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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.

A Lightning Experience

In 1971, I was a corporal based at Strike Command Admin HQ, RAF Bentley Priory. My trade was that of Hygienist, later called Environmental Health Technician. My responsibility was to the Principal Medical Officer, AVM Sidey, with the role of undertaking occupational and environmental health inspections of a number of RAF stations in the command, RAF Coltishall being one of them.

I had visited the station more than once, so was known to the medical staff there, with whom I would usually liaise. On this occasion I arrived during lunch and went upstairs to the staff rest room to say hello to the Flight Sergeant in charge of the Medical Centre. He was a grand old boy, on his last tour of duty and returning to his native roots. I was 22, and probably looked 16, but we had a good rapport. As he awoke from his snooze, he said hello and we chatted about things in general. As I looked out from the first floor window I noticed the ATC (Air Training Corps) building almost opposite, outside of which were parked a couple of Chipmunks. I joked about this addition of some new front line fighters, and said how this had been the first aeroplane I had flown in as a RAF Halton apprentice, soon after joining in 1965. I then said (more in hope than expectation) that I wouldn’t mind a spin in one of the Lightning trainers that were on the base.

He just looked up at me and said in his Norfolk lilt, “You want to fly in a Lightning my boy? Then you shall fly in a Lightning.” I wasn’t sure how he was going to fix this, but a few minutes later he said that since lunch was over, we should go and see the MO. I knew the Senior Medical Officer, a Sqn Ldr Brodie, and felt that if anyone could swing it, it would be him. However, Brodie was on leave and instead I was wheeled into the JMO’s office to see Flt Lt Ashley; I wasn’t sure how he could achieve this miracle, he didn’t look much older than me. The Flt Sgt introduced me and said, “This is Corporal Carver, sir, the Command Hygienist, and he wants to go up in one of those Lightnings.”
“What? You want to go up in one of those? You must be f***ing mad,” said the JMO, in a wonderfully plummy accent, redolent of someone who has had a public school education? “They’ve been trying to get me up in one ever since I arrived. Are you sure?”

I replied eagerly in the affirmative. “Very well, then,” he said, and lifted up the phone. He rang the squadron headquarters and said to one of the officers there, “Ashley here, JMO. Listen, I’ve got the Command Hygienist in my office and he says that if you don’t let him go up in one of your Lightnings, he’s going to come over there and close your coffee bar.” Moments later I was told to report to 226 OCU for briefing at 09.00 the following morning.

I duly did so, and joined another young airman, one of the aircraft mechanics, who had probably been waiting a couple of years for this opportunity. I wondered for a minute (or much less if truth be told) who I had displaced, but as someone who was never based on a flying station, I wasn’t going to pass up this chance of a lifetime. We went through the safety briefing and it seemed to go in one ear and out the other as we got into our flying suits and were led out to the pair of Lightnings that would undertake a Practice Interception (PI) exercise. I was used to wearing a static seat belt when driving, but I’ve never been strapped in so tight in my life – what could this mean?

My aircraft was to be the Interceptor and once the other aircraft had taken off, we did the same. I had never before flown in a jet, let alone one like this. The climb to 33,000 feet was awesome, even without re-heat, and I watched the ground fast disappearing. We leveled out and were guided to a particular location where we were expected to intercept the other Lightning. We didn’t, and although my radar screen was covered, the pilot’s wasn’t. A brief communication ensued. “I’m here Bawdsey, but I’m on my own. Come on pull your finger out,” or words to that effect. We never did find the other Lightning, and then it was our turn to be the intruder.

Already above Mach 1, he turned tightly to port and the G-force was more than a little noticeable. Now I knew why I was strapped in so tightly. A few minutes later, we were in position and guess what, we were intercepted. It was at this point that we turned for home, and began our descent in formation. I shall never forget this. One can fly all of one’s life as a civilian and never (hopefully) see another aircraft in the sky. I did once in the USA and I’m convinced it would have been classed as an air miss, because it was certainly never intentional, and it was damned scary, especially as it passed us going the other way. On this occasion, it was wonderful, and the other young erk and I waved to each other like a couple of excited school kids. To see another jet fighter on your starboard wingtip as you descend from more than 30,000 feet, still doing about 300-400 knots is truly memorable.

What was a little disconcerting at one point was the reading of the altimeter, as it rolled down to below zero feet, until I was told that it was set at the height of the runway. Nevertheless, to skim in over the North Sea was exhilarating, but not quite as much as what was to come. We came up to the coast, climbed a little and very soon I could see the runway ahead. I thought about what a fantastic experience it had all been but now it was coming to an end until suddenly, and without warning, we broke left as the other Lightning broke right and the G-force kicked in again. A quick 360 degree turn and we finally came in to land.

I can see that for any of the Lightning Boys, this would have been daily fare, and probably taken for granted, but for me I’ve never been so thrilled, or felt so privileged in my life. My eternal thanks go to all the players who made this unforgettable episode possible, and no…..I never did close the coffee bar.

Dennis Carver


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