Fifty Golden Years
John Heard/FocalPlane Photography reports from Bruntingthorpe on the
Lightning Preservation Group's (LPG) celebration of English Electric's
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.
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!
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
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.
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 which
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.
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.
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?
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)