Northolt Nightshoot XXII was originally due to take place March 23, however, with the tragic events taking place at Westminster the day before, the event was understandably postponed. With night’s drawing out, the planned nightshoot was instead to become the Northolt Evening Photoshoot XXIIa.
Taking place on the re-arranged date of June 1, it was clear from the outset that the usual nightshoot format wouldn’t apply to the twenty-second event of its type, especially with sunset occurring just 20 minutes before the event’s planned finish time of 2130. With the previous event (Ed note: a recap of which can be found here – https://www.aeroresource.co.uk/events/northolt-nightshoot-xxi/) being hailed a massive success, the first of 2017 had a lot to live up to.
The numerous departments of the French armed and security forces have been stalwart supporters of Northolt events over the years by regularly supplying a wide range of airframes to attend and this event was no different. Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets of the Armée de l’Air can quite easily be considered regular types seen at the nightshoots and again a pair made the journey from Base Aérienne 705 Tours where they are operated as part of Ecole de l’Aviation de Chasse (EAC) 00.314 in the Fast Jet training role. Two different squadrons were represented on the tails with E163/705-RB and E137/705-LJ marked as 1st and 2nd Squadrons of EIV 3/4 ‘Limousin’. With Alpha Jet fleet at Tours set to be reduced and supplemented by the Pilatus PC-21, there may not be many opportunities to see aircraft – especially marked up examples – from that unit at future events.
Completing the trio of French visitors was an Embraer EMB 121 Xingu. In service with both the Armée de l’Air and Armée de Terre, this particular example (105/YU) is operated by Ecole de l’Aviation de Transport (EAT) 00.319 out of Base Aérienne 702 Avord in central France. An often-overlooked type at airshows, it certainly drew plenty of attention in the early evening light while the crew scored bonus points with enthusiasts having brought a good selection of squadron paraphernalia to sell – a nice and appreciated move!
A surprise attendee at the event, and also making its debut, was that of a US Army C-12 Huron (84-0157 the example in question). Operated by the 214th Aviation Regiment out of Wiesbaden, Germany the twin-engined Super King Air derivative is primarily used as passenger and light cargo transport aircraft. In a pristine looking white scheme there is little to give away the operator other than the ‘United States of America’ titles running across the top of the fuselage and added defensive air suite sensors. The C-12 was to provide the only engine run of the evening with the crew departing back to Germany part way through the event.
Support from visiting UK assets came from four different airframes. Representing Royal Air Force rotary assets were the combination of a Squirrel HT.1 (ZJ274) operated by 705 Sqn and a Griffin HT.1 (ZJ237) operated by 60 Sqn – both making their way across from their base at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire. These aircraft provide both basic and multi-engine rotary training as part of the Defence Helicopter Flying School (DHFS) but are now entering the twilight years of service as, under the UK Military Flying Training System (MFTS), they are being replaced by the Airbus Helicopters H135 ‘Juno’ and H145 ‘Jupiter’ respectively. Of note was the 60 Sqn Centenary patch ‘237 carries on its nose following the milestone being reached early in 2016.
RAF C-130J Hercules ZH866 is possibly one of the most camera shy aircraft in the fleet. ZH866 is loaned to and operated by QinetiQ but flown by 206(R) Sqn, who are now based at RAF Brize Norton. The aircraft is the only Block 7 variant in the Royal Air Force inventory and spends the vast majority of its time operating from MOD Boscombe Down as part of the Heavy Aircraft Test & Evaluation programme. Carrying centenary markings, those on ZH866 are far more visible than on the Griffin. With the tail covered in two shades of blue, it carries a prominent Squadron crest along with an octopus entangled ‘206’.
The final visiting aircraft came from RAF Leeming and yes another centenary schemed example! Representing 100 Squadron, BAe Hawk T.1 XX285 still retains its overall operational black scheme but with the addition of a blue and yellow checkerboard marking across the top of the tail and a prominent skull and crossbones with a hornet over the skull. The former represents the Squadron badge and the latter the Squadron motto – Sarang tebuan jangan dijolok, which is Malay for ‘Never stir up a hornet’s nest.’
Of course, any Northolt event isn’t complete without some of the Northolt based assets taking part. Out on the 32 Sqn ‘pan’ was one of their BAe-146’s (ZE701) whilst a second example was seen during the early part of the evening tucked up inside one of the Squadron hangars. Inside a second hangar were the final home based pair of the 32 Sqn AgustaWestland 109SP GrandNew (GZ100 – another centenary celebratory machine) and one of the London Air Ambulance MD-900 Explorers (G-LNDN the airframe in question).
Holding the event later in the year had both positive and negative effects. Whilst it didn’t appear to affect attending visitors with the C-12, Xingu and 206 Sqn Hercules all being stand-out highlights, the parking locations of some items left it difficult to get a ‘well-lit’ shots as the sun moved round behind them early on in the evening. The efforts of the organisers to walk groups around to the far side of the pan for the Hercules should be commended though as they did their best on the evening to help get the shots most wanted. Given that this is the first time in recent years that a sunset shoot had been run – and especially with the circumstances around its running – it would be unfair to be too critical when the event could just as easily been cancelled outright, something that once more demonstrates the dedication from the organisers. It did, however, show some great potential. With a lovely sunset falling over West London, it gave plenty of opportunities to experiment with the light and capture something slightly different to the usual events. Who knows, the concept of a Northolt Evening Photoshoot could become a more regular event on the calendar.