The A1 Lightning: Britain’s Most Famous Derelict Fighter Plane

Image by Simon Thomas, Airliners.net

(Image courtesy of Simon Thomas)

Famous landmarks like the Angel of the North are well known to drivers on the A1 road.  But few would expect a derelict Cold War fighter plane to have found a place amongst such icons of modern art.  Once the main defender of British airspace against the Soviet Union during the 1960s and ’70s, the decaying hulk is more like a monument to the ravages of time and vandalism than past aviation.

Images via Google Earth

The aircraft, an English Electric Lightning F.2A, has been rusting in a yard in Nottinghamshire, UK, for the past 27 years.  It was bought by A1 Commercial Vehicles in 1983 in a bid to attract customers to its premises at Balderton.  But the yard has since changed hands several times and seen dereliction on several occasions over the years.

Image by Gary Parsons

(Image courtesy of Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK)

Yet the Lightning – one of only two remaining examples of the F.2A variant in the UK – lingers on.  Today, it has become so familiar to drivers on the A1 that it has acquired a landmark status all of its own.  Some even call it art, albeit in a very Graham Greene (The Destructors) sort of way.

Image by Gary Parsons

(Image courtesy of Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK)

The Lightning has been heavily vandalised over the years, with anything salvageable removed.  The fuselage is badly holed and covered in graffiti, leading one contributor on Key Publishing to joke that the vandals had at least chosen colours – silver and red – that matched the aircraft’s livery while in military service.  Another contributor remarked that it helped remind people that aircraft are utility objects – advanced today, obsolete tomorrow.

Service in Germany

Image by Gary Parsons

(Image courtesy of Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK)

The sorry state of the Lightning, serial number XN728, is a far cry from its glory days during the Cold War, when the aircraft served with 92 Squadron at RAF Gutersloh in Germany – on the front line between Western Europe and Warsaw Pact countries.  The image above shows XN728 during better days.

Decoy Duties and the A1 Yard at Balderton

Image by David Cowling

After retirement from service in 1977, the Lightning was used as a decoy aircraft at RAF Coningsby in a bid to confuse passing spy satellites.  XN728 was finally transported to Balderton in 1983, where it remained in reasonable condition until the yard was vacated in the early 1990s.  The image above shows the Lightning in 1992, weathered after 15 years outdoors, but otherwise intact.  Since then, it has been slowly destroyed.

End of an EraOr is it?

Image by TZ Aviation, Airliners.net

(Image courtesy of TZ Aviation)

This dramatic image ironically shows the Lightning in its classic takeoff pose.  But XN728′s flying days are more than 30 years in the past.  Today the nose points skywards due to the removal of the radome, which shifted the plane’s centre of gravity.  The wings are covered in graffiti, while souvenir hunters have stripped the airframe of valuable parts.  Under normal circumstances this might signal the end, but this Lightning has clung to life against the odds for decades.  XN728 is a rare piece of aviation history,  and deserves a better fate…

Update – After almost 30 years of neglect, the A1 Lightning was finally scrapped on September 9, 2011 (read more)

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  • Alex

    Driven past this loads over the years and always look to see if its still there. Its almost like a well known landmark now, bizarre! I’ve read that its well known to drivers who use the A1 a lot… They should totally resurrect it.

  • http://www.kunstart.be gilbert

    You can also see it from the train en route to Edinburgh

  • Nikki

    Hi, thank you for your recent post on my blog (relating to the Lightning thats located in a scrap yard at Balderton, Notts). I did read somewhere that there were plans to renovate it! I have not been passed there for nearly 3 years as I now live America. However, I do plan to get a visit in the next time I am in the area! I enjoyed reading your post, my interest in this plane will never tire.

  • Tom

    Thanks a lot for your Comment, Nikki! It really is a cool landmark and seems to have become really well known – especially to drivers on the A1 – purely because of the state it’s in. It’s a pretty rare example so would be great if they did resurrect it, but it’s been been so vandalised that if it was restored it would only be a cosmetic job and even that would be tough… Still, here’s hoping! I’m right with you on the interest. Thanks for dropping by (and sorry for the delay, been a hectic time)

  • Tom

    That’s true! From what I remember, you have to be pretty quick as it shoots by at quite a rate! There used to be another one you could see from the train too – actually in Edinburgh – but that’s gone now. Was in slightly better condition too!

  • charlie

    passed it on many occasions and always been intrigued by its history, now I know. Great to see the pic when it was operational in Germany. For sure it has become something of a landmark. The Lightning was an incredibly advanced aircraft that had an incredible climb rate. I remember reading years ago that a test pilot reportedly flew one to 87,000 feet and the curvature of the earth was visible. The fact that it has survived all these years being exposed to the elements and vandals is remarkable.

  • rany

    For sure it has become something of a landmark. The Lightning was an incredibly advanced aircraft that had an incredible climb rate. I remember reading years ago that a test pilot reportedly flew one to 87,000 feet and the curvature of the earth was visible. The fact that it has survived all these years being exposed to the elements and vandals is remarkable.

    Read more: http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com/2009/08/britains-most-famous-derelict-fighter-plane/#ixzz160IvVHma

  • Chris

    Who owns this aircraft, and can it be obtained even only if it is for the cockpit

  • http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com Tom

    Owner has always been something of a mystery – in fact this entire aircraft has to be honest! To the best of my knowledge it is owned by a guy down south who is in the salvage industry. I wrote to him once (name escapes me) as I was interested in this jet being saved despite its condition but heard nothing back! Best place to find info on this and other Lightnings is Damien Burke’s site Thunder and Lightnings: http://www.thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk/lightning/survivor.php?id=65

  • http://www.urbanghostsmedia.com Tom

    Thanks for your comment rany! Definitely an awesome aircraft, and impressive that XN728 has survived so long even though it’s in shocking condition…

  • Guest

    Appears to have gone now!

  • holdthephone

    Nuthin but nuthin can out climb the EEL.

 
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