Campaign to Save Lightning XR713: Exclusive WarbirdsNews article written by Tom Moran of Urban Ghosts
A campaign is underway to save English Electric Lightning XR713, which is currently awaiting disposal at RAF Leuchars in Scotland. The aircraft, a rare F.3 model Lightning, first flew in 1964 and helped defend British skies against the Soviet bomber threat. She’s been an exhibit at RAF Leuchars for some years now, but with the British Army about to take control of the base from the RAF, the Lightning’s future hangs in the balance.
XR713 originally joined 111 Squadron at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk, and bears their famous colours to this day. After the RAF withdrew XR713 from service, they earmarked the Lightning for battle damage repair (BDR) training duties at Leuchars, which would almost certainly have seen holes hacked through her skin to simulate combat damage.
But fortunately, ‘Treble One’ was operating the Phantom FG.1 by that time, and took XR713 on board as their squadron mascot. She remained in that role when 111 became a Tornado F.3 unit in 1990, until they finally disbanded on March 22, 2011. Since then, Leuchars has operated the Eurofighter Typhoon, and while 111 will never be re-activated, the Lightning continued to join former 111 Squadron Phantom FG.1 ‘Black Mike’ on the static line at the annual air show (See the WarbirdsNews article on Black Mike HERE).
XR713 was one of a handful of Lightning F.3s to escape the mass culling of the type during the 1970s, when the F.6 became the main operational variant. But of those that did make it, few survive today. As of 2014, only five complete Lightning F.3s remain, while a further five survive in cockpit or nose section form.
Wattisham Station Heritage has launched an appeal to raise the necessary funds to acquire XR713 and move her to RAF Wattisham – her home base while on charge with 111 Squadron. But there is a catch – XR713 remains ‘uncut’, and dismantling her correctly for road transport will be a challenge.Along with two other intact F.3s, XR713 is one of the few preserved Lightnings not to have suffered the chopping of her wings and tail for ease of transportation.
Dismantling a Lightning is a tricky – and costly – affair, requiring the full separation of front and rear fuselage in order to remove the highly swept wings. After many years out of service, and frequently placed outside, Lightning wing attachment bolts are often very hard to budge due to corrosion. It takes time, expertise and money to get them separated, so consequently, very few Lightnings sold to private owners escaped having their wings and tails cut in order to economically effect their transport to new homes. Sadly, most survivors now wear the scars of rough welding from crudely re-attached flying surfaces.
However, the guys looking to preserve XR713 plan not to cut the old girl, and if their fund raising campaign is successful, this historic aircraft will join Phantom FGR.2 XT914, Hawker Hunter FGA.9 XG194 and the surviving cockpit of another Lightning F.3, XP743, in an original hardened aircraft shelter at the former RAF Wattisham. Here’s hoping that the Wattisham group are successful in their venture!
Please click HERE to visit the Wattisham Station Heritage website to find out more details on the project, and how you might be able to help.
WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Tom Moran for this article, and urges our readers to visit his fascinating website detailing urban exploration missions around Europe… there are some great stories, many of them aviation related, shared on his site Urban Ghosts.