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When I Worked On Lightnings

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Recollections of my time on 5 (F) Squadron

Neil Glen was my first boss in 1977, when I arrived on 5(F) from three years as a Halton apprentice.  Neil was a true God on the aeroplane and as our Check 2 Team Chief.  However, noting my complete lack of real experience and with the forthcoming firemen’s’ strike looming he volunteered me to drive a Green Goddess in Goole for the first two months of my tour. 

After a year I was promoted to corporal and went to the line to run a shift, which was akin to a Kelly’s Heroes scene.  All sorts of backgrounds, experiences and skills.  For instance, Geordie Braithwaite could spin nine Lightnings into exactly the right spot inside the hangar at 0200, after another night shift.  I would coil nine sets of heavyweight Houchin cables, which gave me impressive biceps, much appreciated by my new girlfriend, now wife of 36 years, who lived in Louth. 

I visited Cyprus twice in 1979 and 1980 and teamed up with my old friend Stan, Stan the Ops Man, making regular visits to the legendary Limassol Wine Festival, for some Keo wine tasting...if that is possible!  In 1980, I flew with Flt Lt Dave Frost at the end of the fourth APC banner wave.   Health & Safety, I think not!  We simply found a suitable helmet and hopped in – no G Pants, in my work overalls and possibly quite hungover from the aforesaid Festival antics.  We roared around the Med, beat up Larnaca Airport, climbed out at 40,000 feet and Dave mentioned that we had run out of petrol.  So back to Akrotiri for tea and medals!          

In 1981 we took four aircraft to Aalborg in Denmark for ten days.  In the accompanying Herc, we had secreted much duty free for our hosts and three barrels of Bateman’s XXX.  There is little doubt that the Danish station commander’s wife preferred warm brown Lincolnshire ale to the local Eurofizz, and was escorted safely from the reception/party in the early hours!  The following morning, Flt Lt Tim Neville kindly throttled up one of our finest into the HAS, where I was doing the paperwork, spectacularly throwing me, paper, spares, crates and strong coffee to the back of said HAS; I just managed to maintain self control while this (now) sergeant remonstrated with the sheepish officer.   

Aalborg Detachment 1981

Finally, a tale of ground runs on the tubes, across the airfield, a largely lonely activity, unless you have interested viewers.  Young J/T ‘Snooks’ was doing his first reheat fuel valve check for leaks by correctly sitting on the moving slab tail-plane.  Its very noisy, smoky, throbbing and slightly menacing, and as yours truly rocks the No 1 throttle across the gate and slams the engine into full reheat, more so for Snooks as I simultaneously shove the control column fully forward.  Snooks is thrown clear of the aeroplane, catapulted by the moving slab tail-plane, the rest of the crew howl with laughter and the aircraft is fine, of course.  A shameful initiation ceremony, like being dunked head-first in the Avpin water bin at the front of the line.

I completed 27 years in the RAF, retiring in 2000 as a wing commander.  I now work at Jane’s, which publishes All the World’s Aircraft and Fighting Ships.  My colleagues always enjoy a WIWOL story, and even today the Lightning is revered for its capability.  I have no doubt it would beat the new Lightning II to 50,000 feet in a straight race.

Best wishes,

John Sneller

5(F)Sqn 1977 - 1982             

Follow up to the previous ORP story

I have just read Tony Kennett’s ORP tale - I was on the starter crew for that scramble! 

When cleared, I pulled the power leads out the jet and got behind the Houchin for blast protection as normal.  The noise was awesome and it got hotter than usual, as he taxied and turned I swear he selected burner.  By now I had my back against the Houchin which was pushing me down the pan, I remember thinking if the jet blast doesn’t get me this Houchin might!

I vaguely remember man A(?) (whose name I can’t remember, was it you Tony?) who had to do a quick marshaling clear to taxi signal, rushing in a crouched position for some blast protection, I think he got down alongside the Houchin.

As the jet turned and the blast slackened on the Houchin I looked sideways to see the intake blank depart, a set of (heavy) fire bottles moving across the pan and then the cockpit ladder travelling at huge speed ‘flashed’ past slamming into the next jets ventral tank.  The jet blast caused the leaking fuel to vaporise in a large cloud around the front of the jet at which point I started sprinting to the grass at the back of the ORP in fear of my life!

As the noise of the departing jet subsided and I hadn’t heard an explosion I  returned to find the hole and gushing fuel Tony mentioned.  Someone did a 222 for a fire truck.

We complained to our SNCOs about what the pilot did but I never heard any more about it. 

I was a RADAR apprentice at RAF Cosford from Oct 72 to Oct 74  when I joined 11 Sqn as a JT at 18 years of age.  I did over 2 years on 11 Sqn, then over 4 years in the RADAR bay at Binbrook followed by 2 years in Saudi on their Lightning’s at Tabuk. 

I experienced a similar incident when I was on Jaguars.  Deployed in Denmark and by now an old hand sergeant I advised the Pilot to be easy on the throttles as he taxied because of a 12 x 12 storage tent at the rear of the dispersal.  Prior to taxi he looked me in the eye, grinned from ear to ear and powered it up enough to send our tent and equipment into the trees, he watched it in his mirror.  I remember thinking you pillock but it has provided me with lots of amusement ever since!  Those were the days!

Richard (Dick) Stevens


From Jan 74 to Oct 76 I was a sheddie on 5 Squadron at Binbrook. My first posting as a JT after two years at RAF Halton as an apprentice Sooty (Eng Tech P). The incident I am going to relate must have occurred I believe in 1975, but it could have been 1974.

The station was on exercise, 14 continuous days of 12hour shifts. Aircraft tasked continually and the priority was to meet every task as they came in. Up to six aircraft on immediate readiness(pilot strapped in and ready to go) were positioned just off the side of the runway at one end on what was called the ORP(Operational Readiness Platform). When scrambled they would start engines, taxy on to the runway, line up, open throttles, brakes off, reheat on and go (the order of these actions is very important, the reason will become clear). Airborne in under a minute. The noise, fumes and adrenalin filled the air. Once gone an air of calm would take over until the next aircraft arrived from the Squadron to replace those just departed. A quick top up with fuel to replenish the tanks after taxying from the Squadron and they would be declared on state ready to scramble. When the aircraft returned from their sorties they would return to the Squadron, be turned round, rearmed, any minor snags fixed and be ready to replace those on the ORP when scrambled. Equipment on the ORP was minimal and positioned within yellow boxes to ensure it remained clear of departing and arriving aircraft. There would be a Houchin diesel engined power set, to provide AC & DC power while the aircraft were on readiness with no engines running. This also provided refuge for the ground crew to hide behind as aircraft taxied out, even at low power with the AC & DC generators online the jet blast could take you off your feet if unprepared. An assortment of blanks for intakes and pitot probes etc. Aircraft ladders(for the Lightning an 8ft frame work of metal and wood with 4 spherical pegs that located in the side of the fuselage to secure it for access to the cockpit. To the side of the ORP was a hut, I can't remember its exact purpose but I guess it provided accommodation for any Ops people, A line Chief and probably a few tradesmen in case of simple snags. It was positioned in a small hollow with some banking round it between the ORP and the edge of the airfield. Perspex window adorned each side facing the aircraft.

As a JT my 'war role' was as a 'see off' crew member on the ORP. A fairly simple task that even a junior tradesman from the shed could cope with in the heat of battle with minimum training.

So, when scrambled the pilot would indicate to the ground crew he was ready to start engines, waving a finger round in the air. Ground crew would give him the all clear, the phwee, roar and acrid smell of the avpin starters would take over the place, accelerating the engines from stationary to idle in about two seconds. There were a few checks for the ground crew to indicate to the pilot all was well, these took seconds, the ground crew would indicate to the pilot he was clear to go. The quiet tranquillity of the ORP was shattered by the roar of the engines of however many aircraft had been scrambled. For the ground crew it was time to dive behind the houchin and seek refuge until normality returned.

On the occasion I am relating our pilot was scrambled, he went, and in his eagerness to task got the order of departure wrong. He started engines, opened throttles, taxied on to the runway, reheat on as he lined up and went(brakes are for sissies). I can remember watching in complete fascination as the jet blast of two avon 301 series engines accelerating to max cold picked up a wooden intake blank and threw it over the next aircraft down the pan. The blank hit the spine and rolled with some force down the spine leaving a trail of red paint, it left the aircraft when it hit the fin and continued rolling at high speed across the grass directly towards the hut at the side of the ORP. A face stared out of the hut as the blank hurtled directly at him. The blank hit the low banking surrounding the hut, took to the air again and cleared the hut and the airfield boundary disappearing into the fields yonder. Meanwhile, back on the pan, everything that weighed less than a houchin was on the move, the jet blast had picked up an aircraft ladder and smashed it with some force into the same aircraft with the red stripe down the spine. One of the locating pegs on the ladder puncturing a 3” hole in the ventral fuel tank thus allowing the full contents of a Mk6 ventral tank to start pouring out onto the pan. In the distance our top gun fighter ace was just clearing the runway, reheat still lit, wheels retracting, and disappearing with typical Lightning speed into the haze.

Article by Tony Kennett


On Q with Binbrook Air Traffic

So what qualifies me to write about being on QRA from an Air Traffic point of view, how about being  an Air Traffic Controller at Binbrook during the period 1986 to 1988  for starters and during my service career, the following adds a bit more gravitas, being on Q with No 8 squadron on AEW Shackleton’s, Northern Q with Phantoms from 43 and 111 squadron out of Leuchars, Q with 101 squadron VC10 tankers out of Brize Norton and off course Southern Q with the English Electric Lightning’s of No 5 and 11 squadron’s RAF Binbrook, how many people can write that?

On Q with Air Traffic, was similar for each Squadron involved and those techies detailed to do it, except we only did it once during the two week stint, on the Wednesday going onto Q the usual panic started within Air Traffic of getting the confidential codes sorted out. I won’t go too much into that as they probably use the same system now! The night shift working that week started off Q, when normal night flying was finished for the evening, one Local (Visual Control Room) qualified controller and one assistant remained behind, with one approach/director qualified controller on call for when the aircraft recovered.

I never did a night on Q, I always seemed to pull a Saturday duty, twenty four hours stuck in the tower, so let’s concentrate on this and give you an insight to the only time the USSR had the damn cheek to penetrate UK airspace when I was working.

The shift started at 0800 and relieving the off going controller, he or she would give me two briefings, one on the state of the airfield and the other being the state of Q and what readiness they were on. Up to local and sign on as having taken over the watch and then back down for the 0800 briefing over the secure communication lines.

Briefing over, it was time to pop down to the Met Office for the weather brief along with one of the pilots who was on Q for the next twenty four hours, I was only really interested in the forecast wind, one to choose the duty runway and two, was it safe for 03 departures. Briefing over I collect the rover keys and ask the assistant to man local while I am out and about doing the airfield inspection, slightly different inspection this morning as I stop on the 26 threshold piano keys, I ask the assistant to raise and lower the barrier, even though I know ground equipment technicians will be out later to do there little bit, I need to confirm its operation, blat down the active instead of turning off and onto the taxiway back to Air Traffic, I turn right and have a look at the Q taxiway to ensure everything is okay down there and pop into the pilots crew room to say hello and to let them know that me and Flt Lt. So and So are on duty today, and ask if they have any particular scramble requirements should they go?

All done and back up to local to start my VCR checks and all appears to be serviceable, as we are on Q a double check of the very pistols, the reason for that I’ll mention later, all complete and I add that information to my airfield log book, then downstairs to check the radar, but as Ground Radar are in doing their DI’s, I ask them if it is all okay? They would like to do some maintenance today on various bits and I ask them to call me before starting, just in case Q gets scrambled!

Then with all the frequencies patched through to the Switchboard room, I join the assistant and confirm that the Radar controller has checked in and we discuss what videos we have to watch and when we shall watch them, the decisions we have to make! Today my assistant is Rudy, well that’s my nickname for him, local lad and a good assistant. The vids today are two I have not seen, ‘Weird Science’ and ‘Highlander’, we decide to watch ‘Weird Science’ in the afternoon and ‘Highlander’ during our loosely termed dinner.

In the afternoon we start to get some updates from Boulmer of possible activity later, that would be nice for a change,  as when it has been my turn for being on standby for Q these last eighteen months, I never had a scramble once, have been up to cockpit readiness, but no scramble.

Now it is evening and pitch black outside and time for me to do another airfield inspection, this time the Night Inspection, which consists mainly of checking the airfield lights. Back in the tower and it is up to Local for me to check airfield light settings etc, the only lights I leave on are the taxiway lights from the Q shed to 03 threshold for the Q aircraft if needed for a scramble. I then stick little cardboard disks over the equipment I have to switch or turn on, if we get a scramble that way I cannot make any mistakes.

Watching Match of the Day, we get the scramble, it is the fastest you will ever see a controller move! Up to local I go, main lights for the VCR are switched on so I can see what I am doing, then I remove the numbered disks in order, first the runway lights switched on, obstruction lights on and that is that for the lights. Visual check of the runway, I can hardly see anything anyway but habits cannot be changed. Then remove the disks for the barrier and raise the 26 threshold barrier. I then check the surface wind and cross wind resolver and everything is within limits.

Hive of activity down the Q sheds, buzz through to Waddington approach to see if they have any conflicting traffic, nothing at all to conflict. Traffic lights on red, no one is one the airfield, buzz down to the fire section to inform them Q is being scrambled, just over three minutes from scramble, the Lightning is fast taxiing out, seconds under four minutes and airborne. Not bad as the they have to get airborne in five minutes from a standing or sleeping start. Buzz down to the assistant that Q is airborne and make a log entry of the departure time in the movements log and my own log.

All departures are silent, I switch off the bi directional lights leaving the omni directional lights on for the next fifteen minutes, switching frequencies I hear Q1 has declared himself serviceable and Q2 is stood-down to 10 minute readiness.

Going downstairs I confirm with Rudy that the radar controller is on her way in. A couple of hours later, Q1 is recovering for Runway 21 and up to local again. I switch on the approach lights and the runway lights for 21, I slowly move the intensity of all the lights up to max and slowly back down again, the aircraft saw the lights at a range of 60 miles.

With Q1 calling finals to land, up with the binoculars to see if I can pick up a good ‘chute and I call it. As the aircraft calls clear of the active he reports ‘one in the can’, which we know as, he has intercepted a zombie and the information is passed around.

Needless to say, on hearing the aircraft touch down, my lovely approach controller left the tower quicker than I made it up to local.

When the aircraft has safely shut down, all the airfield lights get switched off bar the obstructions lights, as someone was forgetful in leaving them off today!

Article by David Bishop


W.I.W.O.L. - Dean Bruce’s memories of 5 Sqn, 84-85

Greetings from a liney on 5 Squadron, 84-85.  I was only there for a year but had a riot.  Loved it, best time in 15 years in the RAF.  What an eye opener, my first squadron out of Cosford.  Ancient FLMs and single trade lineys who'd been around forever.  I still look back and laugh at some of the stunts the ‘old lads’ used to pull, Avpin in the Zippo, checking the crackers while I was doing an intake check - oh those little so and so's ( or words to that effect).  I don't know when they pulled the 5 line hut down but there was some fantastic artwork on the walls done by one of the lineys, a guy called Gav Cafell. 

Funny sights, I think it was  Paul Compton on one of the pans near the 5 Sqn standby line loxing a T-Bird.  All was quiet in the line hut when we saw a bright blue flash and then a huge bang, followed by said Mr Compton staggering about.  As you can imagine, we all feared the worst, but he appeared to be none the worse for wear.  By the time he got back to the line hut he was fuming - he was quite a hirsute chap and the lox bang had singed all his hairs, leaving little white stubbly ends. 

Another funny, we had a visit by some space cadets (sorry ATC).  They wouldn't let us have any girlies to play with (they were reserved for the firemen with their blue suede wellies and green string vests) but sent us instead a couple of young lads.  One of them couldn't have been any more than 5 feet tall, and as you know the gap between the top of the ladder and the wing root is a sizeable step, a step too far for our hero!  He missed the step, ended up straddled across the Red Top, slid round that and ended up on the deck.  You can imagine the shock on the poor chap’s face.  Needless to say we were filled with compassion and total hysterics - absolutely brilliant lad, I hope he joined up, because the service needed more like him, never stopped smiling even after that, and reckoned it was the best day ever. 

The kites were an absolute pig to work on but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.  I never did get the full story on why AK had metal plates welded to its wing roots and ridiculously high G-meter readings.  Apparently the armourers couldn't harmonise the guns because the airframe was twisted.  I remember laughing ourselves daft on Q when they called a Taceval - oh the joys of wearing that armband then having to do a scramble wearing nothing but a towel.  Even got to go to Waddington for a fortnight while they resurfaced the runway after a Buccaneer dropped a couple of tons of fuel on the runway then missed the RHAG with his hook and dug the surface up; nice of him. 

We had the BAe Lightning over for a visit and the jockey was most put out when we complained that he was miles too high when he beat up the airfield; he promptly jumped back in and buzzed us again at ridiculously low height.  I'm not sure what airfield nav aid was opposite us, but he was lower than that. 

I was reading about the T-Bird that slid off the runway in ‘84 coming back from Jever; I don't think the bomb dump ever emptied so fast as the kite slid to a stop not 20 feet from the bomb dump fence.  Not surprisingly the passenger was a little white and shakey when the jockey admitted he'd thought about getting out but checked the speed and realised he was going too slow, so just had to stay along for the ride. 

Happy days, great site!  It's strange, but even now if anyone asks and I tell them I worked on Lightnings, they tend to go a bit misty eyed and wow seems to come into the conversation.  I would love to get along to Binbrook and see the next taxy runs whenever they are.  My address is 3 Stevenson Close, Heighington, Lincoln LN4 1GP, e-mail  I'm not too far and have driven over to Binbrook a couple of times and saw ‘724 parked outdoors good to hear she's in out of the weather.  I'm a datacomms/IT man now so if there's anything I can do to help let me know. 

Dean Bruce




XR770. This one has a very close relationship too me. I saw it into service (1966 ) at Leuchars with 74 pursuit, and it was my last check 2 before I left Binbrook to go to Lakers, Jan 1980. I did visit it when she was at Waltham, then again some time later in a field in the Lincolnshire "sticks" but unsure of her whereabouts now. There was a rumour that it is at Waddington as a gate guardian ?. (you are quite correct Neil). As for the bogging of 770. The result was an early morning hangar to line tow that sort of went wrong, a tad bit hasty, rather than a copious amount of Tiger the night before. So they told me !! As for getting it out of the ground, there were a few problems. As you can see. the lifting bar is on the wing and the idea was that a crane would lift, and we would slide a large  sheet of steel under the leg and lower gently. Nothing ever goes to plan as the steel sheet weighed a ton and the cranes clutch kept slipping.

So the plan was set. We placed the sheet next to the buried leg, connected some chain across to the other side and hook up to BD tractor and the idea was that it pulled as the crane lifted. Trying to co-ordinate a sheet steel being pulled by a tractor and a screaming crane clutch as they say , did my head in !! After about 3 or 4 goes I finally got it right and finally unbogged. Took it into the shed, did some retractions , all good, changed the rear ventral and put the whole episode down to Ice on the taxiway !!!


C/Tech Neil Glen (in the above photo)  74 Squadron, 5 Squadron


Having served four years at RAF St Athan, I arrived at Binbrook (where else, having come from pulling Buccaneers and Canberra's apart?) one cold winter’s night in 1978, having diverted to miss the snow drifts blocking the road from Market Rasen and wondering where the hell I was going, to start my four year stint on ASF and ASSF.  So, there I was some time later, propping the bar up in the Corporals' club when an acquaintance of mine 'Fruit' Newberry (never did know his first name but what else was he to be called with a surname of Newberry?) told me this tale. 

Evidently he had seen a Lightning off from 11 Squadron as follows.  He indicated to the pilot to start the No.1 engine and with a Whirr and a Phutt! it failed.  Let’s go for a second wet start indicates our intrepid airman.  Again, Whirr, Phutt! and no start.  Now everyone who has been involved with Lightnings knows that a third attempt without waiting for the Avpin to drain sufficiently could result in the pilot getting a swift kick up the ass with the engine starter pod ejecting from the airframe via the bifurcated duct and taking the radome with it. 

So 'Fruit' duly indicates a start of No.2 and guess what?  Again a Whirr Phutt! and no start.  Now 'Fruit' was fully exasperated and as he said to me, 'I knew there was nothing wrong with the kite, it had to be pilot error.'  So our airman again applied the cockpit ladder, climbed up, opened the canopy, gently eased himself in front of the pilot, switched on the H.P. cocks and says 'Shall we try again, Sir?' 

Sure enough, second attempt on No.2 is successful and so to No.1 and the aircraft duly departs.  'I want to see this one in,’ says 'Fruit', not having to wait too long as Lightnings without refueling don't stay up too long.  So Fruit duly waves the aircraft home, attaches and climbs the ladder saying to the pilot, 'How about a crate of beer for the line crew?, because if I tell someone else it may well cost you a lot more in the officers' mess tonight.'  Cheeky so and so, but guess what turned up at the line crew shed the following day.  Hope I’ve got this right, ‘Fruit’ but if you happen to read it, I'm sure you will put me right.  Regards from Ian. 

Ian Lucas, Rigger, ASF and ASSF, 1978 - 1982



My own experience of Lightnings was at Tengah after 74 came out in - without checking - 1968.
As a Supplier who'd done the LOX course, I used to fill the 70 (or was it 75?) litre LOX trolleys that 74 brought to the gas compound. Great fun, LOX - used to catch insects, bung them into the hose- purge-bucket, then tip them out & whack them with the hide-faced mallet provided for releasing couplings! Nasty boys! I was also the Demands Clerk on 26DK later in my tour.

I was 'chosen' when Fg Off Thompson was killed in 'J' to be part of the crash guard. The aircraft came down a couple of miles from Tengah on the only bit of semi-dry land next to a Kampong.
The canopy was some way away, as was the seat, & young Thompson was found dead in a swamp. It was thought he was concussed, separated from the seat, but drowned when he hit the ground.

He'd been in the circuit with Sqn Ldr Carter, & reported both reheat bay fire captions on. Carter fell back, saw fire & shouted for Thompson to get out. being a young man of 21 or so, Thompson thought he could complete the circuit & save his aircraft.

The crash guard was set up to take shifts on the site, & we used to sit in a vehicle cab at night. If you shut the window, you sweated, open it & the mossies came for dinner. Recovery began, & a towed pump trailer brought in from the fire section to drain the water-filled crater where the nose was. Behind it, you could see the top engine, but the other was underground. No sooner had the crater been emptied than the monsoon rain came & filled it up again!

We erks were told to fish around in the gloop for bits & pieces so that the investigators would miss nothing. Lovely job, feeling for bits of jagged Lightning. Health & safety hadn't been invented, so when back on guard the second night I found my right foot had begun to itch intolerably. I tore off my canvas & rubber jungle boot & rubbed the foot. Instantly, I felt an excruciating stinging, burning pain. Ouch!

On relief a couple of hours later, I went back to Tengah on the ration wagon & got in a shower pronto, where I discovered the whole of the top of my foot was a huge, liquid-filled, puffy blister. I managed to get my flip-flops on, & cycled down to Sick Quarters.

I ended up spending 4 days in the air-conditioned ward under treatment. The Docs didn't really give me a diagnosis, but I reckon that, mixed in with the mud & wreckage was something pretty nasty - maybe battery acid, maybe Avpin, Hydraulic fluid? Who knows - but it gave me a memorable chemical burn.

The Inquiry found that a faultily-connected fuel line had allowed AVTUR to leak under pressure & pool in the reheat bay, where it ignited. The uncontrolled fire swiftly burned through magnesium alloy control-rods, & as the tail surfaces were spring-loaded the elevators defaulted to throw the nose up, & the aircraft stalled & fell sideways, at which point ejection was initiated. All very sad. I've got some slides taken at the crash site, & also one of a Lightning on the line at Tengah, so one day........

Tony Kerrison


When I was on Lightnings, back in 1978, being a member of Team 4 in the Aircraft Servicing Flight [ASF] at RAF Binbrook, we had just received our next Check 3 servicing off the conveyor belt and had parked it in our slot on day one.

At this time we were going through our short period of elation at having got rid of our last aircraft to a squadron after 3 months of hard slog ,climaxing in two weeks of unpaid overtime to get it out on time. We were all looking forward to the next two weeks in which we would rip the new one apart and go over it with a fine toothcomb, a relatively leisurely pace compared to the end of the servicing.

Anyway I digress, this new jet had just been parked and chocked, having come out of the storage flight [ASSF] it had no engines fitted so people were looking all over it to see what had been ‘Robbed’ off it, as spares were in short supply across the fleet at that time. I had just scrambled under from the back end and was chatting with some colleagues when I heard and felt this almighty ‘CRASH’!

Not Two yards from me, just where I had come out from under the aircraft lay the 300 gallon VENTRAL TANK! As if rooted to the spot I just stood there as in what appeared to be in slow motion, 3 things happened:

a. Someone stood up in the cockpit and shouted “ I didn’t touch a thing!”

b. Someone else stuck their head out of the lower engine bay from the inter pipe area and said “What was that?”

c. 300 gallons of fuel started to flood the hanger floor at a rapid rate of knots!

Frantic attempts to build a dam from ‘chicken shit’ [oil absorbent cat litter] around this quickly expanding lake of fuel were taking place. It was quite fun just slashing open sacks of this stuff trying to contain the spillage [not as much fun having to sweep it all up again!] As anyone in the Air force will tell you, whenever an aircraft crashes or an incident like this happens, what was a relatively deserted hanger is within sixty seconds full to bursting point with every man and his dog. From OC Eng Wing to Racasan Dan [the toilet cleaner] crawl out of the woodwork to glee over someone else’s misfortune or demand an explanation.

What Happened? Well it turns out it was a sootie [propulsion tradesman] pushing the interpipe that carries the jet efflux down to the reheat pipe backwards with his feet. His size tens had operated the cable mechanism that releases the ventral tank in flight! hey presto! - one cracked 300 gallon tank on the hanger floor!

Phil Wallis



To those people who maintained the Lightning fleet, during the 80's, few aircraft can have caused so much heartache as XS459, one of Binbrook's "T-Birds"

I was a member of the A.S.F. crash team and we had been tasked with carrying out a practice aircraft lift, at the rear of the A.S.F. hangar. The whole team was engrossed, when a shout came up, to look towards the main runway and there was a Lightning sliding gracefully down the runway on its belly.

You can imagine how quickly the crash gear came off the practice aircraft and eventually, a badly damaged aircraft was recovered. Despite major damage, the decision was taken to repair XS459 and a repair team from British Aerospace, carried out the major structural and re-skinning repairs and then for some unknown reason, the aircraft was left to languish in the L.T.F. hangar for some two years.

At this time I was a member of Team 3 in A.S.F. [a legend of a team!!!] and the team consisted of such auspicious characters as Steve "Swiv" Wivell, Pete Cain, Colin "Tucker" Barlow , and Andy " Murph" Murphy, all lead by Chief Tech John Townsend [readers may remember that the Flight Sergeant at this time, was Pete " I'm the hardest man in this hangar" Belk] I was proud to be a member of what must have been the finest aircraft servicing team in human history and for our efforts we were rewarded with returning XS459 to flying condition.

One can imagine the state of this aircraft because at this time, spares were difficult to come by and XS459 had been used as proverbial Christmas tree. Half of the aircraft was missing and enterprising engineers had stripped XS459 of most everything useable and all without the paperwork.

After eleven months of work, we discovered a major fuel leak from the wing centre section and despite our best efforts we were unable to cure it. It was a sad day for all of us [honestly!!] when XS459 was towed from A.S.F. minus its No1 engine [the bottom one] so that the Binbrook fuel leak team could attempt to cure the leak.

Eventually, the leak was reduced to manageable proportions [though never cured] and the aircraft finally took to the skies again. It's first air test was quite an eventful affair, because the ram-air valve flew open during the high speed run and the pilot had to make an emergency descent, after the cockpit vent valve had failed at 50,000 ft.

Despite these hiccoughs XS459 continued to fly during the rest of my time at Binbrook and it was with some pride that I used to see it towed onto the line at the start of a days flying [and still leaking fuel!!]

Colin "Harry" Parry [ex Sgt, A.S.F. and 5 Sdn]



When I was on Lightning’s, I was attending a course in the Station Education Centre at RAF Binbrook. Busy doing percentages I was interrupted by the station crash alarm [a continuous test-card like tone] over the station tannoy, swiftly followed by “STATE ONE STATE ONE!“ spoken in a distressed manner. A `State One` means an aircraft has actually crashed on or in the vicinity of the airfield. Emergency services react immediately [as one would expect] as aircrew or passengers could be trapped etc.

I was of course very curious as to what had crashed and word soon came through that it was a Lightning from 11Sqn [my sqn!] had crashed just outside the airfield perimeter fence opposite the QRA [Quick Reaction Alert] sheds. The pilot had ejected safely and landed on the airfield itself.

Being an aircraft from my own sqn I was naturally concerned as all aircraft engineers are when an aircraft crashes as to what had caused the crash and more importantly was it something we [engineers] had done. Aircraft crashes mean a mandatory Board of Inquiry to determine the cause of the crash and to apportion blame if human error was a factor.

The summary of this WIWOL is a thankfully a humorous one, the cause of the crash was determined to be that the ventral tank had failed to empty, this caused the centre of gravity to shift out of normal and the aircraft had stalled when the aircraft was placed in an out of envelope attitude.

The humorous aspect is that at the same time I heard that Tannoy message my colleagues back at work had seen the whole thing. They heard the `BANG` of the pilot ejecting and looked up to see the abandoned hapless aircraft coming down to earth in a flat spin “ falling like a leaf” was an apt description I was given, then the inevitable CRASH and FIREBALL over the other side of the airfield.. Half a second after impact a Sergeant inside the flight line hut panicked, he grabbed a set of tractor keys from their hook, threw them at a colleague of mine and shouted “ GET A TRACTOR AND TOWING ARM OVER THERE { the crash] NOW!!!!”. To which my friend calmly replied “what exactly do you expect me to tow back?......the NOSEWHEEL??!!!!”

There was a spontaneous and resounding collective burst of laughter as people pointed to the crash scene, the pawl of rising black smoke, a 30 foot deep chasm of molten disintegrated metal that had been a Lightning 20 seconds ago and a pilot floating down in his parachute!. We all saw the funny side though he didn’t.

It was the result of instinctive reaction, as whenever lesser emergencies occur [burst tyres, chute less landings] normal procedure is to dispatch a recovery team to tow the aircraft back to the hanger. Parts of that Lightning are undoubtedly still 30 feet down, who knows in 50 years time some aviation archaeologists will excavate the site and find the nose wheel!!!

Phil Wallis

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