English Electric Lightning
|Lightning F.3 in 1964|
|National origin||United Kingdom|
British Aircraft Corporation
|First flight||4 August 1954 (P.1A)
4 April 1957
|Primary users||Royal Air Force
Kuwait Air Force
Royal Saudi Air Force
|Number built||337 (including prototypes)|
The English Electric Lightning is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft of the Cold War era, noted for its great speed. It is the only all-British Mach 2 fighter aircraft and was the first aircraft in the world capable of supercruise. The Lightning was renowned for its capabilities as an interceptor; pilots commonly described it as "being saddled to a skyrocket". Following English Electric's integration into the unified British Aircraft Corporation, the aircraft was marketed as the BAC Lightning.
The Lightning was prominently used by the Royal Air Force RAF and the Royal Saudi Air Force. The aircraft was a regular performer at airshows, it is one of the highest-performance aircraft ever used in formation aerobatics. Following retirement in the late 1980s, many of the remaining aircraft became museum exhibits; until 2010, three examples were kept flying at "Thunder City" in Cape Town, South Africa. In September 2008, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers conferred on the Lightning its "Engineering Heritage Award" at a ceremony at BAE Systems' site at Warton Aerodrome.
The specification for the aircraft followed the cancellation of the Air Ministry's 1942 E.24/43 supersonic research aircraft specification which had resulted in the Miles M.52 programme. 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 pure research aircraft. The Lightning design shared a number of innovations first planned for the Miles M.52 including the shock cone and all-moving tailplane or stabilator. The prototypes, known as P.1, were built to Ministry of Supply Operational Requirement ER.103 of 1947 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.
The P.1's chief designer was W.E.W "Teddy" 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. Initial prototypes were powered by un-reheated Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire turbojets, although the Rolls-Royce Avon was used in subsequent aircraft. On 25 November 1958, the P.1B became the first British aircraft to fly at Mach 2. The second P.1A, WG763 was fitted with two 30mm ADEN cannons, however it was not possible to equip heavy underwing stores. Due to the limited internal space of the fuselage the fuel capacity was relatively small, giving the prototypes an extremely limited endurance, additionally the tyres would rapidly wear out.
The first operational Lightning, designated the F.1, was designed as a point defence interceptor to defend mainland Britain from bomber attack. To best perform this intercept mission, emphasis was placed on rate-of-climb, acceleration, and speed, rather than range and combat endurance. It was equipped with two 30 mm ADEN cannon in front of the cockpit windscreen and an interchangeable fuselage weapon pack containing either an additional two ADEN cannon, 48, two inch air-to-air rockets, or two de Havilland Firestreak air-to-air missiles, a heavy fit optimized for attack of large aircraft. The Ferranti AI.23 radar (immediate predecessor of the AI.24 Foxhunter) supported autonomous search, automatic target tracking, and ranging for all weapons, while the pilot attack sight provided gyroscopically derived lead angle and backup stadiametric ranging for gun firing. The radar and gunsight were collectively designated the AIRPASS: Airborne Interception Radar and Pilot Attack Sight System.
The next two Lightning variants, the F.1A and F.2, saw steady but relatively minor refinement of the basic design, and the next variant, the F.3, was a major departure. The F.3 had higher thrust Avon 301R engines, a larger, squared-off fin and strengthened intake bullet allowing a service clearance to Mach 2.0 (the F.1, F.1A and F.2 were limited to Mach 1.7), the A.I.23B radar and Red Top missile offering a limited forward hemisphere attack capability—and most notoriously—deletion of the nose cannon. The new engines and fin made the F.3 the highest performance Lightning yet, but with an even higher fuel consumption and resulting shorter range. The next variant, the F.6, was already in development, but there was a need for an interim solution to partially address the F.3’s shortcomings. The F.3A was that interim solution.
The F.3A introduced two improvements: a new, non-jettisonable, 610 gal (2,770 l) ventral fuel tank, and a new, kinked, conically cambered wing leading edge, incorporating a slightly larger leading edge fuel tank, raising the total usable internal fuel to 716 gal (3,250 l). The conically cambered wing noticeably improved maneuverability, especially at higher altitudes, and the ventral tank nearly doubled available fuel. The increased fuel was very welcome, but the lack of cannon armament was felt to be a deficiency. It was thought that cannon were desirable to fire warning shots in the intercept mission.
The F.6 was the ultimate Lightning version to see British service. Originally, it was nearly identical to the F.3A with the exception that it had provisions to carry 260 gal (1,180 l) ferry tanks on pylons over the wings. These tanks were jettisonable in an emergency, and gave the F.6 a substantially improved deployment capability. There remained one glaring shortcoming: the lack of cannon. This was finally rectified in the form of a modified ventral tank with two ADEN cannon mounted in the front. The addition of the cannon and their ammunition decreased the tank's fuel capacity from 610 gal to 535 gal (2,430 l), but the cannon made the F.6 a “real fighter” again.
The final British Lightning was the F.2A. This was an F.2 upgraded with the cambered wing, the squared fin, and the 610 gal ventral. The F.2A retained the A.I.23 and Firestreak missile, the nose cannon, and the earlier Avon 211R engines. Although the F.2A lacked the thrust of the later Lightnings, it had the longest tactical range of all Lightning variants, and was used for low-altitude interception over Germany.
Export and further developments 
The F.53 was the Export Lightning, adding a multirole capability to the interception-orientated design. The F.53 was based on the F.6 airframe and avionics, including the large ventral fuel tank, cambered wing and overwing pylons for drop tanks of the F.6, but incorporated an additional pair of hardpoints under the outer wing. These hardpoints could be fitted with pylons for air-to-ground ordnance, including two 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs or four SNEB rocket pods each carrying 18 68 mm rockets. A gun pack carrying two ADEN cannon and 120 rounds each could replace the forward part of the ventral fuel tank.[nb 1] Alternative, interchangeable packs in the forward fuselage carried two Firestreak missiles, two Red Top missiles, twin retractable launchers for 44× 2-inch rockets, or a reconnaissance pod fitted with five 70 mm Type 360 Vinten cameras. BAC also proposed clearing the overwing hardpoints for carriage of weapons as well as drop tanks, with additional Matra JL-100 combined rocket and fuel pods (each containing 18 SNEB 68 mm (2.7 in) rockets and 227 litres (50 imp gal) of fuel) or 1,000 lb bombs being possible options. This could give a maximum ground attack weapons load for a developed export Lightning of six 1,000 lb bombs or 44 × 2-inch rockets and 144 × 68 mm rockets. The T.55 was the export two-seat variant; unlike the RAF two-seaters, the T.55 was equipped for combat duties. The T.55 had a very similar fuselage to the T.5, while also using the wing and large ventral tank of the F.6.
The Export Lightning had all of the capability of the British Lightnings: exceptional climb rate, agile manoeuvering, and a hard-hitting punch. Unfortunately, the Export Lightning also retained the difficulty of maintenance, and serviceability rates suffered. Still, the F.53 was generally well regarded by its pilots, and its adaptation to multiple roles showed the skill of its designers.
In 1963, BAC Warton worked on the preliminary design of a two-seat Lightning development with a variable-geometry wing, based on the Lightning T.5 with a revised undercarriage. Initially proposed as a carrier-based aircraft, the VG Lightning concept was revised into a land-based interceptor intended for the RAF the following year. However, no VG Lightning was ever built.
There were several unique and distinctive features in the design of the Lightning; principally the use of stacked and staggered engines, a notched delta wing, and a low-mounted tailplane. The vertically stacked, longitudinally staggered engines was the solution devised by Petter to the conflicting requirements of minimizing frontal area, providing undisturbed engine airflow across a wide speed range, and packaging two engines to provide sufficient thrust to meet performance goals. The configuration allowed the twin engines to be fed by a single nose inlet, with the flow split vertically aft of the cockpit, and the nozzles tightly stacked, effectively tucking one engine behind the cockpit. The result was a low frontal area, an efficient inlet, and excellent single-engine handling. Unfortunately, this stacked configuration led to complicated maintenance procedure, and the recurring problem of fluid leakage from the upper engine being a fire hazard.
The fuselage was tightly packed, leaving no room for fuel tankage or main landing gear. While the notched delta wing lacked the volume of a standard delta wing, each wing contained a fairly conventional three-section main fuel tank and leading-edge tank, holding 312 imp gal (1,420 l);[nb 2] the wing flap also contained a 33 imp gal (150 l) fuel tank and an additional 5 imp gal (23 l) was contained in a fuel recuperator, bringing the aircraft's total internal fuel capacity to 700 imp gal (3,200 l). The main landing gear was sandwiched outboard of the main tanks and aft of the leading edge tanks, with the flap fuel tanks behind. The long main gear legs retracted toward the wingtip, necessitating an exceptionally thin main tyre inflated to the high pressure of 330–350 psi (23–24 bar).
A conformal ventral store was added to the design to house, alternatively, a fuel tank or a rocket engine. The rocket engine, a Napier Double Scorpion motor, also contained a reserve of 200 imp gal (910 l) of high-test peroxide (HTP) to drive the rocket’s turbopump and act as an oxidizer. Fuel for the rocket would have been drawn from the Lightning’s internal tankage. The rocket engine was intended to boost the Lightning’s performance against a supersonic, high altitude bomber threat, but this threat never emerged, thus the Lightning’s basic performance was deemed sufficient and the rocket engine option was cancelled in 1958. The ventral store saw wide use as an extra fuel tank, initially this was jettisonable and held 250 gal (247 gal usable, 1,120 l). Later ventral tanks were non-jettisonable.
Despite its acceleration, altitude and top speed, the Lightning 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. The radar had a short range and no track-while scan capability; it could only detect targets in a fairly narrow (40 degree) arc. While an automatic collision course attack system was developed and successfully demonstrated by English Electric, it was not adopted owing to cost concerns. Plans to supplement or replace the obsolete Red Top and Firestreak missiles with modern AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles never came to fruition because of lack of funding,
Early models of the Lightning the F.1, F.1A, and F.2, had a rated top speed of Mach 1.7 at 36,000 ft in an ICAO standard atmosphere, and 650 Knots Indicated airspeed (KIAS) at lower altitudes. Later models, the F.2A, F.3, F.3A, F.6, and F.53, had a rated top speed of Mach 2.0 at 36,000 ft, and speeds up to 700 KIAS for “operational necessity only.” A Lightning fitted with Avon 200-series engines, a ventral tank and two Firestreak missiles typically ran out of excess thrust at Mach 1.9 on a Standard Day; while a Lightning powered by the Avon 300-series engines, a ventral tank and two Red Top missiles ran out of excess thrust at Mach 2.0. As speed increased, the Lightning's directional stability decreased; there were potentially hazardous consequences in the form of vertical fin failure if yaw was not rapidly counteracted by correct rudder use.[nb 3] Stability was protected by imposed Mach limits during missile launches;[nb 4] later Lightning variants featured a larger vertical fin which gave a greater stability margin during high speed flight.
Supersonic speeds also threatened inlet stability; the inlet's central shock cone served as a compression surface, diverting air into the annular inlet. As the Lightning accelerated through Mach 1, the shock cone generated an oblique shock positioned forward of the intake lip; known as a subcritical inlet condition, this is stable but also produces inefficient spillage drag. Around the Design Mach speed, the oblique shock is positioned just in front of the inlet lip and efficiently compressed the air without any spillage. As speed increases beyond Design Mach, the oblique shock becomes supercritical, where supersonic airflow enters the inlet duct. The inlet could only handle subsonic air, a supercritical state drastically reduced thrust output but could also lead to surges or compressor stalls, which may cause flameouts or engine damage.
Thermal and structural limits were also present; as air is heated up when compressed by the passage of an aircraft. This heating increases considerably when at supersonic speeds. The airframe absorbs heat from the surrounding air, the inlet shock cone at the front of the aircraft becoming the hottest part. The shock cone was composed of fibreglass, necessary because the shock cone also served as a radar radome; a metal shock cone would interfere with the AI 23’s radar emissions. The shock cone would be eventually weakened due to the fatigue caused by the thermal cycles involved in regularly performing high-speed flights. At 36,000 ft and Mach 1.7, the heating conditions on the shock cone would be similar to those at Sea Level and 650 KIAS,[nb 5] but if the speed was increased to Mach 2.0 at 36,000 ft, the shock cone would be exposed to higher temperatures[nb 6] than those at Mach 1.7. The shock cone was strengthened on the later Lightning F.2A, F.3, F.6, and F.53 models, thus allowing routine operations at up to Mach 2.0.
The small-fin variants could exceed Mach 1.7,[nb 7] but the stability limits and shock cone thermal/strength limits made such speeds risky. The large-fin variants, especially those equipped with Avon 300-series engines could safely reach Mach 2, and given the right atmospheric conditions, might even achieve a few more tenths of a Mach. All Lightning variants had the excess thrust to slightly exceed 700 KIAS under certain conditions, and the service limit of 650 KIAS was occasionally ignored. With the strengthened shock cone, the Lightning could safely approach its thrust limit, but fuel consumption at very high airspeeds was excessive and became a major limiting factor.[nb 8]
The Lightning possessed a remarkable climb rate. It was famous for its ability to rapidly rotate from takeoff to climb almost vertically from the runway, though this did not yield the best time to altitude. The Lightning's trademark tail-stand manoeuvre exchanged airspeed for altitude; it could slow to near-stall speeds before commencing level flight. The Lightning’s optimum climb profile required the use of afterburners during takeoff. Immediately after takeoff, the nose would be lowered for rapid acceleration to 430 KIAS before initiating a climb, stabilising at 450 KIAS. This would yield a constant climb rate of approximately 20,000 ft/min.[nb 9] Around 13,000 ft the Lightning would reach Mach 0.87 and maintain this speed until reaching the tropopause, 36,000 ft. on a standard day.[nb 10] If climbing further, pilots would accelerate to supersonic speed at the tropopause before resuming the climb.
A Lightning flying at optimum climb profile would reach 36,000 ft in under three minutes. The official ceiling was kept as a secret, although low security RAF documents usually stated 60,000+ ft (18 000+ m). In September 1962 Fighter Command organised several supersonic interception trials on Lockheed U-2As at heights of around 60,000-65,000 ft, which were temporarily based at RAF Upper Heyford to monitor Soviet nuclear tests. For the trials operations were carried out by the AFDS temporarily moved to RAF Middleton St George. Energy climb techniques and flight profiles were developed to put the Lightning into a suitable attack position. To avoid risking the U-2, the Lightning could not be permitted to close any closer than 5,000 ft and definitely could not be allowed to fly in front of the U-2. For the actual intercepts, four Lightning F1As were used on eighteen solo sorties. The sorties proved that, under GCI, successful intercepts could be made at up to 65,000 ft. Carried out against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis, the flight targets were deliberately not listed in the pilot log books. RAF Lightning pilot and Chief Examiner Brian Carroll reported taking a Lightning F.53 up to 87,300 feet (26 600 m) over Saudi Arabia at which level "Earth curvature was visible and the sky was quite dark", noting that control-wise "[it was] on a knife edge".
In 1984, during a major NATO exercise, Flt Lt Mike Hale intercepted a U-2 at a height which they had previously considered safe from interception (thought to be 66,000 feet). Records show that Hale also climbed to 88,000 ft (26,800 m) in his Lightning F.3 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. Hale also participated in time-to-height and acceleration trials against Lockheed 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".
Carroll compared the Lightning and the F-15C Eagle, having flown both aircraft, stating 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 and 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]". Chief Test Pilot for the Lightning Roland Beamont, who also flew most of the "Century series" US aircraft, stated his opinion that nothing at that time had the inherent stability, control and docile handling characteristics of the Lightning throughout the full flight envelope. The turn performance and buffet boundaries of the Lightning were well in advance of anything known to him.
Operational history 
Royal Air Force 
The first aircraft to enter service with the RAF, three pre-production P.1Bs, arrived at RAF Coltishall in Norfolk on 23 December 1959, joining the Air Fighting Development Squadron (AFDS) of the Central Fighter Establishment, where they were used to clear the Lightning for entry into service. The production Lightning F.1 entered service with the AFDS in May 1960, allowing the unit to take part in the air defence exercise "Yeoman" later that month. The Lightning F.1 entered front-line squadron service with 74 Squadron at Coltishall from 11 July 1960. While performance was excellent, with the aircraft's radar and missiles effective and pilots finding the Lightning easy to fly, serviceability was at first extremely poor. This was due to both the complexity of Lightning's systems and shortages of spares and ground support equipment. Even when the Lightning was not grounded by technical faults, the RAF struggled to get more than 20 flying hours per aircraft per month compared with the 40 hours that English Electric believed could be achieved with proper support.
Despite these problems, in addition to its training and operational roles, 74 Squadron was appointed as the official Fighter Command aerobatic team for 1961, flying at air shows throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. Deliveries of the slightly improved Lightning F.1A, with improved avionics and provision for an air-to-air refuelling probe, allowed two more squadrons, 54 and 111 Squadron, both based at RAF Wattisham to convert to the Lightning in 1960–1961.
An improved variant, the F.2 first flew on 11 July 1961 and entered service with 19 Squadron at the end of 1962 and 92 Squadron in early 1963. Conversion of these two squadrons was aided by the use of the two seat T.4 trainer, which entered service with the Lightning Conversion Squadron (later renamed 226 Operational Conversion Unit) in June 1962. While the OCU was the major user of the two seater, small numbers were also allocated to the front-line fighter squadrons.
The "next generation" Lightning F.3, with more powerful engines and the ability to use the new Red-Top missile (although at the cost of losing the little-used cannon) was expected to be the definitive Lightning, and at one time it was planned to equip ten squadrons, with the remaining two squadrons retaining the F.2. The F.3 was first flown on 16 June 1962 and the longer-range F.6 on 16 June 1965.
The English Electric Lightning is credited with a single kill, a British Harrier pilot ejected and the pilot-less aircraft continued to fly, and the aircraft was shot down by a Lightning to prevent it possibly ending up in Soviet hands.
In British Airways trials in April 1985, Concorde was offered as a target to NATO fighters including F-15 Eagles, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-14 Tomcats, Mirages, and F-104 Starfighters - 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.
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 range and firepower shortcomings became increasingly apparent. The withdrawal of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs from Royal Navy service enabled these 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.
The Lightning's direct replacement was the Tornado F3s, an interceptor variant of the Panavia Tornado. The Tornado featured several advantages over the Lightning, including a far larger weapons loadout and considerably more advanced avionics. Lightnings were slowly phased out of service between 1974 and 1988. In their final years the airframes required considerable maintenance to keep them in airworthy condition due to the sheer number of accumulated flight hours.
- Fighter Command/Strike Command
- The main Lightning role was the air defence of the United Kingdom and was operated at first as part of Fighter Command and then from 1968 with No. 11 Group of Strike Command. At the formation of Strike Command nine Lightning squadrons were operational in the United Kingdom.
- Far East Air Force
- In 1967 No. 74 Squadron was moved to RAF Tengah, Singapore to take over the air defence role from the Gloster Javelin equipped 60 Squadron. The squadron was disbanded in 1971 following the withdrawal of British forces from Singapore.
- Near East Air Force
- The Royal Air Force had detached Lightnings to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus to support the Near East Air Force and in 1968 No. 56 Squadron RAF moved from RAF Wattisham with the Lightning F.3 to provide a permanent air defence force, it converted to the F.6 in 1971 and returned to the United Kingdom in 1977.
- Royal Air Force Germany
- In the early 1960s No. 19 Squadron and No. 92 Squadron with Lightning F.2s, moved from RAF Leconfield to RAF Gütersloh in West Germany as part of Royal Air Force Germany and operated in the low-level air defence role until disbanded in 1977 when the role was taken over by the Phantom FGR2.
Middle East 
On 21 December 1965, Saudi Arabia, keen to improve its air defences owing to the Saudi involvement in the North Yemen Civil War and the resultant air incursions into Saudi airspace by Egyptian forces supporting the Yemeni Republicans, placed a series of orders with Britain and the United States to build a new integrated air defence system. BAC received orders for 34 multirole single-seat Lightning F.53s that could still retain very high performance and reasonable endurance, and six two-seat T.55 trainers, together with 25 BAC Strikemaster trainers, while the contract also included new radar systems, American HAWK surface to air missiles and training and support services.
In order to provide an urgent counter to the air incursions, with Saudi towns close to the border being bombed by Egyptian aircraft, an additional interim contract, called "Magic Carpet", was placed in March 1966 for the supply of six ex-RAF Lightnings (four F.2s and two T.4 trainers, redesignated F.52 and T.54 respectively[nb 11]), six Hawker Hunters, two air defence radars and a number of Thunderbird surface-to-air missiles. The "Magic Carpet" Lightnings were delivered to Saudi Arabia in July 1966, with an additional F.52 being delivered in May 1967 to replace a Lightning lost in an accident. The Lightnings and Hunters, flown by contract pilots, were deployed to Khamis Mushait airfield near the Yemeni border, resulting in the curtailing of operations by the Egyptian Air Force over the Yemeni-Saudi border.
Although the first F.53s had been handed over to the RSAF in December 1967, they were kept at Warton while trials and development continued and the first Saudi Lightnings to leave Warton were four T.55s delivered in early 1968 to the Royal Air Force 226 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Coltishall, the four T.55s were used to train Saudi aircrew for the next 18 months. The new-build Lightnings were delivered under Operation "Magic Palm" between July 1968 and August 1969. Two Lightnings, a F.53 and a T.55 were destroyed in accidents prior to delivery, and were replaced by two additional aircraft, the last of which was delivered in June 1972.
The multirole F.53s served in the ground attack and reconnaissance roles as well as an air defence fighter, with Lightnings of No 6 Squadron RSAF carrying out ground attack missions using rocket and bombs during a border dispute with South Yemen between December 1969 and May 1970. One F.53 (53-697) was shot down by Yemeni ground fire on 3 May 1970 during a reconnaissance mission, with the pilot ejecting successfully and being rescued by Saudi forces. Saudi Arabia received Northrop F-5E fighters from 1971, which resulted in the Lightnings relinquishing the ground-attack mission, concentrating on air defence, and to a lesser extent, reconnaissance. Up to 1982 the Lightnings were mainly operated by 2 and 6 Squadron RSAF (although a few were also used by 13 Squadron RSAF), but when 6 Squadron re-equipped with the F-15 Eagle then all the remaining aircraft were operated by 2 Squadron at Tabuk. In 1985 as part of the agreement to sell the Panavia Tornado to the RSAF, the 22 flyable Lightnings were traded in to British Aerospace and returned to Warton in January 1986. While BAe offered the ex-Saudi Lightnings to Austria and Nigeria, no sales were made, and the aircraft were eventually disposed of to museums.
Kuwait also ordered 14 Lightnings in December 1966, comprising 12 F.53Ks and two T.55Ks. The first Kuwait aircraft, a T.55K first flew on 24 May 1968 and deliveries to Kuwait started in December 1968. The Kuwaitis somewhat overestimated their ability to maintain such a complex aircraft, not adopting the extensive support from BAC and Airwork Services that the Saudis used to keep their Lightnings operational, so serviceability was poor. The Kuwaiti Lightnings did not have a long service career; after unsuccessfully trying to sell them to Egypt in 1973, Kuwait replaced its last Lightnings by Dassault Mirage F1s in 1977.
- 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 to meet Specification F23/49, three prototypes built, further 20 development aircraft ordered in February 1954. Type was officially named 'Lightning' in October 1958.
- Lightning F.1
- Development batch aircraft, single-seat fighters delivered from 1959, a total of 19 built (and one static test airframe). Nose-mounted twin 30 mm ADEN cannon, two Firestreak missiles, VHF Radio and Ferranti AI-23 "AIRPASS" radar.
- Lightning F.1A
- Single-seat fighter, delivered in 1961. Featured Avon 210R engines, an in-flight refuelling probe and UHF Radio; a total of 28 built.
- Lightning F.2
- Single-seat fighter (an improved variant of the F.1), delivered in 1962. A total of 44 built with 31 later modified to F.2A standard, five later modified to F.52 for export to Saudi Arabia.
- Lightning F.2A
- Single-seat fighter (F.2s upgraded to near F.6 standard); featuring Avon 211R engines, retained ADEN cannon and Firestreak (replacable Firestreak pack swappable with ADEN Cannon Pack for a total of four ADEN Cannon), arrestor hook and enlarged Ventral Tank for two hours flight endurance. A total of 31 converted from F.2.
- Lightning F.3
- Single-seat fighter with upgraded AI-23B radar, Avon 301R engines, new Red Top missiles, enlarged and clipped tailfin due to aerodynamics of carriage of Red Top, and deletion of ADEN cannon. A total of 70 built (at least nine were converted to F.6 standard).
- Lightning F.3A
- Single-seat fighter with extended range of 800 miles due to large ventral tank and new cambered wings. A total of 16 built at the end of F.3 production, known also as an F.3 Interim version or F.6 Interim Version, 15 later modified to full F.6 standard.
- Lightning T.4
- Two-seat side-by-side training version, based on the F.1A; two prototypes and 20 production built, two aircraft later converted to T.5 prototypes, two aircraft later converted to T.54.
- Lightning T.5
- Two-seat side-by-side training version, based on the F.3; 22 production aircraft built. One former RAF aircraft later converted to T.55 for Saudi Arabia.
- Lightning F.6
- Single-seat fighter (an improved longer-range variant of the F.3). Featured new wings with better efficiency and subsonic performance, overwing fuel tanks and larger ventral fuel tank, reintroduction of 30 mm cannon (initially no cannon but later in the forward part of ventral pack rather than in nose), use of Red Top missile. Total of 39 built (also nine converted from F.3 and 15 from F.3A).
- Lightning F.52
- Slightly modified ex-RAF F.2 single-seat fighters for export to Saudi Arabia (five converted).
- Lightning F.53
- Export version of the F.6 with pylons for bombs or unguided rocket pods, 44 × 2 in (50 mm), total of 46 built and one converted from F.6 (12 F.53Ks for the Kuwaiti Air Force, 34 F.53s for the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force, one aircraft crashed before delivery).
- Lightning T.54
- Ex-RAF T.4 two-seat trainers supplied to Saudi Arabia (two converted).
- Lightning T.55
- Two-seat side-by-side training aircraft (export version of the T.5), eight built (six T.55s for the Royal Saudi Arabian Air Force, two T.55Ks for the Kuwaiti Air Force and one converted from T.5 that crashed before delivery).
- Sea Lightning FAW.1
- Proposed two-seat Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm carrier capable variant with variable-geometry wing; not built.
Military operators 
- Kuwait Air Force operated both the F.53K (12) single-seat fighter and the T.55K (2) training version from 1968 to 1977
- Royal Saudi Air Force operated the Lightning from 1967 to 1986
- Royal Air Force operated the Lightning from 1959 to 1988.
- RAF Aerial display teams
- RAF Squadrons
- 5 Squadron formed at RAF Binbrook on 8 October 1965, operating the Lightning F.6 and T.5. A few F.1s, F.1As and F.3s were used as targets (and later for air display use) from 1971. The Squadron remained operational at Binbrook with the Lightning F.6 until 1987, disbanding on 31 December.
- 11 Squadron formed at RAF Leuchars in April 1967 with the Lightning F.6. It moved to RAF Binbrook in March 1972, receiving a few F.3s for target duties. It remainined operational until 1988, disbanding on 30 April 1988.
- 19 Squadron operated the F.2 and F.2A (1962–1976)
- 23 Squadron operated the F.3 an F.6 (1964–1975)
- 29 Squadron operated the F.3 (1967–1974)
- 56 Squadron operated the F.1, F.1A, F.3 and F.6 (1960–1976)
- 65 Squadron operated as No. 226 OCU with the F.1, F.1A and F.3 (1971–1974)
- 74 Squadron operated the F.1, F.3 and F.6 (1960–1971)
- 92 Squadron operated the F.2 and F.2A (1963–1977)
- 111 Squadron operated the F.1A, F.3 and F.6 (1961–1974)
- 145 Squadron operated as No. 226 OCU with the F.1, F.1A and F.3 (1963–1971)
- 226 Operational Conversion Unit operated the F.1A, F.3, T.4 and T.5 (1963–1974)
- Air Fighting Development Squadron
- Lightning Conversion Squadron (1960–1963)
- RAF Flights
- RAF Bases
Civil operators 
- Thunder City, a private company based at Cape Town International Airport, South Africa operated one Lightning T.5 and two single-seat F.6 (but is no longer in business, current January 2011).
A Lightning T.5, XS451 (civil registration ZU-BEX) belonging to Thunder City crashed after developing mechanical problems during its display at the biennial South African Air Force Overberg Airshow held at AFB Overberg near Bredasdorp on 14 November 2009. The Silver Falcons, the SA Air Force's official aerobatic team, flew a missing man formation after it was announced that the pilot, Dave Stock, had died in the crash.
This aircraft was also shown and flown in the BBC's "Wonders of the Solar System: The Thin Blue Line" originally run 7 March 2010–4 April 2010, where host Brian Cox is flown by pilot and Thunder City owner, Mike Beachy Head to an altitude between 55 and 60 thousand feet where the atmosphere could be observed transitioning from light blue to dark blue to black in the middle of the day.
- The Anglo-American Lightning Organisation, a group based at Stennis Airport, Kiln, Mississippi, are returning to flight EE Lightning T.5, XS422. The aircraft was formerly with the Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS) at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, UK.
Aircraft on display 
The following aircraft are on public display:
- WG760, the first prototype P.1A at the RAF Museum Cosford, England.
- WG763, the second prototype P.1A at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, England.
- XG329 P1B/Lightning F.1 pre-production aircraft at the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum, Flixton, England.
- XG337 P1B/Lightning F.1 pre-production aircraft at the RAF Museum Cosford.
- XM135 Lightning F.1A at the Imperial War Museum Duxford, England (in which ground engineer Taffy Holden took his unplanned flight in July 1966)
- XM192 Lightning F.1A at Tattershall Thorpe, Lincolnshire, England.
- XN730 Lightning F.2A at the Luftwaffe Museum, Gatow, Germany
- XN769 Lightning F.2A at the Malta Aviation Museum, Ta' Qali, Malta
- XN776 Lightning F.2A at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Scotland.
- XN782 Lightning F.2A at the Flugausstellung Hermeskeil, Germany.
- XR728 Lightning F.6 with LPG, Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire, England (taxi-able).
- XR749 Lightning F.3 outside Score Group's Integrated Valve and Gas Turbine Plant, Peterhead, Scotland.
- XR770 Lightning F.6 gate guardian at 5 Squadron, RAF Waddington, Waddington, England.
- XR771 Lightning F.6 at the Midland Air Museum, Coventry, England.
- XS417 Lightning T.5 at the Newark Air Museum, Newark, England.
- XS420 Lightning T.5 on loan to the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust, Farnborough, England.
- XS459 Lightning T.5 at the Fenland and West Norfolk Aviation Museum, Wisbech, England.
- XS897 Lightning F.6 at AeroVenture, Doncaster, England.
- XS903 Lightning F.6 at the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington, England.
- XS904 Lightning F.6 with LPG, Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome, Leicestershire, England (taxi-able).
- XS925 Lightning F.6 stand mounted at Castle Motors on the A38 near Liskeard, Cornwall, England.
- XS936 Lightning F.6 at the RAF Museum, London, England.
- XN770 Lightning F.52 at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
- ZF578 Lightning F.53 as XR753 at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, Tangmere, England.
- ZF579 Lightning F.53 at the Gatwick Aviation Museum, Charlwood, near Gatwick Airport, England.
- ZF580 Lightning F.53 outside BAE Systems, Samlesbury, England
- ZF581 Lightning F.53 at the Bentwaters Cold War Museum, Suffolk, England.
- ZF582 Lightning F.53 (nose-section only) at the Bournemouth Aviation Museum, England.
- ZF583 Lightning F.53 at the Solway Aviation Museum, Carlisle Airport Cumbria England.
- ZF588 Lightning F.53 at the East Midlands Airport Aeropark, Castle Donington, England.
- ZF592 Lightning F.53 as 53-686 at the City of Norwich Aviation Museum, Norwich, England
- ZF593 Lightning F.53 recently transferred from the Warner-Robins Museum of Aviation, Georgia, USA to the Pima Air & Space Museum near Tucson Arizona, USA.
- ZF594 Lightning F.53 at the North East Aircraft Museum, Sunderland, England.
- XM989 Lightning T.54 at the main entrance to King Abdul-Aziz Air Base, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
- ZF597 Lightning T.55 at the Olympic Flight Museum, Washington, USA.
- ZF598 Lightning T.55 as 55-713 at the Midland Air Museum, Coventry, England.
- 55-716 Lightning T.55 at the Royal Saudi Air Force Museum, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
- XL629 Lightning T.4 inside the main gate at MoD Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, England.
The following are on display but with no public access:
- XG313 Lightning F.1 at the VIP terminal on King Abdul-Aziz Air-base Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
- XN767 Lightning F.52 pylon mounted at the Aeromedical centre on King Abdul-Aziz Air-base Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Specifications (Lightning F.6) 
|Cockpit of a Lightning F.53|
|Typical ejection seat of a Lightning T.4/5|
|Display of weapon load-out of a Lightning|
|Multiple Lightnings lined up on the ground|
- Crew: 1
- Length: 55 ft 3 in (16.8 m)
- Wingspan: 34 ft 10 in (10.6 m)
- Height: 19 ft 7 in (5.97 m)
- Wing area: 474.5 ft² (44.08 m²)
- Empty weight: 31,068 lb[nb 12] (14,092 kg)
- Max. takeoff weight: 45,750 lb[nb 13] (20,752 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Avon 301R afterburning turbojets
- Maximum speed: Mach 2.0 (1,300 mph, 2,100 km/h) at 36,000 ft. 700 KIAS at lower altitude[nb 14]
- Range: 850 mi[nb 15] (1,370 km) Supersonic intercept radius: 155 mi[nb 16] (250 km)
- Ferry range: 920 mi (800 NM, 1,660 km) 1,270 mi (1,100 NM, 2,040 km) with ferry tanks
- Service ceiling: 54,000 ft (16,000 m) zoom ceiling >70,000 ft
- Rate of climb: 20,000 ft/min[nb 17] (100 m/s)
- Wing loading: 76 lb/ft²[nb 18] (370 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.78
- Guns: 2× 30 mm (1.18 in) ADEN cannon
- Hardpoints: 2× under-fuselage for mounting air-to-air missiles, 2x overwing pylon stations for 260 gal ferry tanks and provisions to carry combinations of:
Notable appearances 
- 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.
- Professor Brian Cox uses one of the South African Lightnings (XS451) in his "Wonders of the Solar System" BBC TV programme - episode 3 of 5, "The Thin Blue Line". The broadcast features a "vertical" ascent, and allows the Professor to show the curvature of the Earth and the relative dimensions of the atmosphere. More than five minutes of the episode are devoted to the Lightning, with a large number of close-ups. Coincidentally, this was the aircraft that crashed only about a month later at the Overberg Airshow, after developing mechanical problems.
- British author Jan Mark's children's book Thunder and Lightnings (1976) tells the story of two boys living near RAF Coltishall in Norfolk, who share an interest in aeroplanes, at the time when the RAF is phasing out its Lightning fighters and introducing the Jaguar.
- An old, destroyed Lightning, now used for target practice on a Northumberland military range, is featured on the cover of the Suede album Sci-Fi Lullabies.
- A haunted Lightning, previously attached to a fictional 666 Squadron and officially listed as destroyed, is kept at the aircraft museum at RAF Cosford in the Charles Stross novel The Fuller Memorandum.
See also 
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
- The ventral cannon installation was designed for the export aircraft but was later adopted by the RAF for the F.6 and F.2A.
- All fuel tank volumes are listed in Imperial gallons
- Along with directional stability, rudder effectiveness decreased at higher Mach numbers; timely and larger deflections of the rudder were required to counter any yaw, especially under increased g-loading. Two Lightning prototypes, XL628 and XM966, were lost to vertical fin failure during roll testing at high Mach numbers.
- Firestreak firing limits were Mach 1.3 with the small fin, Mach 1.7 with the large fin. Red Top limit was Mach 1.8.
- On a standard day, the temperature of the air at the tip of the shock cone (stagnation temperature) was 156 deg F (68.9 deg C) at Mach 1.7 and 36,000 ft. At Sea Level and 650 KIAS, this temperature was 151 deg F (66.1 deg C).
- At Mach 2.0, the stagnation temperature would be 242 deg F, or 117 deg C.
- Roland Beamont took the Lightning P.1B XA847, a prototype of the F.1, to Mach 2.0. Prior testing had determined that the aircraft would have the excess thrust to achieve this speed given the right atmospheric conditions of a high tropopause and lower than standard temperature. The test flight was to check for inlet stability and monitor temperatures at higher Mach. The aircraft was equipped with a temperature probe to monitor the stagnation temperature, up to a never-exceed temperature of 115 deg C. On 28 November 1958, the weather availed a high tropopause and a substandard -67 deg C at 40,000 ft. This was sufficient to allow Beamont to achieve Mach 2.0 in a British aircraft for the first time, reached only 7 minutes after takeoff, the record dash left the Lightning critically short of fuel. The Machmeter fitted to service Lightning F.1s and F.1Bs had a scale that stopped at Mach 1.8—with a redline at 1.7.
- At 30,000 ft, a Lightning F.6 would require approximately 1 minute and 1,250 lb of fuel to accelerate from 650 to 675 KIAS.
- The Lightning would increase forward velocity during the climb, the angle of the climb lessening from about 27 deg to 19 deg at 13,000 ft.
- The true airspeed associated with a given indicated airspeed increases with altitude. Below the tropopause, the true airspeed associated with a given Mach number decreases with altitude. The Lightning’s Air Data System automatically corrected for errors in position and speed; following correction, 450 KIAS was equal to Mach 0.87 at 13,000 ft.
- A single F.1 was supplied as a ground instructional airframe.
- The value for "empty weight" is really the Zero Fuel weight, which includes equipped pilot, Red Top missiles, cannon and ammunition. The Basic weight, without these items, is 27,759 lb.
- The maximum permissible weight for takeoff and all forms of flying is 45,750 lb. At weights above 45,000 lb, the mainwheel tyres have to be changed after one use.
- An F.6 equipped with Red Top missiles can reach Mach 2.0 on an ICAO Std. day at 36,000 ft. A clean F.6 can reach Mach 2.1 at 37,000 ft .
- This is based on a maximum-range subsonic intercept radius of 370 NM (425 mi, 625 km). An F.6 equipped with Red Top missiles can climb to 36,000 ft and cruise at Mach 0.87 to a loiter or intercept area 370 NM distant. It then has 15 minutes on station to complete the intercept or identification task before returning to base. The afterburners are not used during this profile, and the total mission time is 112 min.
- An F.6 equipped with Red Top missiles can climb to 36,000 ft, accelerate to Mach 1.8, and intercept a target at 135 NM only 10.7 min after brake release. A 2g level turn allows a rear-quarter re-attack 1.6 min later. Following a best-range cruise and descent, the Lightning enters the landing pattern with 800 lb of fuel remaining with a total mission time of 35 min.
- This is the initial climb rate associated with the Lightning’s best time-to-climb profile of 450 KIAS to Mach 0.87. Using this profile, a Lightning F.6 with Red Top missiles can climb from Sea Level to 36,000 ft in 2.1 min following initial acceleration to 450 KIAS, or 2.8 min from brake release. A clean F.6 can perform the same climb in 2.0 min following initial acceleration, or 2.7 min from brake release.
- Wing loading is calculated from the above weight and wing area data. The listed value represents an F.6 with Red Top missiles and 1/2 fuel. The wing loading can range between 86-67 lb/ft² over the duration of a mission, depending on fuel load.
- Winchester 2006, p. 82.
- Robinson, Ben. "Historic jet plane gets engineering 'wings' at Lancashire." Lancashire Evening Post, Retrieved: 23 January 2010.
- Halpenny 1984,[page needed]
- Scott 2000, p. 13.
- Pilot's Notes, Lightning F Mk.1 and F Mk.1A. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, February 1962.
- Pilot's Notes, Lightning F.Mk.3. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, April 1965.
- Pilot's Notes, Lightning F.Mk.6. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, September 1966.
- Williams and Gustin 2004, p. 106.
- Lightning F.Mk.2A Aircrew Manual. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, July 1968.
- Flight International 5 September 1968, pp. 372–373.
- Lake 1997, p. 57.
- Flight International 5 September 1968, p. 373.
- Gunston and Spick 1983, p. 67.
- Flight International 5 September 1968, pp. 372–373, 376.
- Lake 1997, pp. 56–57.
- McLelland 2009,[page needed]
- Wood 1986, pp. 183–184.
- Lightning F Mk.6 Operating Data Manual. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, May 1977.
- Jackson Air International June 1986, p. 283.
- Lake 1997, pp. 51–52, 71–73.
- Lake 1997, pp. 86–87.
- Pilot's Notes, Lightning F Mk.2. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, November 1963.
- Pilot's Notes, Lightning F.Mk.53. Warton Aerodrome, UK: British Aircraft Corporation Ltd, December 1983.
- Lightning F Mks.1, 1A, 2 & T Mk.4 Aircraft Operating Data Manual. Warton Aerodrome, UK: English Electric Technical Services, November 1975.
- Philpott 1984, pp. 69–71.
- Beamont 1996, pp. 111–113.
- Lightning F Mk.53 & T Mk.55 Aircraft Operating Data Manual. Warton Aerodrome, UK: British Aircraft Corporation Ltd, Preliminary.
- Public Record Office, London. TNA AIR 20/11370
- "Piece details AIR 20/11370."The National Archive of United Kingdom. Retrieved: 23 January 2010.
- Public Record Office, London. TNA AIR 20/11370
- black, I "Chasing the Dragon Lady" Classic Aircraft Volume 45 Number 8
- Carroll, Brian. Lightning.org.uk "Lightning Review". thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk. Retrieved: 12 March 2008.
- Ross, Charles. "Lightning vs Concorde". The Lightning Association. October 2004. Retrieved: 22 April 2012.
- Beamont, Roland. Testing Early Jets . London: Airlife, 1990. ISBN 1-85310-158-3.
- Lake Air International January 2006, p. 64.
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- Lake 1997, pp. 45, 95–96.
- Lake 1997, p. 48.
- Lake Air International January 2006, p. 66.
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- Jackson Air International June 1988, p. 280.
- "English Electric Lightning history." thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk. Retrieved: 23 January 2010.
- Orbis 1985, pp. 146-153
- "Lightning shuffle." Flight, 20 April 1967, p. 648. Retrieved: 22 April 2012.
- "Punter" Air International October 1978, pp. 167–168.
- Lake 1997, p. 100.
- Ransom and Fairclough 1987, p. 258.
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- Lake 1997, p. 58.
- Ransom and Fairclough 1987, p. 267.
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- Lake 1997, p. 82.
- Ransom and Fairclough 1987, p. 259.
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- Lake 1997, p. 93.
- "Cape Town Jets: Thunder City." Incredible Adventures, 2009. Retrieved: 7 October 2009.
- "Fighter jet crashes at air show." News24.com, 14 November 2009. Retrieved: 23 January 2010.
- "Killed air show pilot named." News24.com, 14 November 2009. Retrieved: 23 January 2010.
- "The Thin Blue Line." Wonders of the Solar System. Retrieved: 21 April 2012.
- "Returning to Flight English Electric Lightning XS422." Anglo American Lightning Organisation, 2009. Retrieved: 12 March 2008.
- "English Electric P1A: Serial Number WG760". Royal Air Force Museum Cosford. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
- "MSIM: Education and Learning: Registration number L.1996.53.1". Museum of Science and Industry. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: English Electric Lightning|
- Anglo American Lightning Organisation, returning to flight XS422, the former ETPS Lightning at Stennis Airport, Kiln, Mississippi
- The Lightning Association
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- Warbird Alley: Lightning page
- Silent Sentinel: The tale of an A1 milestone
- Five-minute RAF Recruiting film "Streaked Lightning" from 1962 at the National Archives Public
- Lightning - "The Best Fighter in the World" a 1961 Flight article by Bill Gunston
- Lightning Squadron Flight 1961
- Flying the Lightning: A test pilots view of the RAF's first supersonic fighter