View Full Version : Sound Barrier Over London By A Lightning

Peter Barron
18th Dec 2004, 07:02
I remember either in the late 1960s or early 1970s that a Lightning made 3 passes over London breaking the sound barrier each time.
I can still remember hearing the sonic booms, I think the 3 passes were made over the course of a week.
This was the last time I heard the sound barrier broke.

Does anyone know the actual dates and why it was doing it.


18th Dec 2004, 12:44
It was research for the Concorde programme (RIP) to establish whether the unwashed general public would tolerate unexpected supersonic booms over land. Around 1967/68?

They didn't!

But perhaps little worse than the drum and bass noise emanting from rat boy Max Power Novas and Corsas these days?

18th Dec 2004, 21:29
From http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/milestones-of-flight/british_civil/1967.html :

4 July (1967)
The United Kingdom government begins sonic boom tests over the country, using Royal Air Force English Electric Lightnings to produce random booms. The one sonic boom that will stuck in my memory was produced by a Mig, flying low over the city in 1991. An unexpected loud explosion sound, not nice.

18th Dec 2004, 22:48
I went to school in central London, and can remember hearing one of these flights. Was unimpressed by the sound....only disturbance was to a flock of pigeons which seemed to all get airborne a fraction of a second before the bang.

I was more impressed by the noise of the Hunter which someone flew under Tower Bridge in 1968 and which went right past my school a few seconds later.

surely not
19th Dec 2004, 10:58
I went to school in Surrey, not too far from Farnborough, and well remember the 2 x Royal Navy Phantoms that went supersonic at quite low level!! They caused quite a reaction to those who hadn't been lucky enough to see them flash across in the near distance in a strange silence before the mini explosions that followed them reached us!

Whetted my appetite for the public days!

19th Dec 2004, 11:12
I dropped a boom overland once - in the middle of the night as well....

But as it was over Norfolk, presumably the Cyclopian swamp dwellers never noticed - because no-one ever complained!

Peter Barron
19th Dec 2004, 12:08

What aircraft were you flying when you went supersonic.

Am I right in thinking that the Lightning tests over London were the last offically permitted breaking of the sound barried over UK Soil.

One things for sure, you don't get anything like it at airshows today, display pilots don't even know what a fast pass is, they reel about the sky and that's about it.
Even back in the 70s and 80s when the sound barrier was not allowed to be broken you used to get fighters at airshows doing a low fast pass very near the speed of sound, so fast that you could not hear them coming, and you did not hear them until they had gone past, today there is nothing like that.

The glory days of airshows have gone forever, never to be replaced.


19th Dec 2004, 19:41
A Phantom.

Got very close to going supersonic in a Vulcan once after screwing up a rapid descent..... Saw an indicated M 0.97-ish!

19th Dec 2004, 22:24

Agreed in general. The RAF F3 still does it for me at LL (low and fast at the end of it's display, washed off with a zoom upwards) but very few others.

Last real speed merchants I remember were the GAF "Vikings" (2 F104's) - did a lot of shows in the UK in the 80's.

20th Dec 2004, 08:39
I can remember early test flying of Concorde which including supersonic runs down the west coast and it definitely flew supersonic over the west of Scotland as I can vividly remember the sound even today. So those Lightning flights were not the last official supersonic flights over land.

Heard many Concorde booms later along the South Coast when, if weather conditions were right, booms from Air France flights over the Channel would hit the coast. Used to rattle the windows quite a bit!

20th Dec 2004, 11:04
Hmmmm - remember a "double bang" whilst on the beach at Sennen Cove in 1976 - thought at the time (not bad for a twelve year old!) that it might have been a Concorde - perhaps indeed it was.

Later that same year, Biggin Hill Battle of Britain day, first time I can recall seeing a Lightning in the air: it passed my vantage point around the same time as the sound!

20th Dec 2004, 11:23
From the RAF Merryfield "At Home" day souvenir programme of 18 September 1954 (Price 1/- !!):

"Flying Programme. It is hoped that the Flying Display will include the following:-

(etc etc)

Breaking the sound barrier by a Sabre of Fighter Command

(etc etc)"

Them were't days - and there were 16 different types of RAF aeroplanes in the static aircraft display!

21st Dec 2004, 08:38
Was sailing back from Cherbourg to the Solent one summer's day in (IIRC) the late 80s.

Gin clear day and saw Concorde (Air France to South America??) going like stink NE to SW. Got the boom, which also ruffled our (quite large) sails more than somewhat. Fan-bl%%dy-tastic! :D

Shame that'll never happen again.....:( :(:

Peter Barron
21st Dec 2004, 17:21
Interesting story on teletext tonight.

It says a Eurofighter Typhoon went supersonic and broke the sound barrier while on a test flight over North Wales, it also said people were phoning the emergency services saying there was an earthquake when they heard the boom !!!!!!!

So it seems that we have not finished breaking the sound barrier over the UK yet, even if it was not offical, or maybe it was !!!.

Well done that pilot.


21st Dec 2004, 22:14
Hear Hear Peter - If you'll pardon the cringe-worthy pun! :p

22nd Dec 2004, 15:59
Hear, hear is appropriate, treadigraph - it happened twice, about five minutes apart!

Heard both quite clearly in Lytham, near Blackpool, and didn't realise what it was. It sounded like a deep rumble for three or four seconds followed by a thud. Not what I would I expect to hear of a sonic boom (more like a double thud followed by engine noise). I thought my neighbour was dragging a heavy bit of furniture across a wooden floor and then dropping it. Couldn't think why he did it twice!

Still, as PB says, well done to the pilot. Nice to hear it being used in the manner intended!


Peter Barron
22nd Dec 2004, 17:03
Well Chaps, what say we nominate the Typhoon pilot to be the RAF Display pilot, that way we might get a few fast passes near the speed of sound at airshows, just like it used to be in the old days.

I think a lot of jet jockeys could learn from this chap, fighters are built for speed, so lets see it :ok:


Noah Zark.
1st Jan 2005, 23:50
We have friends who live right on the clifftops at Hartland Point in North Devon. When Concorde was in service, it used to pass right over their house inbound from the States.
About 20.10hrs., sitting in the garden on a fine summer evening, the sonic shock used to reach us first, in any of several forms, ranging from nothing more than all the wildfowl around suddenly having a squawk and a little flutter, to a sharp "crack" like a rifle being fired, to the full blown resonating "Booom" coming sweeping off the sea!
Followed, within a couple of minutes, by the wonderful sight of a contrail suddenly starting very high up, visibly descending quite steeply, and then starting to level off a little as it came over over land, going eastwards toward London.
Unfortunately, never to be repeated. :(

4th Jan 2005, 06:03
I don't agree that airshows aren't as good as they used be. Having a supersonic Lightning fly past was certainly a blast but they didn't really do much else as you couldn't see them half the time. Last year at Berlin we were treated to the Typhoon doing the most amazing things - and almost staying within the airfiled boundary as well! Fantastic and to think the pilot actually gets paid for doing it!

Other aircraft included a Fokker tri-wing and other WW1 vintage machines, a pair of Mustangs letting Berlin hear the roar of the Merlin once again, a Catalina, Lufthansa's wonderful Junkers Ju52 - they were doing joy-rides too. Oh I could go on, but I don't remember a boyhood airshow that could touch it.

Apart from the time I got to sit in a Meteor cockpit at Thornaby in 1956 that is...

Peter Barron
4th Jan 2005, 09:10

I respect your opinion on airshows but I can't agree with it.

Airshows now are no where near as exciting as they used to be.
Apart from the actual flying that I don't think is as good we also hardly have any RAF Airshows, we don't even have an offical RAF Battle of Britain airshow in England anymore, its a sad state of affairs.

Apart from the RAF Stations that used to hold airshows ( not just BoB ones ) in the 60s 70s and 80s we also had the American bases having airshows like Upper Heyford, Weathersfield, Alconbury and even Mildenhall, these airshows are all now gone.
There is no choise now as there are hardly any military airshows in England anymore.
I have a paper somewhere saying that 55 RAF Stations are open today for the Battle of Britain, now zero.

As to airshows not being as exciting as they used to be, I don't think todays shows come anywhere near the old ones.
Today we have 9 Hawks as the RAF Display team, yes they are good but they are 9 trainers, in the 60s we had 9 Lightnings, and teams with 5 Sea Vixens, 22 Black Hunters looping the loop, scrambles of Vulcans etc, even back in the 80s there was a scramble of VC-10s at the last ever Brize Norton airshow and a scramble of 8 F-111s at Upper Heyford, today you would be lucky to get 1 F-16 and 1 Tornado at an airshow and in between them you will get a couple of girls standing on a wing and some bloke with geese flying beside him, hardly show stopping numbers.

We need to have the Vulcan flying again and be allowed to have Lightnings flying in this country again and aircraft like the Shackleton to remind us how good airshows used to be.


surely not
4th Jan 2005, 21:32
I have mused as to why I don't get as excited at airshows as I used to, and I think it is familiarity breeding contempt.

I have been watching the Harrier, and development models, since the mid 60's. I still enjoy the display......... but it doesn't do anything new.
The F-16 was a breath of fresh air when it first arrived in the early 70's.......... but now it is old hat, the interest comes in seeing a new air arm displaying it.
Tornado is interesting, but again old hat, another 70's aircraft
The Typhoon was great in 2003, but very tame this year for reasons given elsewhere. I look forward to seeing it develop a good act in the next years.
The Hawk displays quite sedately really and doesn't really get the pulse racing, and it is another 70's aircraft.
The Jaguar was good because it rarely got let out of its cage.......another 70's design.
The Russian aircraft were a wow when they first came to the shows......rarity value and with the SU27 very agile and impressive.
Civil aircraft all look the same, are very quiet, and only the agility and size cause a murmur. I think the A380 will be impressive though.

Maybe it is just that I have grown up with these aircraft; maybe youngsters still get a tingle in their senses when they see them display. Is it a sign of getting older?
Certainly the big formations and the display teams with fighter a/c are rare and sadly missed.
I still go to shows, and I still take loads of photos at the shows, but I don't dash to the flightline anymore, I pick and choose what I want to see.

6th Jan 2005, 04:00
Hmmm, yes Peter. I do see your point about British airshows. They're not much of a spectacle compared to those we saw in the fifties and sixties are they?

The Berlin show was very good though. Admittedly, most Brits wouldn't even know about it, let alone go to see it. Nothing went supersonic either, but the Typhoon was the most impressive piece of kit I've ever laid eyes on. Only digital fly-by-wire makes that kind of thing possible and I've no idea how the pilot remains conscious in those manouvres. (Perhaps he doesn't?)

The most impressive Harrier display I ever saw was when they beat up our local airport during a joint military exercise a couple of years back. They were supposed to be exercising the local air defence missile batteries but no-one saw them coming. Six aircraft from three different directions at five second intervals, they came over the hilltops and crossed the fence at about 10 feet AGL frightening the [email protected] out of eveybody. Bl**dy brilliant!

Peter Barron
6th Jan 2005, 18:04

I agree, some of the manouvres that aircraft like the Typhoon and Super Hornet do are great to watch, I just wish that they would put in a couple of fast runs as well, it would be nice to see again.

Your story about the Harriers reminds me of what happened at Biggin Hill one time in the late 60s or early 70s.
There was a Canadian Airforce team of five F-104s called the Red Indians displaying at Biggin, the commentator said over the tannoys that if you look to the front you will see the F-104s heading in to start their display, everybody started looking to the front to see them, I could not see them so I turned round and looked behind, there they were coming in so fast that you could not hear them coming and at about 30 feet high, 95% of the crown had no idea that they were coming from behind.
The noise they made as they went over the top of the crowd at such a high speed and low level was incredible, there was many a botty burp happened that day and all you could hear afterwards was kids screaming, brilliant, what a great stunt to pull, just so exciting.

Halcyon Days.


Burnt Fishtrousers
7th Jan 2005, 16:53
I remember going to the SBAC show at Farnborough in 1974 when an SR71 did a record breaking flight from the states. Whilst coocked up in the back of a Hillman Minx the radio announced that the aircraft had just departed the US.By the time we got there we were just parking up when it arrived. I think it did it in about 1.5 hours or so...

8th Jan 2005, 23:12
As an aside. Wasn’t the Lightning flown by ‘Mrs Peels’ brother?

13th Jan 2005, 12:27

I was at the Berlin Airshow for 3 days (static display pilot of all things!!) and saw the Typhoon do it's display. AMAZING manoevers but it did lack something wasn't very clean or smooth. The dutch F-16 display was by far the best and I told them so too, not forgetting the swiss F-5's droping flares at the end of their display which I've never seen before..wonderful. I agree with the others, a fast fly past is just amazing to watch.
I was stationed in Soest (Germany) with 3 Regt. AAC from 1981-1986 and we had an airshow every year for a while including a Buccaneer (see thread..wonderful reading). We had 2 F-16's from Spangdahlem (IIFC) do an amazing display. One came in so low and slow he scorched our grass strip and then the next one came in at high speed from the west. I remember mentioning to one of my mates "christ he's fast"..and then he shot past in silence and then came the double boom as he cracked the sound barrier! My hair stood on end and the cheer from all the aircrew and groundcrew said it all! It was THE most thrilling ting I've ever experienced at an airshow. Thank you chaps who ever you were :ok:

14th Jan 2005, 11:19
I can confirm Concorde made a series of super-sonic tests up the west coast of Scotland in the 60s. Our local newspaper used to carry warnings with the expected flight times.

16th Jan 2005, 15:05

Correct, 'Mrs Peel's brother' flew the Lightning - he also flew many other types since he was a tp.


Self Loading Freight
24th Jan 2005, 00:49
I remember one airshow - Southend? Brighton? - in the 80s where a Vulcan came zooming in from the sea, arrived at the beach and then went upwards with scant regard for gravity. Or our ears - presumably if the buckets of sunshine don't work you can persuade the enemy that the end of the world is indeed nigh just by flying overhead a couple of times.

My other abiding memory is either Mildenhall or Lakenheath, mid-80s, when the SR-71 made its first official appearance in front of the British public. Science fiction, mate, but manned by an impressively cheerful pilot who told me that yes, he liked England but he had to be back in California by teatime. Don't miss the traffic queues: do miss the burgers.

Haven't been to an airshow for around five years now - the last one was Duxford - although the Red Arrows and the BoBF fly over SLF Mansions in North London fairly often on their way to or from meetings with Brenda. I blame the Rooskies.


ex jump pilot
3rd Feb 2005, 11:10
Ah yes. The supersonic flights over London by a Lightning. Was then a rather junior naval officer based at Greenwich. For some reason, I was around when it was to happen and I watched a ministry man who was taking recordings of the over pressure to see what damage if any was occurring to the fabulous ceiling in the painted hall.
Amongst his measuring kit plus obligatory oscilloscope, he had a standard aircraft UHF set screwed down onto a piece of plywood connected to a speaker plus a short piece of coat hanger wire attached to the aerial socket. Whilst reception wasn't brilliant, I heard the pilot calling "running in” and then two further calls that meant he had started being supersonic and stopped.
The boom was fairly muffled inside.