Monday, 11 August 2014

Lightning Preservation Group QRA Day 2014

Sunday 27 July 2014 heralded the third of the QRA days in the history of the Lightning Preservation Group (LPG) since the completion of its ex-RAF Wattisham QRA facilities at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire.

A large crowd had gathered consisting of the usual enthusiasts, supporters of the Lightning Preservation Group (which includes the author) and ex-Lightning folks with some wonderful stories. The other welcome visitor was the sun, which helped to illuminate the proceedings on the day. Those proceedings are essentially in two parts, the first being the re-enactment of the QRA scenario, the second a fast pairs run later in the afternoon with Canberra WT333 performing in between.

For those that have not had the pleasure of attending a LPG QRA day, the first part of the day is a detailed re-enactment of a QRA mission where two Lightnings are called upon to intercept a Russian Tu-95 Bear out over the North Sea. The commentary explains the background as the story unfolds with radio communications between a control centre and the QRA facility. The QRA sheds are closed and the pilots are in the QRA building adjacent to the shed where both Lightnings are armed and ready to go. Then as soon as the "scramble, scramble, scramble" order is given the doors open, one or both pilot(s) run to the aircraft and strap in after which the engines are fired up. Soon after that the aircraft emerges into the daylight and rushes off the runway to commence its intercept and perhaps a refuel on the way.

The two Lightnings are piloted by John Ward and Dennis Brooks, both very experienced fast jet pilots. For those that have attended fast taxi runs here in the past will remember well known pilots such as John Spencer, Keith Hartley, Jimmy Dell, Brian Carroll and Roland Beamont, all of whom have over the years sat at the controls of these two Cold War warriors. From here on the pictures will continue the story as most of them will speak for themselves.

XS904 speeds out of its QRA shed position, cockpit closed, heading for the runway
The speed with which the Lightning heads for the runway is evident in the dust that is thrown up.
XR728 has been ordered to scramble and intercept a Russian Bear over the North Sea.
Nice contrast with XS904 in that Dennis has left his cockpit open
XS904, piloted by John Ward, returns from its QRA mission, cockpit slightly open to let in some cool air.
XS904 being checked on returning from its QRA mission

XR728 leaves the runway after successful QRA interception of a Russian Tu-95 Bear over the North Sea
XR728 too is checked over before returning to the QRA shed
Dennis Brooks disembarks from XR728 to raptuous applause
Dennis Brooks shows off Canberra WT333 prior to a fast axi down Bruntingthorpe's 2 mile runway
John Ward in XS904 in the front and Dennis Brooks in XR728 in the background.
Check out the blue haze in XS904's air intake as John Ward opens the throttles
Upper Avon in full reheat
Another successful fast pair taxi comes to an end
XS904 already parked and XR728 parking up alongside marking the end of the day's action.

 In conclusion

The QRA day as organised by the Lightning Preservation Group is unique, not just in the UK, both in the world and they are to be congratulated on a professional execution of a highly technical event, requiring a large amount of dedication, tenacity and a great deal of attention to health and safety, especially with Joe Public around. Both aircraft are maintained to a very high standard so that they are safe to operate.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of the pilots, John Ward and Dennis Brooks. 

On the left, John Ward wanders along the crowd line after his fast taxi in 2013, asking the crowd if they enjoyed the spectacle. Above, also in 2013, Dennis Brooks is being interviewed, the question being "Is there a temptation to remain in reheat and pull back in the control stick to go flying?".  The answer was an emphatic "Yes", but with that big BUT....."it would probably cost me "
Next time I go I must remember to take my ear protection. This year, as last year, it cost me £20 for a pair of yellow ear props....£0.10 for the ear props and the rest my annual donation to this wonderful cause. Donations is what the LPG need to maintain the aircraft, acquire the parts and fuel and ultimately provide us with a great day out at their annual QRA Day and the Cold War Jets Open Days (next on Sunday 24 August 2014).

10 August 2014
Theo Claassen

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