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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

One of my great regrets is that I never saw a Lightning take off.

– By regular Samizdata commenter Nick M. I hate to rub it in, Nick, but I did, as a young kid at RAF Mildenhall, Suffolk, on a day out with my old man (RAF navigator in the 1950s). A totally awesome sight and noise: my ears are still probably ringing with the impact.

Here’s a picture of one of these bad-ass beauties.

38 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Frederick Davies

    Mr Pearce,

    I have nothing against the first supercruise fighter plane in history, but in that photograph it looks like a pregnant whale on stilts. This(Link) one is a lot better, and this(Link) one too.

  • Sunfish

    Probably not the same thing, but I remember, when I was a kid, seeing Stratofortress doing a split-S less than a thousand feet above me.

    Wow. Just. Freaking. Wow.

  • permanentexpat

    Thought you meant this, at first:

    We found out what happened when the Lightning shed its tail and we worked during the whole war to get 15 more knots [28 km/h] of speed out of the P-38. …

    Saw many….& very pretty.

  • knirirr

    I saw some at RAF Binbrook whilst there as part of the CCF, which would have been only a few years before that base was closed down.
    I’m sure that I saw a Vulcan there also.

  • Winger

    I always liked the unique (they were, weren’t they?) above-wing drop tanks. While they looked far too cool, I always wondered what happened when they were dropped in flight.

  • colin

    You still can see a Lightning (and Buccaneer) take off if you go to South Africa. You can fly in them if you have the money.


  • 1327

    A few years ago I worked with a colleague who in a previous career had worked on the Lightning’s electronics. He reckoned it was well ahead of its time in the mid-1960’s consisting of a analog computer and several displays. The trouble was it required so much electrical current it added to the Lightnings rather rapid fuel consumption.

    Incidentally if anyone wants a souvenir then I believe Anchor Supplies at Nottingham still has several IR seeker heads from the Red Top missiles that were fitted on Lightnings and very beautiful they are to.

  • William

    The Atmosphere edition of Earth: The Power of the Planet (27/11) featured a Lightning of the South African Air Force thundering through the stratosphere. It was a marvellous sight to behold. If you can catch a repeat it is well worth watching.

  • Nick M

    You lucky, lucky bugger. There is a company in the RSA that does joy-rides and has a number of T5s (the side-by side twin seaters). Handy for those of us who aren’t qualified on the definitive F6 (knowing SI as I do, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone was…). Hell’s teeth, not only the first in supercruise, the first to pull a 9G turn. Hell, Mid may wax lyrical about his beloved F-106s but for me it’s always the English Electric Lightning Interceptor – four words to give us all a case of the screaming hijabs. Those Americans may go for their wasp-waisted (area-ruled to the technical) Convair Darts but for me it’s always the beer-bellied Lightning.

    Sublime on the towers of my skiey bowers,
    Lightning my pilot sits;
    In a cavern under is fettered the thunder…

    – Shelley.

    Now, where is my P1154, it’s raining and I’ve got to go to the shops.

    More seriously (and what proceeded was very, very, serious), I would like to make a request of the Samizdatistas to do whatever they can to publicize and support this this.

    Please read the whole thing. It is topped and tailed very oddly but the charity Mr & Mrs Clarkson are now fronting is well worth our support. I know I probably shouldn’t exploit Perry et al’s largesse for an MSM plug but I make an exception here. Please read it.

    PS The P-38 was also a very good fighter indeed. Richard Bong flew one and became the USAAF ace of aces. I hope to hell the F-35 lives up to it’s illustrious name.

  • Nick Timms

    I also saw a British Electric Lighting take off. Incredible sight. It was at Farnborough airshow and I was within 100 yards of it when it started its run. Blink and you would miss it, they are sooooo quick (and loud) and I saw a lot of fighters while growing up as my dad was an RAF fighter instructor.

  • “…seeing Stratofortress doing a split-S less than a thousand feet above me.”

    That is impossible. There is no way in the world I can believe that.

    I don’t know what you saw, but you never saw a B-52 executing a split-S at even a whole one thousand feet AGL. Even if the airframe could stand it (which might be possible) I doubt very much whether that maneuver in that airplane could fit into five thousand feet. Even its little brother, the B-47, couldn’t do that.

    (BTW: I might have mentioned this here before, but one of the most impressive aerial displays I ever saw was put on by an RAF Vulcan at Barksdale AFB, in the summer of 1972. In fact, I’m pretty sure that that was the largest airplane I ever saw in an aerobatic display. The word “aerobatic”, here, describes extreme pitch and roll-angles: the airplane was never inverted. Nonetheless, that thing was just beautiful, and I’ll never forget it.)

  • nostalgic

    I have seen Lightnings take off several times – the last few times at RAF Abingdon. An absolutely awesome sight (hard on the eardrums too!) Its only problem was that in getting to the intercept area so qiuickly it expended so much fuel that it could only stay on target for about a minute.

  • RAB

    I’ve seen a B 52 and a Harrier too
    I’ve seen a Spitfire and a Hurricane go by
    There was that F16 and that Hawk training machine
    That came past so close
    I thought I was toast
    and swear I could see the smile in his eye
    But I never done seen
    That English Electric fly
    Sung to the tune of…

  • Noel C

    Thanks for stirring some memories Johnathan, I was lucky enough to go to nearly every Mildenhall airshow of the eighties as a kid and it was wonderful. The finest military aircraft in the world accompanied by laid back american servicemen selling hotdogs from oil drum barbecues with import coke. The greatest antidote to leftism the world has ever seen.

  • Rob

    I was very pleased when an old school friend bought the last Vulcan and by taking it to his airfield in Leicestershire saved it from being scrapped. It’s a pity our politicians couldn’t have found a few quid to preserve such a vital part of our aviation heritage. At least that story has a happy ending unlike the fate of the TSR2. As a child growing up in the 60s, I just didn’t like the look of the Lightening. The TSR2 looked spectacular though. The website linked to above tells the grim story of what happened to a great aircraft that was never built. I can remember, even as a young child, the deep sense of betrayal that I and many others felt when this project was cancelled. Perhaps it was one of those formative moments in my life that taught me never to trust politicians.

  • RAB

    Completely agree Rob
    Wedgie Benn sank both of my faves of the time
    TSR 2 and Pirate radio…
    So you have friends who buy Vulcans?
    Er . What you doing this weekend? 🙂

  • I had the pleasure of seeing a Vulcan do a rocket assisted take-off at Teesside airshow in the 80s. That 20 seconds of unadulterated power and noise probably released enough carbon to raise global temperatures by a degree or so.


  • 1968 at Farborough – I saw a Lightning takeoff and immediately go into a vertical climb that went on and on till it hit the cloudbase.

    Which shows just how hot a jet can be when it only carries enough fuel to be a point-defence interceptor, heir to the Spitfire legacy.

  • Ian Bennett

    There’s a Lightning parked in a garage forecourt on the A38 a few miles east of Liskeard in Cornwall. You can see it on Google Maps. I’ve driven past it countless times, but have no idea what it’s doing there (other than ‘not a lot’).

  • Sunfish

    I may be wrong about the maneuver: a more-or-less level 180-degree turn, tighter than I would have expected from something that looked so much like an airliner.

    I’m at least little confident about the distance, though. Three football fields, give or take, it sure looked like.

  • Nick M

    A B-52 doesn’t look like an airliner. That’s blasphemy, Sunfish. You really don’t want me to enumerate the points…

    The wing-fuselage mating of the B-52 is the strongest structure ever on an aircraft so it wouldn’t surprise me that it can pull a hell of a turn. Hell’s teeth they are slated to fly past 2040 and are the very definition of Teddy’s “big stick”. I am suddenly hearing the animals come in two by two. Hurrah! But, while a mighty beast, it ain’t no Vulcan. Admittedly the Vulcan was merely a medium bomber but with that wonderfully low wing-loading and admirable thrust/weight ratio (in the B2 at least) it could dance like a fighter.

    I just knew someone would bring-up TSR-2. All I have to say about that is “Harold-bloody-Wilson”. What most people forget though is the Fairey Delta. When the suits canceled that M. Dassault laughed his ass off. If it hadn’t been for that cancellation the IAF might have pannelled the rag-heads in ’67 in British, not French, fighters. Doubt it would’ve made much difference to the Egyptians because the 30mm Aden cannon is very similar to the 30mm DEFA (both based upon a German WWII design).

    The Lightning ugly? Huh? Well, yes it is but then so is the Apache. So ugly it’s beautiful. I know the AH-58 was prettier and super-cool but it was canned as was the wonderful P1154 (Mach 1.6+ Harrier).

    Zoe, yes… The Lightning was designed purely to protect the V-Bomber fields and as such it was a poor concept. It’s belly grew over the years as the need for greater range was realized. It has been the curse of British combat aircraft since the dawn of aviation that they don’t have the legs. It’s appalling. The Tornado IDS always goes to war with it’s “Hindenburg” external tanks. For this reason I rate the P-51 Mustang higher than the Spitfire. As they said in the 40s, the Mustang can’t do everything the Spitfire can but it can do it over Berlin. If we’d had a long range fighter in WWII and therefore been able to carry out day-bombing over Germany we’d have beaten Hitler much more quickly. The Americans almost did it from the air by bombing strategic industries such as ball-bearings.

    To all of ya. I can do no more than recommend “Full circle” by Johnnie Johnson or Geoffrey Wellum’s “First Light”. Or, if you’re in Kent just buy a pint of Spitfire* at the White Hart…

    Rob. Would that be XH-558?

    *They almost named the plane the Supermarine “Shrew”. Spitfire was seen as being verging on the obscene. Grumman had the same problem with the Tomcat. They’d wanted to name a plane that since the 40s but it took them till the 70s to convince the Navy the name didn’t have “connotations”. Any Time Baby.

  • Rob

    RAB – Probably Christmas Shopping 😉
    Nick M – Yes, XH558.

  • I work right next to an Air National Guard base and 2 times a day we get F-16’s or F-18’s taking off. The most impressive thing tho is if you catch an afterburner takeoff at night. Its a little like watching what you might imagine an impacting asteroid would look like except that it travels UP! The other interesting thing is that we are close enough to hear the hydraulic whine of the gear being retracted.

  • John K

    Was Duncan Sandys a Russian agent or just a stupid bastard? It had to be one or the other.

    In the 1950’s Britain had an aircraft industry which could produce three different V bombers as well as a plane like the Lightning. Only Britain could destroy a legacy of excellence such as that.

  • Sunfish: I wouldn’t have doubted that you saw something dramatic, but a split-s is a very specific thing. That’s a course-reversal in which the airplane is rolled inverted and then pitched so that it pulls through the bottom of a loop. It’s a half-roll at the top of a half-loop. I was trained to fly in a 7KCAB Citabria. This is a two-seat (tandem) single-engine (recip) aerobatic trainer with a 1650 lb. max gross weight. I got to take several aerobatic rides in that airplane (“aerobatic” having precise technical definition here: we had to wear parachutes according to federal regulation). If I had ever suggested a split-s in that little airplane at 1000 ft. AGL, my instructor would have reached up and yanked my ponytail right out of my head. The very idea of something like that with a half-million pound airplane the size of a ’52 is instantly horrifying.

    Did you ever see the video of Lt. Col. Bud Holland piling-up Czar 52? Have a look. The crash occurs right at the end of that clip. Czar 52 was a B-52H of the 92nd Bomb Wing, and Holland drilled it at Fairchild AFB in 1994. He rolled into a turn at about 300 feet AGL, with spectacular result. There were no survivors. Holland pushed his roll to 90 degrees, and that airplane promptly gave up every inch of that altitude in about five seconds.

    To this day, it’s still amazing to consider Tex Johnston rolling the Boeing 707 prototype back in 1955. Johnston was an exceptional aviator, though, with balls of steel. No normal person would even think about it.

  • steve

    Cor this brings back a few memories, I saw one take off at the Speke Air show, when I was about 8 (1970ish) but what I really remember is it doing a low pass over the crowd, it flew straight over me, the noise was possibly the loudest thing I have ever heard – save maybe for Motorhead circa 1978.

  • Tony: I once watched a pair of F-8 Crusaders launching at NAS Dobbins (Atlanta). It was right at dusk, and perfect for afterburner viewing. Those things roared off with tails of blue fire as long as the airplanes themselves, and the sound was just hellish. This was about 1966 or so, and in memory it’s still one of the most vivid aviation pictures that I ever gathered with my own eyes.

    You know, the modern high-bypass turbofans are very impressive in their performance, but for the sheer gut-wrench on spectators, there is nothing like the old turbojets. The J-79 was an amazing beast. It’s the main reason why I miss the Phantoms.

    (I was an Air Force brat. Did I mention that I spent a lot of time as a kid sitting around watching jets?)

  • Nick M

    Billy Beck,
    Would it be OK if one day we had Vulcan Mindmeld. The LTV Crusader – the Migmaster – is an especial fave of mine.

    Let’s kick the tyres and light the fires.

  • “The Last of The Gunfighters”.

    The ‘Sader was something really special.

    “When you’re out of F-8’s, you’re out of fighters.”

  • RAB

    I now pronounce you both
    Man and Machine…
    You may kiss the joystick. 🙂

  • {hah!} I might, if I could ever get that close to one.

    It’s funny: it’s really only now looking back at history that I realize how special that time was. I kind of took it for granted at the time, the way kids do, but I don’t think I know anyone else in my meatspace life who knows what an F-8 is, except for my brothers.

    I used to hang around Base Operations at Barksdale, around ’71-72. Like: I could sit on a chair about ten feet away from where B-52 pilots signed for their airplanes before they walked out the door straight onto the flight-line. I would often plonk my narrow little ass right on the asphalt outside that door to watch stuff come & go. I remember a transient A-7 pulling up and parking fairly oddly with its nose about fifty feet away from where I sat. It shut down, ground crew chocked it, and the pilot climbed out, had a word with them, and then walked past me to the Ops door. Sweaty and disheveled, helmet bag in hand and a chart tucked in a leg pocket.

    That guy looked like God to me.

    Those were great times.

  • An English Electric Lightning takeoff? A quick Youtube search yields this clip.

    I used to enjoy standing on the loading docks of a strip mall at the end of the runway of the local AFB. Those F-15s and the Herks, doing their touch-and-go landings…*whew!*

  • Tom

    The most impressive thing tho is if you catch an afterburner takeoff at night.

    I grew up in the countryside of Cold-war Suffolk and also have fond memories of Mildenhall airshow.

    These posts remind me of parking in line with the runway apron at RAF Lakenheath to watch a squadron launch by the F-111s of the time. Little did we realise that one day the launch was for real as the Wing went of on a surprise strike on Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. Several loved friends and family members did not return to Suffolk that day.

    One of my favourite memories of Mildenhall was the SR-71 Blackbird detachment. At the airshow we’d ask the crews about their missions:

    “…we do not overfly (the Soviet Union) in peacetime, Sir…” was always the wry response.

    The Lightning is a sorely missed jet, but I think for airshow performances the Vulcan had to beat them all. The sheer size, and power that made your chest vibrate, cutting off to a quiet whine as the pilot wound the jet into a 80 degree bank until you were looking up the tailpipes. Then the 4 exhausts would blink bright orange again as full afterburner came on. You half expected your hair to be blown back by the thrust such was the power of that thunder.

    Ah, the smell of parrafin fumes and the sunburn on your forehead!

  • Midwesterner

    One of the more impressive take-offs I saw was (surprisingly) a civil aviation passenger jet. Er, the Concorde.

    It was at the Fly-In. They had apparently been cleared to do a hot dog take-off. From the beginning of the runway, they opened it up and were airborne at what appeared to be about 1/4 of the way down the runway. The noise was pretty good even by military standards. Remember, these are four after burning engines producing +38,000#s thrust each. A more developed version of the same ones that were in the Vulcan and the TSR-2. When the Concorde reached their chosen altitude they tipped forward like sliding a book up the side of a cabinet and letting it fall flat on top. At that point it was as though someone had turned off the audio and they quietly disappeared into the distance.

    With an empty jet, I’m guessing that their fuel load put them at probably around a 75% thrust to weight ratio. When I can extricate myself from daily life, I go to air shows (usually with a photographer friend of mine) to watch the hot military jets, but all I could do was shake my head and keep saying something stupid like “That was a civil passenger jet. Wow.”

    I searched the net and I’m pretty sure this was the take-off I watched. The video can’t do it justice.

  • RAB

    I saw the very last landing of Concorde from my bedroom window, back at its home base of Filton.
    I have a really crap pic of it. But I’m sure it would make a very nice xmas card or present, who’s first?
    Billy? Nick? Mid?

  • “LIBYA — Lakenheath Is Bombing Your Ass”

    (FB-111 aircrew patch)

    RAB: Concorde never really interested me. It was a great technical exercise, but I was never able to get past the politics and the ridiculous economic of the thing.

  • RAB

    You’d better be circumspect in what you say
    if a tour ever brings you to Bristol Billy!
    They are rather proud of it round here.
    Yes the politics and economics was a pain
    Most here seem to love the techs and specs
    I just loved the lines.

  • Midwesterner

    ‘Fraid I agree with Billy. Concorde was the poster child for things government shouldn’t do. I just tightened my blinders a bit and enjoyed the show. And it is was some show.