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FLIGHT

International. 18 April 1963

570-571

Flying the Lightning:
A TEST PILOT'S FIRST VIEW OF THE FIGHTER RAF's SUPERSONIC

By R. P. B e a m o n t
IO sweat—I was with it all the way . . . until I let the wheel brakes off." This comment by a fighter pilot after his first flight in an English Electric Lightning sums up one aspect of conversion to this highly supersonic fighter. Since the first Service evaluation of the P.l prototype some years ago, and nowadays in the squadrons, the speed with which pilots have learned to operate the Lightning—and to like it very much indeed—has been remarkable. Only the rate at which things happen has caused comment, and that only for the first few trips. Flight development of the Lightning has involved rather more than the usual progressive testing of a new type, as it has been carried out as part of Britain's first fully supersonic research programme. This has meant that all the routine work of testing a new type—the proving of stability, controllability, systems reliability, performance, structural integrity and operational suitability —has had to be completed in parallel with a basic flight-research programme which has included the first British level flight at the speed of sound (in 1954) and the first British flight at twice the speed of sound (three years later); and, because of this double programme, the same aircraft has frequently been in use on proving and basicresearch schedules simultaneously. The basic aerodynamics of the Lightning proved to be very sound, and it was possible to concentrate at an early stage on developing subtle changes in the powered control system to improve response and feel up to a high standard. So successful has this development been that on production aircraft these controls are probably the most pleasant compromise between responsiveness, effectiveness and smoothness that has yet been achieved on a fighter aeroplane. Setting off for a flight in the Lightning is by no means the formidable task which it might be imagined to be and, although there are quite a number of pre-flight operations and checks to be made, these are quite easily learned by heart. In practice it takes only a few minutes for the pilot to strap into his fully automatic low-level Martin-Baker ejection seat and complete the pre-starting checks before pressing the starter buttons. The two Rolls-Royce Avons start virtually simultaneously in a few seconds. After the ground electrical supplies have been waved

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Lightning 1.5 operational trains with Red lop air-to-air

missiles

The author, Wg Cdr R. P. Beamont. DSO and Bar, OBE, DFC and Bar, DFC (USA), is a special director and the manager of flight operations of English Electric Aviation Ltd and deputy chief test pilot of British Aircraft Corporation. On April 4 he made his thousandth flight in a Lightning, on a routine test of an F.2 from Worton. He is here seen signing the Form 700 before his 700th Lightning flight, in the 1.4 seen in the background

away (or pulled out automatically on an operational take-off), only the windscreen demisting systems remain to be switched on before setting the cabin-conditioning auto-control and checking hydraulic and a.c. and d.c. supplies and the combined warning system before take-off. The Mark 4BS ejection seat is adjusted for height electrically, and the canopy is lowered electro-hydraulically and locked mechanically by lever, with safe locking confirmed by visual check of the bolls and by warning lights on the canopy arch. On a test flight the final prior-to-flight checks are carried out while taxying, but at "readiness" in service these checks are completed on the operational readiness platform. After the brakes have been let off and full (unreheated) power applied the Lightning accelerates very rapidly. The nosewheel is held in contact with the runway by a light forward pressure on the stick until V R is reached. The stick is then moved firmly back and the aircraft rotated until lift-off occurs. With the Lightning's very favourable power : weight ratio, takeoff performance is not critical, so the recommended VR has been set to give lift-off with the simplest pilot action compatible with an adequate speed margin against inadvertent tail-bumper rubbing which can occur if a pilot uses the more traditional method of lifting the nosewheel at the lowest possible speed and follows with over-vigorous use of the tailplane control. Holding the nosewheel on the runway until rotation speed also provides a greater margin of directional control in high crosswinds.