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Fifty Golden Years

John Heard/FocalPlane Photography
reports from Bruntingthorpe on the Lightning Preservation Group's (LPG) celebration of English Electric's classic fighter.

Thumbs up for XS904Thunder after Lightning?
Thunder naturally follows lightning and if you had recently attended the LPG's celebration of fifty Years of this magnificent aircraft, you would have certainly been left in no doubt of that fact!

A Flash Of Silver !
'A Flash Of Silver' was LPG's billing for the event, the only such celebration that will be held in the UK this year to mark this important milestone in the continuing history of this much loved aircraft.

A classic Lightning viewAlthough LPG celebrated the fiftieth anniversary at Bruntingthorpe on 11 July the Lightning's official birthday is actually on 4 August. It was on this date, way back in 1954, that the English Electric P1A prototype WG760 took to the air at Boscombe Down at the hands of EE's chief test pilot, Roland P Beamont. Although a somewhat different looking beast to production Lightnings, this aircraft nonetheless was the forerunner of what became the only fully British-built Mach 2 capable fighter ever to enter production in Great Britain. For this reason alone it is celebrated by many!

Sqn Ldr Dennis Brooks dismounts from F.6, XS904 / BQ, at BruntingthorpeNostalgia strikes
For most people associated with it, the withdrawal of the Lightning from RAF service was a day that military aviation in Great Britain changed for ever. That probably sounds a little over the top, but I say it with caution - fully aware that these days sentimentality and nostalgia seem to be almost in vogue. Indeed many people would struggle to see why anyone should have any form of emotional attachment to a machine, but these 'machines' seem to have somehow gotten under the skin of those who flew it, serviced it, or like me and so many other enthusiasts, spent much-to-much time in the freezing cold at Binbrook and other such places watching them fly. Thus it is for those of us who have been afflicted in this manner that they hold a special place in our past, and hopefully our futures, thanks to the hard efforts of groups like LPG. If you still don't understand, it's OK, I guess it's a Lightning thing!

In the company of legendsBrian Carroll and John Spencer
Thus it was on 11 July that many fans, both young and old, reknowned pilots, and just the plain curious, assembled at Bruntingthorpe to see Lightnings strut their stuff one more time in a celebration its fiftieth year. (Sadly, in this country, that's all they will do and if you ever want to see one fly a trip to South Africa or the USA will be your best chance). In the hands of Lightning community legends John Spencer, Dennis Brooks and Brian Carroll, LPG's XS904 and XR728 were put through their paces on Bruntingthorpe's long runway with full gusto, much to the delight of everyone present.

Dennis BrooksDuring the day's events single Lightning runs were interspersed by other types, such as the Jet Provost and Hunter, and the Lightning pilots also entertained fans with anecdotes from their past (and present) experiences with the type. But the pinnacle of the day's activities for most was the double Lightning run, something What do you mean, the tyres are wornwhich had never been attempted here before, and what a success! For me the sight of the pair taxiing back from their run certainly brought back some old memories of days spent at Binbrook. One would like to think that this will become a permanent feature when LPG have raised sufficient funds to erect the old RAF Wattisham QRA sheds. Seeing Lightnings scramble from a 'Q' shed would really be a dream come true for many.

Ignition sequence begins!A day well spent
The double Lightning taxi run was indeed a grand finalé to such a great day for those gathered and the event will hopefully help LPG's much needed fund raising efforts. For me personally the day was made by the little things that brought all those Lightning memories back. After time you forget things like that 'woossssh' of the AVPIN start, and indeed its smell. I had even forgotten what a distinctive head on profile it has as it taxies towards you. But, most of all, I had forgotten the sheer power of these beasts. With both ear-plugs and ear-defenders for protection I could still feel the awesome power of their Rolls-Royce Avons as they ripped by you so close.

Feel the force? For those of you who have never experienced this I can tell you it's both an unnerving and exhilarating experience. For those of you who missed it and love the Lightning, where were you?

Tempted?
If you would like to see them in action again this year you can catch them in at Bruntingthorpe's next open day on 5 September.
You can find out more at the following web site www.lightnings.org.uk

The author reserves the right to over-sentimentality and makes no apology for the number of Lightning images used in this small report.

(All images were taken with a Nikon D70 camera using 80-200mm F2.8 and 300mm F4 Nikon lenses)

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