Gary Parsons tells the tale of an A1 milestone
She stands alone on a piece of empty waste ground, proudly pointing to the sky where she feels she belongs. A waypoint on the A1 for nearly twenty years, she is a familiar sight for many enthusiasts en-route to Waddington from the southern counties. But, time and man are taking their toll, as bit-by-bit she disappears through the actions of decay and souvenir hunters.
Lightning F2A XN728/V (c/n 95105) was built during 1961 at English Electric's Samlesbury facility. She first flew on 26 October of that year, piloted by test pilot T. M. S. Ferguson, and was issued to 92 Squadron at RAF Leconfield on 1 April 1963 (it isn't clear what she did in the intervening eighteen months). She was to spend her whole career with 92 Squadron, initially coded 'B', later 'F' and finally 'V'. Her career was unremarkable, except for an undercarriage collapse on 3 April 1968, during the repair of which she was converted to F2A standard, basically a Mk6 but still retaining her guns. 31 of the original 44 F2s were converted from 1968 onwards - the engines were upgraded to the Avon RA211R but the armament fit was retained. External features were the most noticeable, comprising the cambered wing, square-cut fin and much enlarged ventral tank of the F6. XN728 went on to serve the RAF in Germany until 92 Squadron disbanded in March 1977, prior to re-equipping with the Phantom FGR2. She then made her final flight to RAF Coningsby where she served as a decoy aircraft for a number of years with the maintenance serial 8546M.
On 3 October 1983 she was purchased by G.A. Wilks, and transferred to the yard of A1 Commercial Vehicles in Balderton, near Newark. The method of transfer was brutal, the wings and tail being cut near the root, so that she would not be able to support herself once put back together - a trestle support, placed under the ventral belly tank, kept her properly poised once at the yard. The wings and tail were re-attached using large metal plates, which sadly went unpainted and proved to be a bit of an eyesore.
During the nineties the vehicle yard fell on hard times and eventually closed, falling into disrepair. Being so close to Newark, anything that had a tangible value was swiftly removed (including the fence) and XN728 eventually became abandoned and alone, available for the attention of anyone wandering by. Removal of the wheels and the radar radome hurried the collapse of the ventral tank, causing the now tail-heavy aircraft to settle back into her present attitude, as if clawing to get airborne once more. Attacked by vandals and graffiti 'artists', she remains more as testimony to man's wanton desire for destruction, rather than a proud sentinel of the Cold War in which she played a major part at the sharpest end. How long will she last? How long before some do-gooder proclaims she is a danger to those idiots that vandalise her? She may well be beyond salvation by an interested museum, more's the pity. But, she'll live on in many an enthusiast's living room, being one of the options in Airfix's recently released 1/48 scale model - who'll be brave enough to replicate 2002's condition?