Designed by W. E. Petter, the English Electric Lightning was one of the most remarkable British aircraft of the Cold War and the RAF's last indigenously-built single seat fighter. The Lightning was a highly unconventional design featuring thin and highly swept wings as well as two superimposed turbojets fed through a nose-mounted intake. Still, its performance figures were spectacular: it was the first RAF fighter to exceed Mach 2 and the first aircraft in the world capable of supercruise all of this at a time when an infamous MoD White Paper was announcing the obsolecence of manned aircraft! Fortunately, the politicians were proved wrong and the Lightning went on to enjoy a quarter century of service as the RAF's foremost air defense fighter equipping a total of nine squadrons at its peak and progressively modified to carry more advanced missiles as they became available. Despite its impressive capabilites (many of which remain unmatched by modern aircraft), the Lightning was eventually retired from RAF service in 1988 without ever flying in anger. Export destinations were limited to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia although the latter country holds the distinction of being the only one to use the Lightning in combat.
The P.1 stemmed from a 1947 requirement for a supersonic fighter, later modified into the P.1B with afterburning Avon engines. It first flew on 3 April 1958 entering service the following year as the Lightning F.1. The F.1A with a retractable refuelling probe followed and later the F.2 with improved engines. A new generation of Lightnings began later with the F.3 with a new powerplant, improved avionics, and Red Top missiles although the fixed cannon were removed. The final RAF version was the F.6 with much needed increased fuel capacity, new radar, and restored cannon. Other versions included the export F.52 and F.53 (based on the F.2 and F.6 respectively) and the side-by-side T.4 trainer based on the F.1.
|Design||Lightning F.2||Lightning F.6|
|Length||16.84 m||16.84 m|
|Height||5.969 m||5.969 m|
|Wing Span||10.62 m||10.62 m|
|Empty||12,542 kg||14,062 kg|
|Maximum||17,554 kg||18,915 kg|
|Wing Loading||398.6 kg/m²||429.5 kg/m²|
|Speed||Mach 2.1||Mach 2.1|
|Ceiling||18,288 m||18,288 m|
|Range||1,440 km||1,287-4,023 km|
|Engine||2 x Avon Mk. 210|
|2 x Avon Mk. 301/302|
|Radar||AI Mk. 23||AI Mk. 23B|
|Guns||2 x 30-mmADEN Mk. 4||2 x 30-mmADEN Mk. 4|