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November 2004, Archive Story



There are all sorts of extreme facts and figures to do with Lightnings (although those to do with speed, height and G have been covered in other articles in the Review. Ed). The most operational scrambles in a day from a Lightning base was 14, the most flown by a single pilot during a day was three. The most number of sorties allowed by a single pilot in any period of 24 hours was four, but I know of five being flown in a day. I am not aware of anyone flying more than five in the RAF.

The longest sorties flown were those to and from Singapore and the shortest time between take-off and landing (some ejections were not long after take-off and can't count as full sorties) was officially recorded as 5 minutes, almost without exception as the result of an emergency after take-off. The longest unrefuelled sorties were about two hours in F.2As. These were border patrols on practice Battle Flight scrambles. With straight legs of over a hundred miles flown at maximum endurance speed and gentle 30° banked turns to change heading, this was just achievable.

Although recorded as a 2 hour sortie, I only managed 1hr 58min on my attempt. Knowing I was on a practice scramble, as soon as I reached climbing speed I throttled back and cruise-climbed to 30,000ft. Throttling one engine back to idle, I flew at 0.7M with 96% or so set on the other engine and maintained a huge racetrack pattern until it was time to go home. Using a gentle 250kt descent, I broke into the circuit and landed with minimums (which was a fuel state of 900/900 at Gütersloh). I saw no point in having another shot at it, although quite unexpectedly I almost flew that long when faced with a vehicle blocking the end of the runway following a similar sortie. Planning to land on minimums, I broke cloud and saw a truck parked on the threshold. I overshot and took a 'quickie' PAR whilst it was sorted out. It turned out that the driver had stalled having crossed the lights at green, and he flooded the carbs trying to restart the engine. He didn't have the presence of mind to move forward in gear using the starter motor, and was still turning the key when help from the runway caravan arrived to push the vehicle clear.

The most hours in Lightnings flown by a pilot was over 3000; I'm not sure of the exact amount, but an ex-boss of 5 Sqn who flew most of his hours in Saudi Arabia is the record holder. The least number of hours flown by a potential qualified pilot was about one, this being the total of two dual rides before being 'chopped' on the OCU/LTF. In the RAF, no pilot has had to eject twice from a Lightning, although I'm not sure about Saudi operations. Despite the several lost to fires, there were still many pilots like myself who never had a fire warning. In nearly 2500hrs, the only warning I saw on the Standard Warning Panel (SWP) was the 'OXY' warning a few times and the 'CPR' warning once.

To the best of my knowledge the highest number of separate emergencies experienced during a single sortie was three. The unrelated incidents were a mains radio failure, an air turbine failure and a flameout in a Mk.1, although an F.2A also suffered three emergencies during a single trip. In this instance, however, it could be argued that the reheat fire warning and turbine failure experienced were as a result of the same fire. This unfortunate pilot also experienced a total radio failure and could not advise air traffic of his plight.

Once, at Leuchars, all of 23 Squadron's serviceable Mk.6s were on alert, reinforcing the QRA posture. The biggest formation I'm aware of was 19, when 19 Squadron flew a collection of their own and In Use Reserve F.2As in the summer of 1970.
Furz Lloyd

I believe that the Binbrook Wing achieved 23 Lightnings up in a loose formation at the end of July 1979 as part of their preparations to fly a massed formation of 25 Lightnings to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the type. According to Derek Palmer's book on 19 Squadron, on 13 July 1971 the Squadron launched 16 aircraft. This was the first time that a single Lightning squadron has managed to get 16 aircraft airborne at the same time. 226 OCU had of course achieved this in 1968, though they had more aircraft, and pilots, to call on. Whilst on the subject of 19 Squadron, the last ever Lightning F.2 sortie was flown on 22nd May 1974 by Wing Commander P C Vangucci, C.O. of that Squadron. He took up XN794, one of the few Lightning F.2s which remained unconverted to F.2A.

The longest serving Lightning was, of course, XP693. Making its maiden flight on 16 June 1962 as an F3, '693 made its last flight (to the date of this article, but now in 2004 having a new lease of life in South Africa) in F6 configuration on 23 December 1992, when it flew into Exeter Airport. A visit to Warton on 14 November 1992 revealed hours flown as 1161.33 in 1253 flights, the last flight date having been two days previously.

The Lightning with the least hours was XM170, which amassed a mere 14 minutes before being written off after a heavy landing and subsequent mercury spillage at the end of its first flight. The record-holder for the most hours flown was XR757, with 4316 hours to its credit. In all, Lightning flight time totalled 595,100 hours. The poorest record for operating the Lightning lies with the Kuwaiti Air Force. The fourteen Lightnings supplied to Kuwait only managed to amass a total of 6144 flying hours. The highest amount of hours was flown by 55-411 at 619 hours, whilst the least was 84 hours by 53-419, which was burnt out in a take-off accident.

Two Lightnings may have been said to have 'shot themselves down'. The first occurred on 6 February 1972 and involved 53-666, an RSAF F.53. A 30mm Aden cannon HE round exploded in the ventral gun bay, causing a fire and subsequent loss of the aircraft. Experts from the (then) Grantham-based arms manufacturer, British Manufacture and Research Company, were sent to investigate reports that the nose fuses on this particular type of round were working loose. Instances of loose fuses were indeed found, and this may, or may not, have been a contributory cause of the explosion in 53-666.

The second was F.6 XR763, 'AP' of 5 Sqn. The accident happened on 1 July 1987 whilst the Squadron was detached to Akrotiri in Cyprus for its annual APC. After the third pass at the towed target banner, the pilot, Charlie Chan, was performing his breakaway manoeuvre when the banner spreader bar wheel (which had been shot from its mounting during the third and final pass) was ingested into the air intake. Heading back to base on one engine, and with only about 2.5 miles to go to the Akrotiri runway, XR763 finally 'gave in' and the pilot was forced to abandon the aircraft.
Stewart Scott

In Gordon Moulds' 'Lightning Conversion Units', Wg Cdr MJE Swiney wrote that in 1967 it was decided to celebrate 27 years association with the City by mounting a flypast of 27 aircraft, one for each year. To acknowledge Coltishall's role in the Battle of Britain, they would include two from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, then based at Coltishall, plus 25 Lightnings flying in 5 boxes of 4 and one of 5. In the event, the weather reduced this to a token box, but on 23 May 1967 the full show got airborne, 27 Lightnings including a spare and a 'whipper-in' who peeled off on the final run-in. It was certainly the largest Lightning formation ever to have taken off from and returned to its parent base. When Wg Cdr Swiney left Coltishall for JSCC, he was presented with a superb Rex Flood painting depicting the form-up and still has his briefing notes detailing who flew in what position.

Finally, and again from Gordon Moulds' book, Wg Cdr J McLeod, who was OC Ops Wing and Chief Instructor (although not a QFI!) of 226 OCU at Coltishall from October 1969 to November 1971, tried to lead the Wing's 35 Lightnings and the Battle of Britain Flight into the air for inspection by the AOC, Air Marshal Broom. They were scrambled onto a low level VMC circuit of Norfolk when the weather clamped unexpectedly from the north-east. I don't know if anyone can tell us if this became a 'formation', but control was eventually delegated to practically every 4-ship leader and, as a result, there were eventually 35 Lightnings spread all over East Anglia. Fortunately, they all landed safely. Can anyone out there fill in more details?
Charles Ross

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