Lost RAF Guardians: 6 Ghosts of Gate Guards Past

Waddington gate guard Victor XL189 & Avro Vulcan XM607 (Image: Kerry Taylor: Waddington gate guards Victor XL189 & Vulcan XM607)

Gate guards (or gate guardians) are a common sight by the main entrances to airfields and other military facilities worldwide. Displayed in pride of place, often visible to the public, gate guardians symbolise the history of the installations they “guard” and usually have a connection to that site. In the case of aviation, gate guards are retired aircraft that once flew from a certain airfield or with a certain squadron. They might also reflect a specific era in a base’s operational history, such as the Battle of Britain or the Falklands War.

But while some gate guards manage to hang on at airfield entrances or outside squadron buildings for many years, others aren’t so lucky. The UK in particular has lost numerous display airframes over the decades. Some have found their way into museums or other forms of preservation, though many have been scrapped due to corrosion or simply being in the way. This article looks at a small number of ex-RAF gate guards and the locations they once occupied. There are many others, and please feel free to post your own photographs to the comments below.

Handley Page Victor XL189 at RAF Waddington

(Images: Google Earth; former site of Waddington gate guardians)

On May 1, 1982, Avro Vulcan XM607, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Martin Withers, dropped 21 1,000 lb bombs on the runway of Port Stanley Airfield in the Falkland Islands. This daring mission launched Operation Black Buck. Supporting Withers and his crew was a complex relay of Handley Page Victor K2 refuelling aircraft, including Victor XL189 of No. 57 Squadron, flown by Squadron Leader Bob Tuxford. The raid required tremendous courage and ability, and both aircraft mentioned here were later saved for preservation at 607’s home base, RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

Sadly, Victor XL189 is understood to have fallen victim to the RAF’s “one gate, one gate guard” policy, and the aircraft (pictured top, and officially designated a ground instructional airframe) was scrapped in August 1989. The above image shows three concrete ramps where the Victor had once stood, directly behind Vulcan XM607. The final image shows the redeveloped site as it is today. Thankfully XM607 didn’t go the same way, and is now displayed in a prominent position on the far side of RAF Waddington.

Avro Vulcan XH563 at RAF Scampton

Three concrete ramps mark the former display site of Avro Vulcan B2 (MRR) XH563 at RAF Scampton

(Images: Google Earth; gate guard Vulcan XH563 stood here)

Avro Vulcan B2 (MRR) XH563 first flew in 1960 and was withdrawn from use in March 1982. Soon after, the aircraft was placed on display at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, but was later sold for scrap and broken up in November 1986. The cockpit section survives and has passed through a series of owners over the years. The concrete ramps that supported XH563’s heavy undercarriage during her time on display near Scampton’s perimeter fence can still be seen today (see here). The site has never been developed, and clearly the Vulcan wasn’t in the way.

Vulcan XJ782 at RAF Finningley (Robin Hood Airport)

Avro Vulcan B2 XJ782 while on display at RAF Finningley

Former display site of Vulcan XJ782 at RAF Finningley (now Robin Hood Airport) (Images: Glenn Reay; Google Earth; former location of Finningley gate guardian)

Like XH563, Avro Vulcan B2 XJ782 – another radar reconnaissance version of the mighty V-bomber – was destined for a relatively short preservation life following her final flight in September 1982. Three neglected concrete ramps mark the site that XJ782 occupied while on display at RAF Finningley in South Yorkshire (now Doncaster/Sheffield Robin Hood Airport). The land 782 stood on has become increasingly dishevelled over the years – just as the Vulcan did when she was towed to a lonely part of the airfield to await scrapping, which finally came in 1988 (find out more here). However, XJ782 wasn’t the last Vulcan retired to the former RAF Finningley. That would be the last flying V-bomber, former K2 tanker and probably the most famous Vulcan of them all, XH558.

Avro Vulcan K2 XM571 at RAF Gibraltar

(Image: Moshi Anahory; Tornado ZD720 roars past the former display site of Vulcan K2 XM571)

Avro Vulcan K2 XM571 former display site at RAF Gibraltar (Image: Google Earth; the concrete ramps that supported XM571)

It’s fair to say that withdrawn Vulcans didn’t fare well as display pieces on RAF bases during the 1980s and ’90s. Only XM607 (see below) survives as the gate guard at RAF Waddington. Avro Vulcan K2 XM571 first flew in 1963 and remained in use as an in-flight refuelling tanker aircraft until 1984. In May that year she made her final flight to RAF Gibraltar for gate guard duties. But the salty Mediterranean air reportedly took its toll on the giant airframe quite swiftly. XM571 was scrapped in September 1990, though the giant concrete blocks she once stood on by Gibraltar’s runway are still clearly visible. (Tornado GR4 ZD720 can be seen passing them on takeoff roll above.)

Lightning XP745 at RAF Boulmer

Former preservation site of Lightning XP745 at RAF Boulmer (Image: Google Earth; the derelict site once guarded by Lightning F3 XP745)

Dismantled Lightning F3 XP745 in storage in London (Images: Google Earth; Benjamin Sadler; XP745 the old Boulmer gate guardian)

Unlike most of the former gate guard aircraft featured in this article, English Electric Lightning F3 XP745 has survived as a complete airframe (she’s been stored for many years in a dismantled state in London). During her gate guardian career, XP745 was displayed at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland, on a now-derelict annex opposite the facility’s main gate. The Lightning had stood there since 1976, and was finally replaced by an F-4 Phantom (XV415) in 1992. (More here.)

English Electric Lightning XP748 at RAF Binbrook

(Image: www.kits-kits.co.uk; gate guard Lightning XP748 at RAF Binbrook)

(Image: Google Earth; site of Binbrook gate guard Lightning F3)

English Electric Lightning F3 XP748 was arguably the smartest of all the withdrawn Lightning airframes to be found at RAF Binbrook during the 1980s (the remainder being dishevelled decoys and mothballed jets). XP748 first flew in 1964 and later also spent time as a Binbrook decoy, still wearing the natural metal finish of early Lightnings. By 1977 the retired aircraft had been cleaned up, given a fresh coat of camouflage paint and placed on a plinth near the main gate, where she would remain for the next decade. RAF Binbrook closed in 1988, and Lightning XP748 was shipped off to certain death on the Pendine bombing ranges. The aircraft’s tail fin resurfaced on eBay several years ago. The base of the plinth that Binbrook’s old gate guard once sat on is still there, though the military abandoned the base decades ago.

Related: Rare Glimpse of Vulcan XH539 on the Waddington Fire Dump (1984)


About the author: Tom


Website: https://www.urbanghostsmedia.com



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