In what has been hailed by many as the end of an era, a derelict English Electric Lightning fighter that had become a landmark to travellers along the A1 road near Balderton in England has finally been scrapped. One of the last remaining Lightning F.2As, the retired jet left RAF Coningsby in 1983 bound for the former haulage yard that was destined to be its home for the next 28 years.
The retired decoy aircraft, serial number XN728, which served in Germany at the height of the Cold War, was purchased from the British government by A1 Commercial Sales in a bid to attract business to the yard. But it wasn’t long before the site was derelict and a campaign of vandalism and theft ensued, which was to be the story of the Lightning’s existence for almost three decades.
The Balderton yard was occupied and abandoned on multiple occasions over the years, but the Lightning somehow remained on site despite efforts by the local council to have it removed. Numerous efforts were made to save the ailing fighter – some of them reportedly by film companies – but all offers were rejected and enquiries – including one by the author – hit a brick wall.
Meanwhile, XN728, which came complete with two engines, was slowly and systematically reduced to a gutted hulk. In addition to vandalism and theft of major components, the wings – which were cut off for transport – had warped, and a metal framework intended to stabilise the aircraft had cut through the ventral tank.
Rumours that the yard’s latest owner was planning a restoration effort never solidified into fact, and one week ago, on September 9, 2011, the Cold War warrior was torn apart for scrap. Despite it being a day long anticipated, aviation enthusiasts and Lightning fans in particular will scarcely believe that XN728’s days are finally over.
(Image courtesy of Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK)
While a good number of English Electric Lightnings have been preserved, XN728 was the only remaining F.2A in England and one of only two in the UK. An image of the jet was used several years ago on a T-shirt range by clothing designer Paul Smith, but the company could not produce any photos of the collection when asked by the author.