Andrew Bates reports from the LPG's QRA Day at Bruntingthorpe, 5 May. Additional photography by Graham Haynes.
Every year without fail, as April turns to May, a great feeling of contentment and anticipation builds within me. This is all thanks to the thoughts that dominate the mind at this time of year - first, Spring is firmly established and the airshow season is just around the corner; second, the first Monday in May is a Bank Holiday, which means an extra lie-in; and third, vertically stacked Rolls Royce Avons in reheat! As ever, that final thought was turned to reality once more, thanks to the efforts of the Lightning Preservation Group (LPG) over at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire.
It was good to see the LPG Open Day return to its early May slot, as last year's Spring outing was unfortunately cancelled during the foot and mouth crisis, with just the usual September event taking place during 2001. Fittingly, this year's event was dedicated to the memory of Roland 'Bee' Beaumont, who sadly passed away last November. In honour of 'Bee', both of LPG's Lightnings were parked either side of Canberra B6 WT333/G-BVXC in between operations, as 'Bee' was chief test pilot for the Lightning and Canberra during his distinguished career.
Regular visitors to Bruntingthorpe were able to sample a complete change of scenery, as the event took place at the western end of the airfield, with aircraft performing from left to right for a change. Both Lightnings were serviceable on the day, so both were able to perform their customary high-speed dashes down the runway, and as an added bonus, XR728 completed a second 'sortie' during the afternoon. Consequently, three lucky pilots were able to relive past glories and get some additional stick time in a Lightning, albeit under restricted conditions to previous outings, but probably welcome nonetheless.
First up was Lt Col Brian Carroll (ex-Royal Saudi AF), who took XR728 on its first outing of the day. Then came Squadron Leader Dennis Brooks (ex-OC LTF) who was to pilot XS904 on its single run. Finally XR728 was up and running again during the afternoon, with Flt Lt Ian Wilde (ex-5, 19 & 29 Squadrons) at the helm.
The only other aircraft to perform during the day was the ex-Polish AF Iskra 1018, which appears to have gained the civil registration G-ISKA, so perhaps a return to flight status is on the cards? However, further ground-bound entertainment was provided by a pair of impressive looking Santa Pod style dragsters, both of which made short work of the long runway at Bruntingthorpe with a rate of acceleration that would easily leave a Porsche 911 standing at the traffic lights.
As far as the other resident jets were concerned, there were just the two on static display; Jet Provost T4 XS217 and Sea Vixen FAW2 XJ494, with the latter periodically demonstrating the wing folding mechanism. It was also possible to check on the progress so far achieved in the restoration of Beech 18 G-BKRN, as Beech Restorations went to the trouble of towing the aircraft over for public scrutiny. The aircraft has been painted in a smart US Navy colour scheme, and it is estimated to be about twelve to eighteen months away from flight status.
Effectively, this was a smaller event than previous Open Days, and because of recent costs incurred for higher public liability insurance, as well as fuel prices, the LPG had reluctantly increased the admission charge for visitors. However, this did not seem to deter enthusiasts from attending, as the event appeared to be as well supported as ever, and rightly so. Having acquired a QRA hangar from Wattisham, the group needs approximately £50,000 to fund the rebuild, not to mention the general costs associated with running TWO Lightnings. Once complete, the hangar will help in bringing the two Cold War veterans under cover and away from the ravages of the UK climate, as well as hopefully being used to re-create a typical QRA scramble during future events.
Lightning enthusiasts far and wide should applaud the continued efforts of the Lightning Preservation Group, whose hard work and perseverance provide us with a spectacle that would otherwise be confined to memory. For me this event is unmissable; the sight, the smell, and the feel of an operational Lightning as it thunders down the runway (I'm sure it must measure about 4.2 on the Richter scale as it hurtles past!). If you love Lightnings and you missed this event, make a note in the diary as the next Open Day is scheduled for 1 September. Be there.
excuse the author whilst he cancels his Doctor's appointment next week.
My ears will not need to be syringed after all!