Monday, July 19, 2010


I picked this up at a book fair earlier in the year. This book was published in 1978. It is more than 30 years out of date, introductory in nature, and frankly, has very little in it in my particular areas of interest that I don't already know, or haven't seen somewhere else.

I admit, I bought it only for the cover illustration:

As covers go, its a pretty good one. The caption says "An English Electric Lightning travelling at 1,300 mph". For a not so brief history of the aircraft, here is the wiki link. The Lightning served as an interceptor with the RAF from the early 60's to the late 80's and is one of my favourite aircraft. It has character in abundance, being completely spectacular in some areas, and almost fatally flawed in others. One of the spectacular bits was the performance; a Lightning was capable of reaching the cruising altitude of an airliner at 36'000 feet in less than 3 minutes from a standing start on the ground, and could then accelerate to Mach 2. Thats an impressive stat now; in the 1950's it was close to science fiction. The unofficial height record for the type is around 88,000 feet. For an aircraft that was initially designed close to sixty years ago it remains serious performance, even compared to more modern stuff.

Note for Wellingtonians: in addition to building awesome jets, English Electric also built, among other things, the older transmetro commuter trains (the ones that used to be painted red, date back to the 40's and 50's, and are still in use).

The caption is short on detail, but just looking at the picture I can tell it is an early or mid-production Lightning, an F.1, F.2, or F.3 because of the single fin on the belly bulge (the ultimate F.6 version had a bigger bulge with twin fins).

The picture was probably taken from another Lightning, since that would have been the only other aircraft the RAF had that was able to keep up. I'm not sure about the '1,300 mph' claim, not because it was impossible (it was capable of 1,500), but only because it would have been a lot easier to formate at a lower speed, then light the burners for the shot, plus with the Lightning's famously limited fuel capacity it would have given more opportunites for the photo (Lightnings never travelled at 1,300 mph for long).

Nevertheless, it is a cool pic, and I like it because it sums up the aircraft quite nicely, unconventional looks married to awesome power and performance, and reminiscent of a long gone era, and the sort of imagery I loved as a kid (and still do).

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