Otterburn Ranges: Wrecked Aircraft & a Dummy Airfield

Wrecked Lightning F.3 XP702 abandoned on the Otterburn Ranges in Northumberland (Image: John Kippin, all rights reserved; Lightning F3 on the Otterburn ranges)

‘Hidden’, North East photographer John Kippin’s iconic photograph of an abandoned English Electric Lightning fighter, its torn remains riddled with small arms fire, was immortalised in 1997 on the album cover of Sci-Fi Lullabies, a B-sides compilation from alternative rock band Suede.

The aircraft, serial number XP702, had been one of the last Lightning F.3s in service at RAF Binbrook when the station closed in 1988. Struck off charge, 702 and another F.3, XP694, were placed on the Otterburn Ranges, a dramatic 60,000 acre expanse of isolated moorland within the Northumberland National Park.

Otterburn has been used as a military gunnery range since its establishment in 1911. The largest bombing range of its kind in the UK, some 30,000 soldiers each year undergo an arduous training programme in this wild corner of the Cheviot Hills.

The dummy airfield runway on the Otterburn ranges (Image: John Kippin, all rights reserved)

A variety of targets remain on the range today, chiefly rusting tanks and armoured vehicles. But the aircraft wrecks have all been removed, their twisted hulks long since scrapped. Near the area where they met their destruction, a curious feature lingers on – the abandoned runway of Otterburn’s dummy airfield, carved out of the hillside in an area known as Ridlees Cairn.

Google Earth (below) reveals the false runway’s rough outline, pockmarked by the explosive ordnance of numerous low level attacks throughout the decades. Various forum threads, meanwhile, serve as de facto memorials to the Lightnings, Hunters, Sea Vixens and other unfortunate machines than met their demise within the Otterburn Training Area.

Today, the range is very much active, an odd facility at the heart of a national park. Around its perimeter, red flags fly in warning to a curious public who may inadvertently stray into the live firing zone. But when the flags are lowered, the wild Otterburn Training Area opens up, a mecca for military enthusiasts hunting for relics within its 93 square miles of rugged uplands.

Remains of the Otterburn Training Area's dummy airfield seen from above


About the author: Tom





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