Anger as iconic BAE gateway jet is removed

Sad farewell: The Lightning F53 which has been at BAE Samlesbury for more than 20 years
Sad farewell: The Lightning F53 which has been at BAE Samlesbury for more than 20 years
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A decision to remove the iconic Lightning jet that has stood as gate guardian at BAE Samlesbury for more than 20 years has prompted anger.

Employees at the site, off the A59, say Lancashire’s weather has taken it’s toll on the Lightning F53/ZF580, once the pride of Lancashire, and that it is not in a fit condition to be refurbished.

However its sudden removal has upset aviation enthusiasts.

Nick Wotherspoon, 48, from Ribchester, said: “I think people are upset it was done without prior announcement. The first anyone knew is when a removal firm was taking it down.

“It is a proud piece of our heritage, built in the north west.

“We are disappointed. I find it hard to believe a group of enthusiasts wouldn’t have taken it on to refurbish as a project.”

The aircraft was removed from its plinth on Monday and is currently at the side of its former home as engineers look at the possibility of taking it apart and taking moulds from it to help create the new replica. It is protected by a tent and is surrounded by scaffolding.

BAE is now looking to use parts of the aircraft to make a replica of it to stand in the pride of place at the new entrance to the Samlesbury site, along with a replica of the new Lightning model, the F-35.

Paul Earnshaw, of BAE, said: “ Unfortunately jets aren’t designed to be stuck on a plinth in the Lancashire weather for 20 years.

“It is not in a condition anymore that reflects our proud heritage. The outdoor elements have taken their toll but we are going to utilise it to develop a new gate guardian.

“However this won’t be until at least 2014. We will still have to go through the planning permission process. We are considering having a replica of the Lightning F-35 made to go alongside it, reflecting the old and new side by side. We are still very early in the process.”

Mr Earnshaw added: “ It has not been decided what will happen to the rest of it after the moulds are taken. We will take the safest and most appropriate action.”

Jetting through the sky at twice the speed of sound, the Lightning was the pride of Lancashire and the envy of the world. Developed by English Electric at their bases in Preston, Warton and Samlesbury, the jet could achieve speeds of 1,500mph and was the pinnacle of British defence during the Cold War.

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers honoured the jet with an Engineering Heritage Award in recognition of the massive technological advancements that were made in producing it.