The RAF Northolt night photo shoots have become somewhat a legendary event over the past year, providing unique night photo opportunities for the enthusiast. Michael Buckle visited the record breaking March 2010 event to reflect on the first year of the night photoshoots.

There are many night photo shoots hosted throughout the UK, but not one can come close to those of RAF Northolt.  Located in London and home to 32 Squadron, RAF Northolt is the perfect location to host such an event, with its huge beautifully light apron, it provides an excellent operational feel to all photos.

The team at RAF Northolt are in no way inexperienced with regards to providing opportunities to the enthusiast, for many years they have hosted a summer photo call with participants arriving from throughout Europe, which has always been an event popular among the photographers.

Both the photocall and night photo shoot are held to raise money for the restoration of the Battle of Britain Sector Operations Room at RAF Northolt and with this year being the Battle of Britian 70th Anniversary, it reinstates the importance of restoring pieces of history such as this one, making the event especially worth while attending.

The first evening event was held in January 2009, with a total of 76 photographers in attendance. The apron was filled with an RAF Merlin, US Army UC-35A, Irish Learjet and 32 Squadron assets. Since the first event there has been six further photo shoots held, resulting in a grand total of £12,000 being raised for the fund.

Various aircraft have posed under the spot lights throughout the events, with star visitors including the Navy 100 Hawk from RNAS Yeovilton, a Metropolitan Police EC-135 from near-by Lippitts Hill , 45 Squadron at RAF Cranwell sent a Super King Air and the stunning DHFS Griffin and RAF Rescue Sea King also made an appearance making some truly rare photo opportunities.

The  first event of 2010 was staged on the 25th March. Dispite weather forecasts of heavy rain, nothing was to deter the photographers from attending, a record breaking 160 people attended the event, no doubt due to the outstanding line up expected before the event.

Unfortunately not all of those expected participants were able to attend; a CL415 from Securite Civile sadly cancelled on the morning of the shoot due to the poor weather conditions predicted en-route and it wasn’t just the CL415 who was struck by bad weather. A French Air Force Mirage 2000D which was set to participate from EC3.003 unfortunately had to return to base once hearing Northolts runway state, which was deemed too damp to carry out a landing due to its lack of length.

Despite the cancelations there was still plenty to keep the crowd happy. By far the main attraction was the 2010 RAF Display Hawk which was making its first public outing (and first flight!) in the magnificent new scheme. Flt Lt. Tom Saunders, this year’s display pilot flew the jet to Northolt only two days after it was rolled out of the paint shop and it’s certainly a scheme which is going to be appreciated on the display circuit this year.

Another star of the show was a Chinook HC.3 provided by 7 Squadron at RAF Odiham. Most enthusiasts are aware of the interesting life that the type has lived, but ZH900 even more so, upon delivery to the UK it was damaged whilst being off loaded at Bristol docks in 2001. The extent of the damage it received is unknown, but it has since been restored to flight and been through the revision programme. The airframe is the third of eight HC3s to be delivered to RAF Odiham, with the remaining five expected to be delivered by late 2010.

The French Air Force kindly sent two Alpha Jets from 02.002 ‘Cote D’Or’ and 41 Squadron RAF provided three Tornado GR4s which were on a force development trip, with the crew visiting the Operations Room project and 11 Group Bunker at Uxbridge.

Another welcome participant was one of the Defence Helicopter Flying School A-109s in its striking bronze and orange scheme. DHFS operate two of the A-109s, both were acquired as civilian helicopters and delivered in there standard civilian schemes, only later to be painted in the DHFS scheme.

All in all, a year on the event has only improved, with rarer participants attending each event and fantastic elevated photography opportunities now being provided, there’s certainly no risk of the event losing its value.

The author would like to thank Philip Dawe for all his efforts in organising the event and his assistance in writing this article and Anthony Osborne for the additional photographs.