For an aircraft which instilled immense national pride in so many people over such a long period, it is no wonder that the English Electric Lightning still commands a significant position in the hearts of the UK aviation enthusiast, with two very special aeroplanes being singled out for special attention.
Until recently, two of the aircraft lovingly maintained by the Lightning Preservation Group regularly blasted down the runway at Bruntingthorpe airfield, in scenes reminiscent of a Cold War RAF fighter station and always drawing large crowds for these events. Lightning F.6 XS904 has been in the care of the LPG since she was delivered to the airfield on 21st January 1993, a historic occasion which witnessed the final military flight of an English Electric Lightning fighter. Flying from the British Aerospace factory airfield site at Warton in formation with a Panavia Tornado F.3 fighter, the pair made a spirited high speed pass along the length of the runway at Bruntingthorpe on their arrival, before the Deputy Chief Test Pilot at BAe Warton, Peter Orme, brought this magnificent supersonic aircraft in for her final landing at her new home.
During a 20 year RAF career, XS904 served with Nos 5 and 11 Squadrons and also has the distinction of being one of the nine Lightnings which took part in a spectacular 9 ship formation during the Last Lightning show at RAF Binbrook on 22nd August 1987. In what was certain to be a sombre occasion, thousands of British aviation enthusiasts headed for the Lincolnshire Wolds and RAF Binbrook on Saturday 22nd August 1987 for their annual Airshow, a show which marked the swansong of one of the British aviation industry's proudest achievements. With the impending retirement of Britain's first supersonic fighter now looming large, this event was billed as 'The last Lightning show' and neither the enthusiast nor the base personnel at Binbrook were going to let this occasion pass without putting on a real show.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the day of the show was horrendous and as is often the case in this country, it proved to be just as bad as everyone feared. Nevertheless, this Cold War aviation icon had to be suitably honoured and the last pilots to fly the RAF Lightning were in no mood to let a little rain alter their plans. In one final Lightning base scramble, all serviceable Lightnings blasted into the air one after the other with the first aircraft returning seconds later at 90 degrees to the runway, passing overhead the next aircraft taking off before pulling in a steep climb in full reheat - they don't make shows like this anymore! The undoubted highlight of the day would be a series of beautifully flown formation passes performed by nine Lightnings, in what proved to be a fitting tribute to the Royal Air Force career of this supersonic sensation.