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English Electric Lightning II

The Right Plane For The Job
  [vote for,

The English Electric Lightning <link> was a high performance interceptor that flew in RAF service from 1959 until retirement in 1987. The Lightning was tasked with defending the airspace around the UK against intrusion by Soviet air assets such as the 1950's designed Tu-95 "Bear" bomber.

In 2020, the RAF is working up a limited number of ludicrously expensive Lockheed-Martin F35 aircraft also called "Lightning II", to join existing Eurofighter Typhoons to meet the challenges of today. Unfortunately, the challenges of today are typically intrusions of 1950's Tu-95 "Bear" bombers. While there might be new roles for stealth super-planes, most of the work is still chasing off ruskies, airshows & intercepting airliners that get forgetful with transponders. All those could be done very nicely by a new/old English Electric Lightning.

The basic idea should be to make a quick and dirty update/copy of the original Lightning. What do we keep? Well, the aerodynamics, handling and looks were all praised. This can all be copied by disassembling and scanning the most convenient museum piece. From here structures can be combined & simplified in 3D software and milled wholesale from billets in whatever fancy new aluminium alloys are currently available by whatever expensive but capable 5D milling machine wants the work. Originally the Lightning cost an inflation-adjusted £5 million, dirt cheap, so we have lots of wiggle room with expensive materials and techniques vs the hundreds of millions modern aircraft cost. As a conservative estimate, with alloys and structure simplification I think a 5% weight improvement should be possible.

What do we change? Change is expensive and messes up things like certification etc. So this should be minimized. But, there are things that need to go.

First, the engines. Rolls Royce Avons were remarkable at the time. But we can do better. Swapping in the EJ200 Eurofighter engines is an off-the-shelf way of dropping 600kg and increasing dry thrust 10% and reheat by 15% while dropping 20% specific fuel consumption. Even better, they're smaller in diameter, freeing up volume for a much needed extra fuel. I estimate about 250l by extending the belly fuel tank up into vacated engine space above and to the rear.

Avionics, 1950-1970's era stuff was bulky, heavy & unreliable, swap it out for something off the shelf, something from the top-end of the general aviation world e.g. <link>. Everything else can likely be cobbled together from legacy fighters and a Raspberry Pi. I estimate a conservative 200kg saving here.

Next, a few tweaks. Titanium leading edges, for high speed, a few composite panels here and there for weight and a nice metalized bubble canopy for the look, I think we can drop another 200kg.

So, now we have a Lightning with a dry weight down to 12,000kg, with 10% more fuel that burns it 20% more efficiently to address range, the Lightning's main flaw. It has more thrust and so will be able to do this <link> even more impressively than before. Even with delays & overruns it should still be in service faster and cheaper than the F35 while easily outflying it.

bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020

English Electric Lightning https://en.wikipedi..._Electric_Lightning
[bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020]

EJ200 https://en.wikipedi.../wiki/Eurojet_EJ200
[bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020]

Vertical Climb https://www.youtube...watch?v=w6stHv7aGCY
[bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020]

Wings Over Dagenham http://www.thegoons...wings_over_dagenham
Horse-drawn Zeppelin [8th of 7, Sep 29 2020]

Lightning, intercepting a U2 and Concorde https://youtu.be/8DdUwIhI-ZA
[hippo, Sep 29 2020]

Garmin Avionics Packages https://buy.garmin....S/cAvionics-p1.html
Less than the F35 paperclip budget. [bs0u0155, Sep 29 2020]

Holden's Lightning flight https://en.wikipedi...7s_Lightning_flight
"I was just cleaning it, and it went off ..." [8th of 7, Sep 29 2020]



       A question ...   

       Radar: the air intake makes installing a high-quality radar problematic, even using a phased array. It might be possible; we will review the schematics.   

       Other than that, it's actually a pretty good idea.
8th of 7, Sep 28 2020


       Can we nix the pilot? It is 2020, after all. That space could be utilized by an extra fuel tank or, even better, a paint ball storage container.   

       Bears that "accidentally" wander off course and into British airspace can be handily intercepted and marked. "You wanders into our airspace, we redecorates you airplane!"
whatrock, Sep 28 2020

       Actually, it was all rather gentlemanly.   

       The Bear would trundle along and would be joined by the Lightnings for a bit. The pilots and crew would wave at one another, then fly straight and level so the "opposition" could take the requisite photographs. Then everyone went home for a nice cup of tea, or a bottle of vodka, or probably both.   

       They used to exchange Christmas cards, too. A card would arrive at the RAF base with USSR stamps, wishing "All the best to the pilots of 123 Squadron for the New Year ... " with lots of Cyrillic squiggles, and of course the RAF boys used to send a card to the Ivans.   

       It was, and is, a sort of dangerous game, played with Big Boy's Toys.
8th of 7, Sep 28 2020

       //Radar: the air intake makes installing a high-quality radar problematic, even using a phased array.//   

       You could go with whatever off the shelf unit will fit. The original is 21", the F16 RADAR is around that size. There's a lot of IRSATs that would easily fit. I think the sensible choice however, is to go with no RADAR at all. Since the object of the exercise is to see and be seen, there's no need for BVR capability. Missiles will likely be limited to ASRAAMs* to complement the cannons**. Deleting the RADAR saves another 100kg, a good chunk of generator demand and an awful lot of maintenance and operational complexity. If you need to track down an incoming threat at night in the wrong weather, use a different aircraft. The Lightning II will be vectored in by a controller, either AWACS or ground. A quick & impressive dash to altitude, a flash of polished aluminium in the sunshine before sitting off the wing of whichever naughty pilot needs discouraging this fine day. A few minutes of that and it's back in time for tea and stickies in the mess with the chaps.   

       *Although I'm heading up the development of a type- specific "AIM-120F". Unusually for an AMRAAM, it will not be advanced, medium range, air-to-air or indeed a missile. Instead of electronics, rocket motors and control gear, the body will instead carry 120kg of conventional jet fuel to increase aircraft range. Even better, I can let the government have this for $700,000 less than the standard model.   

       **lots of tracer, maybe all tracer? pulling up vertically in front of a Tu-95 firing tracer would definitely be an attention getter.
bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020

       //"You wanders into our airspace, we redecorates you airplane!"//   

       Sadly, the military-industrial complex would find a way to make the development of an air-to-air paintball cannon into a milti-billion dollar project that would rapidly eclipse the whole Lightning II development process. No. Standard 30mm ADEN cannons like the original, they're still in use. We keep the pilot, I expect that between the performance, short mission times & good-weather only flying, that the type will be popular with pilots, the Cyprus squadrons at Akrotiri especially.
bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020

I give my permission for this to proceed as it currently stands given preceding annotations as of this time-stamp 8:25 Canadian M.S.T. 2020-09-28.

       Make it so...   

       //I give my permission for this to proceed//   

       If you like, I can see a license built Canadian Electric Lightning II being a reasonable option. You could paint it anti-flash/snow camouflage white, perhaps a small "Arrow" logo in homage to fallen comrades and a full set of maple- leaf insignia. These would look particularly dashing while out-accelerating cumbersome F-15 detachments. Obviously the vast expanse of Canadian interior will be unreachable to the Lighting, but it's role is to hare around looking sleek, fast and reassuring. This can be easily achieved in the 50 mile strip where everyone actually lives.
bs0u0155, Sep 29 2020

       Having made all those weight savings, could the English Electric Lightning II not incorporate a massive Van der Graaf generator to enable it to actually generate lightning?
hippo, Sep 29 2020

       // the vast expanse of Canadian interior will be unreachable to the Lighting //   

       In-flight refueling is a thing ...
8th of 7, Sep 29 2020

       I always wondered why there wasn't more attention given to the Scottish Electric Lightening? I know there was a Welsh version but it spun around in a circle on take off, and crashed into a bog. The Scottish version looked great painted with tartan all over, and struck a particular terror by dropping haggis parachute mines.
xenzag, Sep 29 2020

       It was the noise problem. It sounded like an enormous set of bagpipes, and was shot down by "friendly"* fire as soon as it took off.   

       *Sp. "music lovers"
8th of 7, Sep 29 2020

       //the Scottish Electric Lightening// - the aeroplane that gets less heavy over time...
hippo, Sep 29 2020

       Yes, an electrically powered dirigible ... an advance on the Horse-drawn Zeppelin (q.v.) but ultimately doomed by the expense of the cable and the need to move the plug from socket to socket as it traveled ... trans-oceanic routes didn't work out well.
8th of 7, Sep 29 2020

       I bet there's a lot of saving to be made retrofitting the electronics, yes - a couple of years ago, at a conference, I had the pleasure of hearing a story from a retired Naval systems chap, who'd been called in to investigate an issue they'd been having with their guided missiles. It was the 80's and the embedded microchip guidance systems were working a treat in the Bristol channel where they'd been extensively tested, but after only a day in service, having hauled them around Cornwall, through the Channel and up into the North Sea, became completely useless. Turns out, the programmer had coded Westward longitude as a signed integer, but not allowed for the signage bit in the rest of the code, so as soon as it went East of the Meridian, the signage bit got set which corrupted the rest of the system, and a million quid went into the sea. Apparently, they now test both sides of the Meridian before signing stuff off.
zen_tom, Sep 29 2020

       //why there wasn't more attention given to the Scottish Electric Lightening?//   

       It's a fascinating tale. Eager to produce the project domestically, Scotland turned to it's ship-building industry. After glancing over the plans it was decided "tae mak'er oot of somethin' moor substantial". Subsequently, aluminium was dropped in place of wrought iron plating. This had knock-on effects, the tires were calculated to need 1400psi to support the craft. This was not feasible and so concrete was substituted for air. Ultimately the prototype was sent down the causeway into the Clyde where it promptly sank through both the water and mud column. The builders commented that the design was "stupid from the start, there's bloody great holes in the front and back". Asking for advice by letter, the response came that "The Scotish Electric needs Lightening".
bs0u0155, Sep 29 2020

       [bs], you're clearly channeling the spirit of the great Spike Milligna (the well-known typist's mistake).   

       // they now test both sides of the Meridian before signing stuff off. //   

       The USN had a similar problem with one of their jets - possibly the F.18; all fine until a pair of them were flown across the equator on autopilot, at which point the software - confused by a sudden change of sign in the latitude position - tried to compensate by flying the aircraft upside-down, to the alarm and consternation of the crews.   

       This sort of thing is massively more common than is realised - NASA have had some very embarrassing and expensve failures from simple errors.
8th of 7, Sep 29 2020

       Yup, Air Force and the F-16, and while flying the simulator. The flip "killed" the pilots.   

       Very common, used to be relegated to the automotive industry. "If we keep next years models until the R&D is 100% they'll be obsolete. Get them to 80% and ship 'em out. The unsuspecting public will finish the job, warranty, court settlements, etc. Not a big problem."
whatrock, Sep 29 2020

       //Air Force and the F-16, and while flying the simulator. The flip "killed" the pilots. //   

       Not possible in the English Electric Lightning II, since the flight control software is very minimal. This is a direct consequence of the flight control software development budget being even more minimal. Flight control characteristics are an output from the constantly self- learning software mounted inside the pilot helmet. To save costs, the fundamentals of flight control are worked out by tooling around in a Bulldog or other such low cost platform.
bs0u0155, Sep 29 2020

       Oh, you don't need to bother with that ... a few hours on a Tiger Moth and then conversion to a Chipmunk, and you're good to go ... <link>
8th of 7, Sep 29 2020

       I forgot a major point. The English Electric Lightning II is deliberately called the "Lightning II" because A: it is the second one, & B: The nomenclature can be used to deflect awkward questions about the F35 Lightning II:   

       "Recent testing has shown the WVR dissimilar combat performance of the Lightning II to be absolutely first rate with a world-class climb rate, turning performance and supercruise. Against F-16 class aircraft, the Lightning II was able to engage and disengage at will and the pilots love it"   

       This would not technically be lying. Even better, the English Electric Lightning II project funding could be entirely written off under the F35 PR budget.
bs0u0155, Sep 29 2020

       // Holder's Lightning flight //   

       For my next trick, I'll set myself afire.
whatrock, Sep 29 2020

       The F35 PR budget is so big you could write-off WWII expenses (all of it) without the accountants even noticing...
neutrinos_shadow, Sep 29 2020


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