Lightning XR724’s Hangar Opening

Member's of the Lightning Assocation Engineering Team pictured with XR724, at the end of a long yet happy weekend.


 By  Chris Fear

Over the weekend of October 21 and 22, a low-key two-day event took place at Binbrook, a former RAF station airfield in rural Lincolnshire, England. With the official opening of the new hangar to protect Lightning XR724, the Lightning Association, according to Chair Dr. Charles Ross, celebrated “a milestone in the recovery of the Lightning to operational condition.”

Inside the new hangar, visitors wait to sit in XR724’s cockpit.

As anyone knows, an airplane in open storage and exposed to the weather is going to deteriorate much more quickly than one that is under cover. For much of 2023, members of the Association’s engineering team have spent all of their spare time building the new hangar for XR724, the last complete Lighting at its spiritual home, Binbrook in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

“We have managed to raise the funds (to build the new hangar). Today, we’ve invited friends, family, people who have given us everything from money to encouragement, and people who have helped out over the years with the maintenance and preservation of the airframe. And it’s a way of saying thank you to them.” said Dr. Ross.

Guests of honor at the event were Jake Jarron, former boss of 11 Squadron, and Andy Williams, the former boss of 5 Squadron. The two squadrons were the final two operational units to fly Lightnings before the type was retired from RAF service at Binbrook in 1988.

Lightning Pilot and former Officer Commanding 5 Squadron, Mr Andy Williams.

“To be invited back to Binbrook … to be part of this weekend with XR724 is very special to me,” said Mr. Williams. “My connection to XR724 goes back to when I was Officer Commanding 5 Squadron here at RAF Binbrook between 1985 and 1987. I checked my flight logbook and I noticed I’ve flown it 18 times. My penultimate (Lightning) sortie was in this very airplane. I was asked to do a proving flight with its overwing tanks from Binbrook down to St Mawgan in Cornwall and back again. The flying time was 1 hour and 30 minutes!”

Pete Smith, a former groundcrew member who’d traveled all the way from Newcastle, said “They were a great aircraft to work on.” Of his time on Lightnings, Mr. Smith said his most abiding memory was when as an 18-year-old, “it was the first time we took one of these down to the runway to do reheat runs to check that the afterburner functioned correctly. The only way you can leak check the jet pipe is to actually (climb?) on the tailplane while someone in the cockpit selected reheat.”

Bob Baylis, a retired RAF Armourer, and Lightning Association member care for the jet’s deactivated ejection seats.

Asked what the Association’s plans were for the XR724, Dr. Ross said “As far as the future is concerned, we have always kept it technically in operational condition; that is to say, so that we can run the engines. The engines have not been run for probably about 15-plus years. But we’ve maintained it as best we could, given the disadvantages of being in the open and having limited technical assistance. But know that these disadvantages have been corrected. The plan is to restore the engine side of the aircraft to running condition … perhaps within the next year.”

So while it may have been a long wait, with a bit of luck, the sound of a pair of Rolls-Royce Avon engines may once again reverberate around Binbrook and across the Lincolnshire landscape.

With his former jet in the background, Lightning Pilot Andy Willams prepares to cut the ribbon opening the new hangar.

Array

2 Comments

  1. My very best to all members working on this very worthwhile project.

    ACS (RAF Ret’d after a wonderful 30 years on multi-engine transports – but lucky to have flown as pax in a T4 twice second time to get the ‘Ten ton tie and certificate’ on 224 OCU RAF Coltishall 1966. On the first flight doing PIs with an F 2A I’m not ashamed to admit that I was as sick as a dog – having been notified of the flight 30 minutes after a decent lunch ☹️

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