Having opened their 2018 season with a chance to capture one of the world’s rarest aeroplanes (the Reid and Sigrist R.S.4 Bobsleigh), it was the turn of one particular F-4 Phantom to receive the Threshold.aero treatment. Joining some 200-odd photographers as RAF Cosford opened its doors once again, AeroResource’s Jamie Ewan was on hand for a night with the holy grail of British Phantoms, ‘Black Mike’.
As the Royal Air Force’s Centenary fast approaches – branded “RAF100”, it is of no surprise to see and hear of the near-weekly sightings of aeroplanes ‘road-running’ up and down the country in preparation for RAF100. In readiness for their own celebrations in June, the Air Show team at RAF Cosford have been busy selecting and bringing together a unique group of aeroplanes from across the timeline of the Royal Air Force’s existence. With numerous aeroplanes they call their own being brought together with airframes from resident 238 Squadron, Threshold.aero’s Cosford shoot was to be a night at the fast and pointy end of military aviation in the UK.
With no less than 13 airframes to shoot and four hours to do it in, there was plenty of time to work the aeroplanes both during the last light of day and ‘under the lights’ – an event full of spots, gloss black paint jobs, Rasberry Ripples and a hint of yellow. Oh and your usual grey. And a splash of pink.
The question, however, is where do you start when you have so much to shoot? Broken down the night consisted of no less than seven SEPECAT Jaguars of varying breeds, a single BAe Systems Hawk, two Harriers, one Sea Harrier, one Phantom and a Wessex. However, when you looked into it you had a line-up that included the last British-built Jaguar and the last British-built jet to fly, a genuine Operation Granby veteran, and another one fondly known as ‘Spotty’ wearing quite possibly the finest RAF special scheme seen. Joining them was the Wessex HC.2 that took part in the 1969 Daily Mail Trans-Atlantic Air Race, the first new build Sea Harrier FA.2 and the VAAC Harrier T.4 with its illustrious 38-year research career – sometimes it is what you are not aware of that makes the difference between your typical shoot and something special!
However, despite a star-studded line-up, it was‘Black Mike’ that had most hitting ‘buy’ on Threshold’s website – this being the only chance to shoot this legendary Phantom at night whilst residing at the base. Owned by GJD Services Ltd, XV852 is currently under the management and care of the British Phantom Aviation Group (BPAG) who painstakingly dismantled the record-breaking jet before transporting it south from RAF Leuchars and rebuilding it to partake in the RAF100 celebrations. But that is a story for another time!
Following a very warm welcome from the Officer Commanding 238 Squadron, Squadron Leader Gaz Stevens, the attendees were soon left to their own devices – many stalking the sinking sun behind the waiting jets. With the VAAC Harrier T.4 and Raspberry Ripple Jaguar T.2A creating a ‘gateway’ of sorts, Jaguar GR3 XX119 in all of it’s spotty goodness was found pointing towards the star of the night, ‘Black Mike’. Flanked by one of Cosford’s gloss black Jaguar T.2s (another example being found squared away in Hangar 2 with the Sea Harrier FA.2) the all black line up was completed by a Hawk T.1 – the 208(R) Squadron marked jet which arrived from storage at RAF Shawbury at the end of February. XX833, the former QinetiQ twin-stick Jaguar, was next in line with the Airshow Office’s very own Harrier GR3, XZ991 behind it wearing its smart Artic wrap-around scheme and newly applied 1(F) Squadron markings. Representing the only non-fixed wing element of the night, Wessex HC.2 XR498 was positioned outside Hangar 1 – the type now wearing 22 Squadron markings having made its airshow debut last year. Drawing up the line-up were two more Jaguars – including XX725 wearing its GRANBY scheme with the added 238 Squadron Second World War code ‘KC-F’ – up at the far end of the shoot in Cosford’s DOTA or ‘Deployed Operational Training Area’.
A big hand must go to the organisers for the positioning of the airframes, those that were next to each other being left with a decent amount of space between them to allow a number of different and clean angles to shoot – likewise, with the use of two scissor lifts to get above the action. Once the floodlights were deployed, instead of just ‘plonking’ them down and leaving them, the team were on hand to make adjustments and move them to ensure people came away with the shots they wanted – something massively appreciated given how hard black jets are to shoot at night against an almost black backdrop. The same has to be said for the chaps who ‘de-bagged’ the jets part way through the night to allow for a slightly different shot and dropped the ladders from ‘Black Mike’ – true attention to detail!
Now with 200 odd photographers descending on a small stretch of a live Royal Air Force base, some would expect chaos or a lack of communication. Yet the arrangements for parking, booking in – including those who couldn’t quite make the allotted time – and getting to the ‘live side’ went without a hitch. Although a good deal of this is no doubt due to common sense prevailing, it has to be said that the organisation and comprehensive Joining Instructions were spot on! That said, with a relatively small area and that many people, there were times it did seem ‘overly’ busy – particularly around ‘Black Mike’ and the ‘crossover’ between the VAAC Harrier, ‘Ripple Jag and the black jets. Thankfully, sound judgment and top etiquette from all heard the numerous calls of “Are you open?” or “Are you shooting?” when moving about, people also making their intentions known, many offering their spots up when finished shooting and pointing out the rabbit hole by the Artic Harrier!
With proceeds from this event being donated to the RAF100 Appeal and 238 Squadron’s charitable initiatives, an incredible £7,000 was raised – a number of donation buckets having handfuls of loose change lobbed into them at both scissor lifts and again on the way out!
It is fair to say that Threshold.aero are setting a standard in the aviation world with their events feeling both relaxed and informal and more than excellent value for money – tickets for the event sitting at a very reasonable £40. A massive effort by the Threshold guys, who had originally planned their second Navy Wings Nightshoot for March 8 but with the work of the Royal Navy were able to move it on a week for this one of chance. Thanks and congratulations should be extended to all of the entities involved in making the night happen.
As they say on their website ‘For enthusiasts, by enthusiasts’…