Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped

lightning xn728  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: Bob Danylec, cc-sa-2.0)

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.

lightning xn728 1983  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: David Cowling, cc-sa-2.0)

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.

lightning xn728 2000s  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: John Goldsmith, cc-sa-2.0)

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.

lightning xn728 graffiti  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: Andrew Barclay, cc-nc-nd-2.0)

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.

lightning xn728 vandalised  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(Image: John Goldsmith, cc-sa-2.0)

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.

xn728 lightning  Nottinghamshire’s Infamous A1 Lightning Finally Scrapped(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.

Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World

abandoned f 4 phantom  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Image: cgull123, all rights reserved)

While they’re a sad sight to the aviation enthusiast, there’s something eerily fascinating about abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards. Whether it’s the sight of yesterday’s cutting edge technology rusting away in the boneyards of the present, or the rich history surrounding military forces and hardware in general, plane graveyards make for great exploring – in this case from the safety of your PC. In this article we examine eight boneyards that highlight present conflicts and past epochs.

MiG-23 Graveyard, Balad, Iraq

MiG 23 graveyard  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: dokmarius (left), cc-nc-sa-3.0; nathanm, cc-nc-sa-3.0)

This ruinous plane graveyard reflects the fate of Iraq’s air force following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Dragged from various hiding places around the former Balad Air Base (now Joint Base Balad), these dilapidated MiG-23s represent an air force that barely got off the ground in the wake of invasion. Lying amid other junk in a neglected airplane boneyard, the abandoned MiGs have been looted by coalition forces and look more like pieces of urban art than once operational aircraft. Explore more of the Balad plane graveyard.

The Famous “A1 Lightning”, Balderton, UK

lightning xn728 balderton  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Image: Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK, all rights reserved)

Speaking of urban art, this English Electric Lightning F.2A is easily Britain’s most famous derelict fighter plane. The Cold War warrior appeared in a haulage yard near Balderton, Nottinghamshire in 1983, after battle damage repair duties at RAF Coningsby. Bought to attract customers to the yard almost 30 years ago, the Lightning has somehow survived despite changes of ownership and periods of dereliction.

derelict lightning f2a balderton  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Simon Thomas; Gary Parsons, Air-Scene UK, all rights reserved; David Cowling, cc-sa-3.0)

Despite it’s terrible condition, the abandoned aircraft has become a landmark to drivers on the A1 road and was even the subject of a Paul Smith clothing line. With restoration looking increasingly unlikely, some have called for the jet to be turned into a piece of urban art – if it isn’t already. All in all, the Lightning remains something of an enigma. Personal enquiries to owners past and present yielded few details other than an dogged refusal to give it up. RAF Binbrook, the Lightning’s spiritual home, is also abandoned today.

Russian Aircraft Wrecks

abandoned russian aircraft  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Igor W. Minaichenkov and Vladimir Nazarov, via English Russia)

In the world of plane graveyards and abandoned aircraft, the wilds of Russia and vast expanses of Siberia hold a treasure trove of forgotten Soviet hardware. While the workhorse TU-95 Bear and TU-22M Backfire bombers have seen a resurgence in recent years, it’s unlikely the rusting hulks above ever saw regeneration. While many have doubtless been scrapped since these photographs were taken, some likely remain on their weed-infested dispersals due to the sheer remoteness of the region.

Moscow Aircraft Museum – Plane Graveyard, Russia

plane graveyard moscow  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Eldan Goldenberg (website), NC-SA-2.0)

Siberia isn’t the only place to take in Russian aircraft wrecks. Silently guarding the last overgrown dispersals of a Moscow airfield, this collection of corroding jets and helicopters looks more like a plane graveyard than a functioning museum. It’s a curious site amid a rapidly redeveloping area of Moscow, as decaying Soviet hardware meets modern Russia.

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, United States

davis monthan aircraft boneyard  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Roger Smith, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

The most famous aircraft boneyard in the world is a mind-blowing facility at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where over 4,400 silent fighters, bombers, transports, helicoptors and attack jets make up the world’s second largest air force. From F-4s and F-14s to chopped B-52s and B-1Bs, this is where America’s retired military airborne hardware comes to wait – for recycling, reactivation or spares use.

davis monthan airplane graveyard  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Roger Smith, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

While the B-52s and F-14s are being destroyed to honour treaty agreements, many F-4s will fly again, only to be shot down as target drones over the western bombing ranges. That said, here’s one F-4 Phantom that escaped both the scrapman and the missiles. For more desert plane graveyards of the western United States, check out this article by Ransom Riggs writing on Mental Floss.

Rinkaby Shooting Range, Sweden

rinkaby saab draken  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Andreas Mathiasson, all rights reserved)

In a plane graveyard located in a distant corner of the former Rinkaby military airfield in Sweden, a group of seemingly abandoned Saab 35 Draken fighter planes stand amid other decaying hardware. Ranging from fully intact to twisted metal fuselage remains, the aircraft do not currently appear to be used in live fire exercises but their future is far from certain. Find out more about Rinkaby and its abandoned Saab Drakens.

Abandoned Aircraft and Plane Graveyards of the Middle East

plane graveyard middle east  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: Jim Garamone; Bahamut0013, cc-sa-3.0; U.S. Marine Corps; jamesdale10, cc-3.0; U.S. Army)

Due to ongoing instability and conflict, parts of the Middle East are littered with abandoned aircraft and plane graveyards. The top two images depict an airplane boneyard known as “the petting zoo” at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Like Balad’s MiG-23 graveyard, the battered jets have been rounded up from hiding places across the base. Many were probably unservicable before the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. The wrecked MiG-29 (bottom) was destroyed during Operation Desert Storm and has lain in the desert ever since.

Predannack Plane Graveyard, UK

abandoned harrier predannack  Abandoned Aircraft: 8 Plane Graveyards From Around the World(Images: cgull123, all rights reserved; Dave Bellamy, all rights reserved)

In an extensive tribute to the Harrier jump jet on our companion site Urban Ghosts, we explored this plane graveyard at Predannack Airfield on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula. Operated by the Royal Navy, the derelict airframes, including several Harriers, appear reasonably intact despite ominously belonging to the Royal Naval School of Fire Fighting. Only time will tell how long they survive…