© Mark Empson | French Air Force | Pilatus PC-21 | 08 709-FJ

As we start the transition from long summer evenings to the shorter, colder winter nights it brings with it the start of the nightshoot season. October 5th 2023 saw one of the first, RAF Northolt XXIX Nightshoot. Mark Empson and Nick Thompson were on hand to report on the event.

Much to the delight of the approximately 200 gathered photographers this event saw no cancellations from the expected participation list. That said, it was hoped that the special RAF 40th Anniversary Chinook would attend the event. Although never on the official list of attendees the aircraft went unserviceable earlier in the day which prevented it from attending. With such an array of gathered aircraft the event saw a different parking arrangement when compared to previous editions. The layout regular attendees had become accustomed to, replaced by a ‘horse shoe’ arrangement, extending further out onto the ramp, all illuminated by the introduction of new LED lighting over the apron. With recent RAF Northolt Nightshoot’s beginning at 19:30 and running through to 21:30 prompt, the busy ramp led to attendees always moving quickly from one photographic opportunity to another.

Army Air Corps Apache AH1’s (ZJ210 & ZJ189)

RAF Northolt XXIX Nightshoot provided a welcome opportunity to see not one, but two Army Air Corps Apache AH1’s, in what is likely to be one of the last public events the type will appear at. The Apache AH1 is planned for retirement in 2023/24 as the British Army moves to the upgraded AH-64E. The two aircraft from 656 Squadron, 4 Regiment stationed at AAC Wattisham arrived at the beginning of the event as HYDRA 1 and HYDRA 2. Both aircraft later departed back to AAC Wattisham, providing photographers with the opportunity for images of the aircraft running.

French Air Force PC-21’s (08 & 14)

The event also saw the return of two Pilatus PC-21’s from the French Air Force. The pair operated by EAC 00.315, arrived from Ramstein AB, Germany culminating a multi-national trip from their home base at BA709 Cognac – Châteaubernard. Following their debut appearance with two different airframes at the March 2023 edition, it was welcome that this time aroind one of the aircraft also performed an engine run. The crew stayed with the aircraft for the majority of the evening happy to talk about their aircraft to the gathered photographers and also offer up some very reasonably priced squadron merchandise.

Italian Air Force P-180AM Avanti (MM62287)

For many of the enthusiasts that attended RAF Northolt XXIX Nightshoot, the participation of the Italian Air Force P-180AM Avanti was the highlight of the event. The aircraft operated by 71º Gruppo, 14º Stormo arrived from homebase Pratica di Mare just prior to the event as ‘IAM1490’. Whilst, unfortunately the aircraft remained ‘bagged and tagged’ for the duration of the event, this particular Avanti MM62287 sports a striking “Italian Tricolore” scheme, that is currently complemented by a 50 years of 71º Gruppo tail badge and fittingly in their centenary year, 100 years of Italian Air Force markings beneath the flight deck windows.

Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130J (130606)

The Royal Canadian Air Force returned, attended Northolt for a third consecutive time, attending once again with a CC-130J Hercules, in the form of 130606. Currently on deployment in the United Kingdom as part of ‘Air Task Force Prestwick’, 436 Squadron ‘Elephants’, 8 Wing stationed at CFB Trenton are supporting a number of operations, primarily “Operation Reassurance”, providing support and aid to Ukraine. The aircraft arrived from its temporary home at Glasgow Prestwick just before the event as ‘CFC2972’ and was the final departure of the event, leaving just before 21:30 directly back to Prestwick.

Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4 & A109SP (ZK375 & GZ100)

An RAF Northolt Nightshoot wouldn’t be the same without some home presence from the Royal Air Force and particularly 32 (The Royal) Squadron. On display was A109SP Grand New, GZ100. Going into the event it was believed the aircraft is to be withdrawn from use and transferred back to civilian hands. Confirmed on the night, this was likely the helicopter’s final appearance at a Northolt event before it is due to be replaced.

Also present from the RAF was a Typhoon FGR4 from RAF Coningsby. Flown to the event by a 29(R) Squadron pilot, the Typhoon is currently in the markings of 41 TES whilst being on the strength of 3(F) Squadron, a truly station wide effort to bring the fighter to RAF Northolt. And whilst it was fantastic to see the aircraft at Northolt, unfortunately it wasn’t a surprise to see the aircraft adorned in large red intake covers and a number of other tags installed.

Civilian Operated Aircraft (G-HUPW, G-VNAM, G-LNDN & G-EHMS)

A number of civilian operated participants joined their military counterparts. As is often the case at Northolt Nightshoots, owing to their overnight hangarage at RAF Northolt, London’s Air Ambulance’s two MD902 Explorers were both out on the ramp available to be photographed. It’s always nice to see MD902 Explorers still active seeing as many have now been phased out in favour of newer air ambulance platforms. 

Also in attendance were a pair of vintage aircraft. The first to perform a ground run on the night was G-HUPW (R4118), Hurricane Heritage’s Hawker Hurricane I based between IWM Duxford & White Waltham. The other was Cessna L-19A (O-1A) Bird Dog, G-VNAM from Membury. Sporting Vietnam era rocket fit, it was perhaps a little unfortunate that the timing of the Bird Dog’s ground run coincided with the Apache pair’s departure. This meant the majority of the gathered photographer’s attention fell with the helicopter duo, and leaving the smartly presented Cessna a little overlooked.

The team at Aeroresource would like to extend their thanks to Phil Dawe and the rest of his team at RAF Northolt for organising another excellent Northolt Nightshoot.

You can find out more about the RAF Northolt Nightshoots here: https://www.northoltnightshoots.com

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