English Electric Lightning

English Electric Lightning

Infobox Aircraft
name= Lightning

caption= A Lightning F.3 in 1964
type= Interceptor
manufacturer= English Electric British Aircraft Corporation
designer= Teddy Petter
first flight= 4 August avyear|1954 (P.1A) 4 April avyear|1957
introduced= December 1959
retired= 1988 (RAF)
primary user= Royal Air Force
more users= Kuwait Air Force Royal Saudi Air Force
number built=337 (including prototypes) Winchester 2006, p. 82.]
unit cost=
variants with their own articles=

The English Electric Lightning was a British supersonic fighter aircraft of the Cold War era, remembered for its great speed and natural metal exterior. It is the only all-British Mach 2 fighter aircraft. Renowned for its capabilities as an interceptor, RAF pilots described it as "being saddled to a skyrocket".Winchester 2006, p. 82.] English Electric was later incorporated into the British Aircraft Corporation, later marks being developed and produced as the BAC Lightning.

The Lightning was used throughout much of its service life by the Royal Air Force and the Royal Saudi Air Force. The aircraft was a regular performer at airshows and was the first aircraft capable of supercruise. The Lightning was also one of the highest performance planes ever used in formation aerobatics. The Lightning aircraft is now largely retired to museums, but three examples still fly at "Thunder City" based at Cape Town, South Africa.

Design and development

The prototypes, known as English Electric P.1s, were built to a Ministry of Supply requirement (Specification ER.103) for a transonic research aircraft. The first of the two P.1s "WG760" flew for the first time from RAF Boscombe Down on 4 August 1954. It was soon realised that the aircraft should be regarded as a prototype fighter to satisfy the British Air Ministry's 1947 specification F23/49 rather than being research aircraft. This specification followed the cancellation of the Air Ministry's 1942 E.24/43 supersonic research aircraft specification which had resulted in the Miles M.52.Fact|date=March 2008 The Lightning shared a number of innovations first planned for the Miles M.52 including the shock cone and all-moving tailplane, the latter described by Chuck Yeager as the single most significant contribution to the final success of supersonic flight.

The P.1's designer was W.E.W. Petter, formerly chief designer at Westland Aircraft. The design was controversial and the Short SB5 was built to test wing sweep and tailplane combinations. The original combination was proved correct. The forerunner of the Lightning series was the P.1A and P.1B flying "proof-of-concept" aircraft. Looking very much like the production series, the prototypes were distinguished by the rounded-triangular intakes, short fins and lack of radar or operational equipment.On 25 November 1958, the P.1B became the first British aircraft to fly at Mach 2.

The Lightning was specifically designed as a point defence interceptor - essentially a guided missile-armed, air superiority fighter optimised to defend mainland Britain against bomber attacks. In order to reduce cross sectional area of the fuselage and improve performance, the fuel capacity was highly restricted. It was armed with two 30 mm ADEN cannons and two air-to-air missiles, at first the de Havilland Firestreak and later the Hawker Siddeley Red Top.

A unique way of minimising the drag of the twin engine installation was put forward by Petter. This involved stacking the engines vertically (staggered to avoid too much weight aft, with the lower engine forward of the upper), effectively tucking them behind the cockpit, fed from the nose and achieving minimum frontal area. This effectively gave twice the thrust of its contemporaries for an increase in frontal area of only 50%. The Ferranti AI23 AIRPASS: Airborne Interception Radar and Pilot Attack Sight System was mounted in the shock cone.

Limitations of fuel capacity dominated this aircraft's design as its fuselage was nearly all engines and ducting, and thus could not hold much fuel. Hence all available room was adapted to the purpose of holding fuel. The flaps were even used as fuel tanks, and the landing gear had very narrow tyres that retracted outward so that there could be greater tankage inboard. This also meant that when the addition of drop tanks for greater range was considered, they could not be placed beneath the wing and were mounted on top instead. When the aerodynamic principle of the area rule became standard practice, a ventral tank was added to the fuselage so the aircraft could carry more fuel while being more aerodynamic.

Operational history

were essentially similar to the T5 and F6 models in UK service and this final production batch reverted to the classic natural metal external finish which lasted well in the drier Arabian climate.

During the 1960s, as strategic awareness increased and a multitude of alternative fighter designs were developed by Warsaw Pact and NATO members, the Lightning's shortcomings in terms of range and firepower became increasingly apparent. The withdrawal of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantoms from Royal Navy service enabled these slower but much longer-ranged aircraft to be added to the RAF's interceptor force alongside those withdrawn from Germany which were being replaced by SEPECAT Jaguars in the ground attack role. Later the Tornado F3s also arrived to defend UK airspace. While slower and less agile than the Lightning, the Tornado carries a much larger armament load and much more advanced avionics. Lightnings were slowly phased out of service between 1974 and 1988, although much testing and modification was needed to keep them in air-worthy condition due to the high number of flight hours accumulated.

The English Electric Lightning is credited with a single kill, ironically a British aircraft- a Harrier pilot ejected, but the pilotless aircraft continued to fly. The order was given to shoot down the aircraft and the Lightning achieved this successfully. [ [http://www.thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk/lightning/history.html English Electric Lightning history] ]

In their final years of UK service, all RAF Lightnings were based at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire and many were camouflaged to make them less conspicuous when flying at low level. They tended to defend the Flamborough Head Sector of airspace above the North Sea. These later aircraft were the single-seater F3 and F6 and the twin seat trainer variant T5, all constructed by British Aircraft Corporation and distinguished from earlier versions by their flat topped fins. In their last year of service their pilots regularly pushed the aircraft to their limits as they used up the remaining hours of fatigue time.

Many Lightnings are conserved in museum collections where they delight visitors with their clean sleek lines, evocative of the high speeds that they once attained. The Short SB5 and a P.1A are at the RAF Museum, Cosford. The Civil Aviation Authority refused a licence for the surviving airworthy examples to perform at air shows in the UK but there are three flying in South Africa (see Operators below).


The Lightning’s speed and climb performance were excellent not just by 1950s or 1960s standards but even compared with modern operational fighters. Its initial rate of climb was 50,000 ft per minute (15 km/min). The contemporary Mirage IIIE climbed initially at 30,000 ft/min (9 km/min), the MiG-21 managed 36,090 ft/min (11 km/min). The recent Tornado F3 43,000 ft/min (13 km/min).

The Lightning could, using re-heat, reach FL 360 (nominally 36,000 ft) in 2.5 minutes. [Carroll, Brian. [http://www.thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk/lightning/memories.html "Memories".] thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk. Retrieved: 12 March 2008.] [ [http://www.raf.mod.uk/history_old/lightning10.html Raf.mod.uk History site] gives 40,000 ft in 2 minutes 30 seconds.]

The official ceiling was a secret to the general public and low security RAF documents simply stated 60,000+ ft (18 000+ m), although it was well known within the RAF to be capable of much greater heights; the official maximum altitude mainly being determined by cockpit pressurisation reliability and safety. In September 1962 Fighter Command organised a series of trial supersonic overland interceptions of Lockheed U-2As, temporarily based at RAF Upper Heyford to monitor resumed Soviet nuclear tests, at heights of around 60,000-65,000ft. [Public Record Office, London. TNA AIR 20/11370] [ [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATLN=6&CATID=1771704&SearchInit=4&CATREF=air+20/11370&j=1 The National Archive of Untied Kingdom] ] The trials took place in two stages, the second series consisting of 14 interceptions, including four successful and four abortive ones at 65,000. [Public Record Office, London. TNA AIR 20/11370] The late Brian Carroll, a former RAF Lightning pilot and ex-Lightning Chief Examiner, reported taking a Lightning F53 up to 87,300 feet (26 600 m) over Saudi Arabia at which level "Earth curvature was visible and the sky was quite dark" but control-wise it was "on a knife edge". [Carroll, Brian. [http://www.lightning.org.uk/archive/0307.php Lightning.org.uk "Lightning Review".] thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk. Retrieved: 12 March 2008.]

In 1984, during a major NATO exercise, Flt Lt Mike Hale intercepted an American U-2 at a height which they had previously considered safe from interception. Records show that Hale climbed to 88,000 ft (26,800 m) in his Lightning F3 "XR749". Hale also participated in time-to-height and acceleration trials against F-104 Starfighters from Aalborg. He reports that the Lightnings won all races easily with the exception of the low level supersonic acceleration, which was a "dead heat". [http://www.lightning.org.uk/archive/0410.php Lightning.org Lightning archive] thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk. Retrieved: 12 March 2008.]

Carroll reports in a side-by-side comparison of the Lightning and the F-15C Eagle (which he also flew) that "acceleration in both was impressive, you have all seen the Lightning leap away once brakes are released, the Eagle was almost as good, and climb speed was rapidly achieved. Takeoff roll is between 2,000 & 3,000 ft [600 to 900 m] , depending upon military or maximum afterburner-powered takeoff. The Lightning was quicker off the ground, reaching 50 ft [15 m] height in a horizontal distance of 1,630 feet [500m] ".

In British Airways trials in April 1985, Concorde was offered as a target to NATO fighters including F-15s, F-16s, F-14s, Mirages, F-104s - but only Lightning "XR749", flown by Mike Hale and described by him as "a very hot ship, even for a Lightning", managed to overtake Concorde on a stern conversion intercept. The XR749 now resides at the entrance of Score Group PLC's gas turbine testing and servicing facility in Peterhead, Scotland.

Despite its remarkable acceleration, altitude and top speed, the Lightning inevitably found itself outclassed by newer fighters in terms of radar, avionics, weapons load, range, and air-to-air capability. More of a problem was the obsolete avionics and weapons fit, particularly the 30 mile (very short) range 1950s radar sets: the avionics were never upgraded in RAF service since Lightnings were always supposedly just about to be replaced by something better.


;English Electric P.1A
* Single-seat supersonic research aircraft.
* Two prototypes built and one static test airframe

;English Electric P.1B
* Single-seat operational prototypes.
* Three prototypes built
* 20 pre-production aircraft (so-called Development Batch) [http://www.lightning.org.uk/histories.php Lightning history] ]

;Lightning F1
* Single-seat fighter
* Delivered in 1960
* A total of 19 built (and one static test airframe)
* Two × Rolls-Royce Avon 200R engines
* VHF Radio
* Two × 30 mm ADEN cannons in nose
* Two × Firestreak missiles
* Ferranti AI-23 "AIRPASS" radar

;Lightning F1A
* Single-seat fighter
* Delivered in 1961
* Now the "BAC Lightning"
* Avon 210R engines
* Addition of in-flight refuelling probe
* UHF Radio
* A total of 28 built

;Lightning F2
* Single-seat fighter (an improved variant of the F1)
* Delivered in 1962
* A total of 44 built with 31 later modified to F2A standard
* Five later modified to F52 for export to Saudi Arabia

;Lightning F2A
* Single-seat fighter (F2s upgraded to near F6 standard)
* A total of 31 converted from F2
* Avon 211R engines
* Retained ADEN cannon and Firestreak of F2 (The Firestreak Pack could be replaced with an Aden Cannon Pack to give the aircraft four Aden Cannon)
* Larger Ventral Tank and Arrester Hook
* About two hours endurance

;Lightning F3
* Single-seat fighter
* Upgraded radar - AI-23B
* Avon 301R engines
* Firestreak changed for Red Top missiles
* Enlarged and clipped tailfin due to aerodynamics of carriage of Red Top
* ADEN cannon removed
* A total of 70 built (at least nine were converted to F6 standard)

;Lightning F3A
* Single-seat fighter
* Extended range, 800 miles with large ventral tank
* New cambered wings
* A total of 16 built at the end of F3 production, known also as an F3 Interim version or F6 Interim Version
*15 modified later to full F6 standard

;Lightning T4
* Two-seat side-by-side training version, based on the F1A.
* Two prototypes and 20 production built
* Two aircraft later converted to T5 prototypes
* Two aircraft later converted to T54

;Lightning T5
* Two-seat side-by-side training version, based on the F3.
* 22 production aircraft built
* One former RAF aircraft later converted to T55 for Saudi Arabia (crashed before delivery)
* Two former RAF aircraft later civilian operated

;Lightning F6
* Single-seat fighter (an improved longer-range variant of the F3)
* New wings with better efficiency and subsonic performance, increased fuel storage
* Overwing fuel tanks and larger ventral fuel tank
* Change back to 30 mm cannons (initially no cannons but later in the forward part of ventral pack rather than in nose).
* Two x Red Top missile
* A total of 39 built (also 9 converted from F3 and 15 from F3A)

;Lightning F52
* Slightly modified ex-RAF F2 single-seat fighters for export to Saudi Arabia (five converted from F2).

;Lightning F53
* Export version of the F6 with pylons for bombs or unguided rocket pods (44 × 2 in (50 mm)
* A total of 46 built and one converted from F6 (12 F53Ks for the Kuwaiti Air Force, 34 F53s for the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force, one aircraft crashed before delivery)
* Used air-to-ground in dispute near border with South Yemen in 1969 with great success

;Lightning T54
* Ex-RAF T4 two-seat trainers supplied to Saudi Arabia (two converted).

;Lightning T55
* Two-seat side-by-side training aircraft (export version of the T5).
* Eight built (six T55s for the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force, two T.55Ks for the Kuwaiti Air Force and one converted from T5 that crashed before delivery)

Total production was 277 single-seat fighters and 52 two-seater trainers, including RAF and export aircraft.

Popular culture

* British journalist and TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson borrowed a Lightning (serial "XM172") which was temporarily placed in his garden and documented on Clarkson's TV show "Speed".
*The cockpit sections from four scrapped Lightnings were used to construct the full-scale mockups of the CF-117b Rapier starfighters in the film "Wing Commander".


Military operators

*Kuwait Air Force operated both the F53K single-seat fighter and the T55K training version from 1968 to 1977

*Royal Saudi Air Force operated the Lightning from 1967 to 1986
** RSAF Squadrons
*** 2 Squadron operated the F53 and T55
*** 6 Squadron operated the F52 and F53
*** 13 Squadron operated the F52, F53 and T55
*** RSAF Lightning Conversion Unit

*Royal Air Force operated the Lighting from 1959 to 1988.
** RAF Aerial display teams
*** "The Tigers" of No 74 Squadron. Lead RAF aerial display team from 1962 and first display team with Mach 2 aircraft.
*** "The Firebirds" of No 56 Squadron from 1963 in red and silver.
** RAF Squadrons
*** 5 Squadron operated the F1A and F6 (1965-1987)
*** 11 Squadron operated the F3 and F6 (1967-1988)
*** 19 Squadron operated the F2 and F2A (1962-1976)
*** 23 Squadron operated the F3 an F6 (1964-1975)
*** 29 Squadron operated the F3 (1967-1974)
*** 56 Squadron operated the F1, F1A, F3 and F6 (1960-1976)
*** 65 Squadron operated as No. 226 OCU with the F1, F1A and F3 (1971-1974)
*** 74 Squadron operated the F1, F3 and F6 (1964-1971)
*** 92 Squadron operated the F2 and F2A (1963-1977)
*** 145 Squadron operated as No. 226 OCU with the F1, F1A and F3 (1963-1971)
*** 111 Squadron operated the F1A, F3 and F6 (1961-1974)
*** 226 Operational Conversion Unit operated the F1A, F3, T4 and T5 (1963-1974)
*** Air Fighting Development Squadron
*** Lightning Conversion Squadron (1960-1963)
** RAF Flights
*** Binrook Target Facilities Flight (1966-1973)
*** Leuchars Target Facilities Flight (1966-1973)
*** Wattisham Target Facilities Flight (1966-1973)
*** Lightning Training Flight (1975-1987)
** RAF Bases
*** RAF Akrotiri
*** RAF Binbrook
*** RAF Coltishall
*** RAF Geilenkirchen
*** RAF Gütersloh
*** RAF Leconfield
*** RAF Middleton St. George
*** RAF Leuchars
*** RAF Tengah
*** RAF Wattisham

Civil operators

*The Anglo American Lightning Organisation, a voluntary group based at Stennis Airport, Kiln, Mississippi, are returning to flight EE Lighting T5, XS422. The aircraft was formally with the Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS) at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, UK. [ [http://www.lightning422supporters.co.uk Restoration website] Retrieved: 12 March 2008.] ;RSA
*Thunder City, a civilian company based in South Africa operates two Lightning T5 and one single-seat F6 (current August 2008). [ [http://www.thundercity.com/lightning.htm Company website] thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk. Retrieved: 12 March 2008.]


The following aircraft are on public display:
*"WG760" P.1A on display at the RAF Museum Cosford, England
*"WG763" P.1B on display at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, England
*"XG329" Lightning F1/3 on display at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum, Flixton, England
*"XG337" Lightning F1/3 on display at the RAF Museum Cosford, England.
*"XM135" Lightning F1 on display at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England.
*"XN730" Lightning F2A on display at the Luftwaffe Museum, Gatow, Germany
*"XN769" Lightning F2A on display at the Malta Aviation Museum, Ta'qali, Malta
*"XN776" Lightning F2A on display at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland.
*"XN782" Lightning F2A on display at the Luftfahrtausstellung Museum, Hermeskeil, Germany.
*"XR728" Lightning F6 on display with LPG, Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire. Taxi-able.
*"XR749" Lightning F3 is displayed outside Score Group's Integrated Valve and Gas Turbine Plant, Peterhead, Scotland.
*"XR771" Lightning F6 on display at the Midland Air Museum, Coventry, England.
*"XS417" Lightning T5 on display at the Newark Air Museum, Newark, England.
*"XS459" Lightning T5 on display at the Fenland and West Norfolk Aviation Museum, Wisbech, England.
*"XS897" Lightning F6 on display at Aeroventure, Doncaster, England.
*"XS903" Lightning F6 on display at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, England.
*"XS904" Lightning F6 on display with LPG, Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire. Taxi-able.
*"XS925" Lightning F6 on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon, England.
*"ZF578" Lightning F53 on display as "XR753" at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, Tangmere, England.
*"ZF579" Lightning F53 on display at the Gatwick Aviation Museum, Charlwood, Nr Gatwick Airport, England.
*"ZF583" Lightning F53 on display at the Dumfries and Galloway Aviation Museum, Dumfries, Scotland.
*"ZF588" Lightning F53 on display at the East Midlands Airport Airpark, Castle Donington, England.
*"ZF592" Lightning F53 on display as "53-686" at the City of Norwich Airport Museum, Norwich, England
*"ZF593" Lightning F53 on display at the Warner-Robins Museum of Aviation, Georgia, USA.
*"ZF594" Lightning F53 on display at the North East Aircraft Museum, Sunderland, England.
*"ZF597" Lightning T55 on display at the Olympic Flight Museum, Washington, USA.
*"ZF598" Lightning T55 on display as "55-713" at the Midland Air Museum, Coventry, England.

pecifications (Lightning F6)

aircraft specifications
plane or copter?=plane
jet or prop?=jet

ref=Air VectorsGoebel, Greg. [http://www.vectorsite.net/aveeltg.html "The English Electric (BAC) Lightning".] Air Vectors, 1 April 2005. Retrieved: 31 July 2007.] [ [http://www.warbirdalley.com/ltning.htm Specifications (F.6): armaments] ]

length main=55 ft 3 in
length alt=16.84 m
span main=34 ft 10 in
span alt=10.62 m
height main=19 ft 7 in
height alt=5.97 m
area main=474.5 ft²
area alt=44.1 m²
empty weight main=28,040 lb
empty weight alt=12,720 kg
max takeoff weight main=41,700 lb
max takeoff weight alt=18,900 kg

engine (jet)=Rolls-Royce Avon 301R
type of jet=afterburning turbojets
number of jets=2
thrust main=13,220 lbf
thrust alt=58.86 kN
afterburning thrust main=16,360 lbf
afterburning thrust alt=72.77 kN

max speed main=Mach 2.27
max speed alt=1,500 mph, 2,415 km/h
max speed more=at altitude
range main=800 mi
range alt=1,300 km
range more=combat 560 km
ferry range main=1,560 mi
ferry range alt=1,360 NM, 2,500 km
ceiling main=>60,000 ft
ceiling alt=18,000 m
ceiling more=officially (87,300 ft/26,600 m [http://www.fighter-planes.com/info/bac.htm BAC Lightning, English Electric] ] recorded)
climb rate main=50,000 ft/min
climb rate alt=260 m/s
loading main=87.9 lb/ft²
loading alt=429 kg/m²

guns=2× 30 mm (1.18 in) ADEN cannon
rockets=8× Matra rocket pods with 18× SNEB 68 mm rockets each; "OR" 2× Matra JL-100 drop tank/rocket pack, each with 19× SNEB 68 mm rockets and 66 US gallons (250 liters) of fuel on overwing pylons (Royal Saudi AF Lightnings only)
missiles=2× Firestreak; "OR" 2× Red Top Air-to-air missiles
bombs=6,000 lb (2,750 kg) of payload on four external hardpoints (two underwing and two overwing), including a variety of bombs, Drop tanks and the ability to mount a ventral pack of five Vinteen 360 70-mm cameras and linescan equipment for reconnaissance duty.
[http://www.gatwick-aviation-museum.co.uk/lightning/HISTORY_files/preview.jpgImage of weapon load-out for a typical Lightning fighter.]

ee also


* Short SB.5

similar aircraft=
* F-104 Starfighter
* Sukhoi Su-15


* List of aircraft of the RAF
* List of fighter aircraft

see also=




* Caygill, Peter. "Lightning from the Cockpit: Flying the Supersonic Legend". Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK: Pen & Sword Books Ltd., 2004. ISBN 1-84415-082-8.
* Winchester, Jim, ed. "English Electric Lightning." "Military Aircraft of the Cold War (The Aviation Factfile)". Rochester, Kent, UK: The Grange plc., 2006. ISBN 1-84013-929-7.
* [http://www.thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk/lightning/index.html Thunder and Lightnings - Lightning] Retrieved: 11 March 2008.

External links

* [http://www.lightning422supporters.co.uk Anglo American Lightning Organisation, returning to flight XS422, the former ETPS Lightning at Stennis Airport, Kiln, Mississippi]
* [http://www.lightnings.org.uk Lightning Preservation Group, Bruntingthorpe Leicestershire. Keeping XS904 and XR728 alive]
* [http://www.t5alive.org.uk Preserved Lightning XS458 running at Cranfield]
* [http://www.fighter-planes.com/info/bac.htm English Electric / BAC Lightning Information]
* [http://www.lightning.org.uk/ The Lightning Association]
* [http://www.thundercity.com/ Thunder City]
* [http://www.warbirdalley.com/ltning.htm Warbird Alley: Lightning page]
* [http://www.airsceneuk.org.uk/oldstuff/2002/sentinel/sentinel.htm Silent Sentinel: The tale of an A1 milestone]
* [http://www.aviation-picture-hangar.co.uk/Lightning.html APH's English Electric (BAC) Lightning - Vertical Reality]

External media

* [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/films/1951to1964/filmpage_streaked.htm Five-minute RAF Recruiting film "Streaked Lightning" from 1962 at the National Archives Public Information Film library WMP and Quicktime]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vjQe92-w_I Video #1]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-sDdVkGVDs Video #2]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mBMYUljwd8 Video #3]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLMhdUYUQQg Video #4]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Auvc_0NS6v0 Video #5]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siXt5x4L3fU Video #6]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IsWdTpdLFaM Video #7]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX5sP-cmMz8 Video #8]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vjQe92-w_I Video of the four ThunderCity Lightings at the AAD Airshow (AFB Ysterplaat, South Africa)]
* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQa_OFNyIe0 Video of LPG's XS904 Static Engine Run November 2007]

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