The Grand Q-Shed

On July 24 2010, the LPG’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) hangar was officially declared open by David Walton, whose family owns Bruntingthorpe airfield.

It has been a long time coming. The Q-Shed is a relic of the Cold War period and was originally located at the end of the main runway at RAF Wattisham, Suffolk. It housed a pair of Lightnings and, at a later date, Phantoms which were held at ten minutes readiness to launch against Soviet aircraft when Wattisham was holding ‘Southern Q’. After the fall of the Iron Curtain the hangar was dismantled by Trafalgar House Construction, who generously donated it to the LPG in January 1994, as long as we shifted it ourselves! Six trailers and much hard work later, the ‘QRA kit’ arrived at Bruntingthorpe.

Fund raising began in earnest in 2002. It was a prolonged struggle to raise the £130,000 so far spent, but ultimately achieved thanks to the generosity of enthusiasts and ex-Lightning personnel on Open Days and via the website, not to say the magnificent publicity provided by FlyPast magazine over a sustained period. Permanent acknowledgement of supporters will be made on a Donors Board inside the Q-Shed.

Donations are still being sought to finance continuing refurbishment of the structure, and of original fixtures and fittings kindly donated by the station commander at RAF Leuchars, whose Q-Shed was recently demolished to make way for a Typhoon facility. In addition, there are the ongoing costs of maintaining the iconic jets in as close to fully-functioning state as possible, so that the public and future generations can enjoy the sight and sound of them close up.

The LPG has been maintaining Lightning F.6 XR728 ‘JS’ in taxiable condition for 22 years (stable-mate XS904 ‘BQ’ for 17 years), with the aircraft having been outside in the elements for most of that time. When the Group was formed the members were actually quite sprightly young men!

The Q-Shed is now facilitating deep maintenance of the aircraft, for example XS904’s No.2 (upper) Rolls Royce Avon Mk302 engine was changed this spring. Those who attended the recent Cold War Jets open day will have seen (and heard) the satisfactory outcome! This achievement was possible because of the experienced engineering personnel in the Group, which includes current professional engineers and former Lightning technicians. In case of difficulty there is also an extended pool of expertise on call from the ‘Lightning world’, many of whom are honorary members of the Group. Sister-ship XR728 is next in line for work to address fuel control unit & reheat issues.

It is hoped that our brace of Lightnings in the Q-Shed will form the nucleus of a unique Lightning Museum, further enhancing the Walton family’s Cold War Jets collection which is located at the airfield. Possible future developments include an adjacent building to function as a shop and display area for Lightning memorabilia.

There was an open invitation for WIWOLs (‘When I Was On Lightnings’), pilots and groundcrew, to attend the official opening, which also commemorated 50 years since the Lightning entered RAF squadron service. LPG honorary member Dennis Brooks, a former Lightning and Tornado pilot, lit both ‘burners and took Lightning F.6 XS904 for a fast taxi run along Bruntingthorpe’s 10,000ft runway, bringing back memories of ‘the power and the fury’ of this unique jet fighter.

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LPG Honorary Member AVM Peter Collins CB AFC BA RAF (Retd.), a former Base Commander at RAF Gütersloh, Germany, paid this tribute:

“Forty years ago, at the height of the Cold War, I was commanding Treble One Squadron at RAF Wattisham. Quite often I spent hours on QRA duty in the readiness shed near the end of the runway, dressed in full immersion suit and waiting to be scrambled if a Soviet aircraft was detected in the airspace for whose defence we were responsible. It was an essential but irksome part of life on a Lightning squadron.

“Today it seems incredible that an indefatigable bunch of Lightning “groupies” have acquired and painstakingly re-erected that very same QRA Shed at Bruntingthorpe, where it stands now as an evocative memento of those Cold War days. At times it must have seemed an almost impossible task. Completing it as they have is a fantastic achievement. Together with the two Mk6 Lightnings which the Lightning Preservation Group maintain so splendidly, it provides a unique reminder for all Lightning pilots and an insight for the general public into the realities of the Cold War.”

Hugh Trevor
August 2010