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I live in the suburbs of London in Greenford (near RAF Northolt Base) and today I heard a droning sounds which, albeit from my limited experience, sounded like a propeller plane. I checked my generic flight radar application on my smart phone, no result. I then checked the ADS-B tracking website which identifies most military aircraft that aren't flying covertly but, again, no result.

I did manage to take a picture of the aircraft and it looks like a small passenger turboprop plane - so any ideas about what aircraft this is and why it wouldn't be showing up on any radars? It does not seem like a stealthy fighter jet by any means.

enter image description here enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Was the bottom of the body bright red? (I assume your eyesight is better than mine in combination with the picture.) $\endgroup$ – Keep these mind Aug 26 '17 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ Seems to be dark blue $\endgroup$ – Daniel K Aug 26 '17 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ The Let L-410 looks similar - possibly military personel transportation? I know the German airforce uses these $\endgroup$ – Daniel K Aug 26 '17 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ My guess is that it is an "old timer". Things to work on: - the wing is elliptical - the vertical tail is rounded - the engines seem to be almost as large as the cockpit - the horizontal tail seems to have some kind of simmetrical feature - it has a low tail, not a T-tail $\endgroup$ – Federico Aug 26 '17 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ I uploaded another image. On this one it doesn't seem so elliptical and the vertical stabiliser seems to have some sort of circle icon. I thought for a moment it might be a Britten-Norman? I guess the jury is still out. $\endgroup$ – Daniel K Aug 26 '17 at 20:52
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A long shot, but perhaps it's an Avro Anson, a true "old timer" from WWII and used by the RAF no less.

Image credits all from Wikipedia

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry to bring up an old thread but what about an Embraer EMB 121 Xingu? I saw one flying today in the same area from the French Air Force. $\endgroup$ – Daniel K Sep 19 '18 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ I think i found an answer. Have a look at the bottom $\endgroup$ – Daniel K Nov 30 at 3:16
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I'm going to hazard a guess here, but that's likely the best you will get unless someone tracks down a photo of a plane with a matching paint scheme.

Here's my thought process:

  • tapered, low wings
  • engine nacelles are almost as long as the nose, which narrows things down a bit
  • engine nacelles are relatively large in size, so it's...
    1. probably piston engined
    2. probably fairly small, maybe 6 passengers?
  • vertical tail looks swept
  • horizontal tail is placed low, and is at least as wide as the engine nacelles
  • fuselage tapers from the trailing wing root to the tail

As far as I can tell, it looks an awful lot like a Beechcraft Baron.


Image credit: AOPA

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    $\begingroup$ The wingtips look more tapered and the nose more boxy than the Baron to my eye, but I could well be wrong. $\endgroup$ – Ralph J Aug 27 '17 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, could be. Without a higher quality photo, this is really just an exercise in futility. My other guess was a smaller Cessna twin, but not much lined up. $\endgroup$ – egid Aug 27 '17 at 4:12
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    $\begingroup$ Better match than the King Air, but still: The trailing edge of the rudder looks rounded, not straight like in the Baron. I'm not convinced. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Aug 27 '17 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ @egid: Yes, I thought for a moment it could be a Cessna T-50, but the fuselage nose is much longer. Still, the round wingtips and vertical suggest an older design, from the 40s or 50s. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Aug 27 '17 at 8:32
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterKämpf I think the round tail is just blurred overexposure; note the apparent 'dent' in the left tailplane. $\endgroup$ – Sanchises Aug 27 '17 at 8:36
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enter image description here

Spy planes!!! Looks like I found an answer after two years when I came across a blog called 'secret bases'.

"Keen MI5 spy plane spotters should continue to lurk around RAF Northolt. A company formed by former elite RAF pilots, 2 Excel Aviation, actually based at Sywell Aerodrome, Northamptonshire, is now performing those spooky Northolt tasks, as part of its Scimitar special projects team.

They are using Piper PA31 Navajo aircraft "G-SCIR" (ModeS 40729C), "G-SCTR" (ModeS 40029D) and "G-SCMR" (ModeS 40729E) — all registered to 2 Excel in February / March 2017. They joined regular "sneaky-beaky" craft "G-UMMI" (ModeS 400C86) which is regularly spotted with special communications equipment attachments.

All three RAF Northolt Piper Navajo PA31 craft had been purchased by 2 Excel from Mike Jones Aircraft Sales Inc in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, America, who specialise in Colemill Panther conversions for performance and safety boosts. G-SCTR previously carried registration mark N331DB. G-SCIR had been supplied with tail number N522AW and G-SCMR had previously carried N27773.

Military aviation enthusiast Alan Warnes blogged on the subject in August 2017 on his Warnesy's World website, but strangely he only noted two out of the three Piper Navajos and missed G-SCIR. Curious, as the three registrations all took place at the same time – February / March 2017.

The London Evening Standard's Business Pages reported on my findings in an article headlined "Lift Off: Home Office privatises MI5 spy plane operations"."enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ The belly paint job looks the same. I think you nailed it! $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Nov 30 at 13:05
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Given its proportions and size, as well as the shape of the wing platform, I might guess a Beech King Air C90.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ to me it does not have the right shape of wings/tail $\endgroup$ – Federico Aug 27 '17 at 8:29
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    $\begingroup$ And the engine nacelles look too slender. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby Oct 26 '17 at 10:47
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry to bring up an old thread but what about an Embraer EMB 121 Xingu? I saw one flying today in the same area from the French Air Force. $\endgroup$ – Daniel K Sep 19 '18 at 9:01

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