Kevin Russ finds an active Lightning away from Bruntingthorpe. Pictures by the author and Kevin Daws
Sat in a corner of Cranfield Airfield, Bedfordshire is an immaculate privately owned English Electric Lightning T5, being XS458 (cn B1/95018). This ex-RAF aircraft is now lovingly owned by Russell Carpenter and has been in his possession since October 2001, the aircraft maintained for occasional fast taxi runs performed along Cranfield's still active runway. The aircraft is painted in 92 Squadron (port side) and 111 Squadron (starboard side) markings with a lovely display of all RAF squadron insignia down the port side of the fuselage representing the units that flew the Lightning while it was in service.
On 13 October 2007, as part of an invite to the Cottesmore Aviation Group (CAG), I visited the aircraft on an unusually good day for the time of year. Initially the weather wasn't too kind, but in the afternoon it cleared up allowing some stunning images to be captured. After initially removing the protective 'clothing', the aircraft was prepared for the first of two fast taxi runs - the sound of the Rolls-Royce Avon engines as they were started by ex-Lightning pilot Squadron Leader Dennis Brooks (OC Lightning Training flight - LTF) was incredible, bringing back memories of watching Lightnings at airshows in the 1980s. However, the best was yet to come as the aircraft was lined up on the runway for the first of the fast runs; as the engines were run up to full power, the noise from the engines increased and the aircraft lurched forward. Reheat was selected and the aircraft accelerated away - standing to the rear and left of the aircraft, I was able to see the reheat flames appear from the rear of the aircraft. All too soon Dennis chopped the power and the brake chute was released. After the run the aircraft was taxied back and shut down and manoeuvred to allow further photographs of this beautiful aircraft. A well-deserved break was taken by the engineering team, as well as the group and then we were treated to a further fast run after lunch. This time the Lightning was taxied back, parked with brakes on and chocks and then the aircraft was again powered up and reheat selected. Standing so close to the jet, sat at full power with reheat flames shooting out at the back was awesome, the ground rumbling under my feet with the noise and power.
XS458 was built and delivered to the RAF in 1965, serving at RAF Coltishall with 145 Squadron/226 OCU until 1974 when it moved to RAF Binbrook, then serving with 11 Squadron, 5 Squadron (Lightning Conversion Unit) and finally 11 Squadron again where it served until withdrawn from service in 1987. It flew into Cranfield as XS458/DY in the colours of 11 Squadron with six other examples (F6s & T5s) after being bought privately. After being refused permission by the CAA to fly, they were sold onto other owners in the UK and abroad. This example is the only aircraft left at Cranfield of the six that initially arrived, a few going onto South Africa where they are still flown at Mike Beachy Head's 'Thunder City'.
The group came away from Cranfield feeling privileged to have been able to get up close and personal to this lovely aircraft. The Lightning team did their utmost to ensure that we were able to get the shots we wanted and moved the aircraft a number of times to get the sun on the right side at the right time.
On behalf of the Cottesmore Aviation Group I'd like to say a big thank you to Russell Carpenter and the team making it a special day. Also a thank you to Martin and Kirstin Keen for organising the visit. For more information of this aircraft visit the website of XS458.