Site Updated:

Lightning Tales

Formerly Story of the Month

New Tales will be published on an as and when available basis. It would be greatly appreciated if readers could supply new material for inclusion in this page. If you have any Lightning Aircraft related tales that you wish to tell, please email them here

To keep you going while new material is collected,  below is the archived stories index. Using the links you can access all the previous Story of the Month pages that have been published on the site since it was taken over by the Lightning Association.

March 2015


As Lightning enthusiasts, we are all aware that fuel was never an excess commodity. It was not that we didn't carry a lot, it was simply the rate of usage. I do, however, recall one particular occasion when I really did have fuel to spare. At the time I was stationed in Scotland (no prizes for guessing where), we were in the midst of a night flying phase and I was scheduled to lead a pair for a mixed sortie of PIs (Practice Interceptions) followed by a high level cross country.

In order to achieve this we were fitted with overwing tanks. They were fuelled with a nominal load on the ground, just a couple of hundred pounds to prove the transfer system prior to take off. I briefed the sortie and in due course the pair took off in stream for a climb to 30,000 feet and a RV with the tanker after we had carried out a couple of PIs.

The RV was achieved some 40 minutes after take off, at which time the tanker captain informed us that only one hose was available. This posed no problem, as we both had plenty of fuel and we were quite close to base. Night tanking always added that extra bit of interest to the sortie. My personal preference
was for the tanker to leave its floodlights off (when used they lit up the under surface of the tanker's wings and ruined night vision). This left just the tanker's navigation lights and the small triangle of blue lights on the basket. In some ways tanking was easier in the dark, as one was not supposed to look at the refuelling probe when trying to engage the basket. In the dark you couldn't see it anyway, so it was one less thing to be concerned about.

As lead, I elected to take the hose first, filled to capacity and, standing off, called my No.2 in. He too successfully engaged the hose only to discover that his aircraft would not take on any fuel. Hose contact was broken and remade three of four times but all with the same result. I had little choice then but to send him home while I decided what to do with some 14,000 lbs of fuel. The tanker captain invited me to stay with him for a while as he started his run for home base, so that once I had used some of my fuel I could engage the hose again just to make sure that the tanker feed system was OK. This I did, but only took on a few hundred pounds as I already had more fuel than I knew what to do with.

The time was now approaching 0030 hours and I had a comfortable two and a half hours of fuel to use up. I then had a brain-wave (well that's what I thought it was). My aircraft had a radio compass fitted, so with the DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) working well I was equipped to fly airways (one has to have two separate systems of fixing position in civil airways). So, sorting through my in-flight documents I placed the required doc on the aircraft coaming while I tanked for the second time, proving that the tanker systems were OK, then bidding farewell to the tanker. I informed military radar of my intentions and changed over to a civilian frequency to call London Airways in order to file an in-flight 'Flight Plan'.

This proved to be a little more difficult than anticipated for, having selected the required document to extract the necessary information for joining airways, I had placed it on the coaming while I was testing the tanker system for the second time. I had not considered the fact that these documents were of the type that have a glued spine. Yes, you may have already guessed what comes next. The aircraft heating system had melted the binding and I was suddenly presented with a loose leaf version. The majority of the pages were now in full flight around the cockpit. A few wild grabs secured the bulk of them and, as luck would have it, I actually found the right pages, all this action taking place whilst I carried on a calm conversation with London Airways control (If only they knew!)

Eventually all was in order and I was able to inform London Airways of my requirements and intentions. I advised that I wished to join at Clapton Beacon and then transit across to the west coast, fly up to Prestwick and then return to military control, all this to be carried out at FL150. This would use my excess fuel up quite nicely. The London controller was more than a little surprised when I called him up and took some convincing that I was a 'fast jet' (we never gave out our type of aircraft) though my speed finally made him realise that I really was.

The flight was something of a one armed paper hanging act, using the radar to keep an ever watchful eye out for other aircraft, tuning the radio compass to the required frequencies (none of the modern digital kit, what was known as the coffee grinder type, usually better at picking up Radio 2 than the navigation beacon) but the DME was particularly good, locking on every time at the first attempt and, to make life really easy, the auto pilot was put to good use. Just as well, bearing in mind my unique edition of the in-flight document. All of this coupled with a fairly continuous conversation with London

Airways control ensured that I stayed wide awake. It was quite a relief to finally exit from civil control and to return to the relative sanity of military radar. Now in the Prestwick area and back at a more civilized height of 35,000 feet, I still had fuel to spare, so popped off to Lossiemouth for a practice diversion, shot a couple of approaches there and finally returned to home base. None of this very exciting, but it was a good demonstration of how long and how far the Lightning would and could go once at height and fitted with overwing tanks. I finally completed the sortie, having been airborne for nearly three and a half hours, not as long as some; I recall flying from Warton to Jeddah in 5 hours 40 minutes, but that's another tale.........

Brian Carroll

Return to Top 

Copyright © 2010 The Lightning Association.  Designed by David Evans