BRUNTINGTHORPE Lightning Preservation Group Open Day, 2 May
Andrew Bates reports: Organised in conjunction with British Aviation Heritage, the Lightning Preservation Group once again chose the Sunday of May Day bank holiday weekend for their first (of two) Open Days during 1999. Held on a sunny spring day, it was, as usual, an ideal precursor to the UK airshow season. Whilst not strictly an airshow as such, it has always been an ideal means of quite literally blowing away those winter blues!
For those who are unfamiliar with Bruntingthorpe, this ex-USAF airfield in Leicestershire is now home to a growing collection of classic military jets, some of which are maintained in ground running condition. So, for anyone wishing to turn the clock back a few years, its possible to see some sorely missed classics thunder down the runway one more time. Obviously, its not the same as seeing them fly again, but surely the next best thing.
The operational fleet, which represents the cream of the British aircraft manufacturing industry of the post-war era, includes two Lightning F6s from the LPG, XR728/JS & XS904/BQ. Whilst live airframes with BAH include Buccaneer S2B XX900, Comet 4C XS235, Hunter F58 J-4091 (ex-Swiss Air Force), Victor K2 XM715 and Vulcan B2 XH558. By way of a complete contrast, there is also ex-Polish Air Force Iskra 1018.
On the day in question, the Vulcan was conspicuous by its absence, possibly as a prelude to the recent investigative work being carried out in relation to potential flight status. Also, one of the LPG Lightnings, XS904, was undergoing maintenance and thus remained on static display only, along with the Iskra. As LPG always attempt to run both Lightnings during open days, they opted to run XR728 twice during the course of events.
First to run was the Buccaneer, which once again demonstrated its naval ancestry by means of wing-folding as it taxied back to its parking slot. It was also noticeable that this aircraft had forsaken its previous 12 Squadron markings for those of 237 OCU. It was followed a short while later by the Lightning performing its first run of the day. For many of those present, the distinctive high-pitched whine of the AVPIN starter cartridge heralded the highlight of the day; with the magical sound of the number one Avon spooling up, the procedure was repeated for the second engine. Within minutes, both were up to fast idle, and post-start checks, such as rudder and air brakes, were then conducted.
After watching this transformation to operational readiness, it was then that the anticipation really began to mount. Very soon, the hardworking LPG ground crews were removing the cockpit ladder, ground equipment, and finally the chocks. Then the aircraft really came to life, as the pilot lowered the canopy, and then slowly taxied forward, pausing to test the brakes.
XR728 then taxied a little further up the runway, before stopping again. There was a brief pause, a calm before the storm, then the assault on everyones eardrums began. With the brakes on, the pilot brought the engines up to about 90% thrust, the nose visibly dipping as the Lightning strained to unleash itself. Then, just when everyone was wishing they had some ear defenders, the brakes were released, and the aircraft shot forward, and away down the runway. A few seconds later, as the pilot opened the throttles further, on came the afterburners.
And so, for a brief moment, those assembled at the edge of the runway were treated to the magical sight and sound of a Lightning thundering down the runway, with re-heat blazing. All too soon, with the pilot rapidly approaching about 110 120 knots, the burners were off, the engines were throttled back, and out popped the braking parachute, with the aircraft disappearing over the horizon as it easily traversed the more than ample runway at Bruntingthorpe. As always, the sudden silence was greeted by a cacophony of car alarms.
After a short while, the aircraft re-appeared on the horizon as it taxied back towards the crowd. This in itself was almost as enjoyable as the high-speed dash. Just being able to see the familiar outline of a Lightning taxying towards you, after 11 years of retirement from RAF service, was reason enough for attending this open day. Somehow, after all those years, and despite the age of the original design, it still seems to exude a sense of purpose, and it really did feel as if the clock had been turned back.
Next on the itinerary was Canopus, the ex-Boscombe Down Comet, which on arrival at Bruntingthorpe in October 1997, was the worlds last airworthy Comet. Still resplendent in its DTEO markings, it performed two high-speed runs, one after the other. Whilst perhaps not as spectacular as the Lightning, it nevertheless demonstrated a sprightly performance for an airliner, and certainly managed to compete in terms of noise.
The day's events were not entirely confined to terra firma, as the crowds were treated to a flying display by Canberra WK163/G-BVWC from Bruntingthorpe-based Classic Aviation Projects. The pilot performed his usual repertoire of manoeuvres, which ably demonstrated the Canberras capabilities. Also during the day, the airfield was visited by a pair of Jet Provosts, including T4 XP672/G-RAFI from Bournemouth-based Jet Heritage Ltd.
Next aircraft to grace the runway was Hunter J-4091, still sporting its dual Swiss 7 FlSt & 9 FlSt markings. Whilst it was pleasing to see this aircraft still operational, and in such good condition, the interest amongst the enthusiasts was perhaps a little eroded when considering how many privately owned Hunters are now airworthy and earning their keep on the display circuit.
Following the Hunter a short while later, the Lightning made a return to the runway, its brakes sufficiently cooled from the previous run. The aircraft proceeded to thrill the assembled crowd with a second, almost identical, high-speed dash, burners briefly ablaze. Just as he cut the throttles, the pilot managed, for a fleeting moment, to put some daylight between the nose wheel and the tarmac, leaving many of those assembled at the runway to ponder the tantalising thought of "If only ."
Final participant was the Victor, still proudly displaying the 'Teasin Tina' nose art it wore during the final few years of operational service. Looking at the overall condition of this aircraft, it was hard to believe that it had flown into retirement at Bruntingthorpe in November 1993, as it really looked as if it had just arrived. Having being parked in a separate area to some of the other participants, the aircraft had to taxi up towards the crowd, before turning in preparation for the blast down the runway. As the aircraft turned gracefully around in front of the crowd, the distinctive nose profile seemed to be almost within reach of everyone, and the whole manoeuvre seemed, somehow, to give a majestic feel to proceedings.
Following a pause to check various flying controls, the throttles were opened up, and all four Conway engines strained to unleash the former V-bomber, noise reverberating around the airfield. Then the brakes were off, and nearly 90 tons of aircraft were propelled down the runway, initial inertia soon overcome. Then all too soon, the power was off, flaps were deployed, air brakes out, but surprisingly, no braking chute. This being a normal feature for the Victor at Bruntingthorpe, it was perhaps inoperative on the day. However, this did not detract from the spectacle, it was still an impressive demonstration.
As is always the case at Bruntingthorpe, there was also an impressive selection of static aircraft on view, which included some long term residents such as Hunter F6A XK149, Harrier T4 XW270, Jet Provost T3A XN584, and a pair of Canberras, both ex-DRA, WT333 & XH568, the last mentioned being the previous display mount of Classic Aviation Projects. Dominating the static park, as ever, was the distinctive shape of Super Guppy F-BTGV.
Regular attendance at this twice-yearly event is always seemingly rewarded with something new to see, and once again this occasion was no exception. Newly arrived from Coltishall was ex-BDR Jaguar GR1 XZ382, reputedly acquired by an American collector. It had been delivered to Bruntingthorpe for temporary residence prior to its Trans-Atlantic shipment. When considering that it had spent a number of years as a BDR airframe, it was in surprisingly good condition. It had been given a new coat of paint, in the now customary all over grey scheme, complete with full 41 Squadron markings to port, and 54 Squadron markings to starboard.
For any enthusiast with a nostalgic streak, this was surely a great way to spend a sunny, Sunday afternoon. Whilst the chances of seeing a Vulcan fly again are beginning to look favourable, what chance of seeing a Lightning flying again, apart from making the long trek to Thunder City at Cape Town. So to see one moving again under its own steam was reason enough to attend this event, with all the other participants being the icing on the cake. All the hardworking volunteers of the LPG and BAH should be applauded for their efforts in providing this bi-annual spectacle. Hmm ..Wonder if the wife can be persuaded that South Africa would be a good destination for a holiday next year?!