English Electric "Lightning" WG760/P.1A [@ RAF Cosford]
English Electric "Lightning" WG763/P.1B [@ Manchester Museum of Science & Technology]
Of all the world’s air forces only the RAF made the jump from subsonic to Mach 2.0 fighter with no Mach 1.0 plus intermediary, by replacing the Hawker Hunter day fighter and the Gloster Javelin all-weather fighter with the Mach 2 English Electric (later BAC) Lightning. The Lightning had its origin in a Ministry of Supply specification that was issued in 1947 and called for a manned supersonic research aircraft. English Electric’s design, the P.1, submitted in 1949, was quickly seen to have an operational application and development of the aircraft for research and military purposes continued in parallel. Although technically not a Lightning, the Shorts Brothers SB.5 was used by the Royal Aircraft Establishment in its technical dispute with English Electric to investigate different wing sweep angles and tail-plane positions. The research confirmed that the English Electric configuration was right all along.
Both WG760 and WG763 used to be on display by the parade ground at RAF Henlow, but as they gradually deteriorated their historical significance was eventually realized and both were moved on to safer homes. WG763 was one of the first exhibits to be acquired by the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester in August 1982, while WG760 was placed in saving keeping at RAF Cosford. Prototype WG760 first flew on the 4th August 1954 from Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, powered by two Bristol Siddeley Sa5 Sapphires. Used for handling and performance trials, WG760 handled extremely well and exceeded Mach 1.0 in level flight on 11th August 1954. Shortly afterwards WG760 was fitted with a simple afterburner (reheat) and cambered wing-leading edges and resumed flight testing on 31st January 1956, eventually reaching a top speed of Mach 1.53. Later on WG760 was involved in the Firestreak trials with the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE), Boscombe Down. Before arriving at Henlow in November 1966 WG760 was used for ground instruction at 8 School of Technical Training, Weeton, then 4 SoTT St Athan. WG763 joined the flight test programme on the 18th July 1955. This aircraft featured two Aden guns in the upper nose and was used in armament trials with the A&AEE. A bulged ventral fairing to accommodate an additional fuel tank was fitted on the 7th October 1955. On the 21st June 1957 WG763 was transferred to the Aero Flight, Royal Aircraft Establishment, Bedford and eventually to Henlow in July 1963.
English Electric Lightning P.1B (XG337) [@ RAF Cosford]
XG337 was the last of the twenty fully equipped pre-production or operational prototypes of P1.Bs and flew for the first time on the 5th September 1959. Mostly used for Red Top missile trials both at BAC, Warton, and A&AEE Boscombe Down and for target aircraft AI radar trials. During 1964 XG337 was fitted with a square topped fin to take part in trials for the forthcoming F.3 variant. Designated for ground instructional use on the 3rd December 1969 XG337 was issued to 2 SoTT,Cosford, on the 27th January 1970 and then to Hatton before final retirement to the museum on the 13th December 1983.
Built to Ministry of Supply Operational Requirement ER.103 of 1947 for a transonic research aircraft, two P.1 prototypes (WG760 and WG763) were ordered on 1st April 1950 with a third airframe (WG765) constructed for static airframe testing. It was soon realised that the aircraft should be regarded as a prototype fighter to satisfy the British Air Ministry's 1949 specification F23/49 rather than being a research aircraft. So the design team now turned its attention to a supersonic fighter derivative of the P.1. The fighter variant required a redesigned fuselage, with the cockpit raised to provide a better all-round view for the pilot. A long spine fairing from the redesigned canopy to the base of the fin provided additional equipment space. The un-reheated Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojet engines used in the P.1s were to be replaced by more powerful Rolls Royce Avon engines, which promised speeds above Mach 2 with reheat. A suitable air intake was required to manage the shock waves which appear at such high speeds. The answer was to mount a central conical 'bullet' in a circular air intake. The central cone was also used to mount the Ferranti AIRPASS radar scanner. While it was expected that air-to-air missiles would eventually be the main armament of interceptor fighters, their reliability was not yet high enough to guarantee a kill, and so guns and air-to-air unguided rockets were recommended as effective alternatives. The new fighter therefore had provision for all three types of armament.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.1A (XM135) [@ RAF Duxford]
XM135 first flew on 14th November 1959 and was delivered to the Central Fighter Establishment, RAF Coltishall, on 25th May 1960. XM135 served with 74 'Tiger' Squadron from 1961/1962 when the squadron was Fighter Command’s Aerobatic Team. XM135 served with 74 Squadron and 226 OCU. On the 12th January 1965 XM135 was transferred to 30 MU for modification to target facilities duties before being allocated to the Leuchars Target Facilities Flight (TFF) and finally on the 28th June 1971 to 60 MU. XM135 was the very first full-production F.1 to enter RAF service and also the last F.1 to leave. XM135 is also famous for being the aircraft in which an engineering officer had a frightening flight when he inadvertently advanced the throttles too far during a ground test. Flying with no canopy, not strapped in and with his flying experience limited to prop trainers, he successfully managed to avoid obstructions on the runway, lift off and then land safely! XM135 retired to Duxford on 20th September 1974 with 1343 flying hours recorded.
In 1952 the original two research aircraft were re-designated P.1A (WG760) and the fighter version designated P.1B (WG763). A contract for three P.1B prototypes was agreed in August 1953. To speed-up development, a pre-production or development batch of 20 aircraft was ordered in February 1954.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.2A (XN776) [@ RAF East Fortune]
XN776 first flew as an F.2 on 18th October 1962 and was delivered on the 13th February 1963 to 19 Squadron with whom it served until the 14th January 1969 when XN776 was dispatched to BAC Warton for modification to F.2A standard. On the 13th August 1969 XN776 returned to active service again with19 Squadron. In the photograph XN776 is displayed in the colours of 92 Squadron, based at RAF Gutersloh, West Germany with whom it served until its last operational flight on 3rd March 1977. Struck off Charge on the 1st April 1977 XN776 was transferred to RAF Leuchars on the 5th April 1977 for decoy duties before final retirement to the Scottish Museum of Flight on the 8th April 1982.
XA847 was the first of the three operational P.1B prototypes and first flew on 4th April 1957. Powered by two Rolls Royce Avon 200Rs XA847 exceeded Mach 1.0 on its first flight. On the same day the Government published a White Paper forecasting the end of manned aircraft and their replacement with missiles. As a result several British military aircraft projects were cancelled, but the Lightning survived.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.2/F.2A (XN730) [@ Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr, Berlin]
XN730 was delivered to the RAF as an F.2 on the 12th March 1963 and entered service with 19 Squadron. In fact the F.2 variant had entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Leconfield in December 1962 and the Squadron moved to RAF Gütersloh, which was the nearest Royal Air Force airbase to the East/West German border, on the 23rd September 1965. From January 1968 the Squadron converted to the F.2A variant and continued to operate from RAF Gutersloh until December 1976. On the 4th October 1967 XN730 returned to the UK for conversion by BAC to F.2A standard. XN730 was one of the original 31 F.2s to be converted and re-entered RAF service with 19 Squadron on the 30th August 1968. Withdrawn from use during July 1976 XN730 was Struck off Charge on the 28th February 1977 and was used for decoy duties at RAF Gütersloh until 1983 when XN730 entered the Deutsches Luftwaffen Museum at Uetersen before moving to the Luftwaffenmuseum der Bundeswehr at the former RAF Gatow.
English Electric/BAC Lightning T.5 (XS417) [@ Newark Air Museum]
XS417 was first flown on the 17th July 1964 and delivered for RAF service on the 25th May 1965. During its service XS417 served with A&AEE, 226 OCU, 23 Squadron, 56 Squadron, 11 Squadron (the last operational Lightning squadron) and the LTF (Lightning Training Flight, RAF Binbrook). XS417 flew for the last time on the 18th May 1987, sold on the 27th April 1988 and arrived at the museum on the 6th September 1988.
In October 1958 the P.1B was officially given the name “Lightning” and ordered into production for RAF Fighter Command. The first of 49 production Lightning F.1 variants flew on 29th October 1959 and on 25th November 1958 XA847 became the first British aircraft to reach Mach 2.0, which it did in level flight. The first operational aircraft, a pre-production P.1B (XG336), arrived at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk in December 1959. Fully combat-equipped F.1 Lightning’s (19 built) began entering RAF service in July 1960 with 74 Squadron at RAF Coltishall and differed very little from the P.1B; the ventral fuel tank now had a small fin and the main vertical tail was enlarged. It was designed so that its armaments, radar and radio aids were integrated into the aircraft's flight and engine systems. The equipment; long range radar to find enemy aircraft by day and night and in all weathers, radio and navigational aids for operations under the worst conditions, and a dual armament of two guided de Havilland Firestreak [photograph - right] (later the Hawker Siddeley Red Top) air-to-air missiles and two 30 mm Aden cannon, were all as important as the aircraft's manoeuvrability and supersonic speed. In appearance the F.1 differed very little from the P.1B; the ventral fuel tank now had a small fin and the main vertical tail was enlarged. The F.1A (28 built and now known as the "BAC Lightning") followed on, entering service with 56 and 111 Squadrons at RAF Wattisham. It differed from the F.1 in several respects. Provision was made for in-flight refuelling through a detachable probe fitted under the port wing and the radio fit was changed from VHF to UHF. Wiring changes to the missile pylons resulted in external ducts along the fuselage side. The engines were the Avon 210R with a four position re-heat control. The photograph [left] shows a Martin Baker type 4BSB ejection seat and was the type of seat that would have been fitted to an F.2. Five explosive cartridges would have fired the pilot at over 24 m/s so enabling the pilot to avoid a collision with the tail plane.
English Electric/BAC Lightning T.5 (XS458) [@ Cranfield, Bedfordshire]
XS458 is the only T.5 in the UK that is in a running condition. First flown on the 3rd December 1965 and delivered to 226 OCU at RAF Coltishall on 2nd February 1966, XS458 went on to serve with 5 Squadron, 11 Squadron, RAF Binbrook in 1983 and the LTF (Lightning Training Flight, RAF Binbrook) . XS458 was last flown on the 29th June 1988 to Cranfield, Bedfordshire, for restoration to fast taxi condition and preservation.
The T.4 was the first of the two-seater trainer version and was based upon the F.1A variant. The upper forward fuselage was widened to accommodate side by side seats and the cannon armament was deleted. During T.4 testing it was found that a larger fin was definitely needed for this and future variants, after the first T.4, XL628, suffered major fin failure in flight. In all 20 T.4 were built for the RAF and two prototypes.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.6 (XS925) [@ RAF Hendon]
First flew on 26th January 1967, XS925 entered RAF service with 5 Squadron at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, on the 2nd March 1967. XS925 briefly served with 11 Squadron (the last operational Lightning squadron), who were also based at RAF Binbrook, on two separate occasions until 15th November 1984 when XS925 entered the wing modification programme. One of 35 F.6s to be upgraded by British Aerospace which allowed an extra 400 hours to be added to the flying time of the airframe. On the 14th June 1985 XS925 re-entered RAF service with 11 Squadron at RAF Binbrook. Withdrawn from service on the 24th July 1987, due to the number of hours flown, XS925 was placed into storage at RAF Binbrook for spares. The last flight took of XS925 having took place three day earlier. XS925 arrived at the RAF museum on the 28th April 1988. In the photograph various items of Lightning kit can be seen, including Red Top and Firestreak missiles.
XN723 was the first F.2 to fly on 11th July 1961. The variant (44 built) entered service with 19 Squadron at RAF Leconfield, Yorkshire, in December 1962. It was externally virtually similar to the F.1A; the only external difference was a small intake scoop on the fuselage spine for a DC standby generator. However it incorporated internal design changes. These included improved navigation equipment, a steerable nosewheel, offset TACAN, liquid oxygen breathing and variable nozzle reheat. The following F.2A variant had some more major changes; more powerful Avon 211R engines, a larger square-topped fin, cambered wing, a much enlarged ventral tank and the cannon armament was retained. Basically it was a rebuilt F.2 that incorporated some of the later F.6 features. 31 of the original 44 F.2s were converted from 1968 to F.2A standard.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.6 (XR770) [@ RAF Waddington]
Due to the paint scheme XR770 is probably one of the more famous Lightnings. First flown on the 16th December 1965 XR770 flew in Saudi markings for the 1966 Farnborough SBAC display. Delivered to the RAF on the 26th September 1966, XR770 entered service with 74 Squadron at RAF Leuchars, Fyfe. XR770 went on to serve with 23 Squadron and 56 Squadron before being transferred to 5 Squadron based at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, in 1980 as the personal aircraft of the CO, Wing Commander Andy Williams. Initially only the fin was painted scarlet but as Lightnings were withdrawn from front line service the entire length of the spine and the wing leading edges were also painted scarlet. Retired to the NATO Aircraft Museum near Grimsby WR770 eventually moved to RAF Waddington in September 2008 to become the mascot of 5 Squadron who have reformed on the Sentinel R1.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.6 (XS904) & F.3/6 (XR728) [@ RAF Bruntingthorpe]
Both of these Lightning's are now preserved by the “The Lightning Preservation Group” at RAF Bruntingthorpe who keep them in a running condition. XS904 first flew on the 26th August 1966 and was then placed in storage. Delivered to 11 Squadron on the 18th April 1967 XS904 was for a short time loaned to 5 Squadron in early 1971. Alternating between service with 11 Squadron and storage XS904 in December 1987 was fitted with over-wing tanks and was involved in the BAE Tornado F.3 radar development trials which were flown by 11 Squadron. On the 11th April 1988 XS904 was delivered to BAE Warton for continuation of these trials. XS904 made the world's last military Lightning flight when it flew from BAE Warton to RAF Bruntingthorpe on the 21st January 1993.
XR728 first flew on the 17th March 1965 as an F.3 but was placed into storage at BAe Warton before conversion to the F.6 standard. The aircraft was delivered to 23 Squadron on the 1st November 1967. XR728 went on to serve with 5 Squadron and on the 24th November 1971 with 56 Squadron at RAF Akrotiri. Placed into storage at RAF Binbrook on the 1st November 1976 XR728 went on to serve with the LTF (Lightning Training Flight) in July 1978. Despite air tests and short spells with 5 and 11 Squadrons essentially XR728 remained in storage until July 1987 when XR728 became the “mount” for Binbrook’s Station Commander, Gp Capt John Spencer. XR728’s last flight was on the 24th August 1988 when the aircraft was flown to RAF Bruntingthorpe.
The F.3 variant (70 built) entered RAF service with 23 Squadron in August 1964. Powered by the Avon 301R it was the fastest Lightning variant by having a superb power to weight ratio of nearly 1:1. It had improved radar capability (AI-23B) and Red Top [photograph - right] air-to-air missile capability. The two Red Top collision course missiles mated to the revised radar but the Aden cannon were omitted. It retained the original small ventral tank and even with auxiliary over wing fuel tanks its range was limited. The Cockpit instrumentation was brought up to full OR946 Integrated Flight System standard. In order to maintain stability with the new missile the fin was enlarged by 15% and given a square-cut tip. In 1961 a Lightning aerobatic team called “The Tigers” was formed by 74 Squadron and in 1963 56 Squadron formed “The Firebirds” Lightning aerobatic team.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.53 (53-693) [@ East Midlands Air Museum]
First flew on 9th October 1968 53-693 was delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) in Jeddah in May 1969. In December 53-693 was transferred to 2 Squadron at Khamis Mushayt and latter to LCU before returning back to 2 Squadron. Retired in 1985 53-693 was bought back by BAe (as a part of the Tornado F.3 deal) and returned from Tabuk to BAe Warton in January 1986. Placed into storage 53-693 arrived at the museum in 1989. In the photograph 53-693 is in the colours of an F.6 of 74 (Tiger) Squadron. In total 55-713 had flown 2,005 hours.
The T.5 was the second trainer variant, while similar to the T.4 it was based on the F.3. 22 were built for the RAF; it was capable of carrying either Firestreak or Red Top missiles and was fully operational. Two T.4s were converted as T.5 prototypes.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.53 (53-670) [@ RAF Tangmere]
First flew on the 12th October 1968 53-670 was delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) in Jeddah in November 1968. In December 53-670 was transferred to 2 Squadron at Khamis Mushayt before retirement in 1985. 53-693 was bought back by BAe (as a part of the Tornado F.3 deal) and returned from Tabuk to BAe Warton in January 1986. Placed into storage, 53-670 had flown a total of 1,886 hours. In the photograph 53-670 represents XR753 which was the personal “hack” of Wing Cdr Thomson, CO of 23 Squadron in 1975.
To address the limited range problem of the F.3s some were converted to an interim version of the F.6 standard, lacking only the over-wing tanks they were being briefly known as F.3As. The production F.6 (39 built) was the definitive and ultimate Lightning variant; including a much larger ventral fuel pack with more than double the capacity of earlier packs. A larger, more efficient wing with kinked and cambered leading edges was incorporated to reduce drag and improve range at subsonic speeds. The wing also incorporated a revised spar which enabled the carriage of jettisonable over-wing tanks. The prototype F.6 was an F.3, XP697, which flew for the first time on 17th April 1964 and the variant entering RAF service the following year. From 1970 a number of F.6s were again fitted with two 30mm Aden cannon in the forward section of the ventral tank since the missile-only armament was considered to be a disadvantage when handling Soviet North Sea reconnaissance flights. A total of 63 F.6s were delivered to the RAF, which included 9 F.3 conversions and 15 F.3As conversions.
English Electric Lightning/BAC F.53 (53-686) [@ City of Norwich Aviation Museum]
53-686 was first flown on 11th June 1968 and was shown as G-AWON in a static display at the 1968 Farnborough Air Show. Delivered to the RSAF Jeddah on the 16th April 1969, 53-686 entered service with 2 Squadron at the Khamis Mushayt Air Base. 53-686 also flew with 13 Squadron RSAF. In January 1986 53-686 returned to BAe Warton from Tabuk as part of the Tornado F.3 deal after flying a total of 2,297hrs. Stored out in the open at Warton (not uncommon with these returning RSAF Lightnings), 53-686 spent some time with a dealer of surplus military equipment before being privately bought at the end of 2001. In February 2002 the aircraft arrived at the museum in kit form for reassembly. Although the main fuselage and nose section are from 53-686 the wings are from a different ex-RSAF aircraft (53-700).
Export versions of the Lightning were built for the Saudi Arabia Air Force and the Kuwait Air Force. Five F.52s, basically an F.2, were built for the Saudi’s. The F.53 (46 built) followed on and was basically an F.6 with additional air-to-ground capability in the form of rocket pods and bombs on under-wing and over-wing pylons. The Saudi's F.53s (34 built) saw brief action in December 1969 during a brief conflict in the South Yemen border area. Several ground attack sorties were flown, these ending the situation almost without any help from the Saudi army. Two T.54s, (2 converted T.4s) were built for Saudi Arabia and was then followed by the T.55. This much-improved T.5; with the large belly tank and kinked and cambered wings of the F.6 variant, basically a two-seat F.6 with ground attack capabilities. The RAF's T.5s only had the small ventral fuel tanks and straight wings of earlier variants. F.53s and T.55s for Kuwait were given a K suffix but differed little from the Saudi versions. In total eight were built, six T.55s for the Saudi’s Air Force, two T.55Ks for the Kuwaiti Air Force and one T.5 conversion that crashed before delivery. The last Saudi Lightning ceased flying in 1985.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.6 (XR771) [@ Midland Air Museum]
First flown on the 20th January 1966 XR771 was delivered to 74 Squadron on the 24th October 1966. XR771 also served with 56, 11, LAF (Lightning Augmentation Flight) and 5 (3 times) Squadrons. The last flight of XR771 was from RAF Binbrook to Baginton on the 23rd March 1988 for retirement to the Midland Air Museum.
It was the last jet fighter of purely British design and it was to serve the RAF well in the front line of NATO’s air defences until its eventual retirement after thirteen years of service in 1976. The RAF decided that the slower but much longer-ranged McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom would take over the primary air defence role with the SEPECAT Jaguars in the ground attack role. This decision was due to a combination of factors including the aftermath of the TSR.2 fiasco and the downsizing of the Navy's carrier force and was no reflection on the Lightning's capabilities. The Lightning was still a formidable opponent; even high-flying U-2 pilots became accustomed to being caught by a Lightning! 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. This was not sustained level flight, but in a ballistic climb or a zoom climb, in which the pilot takes the aircraft to top speed and then puts the aircraft into a climb, trading speed for altitude.
English Electric/BAC Lightning F.6 (XS903) [@ Yorkshire Air Museum]
First flew on 17th August 1966 XS903 entered service with 5 Squadron at RAF Binbrook on 16th March 1967. XS903 also served with 11 Squadron and the LTF (Lightning Training Flight). On the 7th January 1974 XS903 was sent to 60 MU. XS903 made a nose wheel up landing at RAF Coningsby on 14th September 1979. From 1983 XS903 was essentially in storage at RAF Binbrook but it did various spells with 11 Squadron and was taken by 5 Squadron to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. By July 1987 XS903 was back with 11 Squadron. XS903 lost a part of its rudder in flight and had to make an emergency landing on 4th August 1987. On 18th May 1988 XS903 was flown to RAF Elvington by Wing Commander Jarron, Commanding Officer of 11 Squadron, for preservation by the Yorkshire Air Museum.
English Electric made several proposals for other Lightning variants; a multi-role version (eventually built as the F.53), a variable geometry variant for the Fleet Air Arm and an F.7 variant. The F.7 version was to include variable geometry wings, extended fuselage; intakes relocated to the fuselage sides, retractable refuelling probe, Sparrow/Skyflash capability and improved radar capability. All were rejected by the MOD including adding Sidewinder capability to existing Lightning’s.
English Electric/BAC Lightning T.55 (55-713) [@ Midland Air Museum]
First flown on the 16th September 1967 55-713 was posted to RAF Coltishall for Saudi pilot training on the 2nd February 1968. Only one of eight, this type was a conversion trainer for the Saudi and Kuwait Air Force. 55-713 was delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force via RAF Akrotiri on the 27th August 1969 where it served with the LCU (Lightning Conversion Unit), 2, 6 and 13 Squadrons before being returned to BAe Warton in January 1986 from Tabuk as ZF598 for storage as part of the Tornado F.3 deal. Having flown 2233.5hrs 55-713 was acquired by the museum in 1989 and is the only T.55 on display in the UK. In the photograph 55-713 is displayed in the colours of the Royal Saudi Air Force.
The Lightning was almost certainly the last single-seat fighter to be designed and built in Britain (what a pity but typical)! On its entry into service it represented a spectacular advance over the Hunter, with its top speed in excess of Mach 2 and a ceiling of 60,000ft which it could reach in little over a minute. With the Panavia Tornado Air Defence Variant (ADV) late in arriving it was decided during the early 1980s that the Lightning still had a role to play in the RAF, though reserve and active aircraft underwent constant rotation to even out the usage of each airframe. In fact the Lightning replacement, the Tornado ADV F.3 which first flew on the 20th November 1985, was slower and less agile than the Lightning but it could carry a much larger armament load and, of course, it had much more advanced avionics, range and air-to-air capability. The Lightning remained in front-line service from 1960 to 1987 and in their final years of RAF service they were based at RAF Binbrook, Lincolnshire, where they tended to defend the Flamborough Head Sector of airspace above the North Sea. These aircraft were the F.3, F.6 and the T.5 variant. The last operational RAF Lightning squadron was 11 Squadron and the last flight took place on 30th June 1988. Including export aircraft a total of 277 single-seat fighters and 52 two-seater trainers were built.