English Electric Lightning by Edward Denyer

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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.


aeroplane, warbird, english electric, lightning, aircraft


  • Richard Hamilton-Veal
    Richard Hamilt...about 5 years ago

    I remember seeing one of these flying over London supersonic, so they can test the effect of the boom on a city, before Concorde came into service.

  • They were so fast Richard. Landing was a controlled crash and only 3-4 landings per set of tyres. Thanks for the interesting comment. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Richard Hamilton-Veal
    Richard Hamilt...about 5 years ago

    It used to be published in the newspapers, on TV and Radio, warning when they were testing.
    I was living in Hainault, and if you went to Hog Hill at the edge of the forest, you could see the skyline of London, Telecom Tower being the largest building then, and also clearly see St Pauls Cathedral.
    We used to stand on Hog Hill, and just make out the Lightning, but you could hear it before you saw it, and then the boom.
    It must have been the mid 60’s when that was happening.

  • I was living in London in the early-mid 60’s and remember the booms, but never saw the lightning doing it. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Hertsman
    Hertsmanabout 5 years ago

    I had forgotten about the ‘green’ era with these machines. Polished silver suited them much better.

    Nice image Ted.

  • Thanks Richard fot the comments. They did look good polished up I must admit. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Hertsman
    Hertsmanabout 5 years ago

    The example preserved at Cranfield near Milton Keynes is kept in working (non-flying) order. At various times each year this is then fast taxied along the runway with a brief burst of re-heat.

    I witnessed such an event last year (with ear defenders).

  • Take off was never done on full power but was applied after lift off. An RAF instructor once said, “The only reason we have wings on this aeroplane is to keep the navigation lights apart.” A quote indeed telling of the rocket like performance of this awsome machine. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Tony Dewey
    Tony Deweyabout 5 years ago

    Good shot Ted, i love to see one of these flying.

  • If it was low down Tony and pulled up and hit the big button you would have your ears blown out. Thanks for your ever welcome comment. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Lori Peters
    Lori Petersabout 5 years ago

    Wow, Wow, Wow! This is a beautiful aircraft. Nice work, Ted! xo

  • Thank you Lori for your comment. It is a great piece of aeroplane construction. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Colin J Williams Photography
    Colin J Willia...about 5 years ago

    great shot Ted, never seen a green one before !

  • Thnaks for the comment Colin. Yes they did go through a green phase, but polished silver was the best look.. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Dave Law
    Dave Lawabout 5 years ago

    Lovely capture Ted.

  • Thank you for your comment Dave, much appreciated. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • Dohmnuill
    Dohmnuillabout 5 years ago

    Good shot – I saw one fly at RAAF Edinburgh (S.Aust.) years ago – phenomenal climb rate. I wonder how the restoration of the example at ex-RAF Binbrook (Lincolnshire) is proceeding..

  • Thanks for the comment. They are a phenominal piece of equipment, and still outclass, for speed, modern day fighters. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

  • robmac
    robmacabout 5 years ago

    Great plane Ted and all the info thanks for sharing it

  • Thanks for the comment Rob. – Ted

    – Edward Denyer

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