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Engineering Section


Since our last engineering update, quite a lot has happened concerning XR724 and its ground equipment. We have been set many engineering challenges, but despite having to work out in the open on the airfield, much has been achieved and we would like to thank the many engineers (and non-engineers) who turned up on our engineering days, braving the varied quality of Binbrook weather (varying between wind and high wind, rain and driving rain, and simply cold and subzero temperatures). Thanks, guys.

Security on the airfield

After twenty years of dependency on the goodwill of other people who owned the patch of RAF Binbrook where XR724 has stood, we announced some time ago that XR724 is safe. Until now, there has always been the possibility that a new owner – and there have been quite a few of them in twenty years – might not be prepared to tolerate the aeroplane on their land and order us off.

Assuming that there would probably be a time limit for this, that would have meant cutting the wings and fin and the end of her as a functioning jet. We have been very fortunate that we have always been able to establish good relations with new owners, but with Winchester Marine pulling out of Binbrook and new owners on the horizon, our luck had to run out at some point.

However, Ray Whiteley and Charles Ross negotiated with Winchester Marine to purchase with their own money just over two acres of land where XR724 and the 460 Squadron memorial are located, and so for the first time since she flew in we are in a position where nobody can tell us what to do. Even if she were to be taken apart at some point in the future for transport elsewhere, Ray and Charles have bought us the time to do so at our own speed.

Ray hopes one day to be able to build a RAF Binbrook Heritage Centre on the land, although that’s a long way off at present. Any building on an area designated one of Outstanding Natural Beauty is going to come up against a lot of protest and, even if granted, would undoubtedly involve major planning conditions. But it would be a great thing for the local area if it ever comes off.

In the meantime, however, Ray has a display of RAF Binbrook memorabilia in a Portacabin which can be visited on request. He still hosts many former RAAF personnel and their families who visit the site from which the Australians flew and in many cases did not return.

The Bloodhound fork lift & removal of the Ferranti radar bullet

After Gary Lazenby's's expert overhaul of the hydraulics and brakes, Gary, John and Charles finally moved the Bloodhound fork-lift up on to the camp beside XR724. For those of you who don't know Binbrook, the hill from the village up to the airfield is at least a 1 in 10 gradient and one thing we really didn't want was five tonnes of solid steel (as in five tonnes of untaxed and uninsured solid steel) careering away down the hill obliterating everything in its path.

We needed the forks to remove the radar bullet to allow access to the engines with a borescope. Unfortunately, nobody who can operate the borescope is still thin enough to fit down the air intake with the bullet still in place.

There was a brief moment of drama when, while raising the forks to their maximum height (11 feet) to see if we had the clearance necessary to draw the bullet clear of the intake, one of the main hydraulic hoses blew out, spewing several gallons of hot hydraulic fluid over the apron. The forks crashed down, fortunately on to a solid wooden beam placed across the two halves of the bed for just such an eventuality. This is an example of the care you have to take when working with equipment which is decades old and relies on perishable components to operate. Such as a Lightning!

Anyway, the hose was replaced with a new one and another engineering day arranged to remove the bullet and get on with the inspection of the engines. This was achieved successfully.

Leaving the intake looking like this


Leaving the intake looking like this

However, before going on to the engines, we had another example of the problems of working with old machinery. It all happened when we attempted to return the Ferranti radar bullet down the hill back into Binbrook. The plan was to take the bullet to Chestnut Farm House for safe keeping inside Charles' buildings until we were ready to re-fit it. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, we were traveling through Binbrook village with the radar lashed to the bed of the side-loading fork-lift truck and were just passing the Spar shop when there was a sudden loud scrreechhing sound followed by the appearance of lots of black smoke and a puzzled look on Gary's face. Oh dear! we thought, not good.

Anyway as we were only 300 yards from Charles' house we kept going till we arrived,
as stopping at this point was not an option (5 tonnes of untaxed and uninsured steel with no handbrake, remember). Sod it, just keep going, we're nearly there!

Upon our smoky arrival we found that the water pump bearings had packed in and the resultant forward tilt of the fan towards the radiator (approximately 5 mm away) had stuffed the fan blades through the radiator and jammed their rotation, resulting in the fan belt's smoky demise as it converted itself to a vapour of its component molecules.

Of course, going down to Halfords and getting replacements was not an option, and eBay was no better. In consequence, the water pump has been taken apart, new bearings have had to be machined and the pump reassembled. The radiator has been painstakingly repaired and, thanks to Charles & Gary safely fitted once again. At least we were able to source a new fan-belt! So, the fork-lift was now running well, or so we thought.

On the day we intended to move the fork-lift up to the airfield to replace the bullet, Gary took it for a drive up Charles' farm track to the woods to test it. When he didn't come back, Charles went looking for him in the Land Rover and found him stuck without reverse drive.

The trusty Discovery was hitched up and the forks dragged to point in the right direction. The forward gears worked, but only for a short distance. Even drive to the forward gears was going now, and in the end, we just managed to crawl into Charles' 3,000 sq ft garage and park up before we completely lost all drive.

So, we are currently looking for a service manual for the forklift. If anybody has a copy or knows where we could find one, that would be fantastic. We have tried various places, including the Michael Beetham Conservation Centre at the Royal Air Force Museum, Cosford, which has an example, but no joy. So, if anyone can help, the details are as follows:
Make: Lancer Boss Sideloader
Date of manufacture: Unknown, but first registered as a civilian machine in 1986
Model/Chassis No: 5/6TD11TTCW
Serial No: 5/096
Engine: Ford 4D, 2500 cc
Engine No: 8308029
Lift capacity: 12,000 lbs
Alternatively, are you a fork-lift engineer with a good knowledge of hydraulic gearboxes?

As a footnote, we had a night working on this all day and up till 11 pm to try and resolve the drive problems before the next engineering day , but we really need more information before the next engineering task required takes place as not to do any damage to the gearbox drive components.

XR724, the engine inspection

Although quite a bit of future inspection work on our Avon 302s needs to be done before we go any further in terms of operational procedures, here is a brief account of some of the items that we are currently looking at. It is by no means a comprehensive list, as there are to many to list here.

The No.1 and No.2 engines are in remarkably good condition. From the online forum comments of some armchair warriors, you could be forgiven for thinking that XR724 was little more than a heap of aluminium oxide, but all the real engineers who have visited us expecting the worst have said that she is in far better condition than they could ever have imagined. These are qualified and experienced guys who have inspected the aeroplane at close quarters, rather than a social mediocrity with a U-grade in GCSE English looking at a grainy image on Google Earth while their Mum makes their lunch.

Very slight erosion was found on the front webs and for the most part this has now been successfully treated, although a little remains to be done on the No.2 engine. The insides of both engine casings have been inspected very closely and treated with the appropriate anti-corrosion inhibitor.

A good quality borescope has been used on both engines to help us identify any problems which needed to be addressed. The various compressor stages have been carefully examined and we were very pleased to find that all the stator & rotor blades are in very good condition on both engines.

The rear of the engines and the exhaust cones of both engines have been visually checked and treated, and appear to be fully serviceable

The inlet guide vane bearings have been cleaned on both engines and lightly oiled using cotton buds. Both are free in their travel.

As far as current accessibility is concerned, the No.1 engine external work has been completed and all preservation work has been carried out successfully. The No.2 engine external is in the final stages of completion, with the last bits of work to resume in forthcoming engineering days.

The next phase to finally complete the external engine inspection requires the removal of the ventral tank for the No.1 engine and then making a suitable frame to support the rear of XR724 before we can undo No.2 engine hatch.

Additionally, the starter exhaust locating peg is holding up slightly on the locating spigot, which will be rectified after removal of the ventral tank.

All in all, both our Avon 302C engines look good to perform in the future.

Other engineering news

A set of large steps on castors has kindly been donated to us, enabling a safer entry to the spine area and mainplane. A fully-working hydraulic rig has also been donated and we would very much like to thank those concerned. You know who you are.

The arrester hook has been removed to allow better access to the No.1 engine fuel drain. When we come to remove the No.1 reheat pipe this will also make the rear of the aircraft a much safer area to work in. The hook will go into our XR724 stock items so that it can be replaced if required at a later date.

Both HF & HE ignition boxes have been overhauled to enable a better eventual start, and the HE boxes have been refitted.

The ventral tank and top hatch bolts have been taken out one by one, greased and replaced to allow better removal of the ventral tank and to facilitate engine casing inspection.

The leading edge bolts have been removed and regreased to make it easier for fuel system inspections to be done.

The No.1 reheat system has been partly disconnected so that it can be removed at a later date for overhaul procedures to take place. The refitment of the No,2 fuel drain can then be completed.

The airbrakes have been fully opened to allow the inspection and replacement of knuckle joint O-rings and hydraulic ram seals.

A downside of our inspections is that we have found that the DC generator securing clamp to the air turbine gearbox has cracked and broken, leaving the DC generator hanging. This needs urgent replacement, as we do not want to snap the quill drive to the generator. At the moment we are looking for an alternative solution. If anyone has a spare or knows where we might locate one, we would like to hear from you as soon as possible.

The mainwheel and nosewheel tyres have again been inflated with nitrogen.

The trailer-mounted Artouste jet engine is being serviced, as the last time we used it on XR724 its air delivery butterfly valve started to cause us some problems,

Our 4.5kva diesel generator has been overhauled and now runs and starts well. A new extension cable has been made up which allows for lighting and 110v plant equipment to be used while working on XR724

Spare engine

As many of you will know, when Barry Pover removed the engines he had installed in '724 to fly into Binbrook, Charles bought three airlifed engines with papers from MoD. Two were installed, and Charles has kept the third, still fully inhibited in its engine box, in bone-dry conditions at his house in Binbrook village.

However, in a perfect world jet engines should be turned regularly to ensure that the continual gravity load on the engine shaft does not distort it, as even a slight deviation from true could result in a devastating asymmetry when the engine is fired up.

In consequence, we cut an access panel in the spare engine box and breached the seals. The large silica gel bags were removed to be dried out for reuse and the engine shaft turned. To our great relief, everything spun as smoothly as silk and the engine was clearly in superb condition. The dried silica gel bags were replaced and the box reclosed. It's there if we ever need it!

Museum plans

Charles has acquired a large (15m x 15m) industrial building at Caistor, some five miles from Binbrook. His cockpit of XS899 is currently in storage there, as is his Lightning simulator. With the building being about 9 metres high (enough for an eventual second floor), a new 5-metre-high powered roller door was installed, which allows the cockpit to be run straight in without removing it from its trailer.

A heavy-duty RSJ was installed inside the roller door and fitted with a three-tonne chain pulley so that the cockpit can be easily lifted off the trailer when necessary. No photos are being shown of the installation of the RSJ, because if the authorities saw them we would all be taken away in strait-jackets. However, when we see park wardens being interviewed about flower planting while wearing high-vis jackets and hard hats in the middle of five acres of grass, it makes us laugh.

The building already has an internal office about 6m square and it is intended that the building will eventually become a Lightning Museum, displaying all the Lightning and Lightning-associated memorabilia we have collected over many years. Watch this space.

That's it

Well, that’s all for now, no Waddington Airshow this year and possibly ever, and no Jeremy Clarkson & Co on Top Gear at the moment, so it's a good job we have XR724 to keep us busy.

A big thanks to all concerned in our ever-growing XR724 engineering team. Keep up all the good work, its very much appreciated.

The following are just a few of the engineers who regularly make the engineering days go a lot better. Sorry if you’ve not been included, please tell us and we will put it right.

Geoff Commins, Andy Manley, Barf Barford, Mike Crawford, Darren Swinn, Gary Lazenby, Dennis Wood, Steve Johnson, Phil (I'm not bloody Shakespeare) Wallis, Eugene Bratton, Andy Burden, Pip Sweetman, Les Overton, Ray Whiteley.

Here are some of you at work:

If by any chance you would like to volunteer as a new engineering member or re-volunteer if you have helped in the past with our XR724 project and the various ground equipment pieces we have, then please do not hesitate to give us a call or send us your contact details by e mail (see contacts page for all our main contact details).

Thanks also to David Evans for keeping the website so professional and updating it as soon as anything new comes in. If there has been a lack of new material, it has been our fault, not his.

John Watson & Charles Ross


Engineering Archive Section

Archive1 - This first article covers the engineering situation from the final published Lightning Review in 2004 to December 2011. 

Archive 2 - Servicing the Bloodhound Fork Lift 2011

Archive3 - Engineering Activity 2012

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