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The English Electric Lightning

Arguably Britain's finest homebrewed jet fighter. Certainly one of the ugliest depending on one's point of view. Developed from the P1 research aircraft, the only operational jet aircraft to have its two GBFO (Rolls Royce Avon) engines mounted one on top of the other! The only other type with this power plant layout being the Short Sperrin V-Bomber contender/insurance policy which never entered service.


  • Speed: Mach 2.27
  • Ceiling: 60000+ ft (at least)
  • Initial Climb: 50000ft/min

Superb manoeuvrability - a true pilot's aircraft and could super cruise years before the F-22 Raptor or F-35. It could also out perform more modern types such as the F-15 Eagle in the climb.


The type had the Ferranti AIRPASS radar fitted; this was the first monopulse radar in squadron service anywhere in the world - par for the time and better than the equivalent Cyrano used in the French Mirage III. However, it quickly became dated and cockpit workload was heavy for the single pilot - both synonymous with the design era. It also had a short range (800 miles, 1560 miles with overwing ferry tanks) though air refuelling was added to its capability after the F1.

Its small war load limited its usefulness (the F3 having no cannon) both of which the War Office could easily have rectified if a little cash had been thrown at it. The underbelly fuel tank design made belly landings 'interesting' and not advisable ,ditching at sea being the only sensible alternative. The type was underdeveloped to begin with and had NO cash spent on it, though a redesigned navalised Lightning (with mid-swept wings) was mooted at one point.


F1, F1A & F2

2 Firestreak IR AAMs + 2 or 4 30mm ADEN cannon or 2" rocket packs


2 Firestreak IR AAMs + 2, 4 or 6 30mm ADEN cannon.


2 Firestreak IR AAMs or 2 Redtop IR AAMs.


2 Firestreak IR AAMs.


2 Firestreak IR AAMs or 2 Redtop IR AAMs.

F3A & F6

2 Firestreak IR AAMs or 2 Redtop IR AAMs + 2 30mm ADEN cannon.

Later/export versions could also be equipped with 6000lbs of bombs, a Vinten reconnaissance pod and overwing fuel tanks.

The classic Lightning take off was to climb vertically off the deck and then disappear into the blue with a noise that could only be described as stool looseningly loud. The Lightning was of a very distinctive design and had a centerbody air intake like the MiG-21 Fishbed.

Compared to its contemporaries it only found the going hard against later US types. The F-104 couldn't perform well in the turn, the F-4 wasn't as fast, the Mirage couldn't turn as well, or for long, due to delta wing drag and the Mig-21 was even shorter ranged! The Lightning has been reported as achieving a ceiling of 88,000ft.

Further developments for not much bucks would have been 4 Sidewinders and better radar. As per MoD standard operating procedures, nothing happened. The Lightning was also used by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Several are still flying in private ownership in South Africa at Thunder City.

See also

Lightning II