Perhaps the most famous aircraft to come from English Electric, the unique design of the Lightning originated in a proposal in 1947. The prototype first flew in 1954 and in August of that year it became the first British aircraft to break the sound barrier in level flight. By 1968 when production ceased, 339 Lightnings had been built. It was the standard British fighter for over twenty years and was used by both the Kuwait and Saudi Arabian Air Forces. In 1971 the RAF Lightning squadrons began disbanding one by one and the Lightning phased out until the last one left front line service in 1988. Built for the Cold War, they lasted almost until the fall of the Berlin Wall.Lightnings are hugely popular preserved aircraft today, on display in museums throughout Britain, the USA and other parts of the world. The Lightning can be seen roaring to life at Bruntingthorpe and in South Africa several still fly regularly. Time has been kind to the Lightning and its design is still sleek and purposeful. While it will never be used in anger again, the many preserved examples remain to remind us of the part played by the Lightning in the Cold War.Martin W. Bowman is the author of over 100 books on military and commercial aviation as well as photographic books on a variety of subjects. He has participated in German and USAFE air/land and night air/drop missions on C-160 and C-130 Hercules aircraft, and is a frequent contributor to aviation jornal in Great Britain, the USA and Australia. In 1999 he was appointed an official researcher for DERA.
The English Electric Lightning Story