A military base in north-west London has marked 100 years of aviation action, and held an open day to let the public in and have a look around.

We almost didn’t get in, as a security alert at the main gate sent a long snake of people walking around to another entrance a good 20 minutes away. But at the gate, no sign of security checks, just show a ticket and in you go.

The first thing you saw though, wasn’t planes, but a funfair, with the smell of funfair smells filling the darkening skies above.

Sadly, the skies above darkened to such a degree that the planned flypast by the Red Arrows and other vintage aircraft was cancelled.

A chinook helicopter spent so long trying to take-off that where initially a huge crowd had built-up, by the time the display was cancelled, half the crowd had wandered off to see more interesting things.

As had I, who decided to join a very long queue to go inside one of the diplomatic aircraft used by government to ferry members of government, or The Queen around. They also occasionally use them to fly relatives of soldiers injured in conflict to meet them, which is a sympathetic touch.


While the interior of the plane is decent enough, it’s exceptionally cramped. Backwards from civilian aircraft, the VIP section is at the back of the plane.


In the middle a larger section for officials, media, etc, then the front bit for crew and services.


The impression I got was of typical British frugality.

The seats still have cigarette ash trays in them, because they are that old, the space is cramped, considering that government ministers would often be working frenetically ahead of a meeting, and the facilities fairly spartan.

MPs often complain that their offices in Parliament are cramped and frankly a bit of a joke. 10 Downing Street is famously small, and here is the diplomatic flight doing the same.

Someone travelling business-class on a commercial flight has more space and better facilities. It would cause a media storm of outrage if Ministers routinely blocked off the business-class section on commercial flights, but it would probably be cheaper than maintaining a fleet of aircraft, and offer more space to work.

So they are stuck with some aging planes.


Tony Blair once pondered having a proper government aircraft, which was instantly dubbed “Blair Force One” by the media, but having now been inside what he had to use, I can see the arguments for a bigger plane.

But I doubt the public who haven’t seen inside the cramped space of what they use at the moment would agree.

As is often the case, just as I was about to go inside, the planes that could fly in the weather, started to do so. Fortunately, I got back outside just in time to see the Hurricane roaring overhead a few times.


The rest of the space was given over to displays. Lots of tents promoting various organisations, a display of old cars for no apparent reason, some motorbikes, and the fun fair.

There were some military vehicles lined up, and a few reenactors, but for an event set up to celebrate the centenary of a military base, very little history about the base, and very little military hardware on display.

Overall, more of a village fair that just happened to be in a military base.

For me, a highlight though was to see the Bloodhound racecar — which will be attempting the challenge the land-speed record, with a trial 200mps run later this year and the 1,000mph run in a year or two.


And I liked how they used the toilets as a barrier to stop people wandering into hangers.


But of course, no public event these days is complete without a Stormtrooper turning up.


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8 comments on “At the 100th anniversary of RAF Northolt
  1. StormtrooperTK says:

    Thats was me in the TK cosutume, last min favour for the RAFBF as based at northolt. Grea dow put and hopefully made the day of people seeing an imperial trooper trooping around

  2. Chris Hansen says:

    The ashtrays are not necessarily a vestige of the age of the aircraft. Even very modern planes have ashtrays in the loos and on many of the armrests. In the United States, airplanes that fly there are required to have them by the FAA. I am told that the reason they are still there is that if someone does smoke in the toilet, the flight attendants have to have someplace to stub the cigarette out before they collar the miscreant smoker. The same may apply to ashtrays in the armrests.

    Yes, I know, pedantry is alive and well. I’ll get my hat and coat.

  3. RogerBW says:

    That’s no Hurricane, that’s the only B-17 flying in Europe, Sally B.

    More photos at my blog post about the show, which should be linked from my name above.

  4. Quizzy Jane says:

    The Queen got the Red Arrows, why didn’t Northolt?

  5. John Mac says:

    Biggin Hill got the Red Arrows too. Sorry you missed out.

  6. HoosierSands says:

    Yes, as Roger says, that’s the B-17 and it was a wonderful display. As was the Spitfire with her noisy but fabulous Merlin engine. Doing loop the loops and zooming over the airstrip-you could see why the pilots wanted to fly it.

    My favourite performance was the B├╝cker Jungmeister, a Luftwaffe advanced acrobatic trainer, which seemed as comfortable flying upside down as right side up.

    There were also aerial displays by the 1941 built Dragon Rapide and a stunt display by a pair of RV-8s.

    A number of people left after hearing that the fly past had been cancelled. They should have stayed.

  7. I got my husband to buy tickets for us as a birthday present, so was very disappointed that the fly-pasts had to be cancelled, but I very much enjoyed both the Hurricane – my photos of it didn’t come out – and the Sally B (which they did, mostly). I’ve put a few photos on my blog post of the occasion, which again, should link if you click on my name.

    The trouble is, the PA was so terrible, you could only hear it in a few bits of the ground, and then not always reliably, that you simply didn’t know what was going to happen, or whether the Hurricane and the Sally B would be the only planes able to fly that day, which is what we had gathered, so we came away.

  8. Ray says:

    It was a spitfire- trainer that was flown around Northolt aerodrome not a hurricane and I have the photographs to prove it, taken with a Nikkor 28-300mm lens on a full frame Nikon DSLR camera.

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