Fans of James Bond may be familiar with a scene in the film 'Octopussy', where 007 arrives with a horse truck at an equestrian event held at a Cuban airbase. In reality, the airbase was not in Cuba: it was located in Ruislip, near London, and is called RAF Northolt. It was not the real James Bond either, it was an actor called Roger Moore.
RAF Northolt's finest hour came during the Second World War, as with so many RAF airfields, when it was home to 5 squadrons during the Battle of Britain. One of these was a Polish squadron, the memory of which is still held alive with a memorial next to the airfield. Nowadays, the airfield is mainly used by the RAF's n°32 squadron, as well as for some civilian flights.
These strong Polish ties were also apparent during the annual Northolt photocall, which came after Northolt's family day. This is an event that gathers as many aircraft as possible for a static exhibition for the benefit of photographers, who can wander around the airfield and snap pictures without tents, fences and ice cream vans in the background. No fewer than 4 Polish aircraft found their way to Northolt for this edition: 3 M.28 surveillance and maritime patrol aircraft, and a W-3 Sokol rescue helicopter, a remarkably strong presence. Add to that a multitude of very different aircraft, ranging from fighters to transports and trainers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United States, France, Germany, Canada and a number of classic aircraft from civilian operators and you have a recipe for success that few other events can match in numbers or variety.
Access was a breeze. 3 old London double deck Landbuses proved that the Airbus 380 is not as revolutionary a design as is claimed. Once on the tarmac, photographers were free to walk on the ramp to take the pictures they wanted. Sometimes, it took some time to make sure you didn't catch any other photographers in the background but this was a small effort compared to the usual obstacles and hurdles that have to be overcome at major airshows. Special stairs were available at 3 locations to allow an elevated photo position, a very welcome opportunity and very popular among those present.
During the afternoon, 2 civilian Gnats took off and recovered to provide some brief flying entertainment for the hundreds of visitors. As there was no flying display, the whole athmosphere was very relaxed and laid back. There was ample catering for such a small event, with plenty of drinks, ice cream and burgers grilled to perfection, as opposed to the usual questionnable airshow offerings.
All of this made it feel like a perfect Sunday afternoon garden party, just without a drunk uncle or a grandmother pinching your cheek asking when you're getting married. Years of psychotherapy saved, all for charity. Why not, indeed?
by Chris Janssens
Special thanks to Nadezhda Lepeshko and Phillip Dawe
Lay-out and content by Chris Janssens, 2005 - present