Lightning - Into the Blue

24 x 18 inches,    oil on canvas,    2011

An English Electric Lightning soars towards the stratosphere on a routine interception mission during the Cold War.  

The painting was inspired by a recent visit to the RAF museum at Cosford, where an English Electric Lightning hangs vertically in the Cold War Exhibition Hall, above the V Bombers and other aircraft of that period..  This painting is representative of the English Electric Lightning F1 version of the aircraft in 1960.    

click on image for close up of aircraft

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On the page below is an extract from the RAF Museum's Cold War Exhibition website describing some attributes of the aircraft:

The Lightning aircraft was the RAF’s first sustained supersonic aircraft, and it is the only British designed and built fighter capable of flying at Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound).   Built as an interim solution, the Lightning’s origins can be traced back to ideas submitted by the design team at English Electric Limited, in response to an Experimental Requirement (ER103) issued by the Ministry of Supply in 1947. This was for a research aircraft to explore transonic and supersonic speed and handling. An extensive programme of development flying and trials was undertaken, involving the SB.5, built by Shorts, to test aerodynamic theories. The prototype, P1 flew for the first time on 4 August 1954.  The Lightning F1 finally entered service with 74 Squadron in 1960, practically doubling the maximum speeds of Fighter Command. The aircraft’s acceleration coupled with its phenomenal rate of climb contributed greatly to its effectiveness as an all weather interceptor fighter and its air defence role. The Lightning went on to serve with the RAF for 28 years in a number of geographical areas officially leaving front line service on 30 April 1988.

As a supersonic interceptor the Lightning aircraft is known for its acceleration and rate of climb. One unidentified 74 Squadron pilot has quipped that on his first flight he was “with it all the way until I let the brakes off “. Before in flight refuelling was possible, the Lightning only flew for short periods of time. Flt Lt Peter Vangucci has commented that the “F1 was always short of fuel and you always had to think about your recovery”.

The Lightning was a match for its contemporaries in terms of manoeuvrability. Sqdn Ldr Wally Hill found that “compared to the Javelin FAW9 the Lightning was as expected, a revelation. The power and manoeuvrability an eye opener and to me it became simply the best aircraft I had flown”. Experienced display flying pilot, Wg Cdr Ken Goodwin has described the Lightning as offering “a much wider range of aerobatic manoeuvres through its amazing power to weight ratio which could reach nearly 1:1”. Wing Cdr Martin Bee describes the Lightning as a “wonderful display aircraft” and its “aerodynamic handling” as “impeccable”.

Diana Barnato Walker has described breaking through the sound barrier:
“I went downhill in a shallow descent…oh life was grand! The mach meter moved up, the instruments went haywire and the compressibility ‘cobbles’ duly bumped then went as we passed through the sound barrier and the instruments came back to their normal readings again…all was quiet and I mean quiet…all our sound was left behind us”

A responsive, tolerant aircraft it nevertheless demanded a lot of work from its pilot. Sqdn Ldr Tony Paxton has commented that “flying the Lightning is a pleasure…” but it had to become “second nature very quickly” because of the amount of work the pilot had to undertake in a small amount of time. Flt Lt Peter Vangucci has described the workload as “pretty horrendous”.

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