(Image: Flat Batteries, reproduced with permission)
Between 1983 and 2011, Lightning F.2A serial number XN728 sat in a haulage yard by the A1 at Balderton in Nottinghamshire, UK. Originally a relatively complete airframe, the years weren’t kind, and though the proud fighter always seemed to survive the changing fortunes of the yard – including spells of dereliction – nothing seemed able to protect the Lightning from the vandals that reduced her to a gutted hulk over the course of almost 30 years. Despite numerous attempts to save the wreck, she was finally, and somewhat predictably, scrapped last year. Now, in this perhaps most fitting tribute, an enthusiastic aircraft modeller has brilliantly immortalized XN728 in the form of a model diorama.
Built by English Electric at Samlesbury in 1961, XN728 was issued to 92 Squadron at RAF Leconfield before moving to RAF Gütersloh in Germany, patrolling the edge of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. Retired after 92 Squadron disbanded in March 1977, the Lightning became a decoy at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, before being sold on to her ultimate fate as an unwilling icon of Britain’s A1 road.
(Image courtesy of Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK)
In an ironic twist, XN728’s status as an A1 landmark known to motorists up and down the country arguably made her Britain’s most famous – or at least well known – Lightning. Once emblazoned across a range of Paul Smith t-shirts, she slowly rotted away at Balderton while the yard apparently passed from one owner to another. All requests to save her – and there were many – fell on deaf ears.
The good news is that the cockpit section of XN728 was rescued from the scrapyard that ultimately disposed of her remains, and updates about its condition and restoration are eagerly awaited! In the meantime, however, this excellent model remains a fitting tribute to an unconventional icon of the last all-British fighter.