how early in the evening it was with a large number of photographers already wandering the airfield looking for sunset shots or awaiting the inflation of two hot air balloons from The Oxford Balloon Company. Whilst the first envelope inflation didn’t quite go to plan, this was to be a benefit for those waiting to shoot it as it led to a delay in proceedings – plenty long enough to allow darkness to fall. This enabled a true ‘night glow’ to take place with a pair of balloons inflated against a backdrop of the attending Short SC7 Skyvan G-PIGY – the noise of the burners echoing around the night sky. Operated by the Bronco Demo Team, G-PIGY had arrived earlier in the day along with OV-10B Bronco 99+18/G-ONAA – adorned in its new Tiger marks – after their annual Bronco Fan Day held at Kemble airfield.
A trio of rotary types, from one size extreme to the other, formed some of the evening’s highlights. Parked up next to each other, the gave a perfect comparison not only of their differing sizes but also their technological complexity. The Gazelle Squadron had arrived earlier with two of their aircraft in complimentary schemes – Guimbal Cabri G-SDTL and Westland Gazelle HT.3 XZ934/G-CBSI. Whilst unable to engine run either, the ground crew were able to provide a brief period of ‘lights on’ with the Cabri. Dominating the pair though was the Belgian Air Force NH-90 TTH (RN-08) – a real star of the entire weekend events. The crew were kind enough to remove the ‘bags and tags’ – of which there are a vast amount covering the array of sensors and panels – from the airframe for a lengthy period enabling plenty of time to get the shots wanted by many.
The largest aircraft on the ground was PBY Catalina G-PBYA which had arrived from its home of Duxford earlier in the day and those in the Abingdon area may have spotted its distinctive shape in the skies above during the afternoon as it took some of the organisers up for a short local flight. Unfortunately, for the nightshoot itself the canopy cover sadly remained on the aircraft that didn’t make for the most attractive of images but this was an issue outside of the organisers hands. Also present was another Abingdon regular in the form of Yak-52 G-YAKI (better known as YAK ONE) with well-known pilot Dom Wilkinson and de Havilland Chipmunk WP896/G-BWVY plus a Bell Jetranger (G-BSBW) operated by Adventure 001 who were on hand to fly pleasure flights during the main event itself.
Providing the second engine run of the night was well regarded display pilot Lauren Richardson in her Pitts S-1S G-BKDR. With the red and white scheme standing out very well against the ever-darkening skies, the engine run lasted for a good five minutes (plenty of time to move about for different angles) and included three short bursts of smoke which added an extra dimension to the photographs.
For many attending, the Abingdon Nightshoot has become a pre-show ritual giving the chance to catch up with old friends before the season’s opening airshow. It also gives many a great chance to get some slightly different shots of the airshow attendees up close, something not always available during the show due to them being on the active side of the rope. With the £20 entry fee going straight to the charities, it’s certainly an evening worth attending. Keep an eye out on the Abingdon Air and Country show Facebook page around March 2017 for details of the next event!