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January 2005, Archive Story



The following article is the first of two by Wing Commander Roland 'Bee' Beamont, the first President of the Lightning Association and Chief Test Pilot of the Lightning Development Programme, 1954-68. They formed part of his last book 'Test To The Limit', and we were proud to have been given permission to let them see the first light of day in the Lightning Review. It goes without saying that Bee's book is required reading for all serious Lightning enthusiasts. The Story of the Month for January is ‘T.4 Display Flying’.

Farnborough air displays are not events in which technical defects are a normal occurrence. Immense effort is put into preparing demonstration aircraft to the highest possible standard but, of course, there is always the newness factor, and many entries are in the earliest stages of their test programmes with as yet unproven reliability. Nevertheless, in over ten consecutive years of demonstrating at Farnborough, apart from reheat ignition unreliability in the early years with the P.1B Lightning, I only encountered two embarrassing arisings.

The first occurred on the first public showing of the English Electric B3/45 Canberra, when an under-stressed flight test instrumentation crate fell out of the bomb-bay when the doors were opened at the top of a half-loop, and took the stbd engine panel instrument readings with it.

The second was even more exciting! On 7 September 1959 the Lightning T.4 prototype XL628 was shown at Farnborough for the first time and, as this was the fourth 'Lightning' year at Farnborough, we felt confident in our knowledge of how to present the aircraft in relation to the conditions and environment at Farnborough. One of the factors always to be considered at that time was the smooth runway surface which, with heavy tyre rubber deposit in dry weather, could become very slippery when the rain came, which it generally did some time during the display week.

Accordingly, during recent weeks at Warton I had explored with engineers the practicability of air-streaming the drag-chute before touch-down and had proved in practice (on the P.1 WG760) that with careful judgment it could be streamed short of the runway threshold at about 50' resulting in a smooth nose-up trim-change and flare for touch-down. It worked like a charm and saved about 200 yards on the landing run, but one had to be careful that the streaming speed was not in excess of the 'weak-link' safety speed!

So, after a good practice on the Sunday I put the trainer XL628 through its planned routine on the Monday opening day and then, on short Finals in a light drizzle of rain, passing the Black sheds and the Pilots Tent, I pulled the drag 'chute handle at 50' and 155 KIAS. There was a jerk, the nose began to pitch up into the flare, the main wheels touched down and then - nothing! The 'chute had either self-jettisoned or candled I thought, and I was left with a 'chute-less T.4 now well past the President's Tent and still at around 140 KIAS on the slippery runway.

The remaining runway ahead looked very short and here the Dunlop Maxaret ABS wheel brakes had to do their best. This they did, but as we rapidly approached the perimeter track turn-off at the Laffan's Plain end we were still doing about 40 kts and were quite clearly not going to turn off or stop before the end of the runway.

This now became a damage limitation exercise - I did not know just how rough the overshoot area was, but I could see only too clearly the maze of approach-lighting poles that we were now running straight into. So, with the last of the steering energy from the hot brakes I tried to steer the Lightning between the first set of poles and then, in a cloud of dust and dirt from the rough ground and missing all the poles, we eventually made it back onto the firm perimeter road, thankfully out of sight of the enthralled crowd.

Though somewhat embarrassed at this display of incompetence, I was relieved to find at dispersal that no damage had resulted from our 'off-road' excursion other than stone-cut tyres, and that the drag 'chute failure had been caused by 'pinching' of the cable between the tail bumper and the runway - I had cut it too fine with the AOA (angle of attack)!

All in all not a satisfactory day I felt, although the T.4 display had apparently been well received - but the event was well summarised later when the C-in-C Fighter Command, who had been watching his new Lightning supersonic trainer from the President's Tent, observed, "I wondered if T.4's always land like that!"

'Bee' Beamont

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