RAF Northolt’s Night Photoshoots need no introduction by now – having set the standard for nocturnal photography events in the UK since January 2009. This was the 14th event to be held, and set Northolt’s already lofty bar yet higher with the appearance of several rare aircraft, as well as some old favourites. AeroResource’s Ben Montgomery reports from a busy RAF Northolt.

As with any event, there is always a star participant responsible for bringing in a few extra visitors. The latest Northolt Nightshoot hosted around 240 photographers (a far cry from the 60 odd at the first event), and many of those likely attended because of the of one or two thoroughly unique items..

Rockwell Tp86 Sabreliner 86001

Describing this aircraft as a rarity would be something of an understatement. The sole airworthy example in Swedish service since it’s sistership 86002 was grounded in 2005, the Sabreliner is assigned to the Flight Test Centre at Linköping AB and only flies for a minimal period each year – in the region of 20 flight hours.

Purchased in 1980 from Rockwell Automation Inc (and previously flown by Remmert-Werner Inc and CBS Corp), 86001 is a 1965 build Sabreliner 40 (designated Tp86 in Swedish service) and has been used extensively in the testing role. The most prominent (and visually obvious) modification to the aircraft have been the twin antenna booms fitted to support the CARABAS (Coherent All Radio Band System) VHF Synthetic Aperture Radar trials, operated by the Swedish National Defense Research Establishment (Totalförsvarets forskningsinstitut). The CARABAS system allows the detection of personnel, vehicles and equipment through dense foliage and other visible obstructions, and is now actively offered by SAAB for international sales. Operating in a tactical mode, the antenna pair only require a length of around 1.5m, whilst in a strategic role, the required length extends to around 4m and triples the effective range to 15km. However, the antenna fit limits the aircraft’s operational altitude to approximately 20,000ft, as well as decreasing it’s efficiency in cruise, which may explain why the equipment was not fitted during it’s visit to Northolt.

Superb planning from Phillip Dawe and his team responsible for the photoshoot meant that a large set of aircraft boarding ladders were formed into a bridge in front of the Sabreliner – allowing for an elevated photograph. Those with keen eyes will have spotted the friendly smiley face on the rear of the aircraft!

BAe 146 C.3

The appearance of the Sabreliner would have been enough to make this event memorable, but it was by far from the only star. Whilst Northolt is no stranger to RAF BAe 146 aircraft (resident 32(TR) Squadron operate the BAe 146 CC.2 in the VVIP and Comms role), the aircraft on display was one of a pair of second hand aircraft purchased to fulfil urgent operational requirements identified during Operation Herrick. The two examples, registered ZE707 and ZE708 were converted from their previous role as freighters for TNT Airways by Hawker Beechcraft at Hawarden (who added defensive aids, amongst other modifications) and the first aircraft was sprayed at Lelystad, whilst the second received it’s repaint at Norwich by Air Livery. The aircraft are now locally assigned at Northolt to 32 Squadron and designated as BAe 146 C.3s.

Hawker Hurricane Mk.XIIc

Whilst Northolt usually gets solid participation from current Royal Air Force aircraft, the appearance of the Hawker Hurricane Mk.XIIc from the Historic Aircraft Company at Duxford was something memorable indeed. HAC had originally committed to sending their Spitfire Mk.Vc BM597 (whose £3000 appearance fee was split across the visiting photographers – a price gladly paid), but a last minute oil leak meant the Hurricane stood in to take it’s place. Arriving in the capable hands of Charlie Brown, who put Z5140 through a brief but thorough beatup of the airfield, the Hurricane later provided the only ground run of the event.

Armée de l’Air – Eurocopter AS.332L-1 Super Puma and Dassault Dornier Alpha Jet E

The French Air Force have always supported Northolt events well, sending examples of their Alpha Jets (one of which was in attendance at this event), and Fennecs to previous events. For Nightshoot XIV, the Armée de l’Air exceled themselves and sent a rare example of their AS332L-1 Super Puma. French Pumas are to be seen in the UK on occasion – notably in the hands of the Armée de Terre at the Royal International Air Tattoo, but Air Force examples are considerably rarer.

The aircraft, provided by EH.03.067 “Parisis” from Villicoublay arrived earlier in the day as “COTAM 1360”, and whilst the crew were unable to provide a static engine run during the event, they did set the strobes firing for some added photographic interest.

AgustaWestland AW139

Another rotary wing asset in attendance was from an operator who are certainly not strangers to RAF Northolt. The Irish Air Corps sent one of their six AgustaWestland AW.139s to support the photocall, marking the fourth visit of this type. Previously the IAC have also supported Northolt Photocalls with examples of other airframes in their fleet, including the Eurocopter EC-135P-2, Learjet 45 and Pilatus PC-9M. The Irish Air Corps was the military launch customer for the AW139, and operates them with 301 Squadron in a variety of roles, including VIP Transport, Army Cooperation and medical flights. The flexibility of the AW139 is enhanced by removable modifications, such as an Air Ambulance Kit, Fire Bucket and door mounted General Purpose Machine Guns. Unfortunately unlike the previous Nightshoot, the Irish crew in attendance did not have permission to perform an engine run of their aircraft, but as with the French crew and their Super Puma were thoughtful enough to switch on external lights for photographs.

“Local” Participants

As well as these participants, Northolt once again did a good job of bringing in the “locals”, from both 32(TR) Squadron in the form of an HS.125 and A.109E, the Eurocopter EC.145 of the Metropolitan police and MD902 Explorer of the London Air Ambulance. The Police EC.145 had to depart on call midway through the event – the speed with which the crew got the aircraft off the ground a pertinent reminder of the critical abilities which the Air Support Unit provides to police forces on the ground.

The Air Ambulance attended the event after arriving during the Hurricane engine run. The distinctive red colour scheme was revamped during February, after Virgin ended their sponsorship deal with the Charity. Changing messages will be applied to the tail boom to highlight the importance of the Air Ambulance mission – during the nightshoot, the message proudly commemorated 28,502 Critical Trauma missions. The new paint scheme was applied to help to reinforce the message that Air Ambulance services are provided by charity, and are not directly funded by the NHS. Thankfully there was no requirement for the Air Ambulance to depart on a shout during the event.

As always, a most sincere thanks is owed from all the photographers to Phil Dawe and all of those at RAF Northolt whose involvement means these events are possible. An additional thanks is again due to the respective Air Arms and organisations who spent time and resource to attend the event!

Northolt Nightshoot XV is planned to be held at some point over the summer – but the team will have their work firmly cut out to better Nightshoot XIV!