Another Very Successful RAF Aircraft.
The English Electric P1 That Became the Lightning.
A classic example from the glory years of aircraft development.
I remember the Lightning as the English Electric P1. This was the prototype that took to the air on the 4th of August 1954, piloted by Roland Beamont, English Electric's chief test pilot. It was Big news! The P1 created a lot of excitement to us young aircraft enthusiasts as we heard on the radio and read in Flight magazine of it's achievements and potential.
Powered by Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire engines, on its third flight it exceeded Mach Number 1 in level flight, the first British aircraft to do so. Reheat (afterburner) had not been used; supercruise was here a hell of a long time before the Americans and their ATF (Advanced Tactical Fighter) programme!
RAF Lightnings Visit Church Fenton.
I well remember on a visit to Farnborough Air Show in 1955 seeing the P1 introduced to the public for the first time. The P.1s, while recognisably Lightning ancestors, had a number of differences in appearance. Most obviously, they had yet to receive a radar, and the nose intake was egg-shaped rather than round; looking like a basking shark's mouth. No ventral fuel tanks were fitted to start with and the vertical tail was substantially smaller.
My only experience with the Lightning during my RAF service were indeed lightning visits by squadrons, numbers long forgotten, to RAF Church Fenton in the late fifties.
This usually only involved waving marshalling bats at them as they parked where they wanted. Then rushing about with chocks and starter trolleys. Perhaps refuelling. Still, a bit of a change from the usual Avro Anson or prop Percival Provost from our Station Flight.
Lightnings at RAF Wattisham.
RAF Wattisham was the home to two squadrons of Lightnings, No.29 squadron and No.111 Squadron. Andy Anderton, our intrepid 74th Entry Armourer, serviced their weapons until the Lightnings were replaced by RAF Phantoms in 1975. This was a period in the middle of the Cold War so there was good reason to keep aircraft fully armed and on standby ready to be scrambled at a minutes notice.
Red Top and Firestreak Guided Missiles on the Lightning.
The Lightnings had Red Top Missile and Firestreak guided missiles. Andy reports that he was primarily employed on the Red Tops but occasionally had to service Firestreaks if the regular team were on leave etc. He hated these old missiles, they were held together with hundreds of screws that had luting, a type of putty, pressed into all the cracks and Joints to make them water proof, once the luting had hardened they were difficult to dismantle.
Reassembly was just as bad because all the old luting had to be removed and then replaced with fresh once all the screws were back in place. On the Red Top however, all the sections (guidance, warhead, motor) were all connected with torque loaded clamping rings and seals, a much easier job.
111 Squadron and the Wattisham Lightnings Song.
Quote from a letter from ex-Brat John lawn (72nd) to the English Electric Lightning Website: "To introduce myself, I joined the RAF as a RAF Halton Apprentices in Sept 1952, training as an 'Engine Fitter' and I spent the last years of my service, from April '63 to Feb '66, serving on No.111 Squadron at Wattisham. Initially we had Mk.1A's, including the Airfix Lightning XM192 and a T.4, converting to Mk.3's and T5 during early 1965. My diary for Jan 1 1965 indicates that 'A' XM184, 'N' XM214, R and J 'flew away', and for Jan 4 1965 'working on Mk.3 XP741'.
In the early 60's there was a local man who made quite a name for himself singing and recording his own songs under the name of the Singing Postman. I don't expect you've heard of him! (Oh yes we have - we all remember Hev Yew Gotta Loight Boy). His real name is Alan Smethurst and I think he now lives in a Salvation Army home in Grimsby (He died in 1972?). Anyway I enclose a tape with a song he wrote and recorded in about 1964 about the Wattisham Lightnings called the Wattisham Lightnings Song. Hope you like it.
John Lawn (72nd Entry?).
Lightnings Move to RAF Binbrook.
Both No.29 Squadron and No.111 Squadron were disbanded on 31st December 1974 but reformed at RAF Coningsby as a Phantom squadron on 1 January 1975. Their Lightnings were moved to RAF Binbrook. In October 1965 the English Electric Lightning's had arrived at RADF (RADar Find) Binbrook for a re-born No 5 Squadron, joined by a second squadron, No 11 Squadron, in 1972. The Lightning squadrons remained until May 1985 - the last in RAF service.
Strange Story of Yorkshire Alien Abduction.
(From BBC News Website 29th May 2006.)
Britain's most plausible alien abduction happened off the East Yorkshire coast, according to some UFOlogists (nut cases). The incident happened in September 1970. Foxtrot 94 , an RAF Lightning fighter from RAF Binbrook crashed into the North Sea. UFOlogists claim its pilot, Captain William Schaffner was abducted by an alien spacecraft after he'd scrambled to intercept it off Flamborough Head.
The Lightning aircraft was recovered three months later from the seabed. Remarkably, it was virtually undamaged. The cockpit canopy was shut but there was no sign of Captain Schaffner's body.
The unusual condition of the wreckage fueled UFOlogists speculations of an alien abduction.
(No surprise there then)! The UFO casebook Website makes it even more confusing.
Let's Hear Your Stories.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any stories about this aircraft; humorous, technical or historical. Please use the Feedback Form to contact me briefly, in the first instance.
Joe Bosher (74th).