A number of groups, organisations and individuals outside museums are involved in the preservation of Lightning airframes and, in some cases, the operation of active aircraft, either ground running or as potential and actual flying aircraft. The following is an account of the main groups. If you have a Lightning project, whether it is a Cockpit or complete airframe and would like to be added to our list, please send your details email here
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The origins of the Lightning Preservation Group date from the summer of 1987, when several enthusiasts who were gathered at the Binbrook crash gates began to contemplate a bleak future of no more Binbrook, no more Lightnings. The only way to compensate for this impending loss seemed to be to buy one! The idea grew, and more potential members were recruited (as sources of finance!) as the focus changed from the purchase of a spares-recovered F.3 from the decoy line to delivery of a complete and fully functional F.6. The dream came true on 24 June 1988 with the delivery to Bruntingthorpe of XR728, the personal aeroplane of Binbrook Station Commander Gp Capt John Spencer, complete with ‘personalised’ JS tail code.
Originally the aircraft was to be maintained in a static condition, as the group did not have the finance or the expertise to maintain a flying aircraft, even if the CAA had been better disposed towards Lightnings flying on the civil register. However, the ex-Binbrook personnel in the group suggested that the best way to preserve the aircraft, especially if permanent hangarage were not available, was to run the engines to keep the systems operating and to drive out moisture. The Group then progressed to taxiing ‘728 and eventually to the use of reheat and performing fast taxi-runs along Bruntingthorpe's 10,000ft runway in front of the public at biannual open days.
XR728 was first flown on 17 March 1965 by a BAC test pilot, the late Desmond ‘Dizzy’ De Villiers. This, in common with most initial Lightning flights, was from the BAC airfield at Samlesbury, where the final assembly of Lightnings took place, to the company airfield at Warton. The aircraft was originally built as an F.Mk.3, but was later converted to the F.Mk.6 configuration. On 1 November 1967, it was flown by Squadron Leader Blackburn to 23 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, becoming ‘Delta’. Before arrival, it had completed 10 test flights with the manufacturers. On 13 May 1971, it was delivered to No.60 Maintenance Unit at RAF Leconfield for overhaul, and was flown on 24 November 1971 to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, where the aircraft became ‘Delta’ with 56 Squadron.
It returned to 60 MU for a further overhaul on 2 July 1975 and returned to 56 Squadron on 24 October 1975, this time coded ‘Juliet’. On 1 July 1976, XR728 was flown to RAF Binbrook and placed into storage. By August 1978, it had been issued to the Lightning Training Flight as ‘Delta’, and was the first F6 for that unit. Subsequently, in common with other Lightnings a prefix to the fin code letter was added. In the case of LTF aircraft, this prefix was ‘Delta’, so ‘728 became ‘Delta Delta’. 5 Squadron were prefixed ‘Alpha’ and 11 Squadron ‘Bravo’. The prefix ‘Charlie’ was reserved for a proposed third Binbrook squadron which never materialised. By April, the aircraft had again been placed into storage and later serviced, re-emerging to depart to RAF St Athan on 12 November 1981 for a re-spray. Following its return, it flew for a while unmarked in the grey and green camouflage scheme until transferring to 11 Squadron as ‘Bravo Delta’.
The aircraft again flew to RAF St Athan on 2 August 1983 for a further re-spray, returning on 25 August 1983 in the dark grey air superiority colour scheme she still wears today. It was used by 5 Squadron un-coded but carrying the squadron markings until June 1986, when it returned to 11 Squadron as ‘Bravo Foxtrot’. In June 1986, the aircraft was again withdrawn from service and placed into storage. On 16 June 1987, XR728 was seen as ‘Bravo Sierra’ of 11 Squadron and flew two sorties as such, until it was painted up in the station markings previously carried by the by then disbanded Lightning Training Flight and coded ‘Juliet Sierra’, these being the initials of Station Commander Group Captain John Spencer, AFC. The aircraft was operated by 5 Squadron until December 1987 and then passed to 11 Squadron until purchased by Lightning Preservation Group.
Late in 1992, it became apparent that the four remaining Lightnings flying at BAe Warton would be shortly come up for tender and that another phase of Lightning operations would come to an end. Similar emotions to those experienced at the closure of Binbrook were in evidence amongst the group members, and there was a heated discussion as to whether the group should tender for a second Lightning, or whether this would leave the group overstretched financially with regard to the maintenance effort for XR728. Some thought that the money would be better spent putting up a hangar for the existing aircraft. A compromise was agreed whereby the group would place a relatively low bid for XS904, a high-fatigue airframe which could not be regarded as a potential flyer.
The bid was seen more as an insurance against it ending up in the hands of a scrap man - or so we told ourselves. In reality, we became desperately keen to get the aircraft and were ecstatic on the 21st January 1993 when in the hands of Peter Orme, XS904 swept low across Bruntingthorpe Airfield on its delivery flight, accompanied by Group Captain Andy Williams in a Tornado F.3. And so another chapter of Lightning history had ended, and another one hopefully had begun. We had again achieved our objective, we had two fully serviceable Lightnings in superb condition. Who would have believed us in the summer of 1987, as we stood at the Binbrook crash gate, that just a few short years later we would be operating our own Lightnings. Amazing!
Anglo American Lightning Organisation
The Anglo American Lightning Organisation - Now in our 12th year of restoration and after a huge amount of dedicated work by an international restoration team led by retired Royal Air Force Engineer, Phil Wallis, we have reached a pivotal point in the return to flight of XS422.
Formally with the Empire Test Pilots' School at Boscombe Down at Wiltshire in the UK, XS422 is a 1960's British Cold War Interceptor, an English Electric Lightning.
While the project has the skills and resources to complete the restoration we are now approaching a stall due to lack of funding. We will shortly be launching a Crowd funding campaign so more news to follow on that and how you can get involved.
Finally for now, plans are well in motion for the next major US visit. After a hugely successful November 2012 trip, during which both engines were installed, the UK engineering team will be hooking up with the US volunteers to progress the aircraft towards our next goal of ground running.