Andrew Bates reports on RAF Northolt's charity photocall, held on 8 June
For the third year in a row, another charity photocall for aviation enthusiasts was held at RAF Northolt in early June, again following on from the Station Families' Day held the same weekend. In keeping with the last two years, the event was once again blessed with fabulously sunny and warm conditions all afternoon, nothing short of remarkable considering how the 'summer' of 2008 subsequently unfolded. As before, all the safety barriers had been taken down after the Families' Day to provide an abundance of camera angles for all the keen photographers, the only difference this year being a change in location with a move from the traditional north side by the old hangars over to the south side adjacent to the A40 main road.
The organising committee again excelled themselves by managing to attract yet another superb selection of interesting aircraft, including a number of types seldom seen, if at all, at some of the more major shows in the UK. With a total of seven foreign nations in attendance making up a large proportion of the visiting aircraft out on the ramp, the event could truly purport to have full international status.
The most significant foreign contribution came courtesy of Poland, perhaps no surprise considering its historical wartime links with RAF Northolt. The Polish contingent comprised of no less than three different variants of the M28 Bryza, with each example from a different branch of the Polish military; specifically Air Force, Navy and Border Guard. With all three lined up together on the ramp, it was possible to discern the subtle differences between the airframes - not only that, but with the three disparate colour schemes, they made for an impressive sight in the afternoon sunshine. In addition, a further Polish air asset came in the form of a rare UK appearance of a W-3T Sokol from 2 ELTL, serving as another reminder of Northolt's Polish heritage.
There were two nations new to this event this year; Canada and France. All the way from Ottawa came an immaculate CC-144B Challenger from 412 Squadron, Canadian Armed Forces. The French contribution consisted of an Armée de Terre SA330B Puma and Sécurité Civile Canadair CL-415 in customary hi-viz yellow, the latter machine taking time out, from what must normally be a busy fire fighting schedule in Europe, to make a rare visit to UK shores.
The remaining foreign participation once again included contributions from Eire, Germany, Netherlands and USA, with heavy emphasis on choppers from this particular quartet of nations. Apart from the Irish PC-9M, the remaining international visitors comprised entirely of rotary winged machines - specifically, this entailed the appearance of singles examples of Irish AC EC-135P, GAF UH-1D, German Army Bo105P, Dutch Air Force AB412SP and US Army UH-60A. The USAF had planned to attend with a return visit from a pair of A-10A Thunderbolts from the 81st FS/52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem, but unfortunately they had to cancel at the last minute.
There was good support from the UK military, including two Harrier GR7As, 100 and 208(R) Squadron Hawk T1s, a 43 Squadron Tornado F3, a 41(R) Squadron Tornado GR4, 72(R) and 207(R) Squadron Tucano T1s, a 45(R) Squadron King Air and a 28 Squadron Merlin HC3, whilst resident 32(TR) Squadron really entered into the spirit of things by putting their full fleet of three highly polished A109Es on display and even went to the trouble of lining them up in echelon formation. However, the centre of attention for many enthusiasts that afternoon just had to be the specially marked Hawk T1 from 19(R) Squadron - in commemoration of the seventieth anniversary of the first entry into RAF service of the Spitfire with 19 Squadron at Duxford way back in 1938, XX184 has been specially painted in an almost identical colour scheme, complete with yellow '19' on the tail and looked, quite simply, stunning.
There was one other colourful machine making a welcome appearance, namely the Meteor T7 test bed from Martin Baker. Having supported the event since the beginning with attendance from their beautiful all-black Meteor WA638 for the last two years, it was wonderful to once again get the opportunity to see their other example WL419, still resplendent in silver and day-glo red. Additionally, there were also a few privately owned machines on display including a pair of Gnat T1s, Jet Provost T3A, Bulldog T1, Scout AH1, Dragon Rapide, Proctor as well as a very smart looking ex-Singaporean Strikemaster for added interest.
All in all, with such an irresistible combination of interesting aircraft and gorgeous sunshine, the event once again provided everyone with a thoroughly enjoyable day. Full marks yet again to the hard working organisers and volunteers who, in three years, have now firmly established this event in the calendar - an event which, in your scribe's view, has rapidly achieved the status of an event not to be missed.