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Development

At the very end of the Second World War, the English Electric Aviation Company was contracted to develop the design of Britain's first jet bomber, the B3/45, later to become the Canberra. The design was so successful that early researches indicated that, in terms of altitude and manoeuvrability, this aircraft would be able to outperform all fighters in existence or known to be in build. Even in terms of speed, it would outperform everything with the possible exception of the new North American P86 Sabre.

Lightning P1So, having created their own problem and with nightmare visions of similar Soviet bombers coming out of the East in unreachable and therefore invulnerable waves, in 1947 the Ministry of Supply issued Experimental Requirement 103 for a manned research aircraft capable of exploring transonic and supersonic speeds. Both English Electric and Fairey Aviation submitted proposals, the former being designated the P.1 and the latter the FD.2.

W E W Petter, then chief engineer of English Electric made a few sketches on the back of the proverbial envelope. The delta wing configuration was examined, but Petter rejected the delta as a complete wing and decided that the new aircraft should have swept wings, with the rear part of the ‘delta’ being a moveable tailplane. It was also decided to include provision for weapons systems from the start, in contrast to the FD.2, which was a pure research vehicle.

Lightning P1The ER103 design study was sufficiently impressive for English Electric to be awarded the contract for two prototypes and a structural-test airframe. The early prototypes evolved into the Lightning, an aeroplane which was to span the time from when the Spitfire was our primary front-line fighter to the end of the Cold War. The hitherto invulnerable bomber threat had become easy prey for the finest point-defence interceptor the world had ever seen, and the English Electric Lightning flew into the heritage of the British people.

The Lightning was the only British designed and built fighter capable of speeds in excess of Mach 2 to serve with the Royal Air Force. It evolved at a time when Britain led the way in aviation and it suffered at the hands of the government in the same way as did the industry which had created it. There is no doubt that the Lightning will go down in the history books as another classic British fighter. This site is a tribute to the Lightning, to those who served on the Lightning squadrons and to the enthusiasts who have kept airframes either running or in airworthy condition.

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