Lightning Q-Shed Scramble Report

Sunday 15th July 2012

Not many air events in the 2012 UK calendar have been blessed with sunshine but luckily the unique Lightning Q-Shed Scramble at Bruntingthorpe was one of them. The Lightning Preservation Group (LPG) were proud to showcase an event not seen in the UK since 1988 - a live scramble by a Lightning.

Ian Matthews reports from Bruntingthorpe Proving Grounds. All photography by the author.

Photographic access to the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) hangar at a NATO fighter airfield would've been forbidden during the cold war so the ticket only event at this Leicestershire proving ground allowed around 250 enthusiasts a unique close and personal view of this classic English Electric fighter in her element. Along with the Tornado F3 and F-4 Phantom, Lightnings formed the backbone of No.11 Group, RAF Strike Command, whose Group Headquarters was at RAF Bentley Priory in northwest London.

Unfortunately, Lightning XR728 'JS' was still undergoing engine maintenance so it was down to LPG's second aircraft, F6 XS904 'BQ' to disappear into the darkness as the large QRA hangar doors were slowly closed. Over the public address came the warning that intruders had been picked up on radar approaching UK airspace - the order had been given by 'Priory' to scramble!

As the claxon sounded, ground crew and pilot ran to the 'Q' shed just as the barn doors were manually opened. After crewing in and engine start, the all clear was given by the engineers and the chocks were whisked away. The rear doors to the hangar were already open enabling 'BQ' to apply full dry power and swing out onto Bruntingthorpe's 9,842ft runway. The burners were lit and the 11(F) Squadron marked Lightning blasted down the runway - to great applause by the highly appreciative crowd.

As if that wasn't enough noise, it was time for the crowd to move from opposite the QRA hangar to alongside the runway as a number of other classics at 'Brunty' were also going for a run. First up was the resident Buccaneer Aviation Group's (TBAG) Buccaneer S2B XW544 'O' resplendent in her recently applied 16 Squadron colours. One of three taxyable examples of this Blackburn design, the 'T-Baggers' gathered at the runway edge eagerly watched Flt Lt Ollie Suckling go for maximum power from her Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans.

It was good to see Hunter T7 XL565 'Y' refinished in her RAF Aden livery but she was virtually blown away by Canberra B(I)8 WT333 and Victor K2 XM715. The crowd were quite literally picking bits of runway from their teeth as firstly the Canberra, and then the Victor really gave it their all. Jet Provost T3A XM365 went for a short taxy before making way for Lightning F6 'BQ' to light the Avons again and send everyone home grinning from ear-to-ear.

Following on from the excellent Buccaneer Photo Day earlier in the year, the unique ticket only events at Bruntingthorpe are really worth attending and at £20, are excellent value for money. Although the Lightning scramble didn't quite break the sub 3 minute launches seen at RAF Binbrook in the 1980s, it was a delight to see and marked an historic milestone for The Lightning Preservation Group.