The English Electric Lightning is a supersonic jet fighter aircraft of the Cold War era, remembered for its great speed and unpainted natural metal exterior finish. 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”. 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” in Cape Town, South Africa.
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 does 43,000 ft/min (13 km/min).
Maximum speed: Mach 2.27 (1,500 mph) at altitude.
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.
It was a gas guzzler and had only a short operational flying time unless refueled air-to-air. The large bulge under the body is an extra fuel tank to extend it’s range.
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.
This example in the Museum of Flight, East Fortune, Nr. Edinburgh, Scotland.