Go Back  PPRuNe Forums > Aircrew Forums > Military Aviation
Reload this Page >

Was the Lightning really THAT good ?

Military Aviation A forum for the professionals who fly military hardware. Also for the backroom boys and girls who support the flying and maintain the equipment, and without whom nothing would ever leave the ground. All armies, navies and air forces of the world equally welcome here.

Was the Lightning really THAT good ?

Old 4th Sep 2014, 20:19
  #1 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Arizona
Posts: 532
Was the Lightning really THAT good ?

Now before you tar and feather me, just come back out of reheat for a moment and hear me out.

A little background is necessary to provide some frame of reference for the question.

I grew up worshiping the Lightning as a little kid in England, and in the years that followed the legend and folklore that built up around the aircraft has become even more entrenched with the passing of time. My book cabinet contains numerous tomes on the Lightning including Roland Beaumont's definitive work detailing his years testing the aircraft and then comparing it to the F-104, Mirage III, and the Delta Dart - all of which he judged to be significantly inferior. The photo that holds pride of place in my study here in this strange and exotic Arizonan desert hideaway that I now call home is an F.6 in flight at sunset, mounted in an Amazonian hardwood frame with museum quality non-reflective glass - that one photo cost me a small fortune partly because I had to track down the UK based photographer and purchase a unique single print directly from him after seeing the image published in a magazine article on the Lightning. It sits between a mounted and fully functional BSA Lee Enfield NoI MkIII dated 1917 and my personally signed photo of Julie Adams - but neither catch my eye like the photo of the Lightning, and Julie Adams is smiling at me while posing in a bathing suit.....

In short I have amassed as much information on the Frightening and its weapons systems as any reasonable person possibly could, even spending hours analyzing Airpass radar plots to see if I could figure out the position of the contact (bloody difficult at the best of times).

But I never flew it, and a trip to Thunder City would be pointless now, so I never will.

The more I researched, the more I tried to form some type of conclusion about the true capabilities of the Lightning in combat, that final decisive arbiter in any warplane's career, and of course unless you count the runaway Harrier shootdown the Lightning never really went into action in a real shooting war, so ultimately any such discussion can never be truly decisive.

So these are my personal observations and conclusions, I've structured them in a "good first / bad last" sort of way.

Handling - the aircraft has/had peerless handling, it was a true pilot's aircraft with astonishing levels of performance even by today's standards. A maximum speed well in excess of Mach 2, a zoom climb ceiling of anywhere up to 100,000 feet or more, all with perfect control feedback and no unpleasant surprises at anything other than very low speeds or excessive AoA.

Engines - powerful and reliable with just the one known flaw of some tail end fires that had unfortunate consequences due to the location of control runs.

Avionics - for its day the Ferranti Airpass was a perfectly acceptable fighter radar coupled with a surprisingly innovative and advanced FCS, it quickly became obsolete however and was one of the many areas that adequate RAF funding could have improved immensely.

Design - showed a tendency to an experimental design as opposed to an operational design. The staggered engines reduced drag but servicing of the upper engine usually required removal of the lower engine. Fuel, or rather the shortage thereof - which to be fair was the bane of most of the early jets but something that was so much more pronounced in the Lightning due to the inability to carry underwing tanks and the prodigious consumption of the Avons, 10 minutes from full to dry tanks if the pilot stayed in full reheat.

Weapons - the Firestreak and Redtop were large weapons with equally large warheads designed to bring down the largest bomber with a single hit. Redtop could perform head on attacks but really needed Mach sized leading edge heating, and that left the pilot needing to manouever into the frontal quadrant of an approaching supersonic aircraft, tricky to say the least. A far more interesting question for me was how those weapons would have fared against fighter type targets, something that they were not designed for. While there was talk of fitting more missiles I'm not aware of a Lightning flying with more than just 2, and in the case of the F.3 no guns to boot. Technically the F.2A could fly with a fit of 6 x 30mm ADEN, if faced with fighters I always imagined this to be the better option. But Redtop an Firestreak will always remain my biggest question marks in the entire Lightning equation - were they reliable, was the warm up time and cooling envelope restrictive, how well did they really cope with off boresight launches, bad weather, a small maneuvering target. Honestly I have never been able to get a clear picture, but I did read one comment from a Lightning pilot who simply said "we never had much faith in either of them".

Reliability - MHFBF and general maintenance hours appear to have been eye wateringly bad, Bill Gunston briefly commented on the subject once and said that the true number was well over 100 maintenance hours per single flight hour, but that as the aircraft was still in service he couldn't comment further as the actual number was classified. By comparison the Mirage III and MiG 21 were renowned by all operators as "push the starter and go" type aircraft. Losses on the type were also very high, I recall reading somewhere that Lightning losses were every bit as bad and even slightly worse than the F-104, but no one ever called referred to the Lightning as the "Widowmaker".

Pilots Opinion's - mixed to say the least. British pilots of course loved it, Beaumont called it the best jet fighter he ever flew in, and he flew them all. American exchange pilots were also highly complimentary, as were the Saudis, but the Kuwaitis hated theirs, possibly because they could never keep them flying. Hard to like an aircraft that won't go.

Sales - ahh a real hot button topic that positively invites the chorus of howls about "Yanks giving away free F-104s" and generally throwing their weight around. Well I'm afraid that's part of the game in all sales based environments, but if your product is good enough in my experience it will still succeed in the market place. As for actual sales the Europeans sniffed at it but opted en masse for Mirage IIIs, then the simpler Vs, and of course the lamentable but somewhat free of charge F-104. The Saudis bought it, but we now know that was because we heavily bribed them, and then there was of course the aforementioned Kuwaitis, who were not fans and offloaded them very quickly.

Simulated Combat - there is no one size fits all here. I know of many pilots who have defeated F-15s and their ilk, but then I also have an actual combat report somewhere in the mess on my desk that details the course of events when 2 F-15As went up against pretty much the entire population of Binbrook. The Eagles flew across the North Sea from their German base and waited for the first group of Lightning's which were all defeated in short order before they then ran out of fuel, the Eagles waited for the second batch to arrive, "shot" all those down and then watched the second wave RTB because of fuel at which point with no adversaries left they also went home (or possibly rejoined at Binbrook - I forget). I do however clearly recall this line from the lead Eagle pilot "they swarmed around us like flies, but at no time did they ever seem to be a real threat". But we are of course talking about aircraft designed 20 years apart, hardly fair as this is an eternity in the earlier days of second and third generation jet fighters. I never did find a Lightning versus Mirage III simcom report but I would dearly love to know of any encounters with our French friends.

So please feel free to express your grievances with any of my conclusions, or correct any factual errors I may have made. All this is not designed to provoke moral outrage, and in fact it shouldn't because I only fly armchairs for a living, but I have studied this aircraft as man and boy on and off for 40 years and if I have learned one thing for certain, it's that there is always so much more to learn about it.

Teach me.
Fonsini is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2014, 21:16
  #2 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Apr 1999
Location: Manchester, UK
Posts: 1,899
You're very brave fonsini since posting anything negative about the lightning is regarded here rather like slagging off the Queen Mother. My father in law used to build them; in the early fifties it was an amazing technical achievement, resembling a spacecraft more than it did any contemporary type. That said, by the time I joined in the 80's its limitations in range, serviceability and weapons made it seem a bit irrelevant.
ShotOne is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2014, 21:50
  #3 (permalink)  
I don't own this space under my name. I should have leased it while I still could
 
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Lincolnshire
Age: 76
Posts: 16,593
The Lightning came in to its own as a manned missile. From ground alert to intercept it was peerless.

Compared with the F102/106 with a similar role there was no comparison.

I remember a Lightning pilot writing about a 1v1 with an F16. He held his own burning and turning and thought he was doing well. Then the F16 lit his burner, game over.
Pontius Navigator is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2014, 21:55
  #4 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Land of Oz
Posts: 491
In Vietnam I discussed the abilities of various fighters with an F-100 pilot.
When I mentioned the Lightning, he said "you mean the P-38?".
However, he had heard of MiGs.
BBadanov is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2014, 22:19
  #5 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: UK
Posts: 3,844
10 minutes from full to dry tanks if the pilot stayed in full reheat.
Tornado F3 could do that in 8 minutes and 12 seconds...
Lima Juliet is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2014, 23:23
  #6 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Cambridge, UK
Age: 41
Posts: 27
As a mere 'aviation enthusiast' who sadly never got to see a Lightning fly my opinion may be dismissed by some but here goes:

For its' intended mission; namely a collision-course interceptor against Russian bombers, protecting our own V-bomber bases, it was almost peerless. It was pretty much the ultimate expression of the 'scramble to intercept' model such as that used in the Battle of Britain, rather that performing standing Combat Air Patrols as the Tornado F3 could do.

That it was a very-good fighter as well as an interceptor (where it differs from the Tornado F3) stands it in good stead, but here the argument is less compelling...

The design was very-much "of its' time", that time being the early 1950s when the P1 emerged. As others have said, it suffered greatly for lack of internal fuel; a flaw shared by many British jets including the Hunter. Other flaws include:

The intake design, which inhibited the options to upgrade the radar
The main gear retracting into the wing, meaning that under-wing drop-tanks had to be carried in a cumbersome over-wing fashion, and limited payload carrying ability
The belly-tank, making no-gear landings hazardous.
The engine configuration, while a strength in terms of low-frontal area, a weakness in terms of maintenance.

In short, a wonderful technical achievement and perhaps the pilot's aeroplane, but not perhaps as flawless as it has been revered to be.
JonnyT1978 is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2014, 23:24
  #7 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Dec 2013
Location: Elsewhere
Posts: 338
I've had a few colleagues over the years that had flown the Lightning, and got the distinct impression from them that the 'speed well in excess of Mach 2' bit was not really true in any practical sense. Comments, anyone?
itsnotthatbloodyhard is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 00:49
  #8 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Fife, Scotland
Age: 74
Posts: 247
I think the limitations of the lightning stemmed from the fact that it started as a research aircraft which was then modified into a fighter once they realised just how fast it was.

Both the Spitfire & Lightning suffered from reduced range because they were true local defense interceptors.Once the threat is identified by radar you get up there pdq and deal with it. When the missiles/ bullets are expended you get back down for a reload. Any extra fuel just inhibits the climb rate.

Pity the Air ministry never looked past this scenario, even when the advantages of the US long range fighters were evident by the end of the war.

As a display plane, nothing could touch it for sheer spectacle. The Phantom pilots put up a good fight but the extra weight meant that they could never quite beat the Lightning as a display plane.

The Gnats were a similar breed, so light that the Red Arrows displays were incredibly compact and something was always happening.
A A Gruntpuddock is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 05:47
  #9 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: North Pole
Posts: 950
Firstly, the aircraft made it's first flight sixty years ago!

It was way ahead of anything else in its day!

You can bang on all day about its short range/lack of fuel but it did the job efficiently. (Seven minutes airborne in a Mk3 but ten minutes logged!)

Its role developed over its operational life and it would have undoubtedly benefited from a weapons upgrade but that never happened!

Redtop and Firestreak were large and when fired on the edge of their envelope, could be unreliable.

It never had a six gun fit! The F2/F2a had permanent upper Adens and could fit a gun pack to replace the missile pack so a total of four Adens!

I could bang on picking holes in your thesis Fonsini, however my concentration span is no more than three minutes these days! Suffice to say that for those of us who operated the aircraft, it was a huge adrenalin fix!
newt is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 07:03
  #10 (permalink)  
Per Ardua ad Astraeus
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: UK
Posts: 18,584
Fonsini - an impressive and very thorough analysis of the beast. Yes, it was VERY good in its day but as you said its 'development' stopped while its tasks blossomed. With AAR it became a workable peacetime Air Defence platform, although the AI let it down badly.

Mach 2 and 100,000ft - a big pinch of salt. Both 'sales brochure' stuff and just not practical in a real environment and I doubt 100,000ft was 'practical' Yes most of us have 'the tie', but I never achieved M2 on a 'regular' sortie.

One of its great assets was reaction time - 2 minutes from cockpit readiness to airborne, and 10 from one's bed. Superb handling as long as you followed a few basic rules.
BOAC is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 08:28
  #11 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Livingston, Scotland
Posts: 146
Originally Posted by Fonsini View Post
Technically the F.2A could fly with a fit of 6 x 30mm ADEN, if faced with fighters I always imagined this to be the better option.
Originally Posted by newt View Post
It never had a six gun fit! The F2/F2A had permanent upper Adens and could fit a gun pack to replace the missile pack so a total of four Adens!
Forsini, I was wondering if you had in mind a theoretical possibility of adding the two Mk6 ventral tank Adens to the four F2/F2A Adens newt refers to? As another long term consumer of Lightning reading matter and an avid spotter of them at Binbrook and Gutersloh in the 1970s, I've never seen reference to this as a possibility, still less it being done.

But come to that, was the four Aden fit on the F2 and F2A ever more than a theoretical option? Was the lower gun pack ever actually fitted in preference to the two missiles? The only F2A I've ever seen with four Adens is the 92 Sqn aircraft on show at the Scottish National Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Irritatingly, it also has the missiles fitted, making it the best armed Lightning there (n)ever was...
Kluseau is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 08:41
  #12 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: North Pole
Posts: 950
The gun packs were fitted and fired on the range at Leewarden!

I know that for fact as we did it on 92 Squadron on more than one occasion! On pressing the trigger the cockpit filled with smoke and in my case the MRG button jumped out and disintegrated leaving only standby instruments!

Great fun!
newt is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 09:15
  #13 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Jan 2006
Location: Fife
Age: 83
Posts: 520
Tornado F3 could do that in 8 minutes and 12 seconds.
In 1956 I was impressed by the 12min 47sec my Hunter F1 would take to reach dry tanks at low level & full power. We weren't reheat assisted of course, so perhaps Neville Duke could have done better with the F3?
NutherA2 is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 10:12
  #14 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: london
Posts: 518
I also grew up as huge Lightning fan, having amassed many models. As a UAS member , we were treated to a viewing of the Tornado in early 82.
Mutterings among the members were that it didnt look as good as the Lightning, seem as fast or sound as good. A number of my fellow cadets were all eager to fly the beast, having heard tales of teenage Lightning drivers.
Later that year, I thought my prayers were about to be answered as I alighted from an Andover @ Binbrook and was eagerly awaiting my first glimpse of the beast. Alas we departed fairly promptly afterwards ( for reasons I have forgotten) and I never saw one in the flesh.

I know some have the Spitfire, some the Hunter, but for me (and I am sure many others), the Lightning is the ultimate British Fighter.
rolling20 is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 10:17
  #15 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: Cambridgeshire
Age: 66
Posts: 9
Design - showed a tendency to an experimental design as opposed to an operational design. The staggered engines reduced drag but servicing of the upper engine usually required removal of the lower engine.

Not true, four years as an engine man on Lightnings and never removed one to service the other.

Fuel, or rather the shortage thereof - which to be fair was the bane of most of the early jets but something that was so much more pronounced in the Lightning due to the inability to carry underwing tanks and the prodigious consumption of the Avons, 10 minutes from full to dry tanks if the pilot stayed in full reheat.

It was short of fuel and I have had to refuel on the reheat pan whilst testing. No underwing tanks, but we did fit overwing tanks.
manxexile is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 10:38
  #16 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: North Pole
Posts: 950
So there you go Fosini! From the posts so far it is apparent that there are too many myths out there! Suggest you talk to the people who know about the Lightning ie those who flew and maintained it!
newt is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 10:59
  #17 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: The Sunny Side
Posts: 0
So there you go Fosini! From the posts so far it is apparent that there are too many myths out there! Suggest you talk to the people who know about the Lightning ie those who flew and maintained it!
You should read Fonsini's original post newt, that's what he is attempting to do.

S-D
salad-dodger is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 11:02
  #18 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Hanging off the end of a thread
Posts: 15,952
July's issue of Flypast contained a spotlight on the Lightning including comparing it to its contemporaries


see back issues on

FlyPast: At the heart of aviation heritage

Also don't forget the South African one is flying again. Also the one in the USA is nearly there, it has been rebuilt to airworthy standardss and ground run, it just needs funding help to get it in the air.

see
index
NutLoose is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 11:12
  #19 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Location: North Pole
Posts: 950
I did S-D and my point is that it's so full of misinformation and myth that he would be better talking to the experts! This forum is hardly ideal if he is really seeking to find the facts and not the myth!
newt is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2014, 12:08
  #20 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Nov 2011
Location: Tarn et Garonne, Southwest France
Posts: 5,283
Obviously there are no Lightning experts here then, Newt?
Courtney Mil is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us Archive Advertising Cookie Policy Privacy Statement Terms of Service

Copyright 2018 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.