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Northolt Station Flight

 The unit name Northolt Station Flight sounds benign but in fact this RAF flight, which is based at RAF Northolt in west London, is deeply involved with the British security services in snooping on British citizens. Specifically their aircraft are used for monitoring mobile phone calls and other transmissions. They typically fly from Northolt but can also be seen at other RAF bases such as Waddington in Lincolnshire where most British spy aircraft are based. Their Britten-Norman Islander aircraft usually fly at 10,000 feet in tight circles over the area of interest, and are flown by RAF pilots but with "civilian" operators in the rear. As the Islander is a fairly quiet, small aircraft, painted overall grey, it is easily missed as it orbits overhead, it is a low tech type but with high tech equipment.
Going back a few years three Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft of 51 squadron were deemed sufficient to snoop on the Soviet Union but after the fall of communism these were retired and our snooping efforts increased with a new fleet of smaller aircraft such as the King Airs and Sentinels based at RAF Waddington. And attention was diverted from exterior to interior targets, hence smaller, shorter range types. The Northolt Station Flight is a niche unit, conveniently based near the MI5 / MI6 headquarters in London, and frequently operating at night, making their aircraft even more difficult to spot.
 
RAF Islander

Royal Air Force Islander