(Image: Anthony Parkes. Lightning ZF580 while on display at Samlesbury Aerodrome)
For more than 20 years, from 1990 to 2013, English Electric Lightning F.53 ZF580 had pride of place on the main gate at Samlesbury Aerodrome in Lancashire, greeting BAE Systems employees as they arrived at their place of work. But as the years passed by, and the elements took their toll on the airframe, a decision was made to replace ZF580 with a full-scale fibreglass replica of the iconic British interceptor. Happily, Lightning ZF580 is now set for restoration, and her dismantled fuselage is pictured here in the care of the Cornwall Aviation Heritage Centre at Newquay Airport.
ZF580 first took to the air from Samlesbury on November 28, 1967. The airframe was among a batch of Lightnings built by the English Electric Company for the Royal Saudi Air Force. These export jets were designated Lightning F.53s, and ZF580 carried the Saudi serial number 53-672. She was delivered to an airfield in Jeddah in 1968 and served with the Lightning Conversion Unit at Dhahran, seeing out her operational days with 2 Squadron RSAF.
The warplane was returned to BAE Warton in 1986 along with other remaining Lightning F.53s and placed in outdoor storage. By 1990 the airframe had been transported to Samlesbury Aerodrome for display purposes, where she would remain for the next 23 years.
(Image: Google Earth. F-35 and Lightning mockups)
In 2013, due to her deteriorating condition after decades spent outdoors, a full-scale Lightning replica was built and installed on the Samlesbury gate. Unlike many Lightnings, which had their wings and tails cut off for transport, ZF580 was dismantled correctly – a major feat of engineering that requires the front and rear fuselage to be separated before the appendages can be removed – and moved to Newquay Airport for restoration.
Meanwhile, the full-scale mockup at Samlesbury Aerodrome has been joined by another gate guardian, in the form of a replica of the stealthy new F-35 Lightning II, which is set to enter operational service with the RAF and Fleet Air Arm in the near future.
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