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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
the 1950's designed Tu-95 "Bear" bomber.
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
be new roles for stealth super-planes, most of the work
chasing off ruskies, airshows &
intercepting airliners that get forgetful with
All those could be done very nicely by the old English
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
Lightning cost an inflation-adjusted £5 million, dirt
we have lots of wiggle room with expensive materials
techniques vs the hundreds of millions modern aircraft
cost. As a conservative estimate, with alloys and
simplification I think a 5% weight improvement should be
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
they're smaller in diameter, freeing up volume for a
needed extra fuel. I estimate about 250l by
extending the belly fuel tank up into vacated engine
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
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
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.
English Electric Lightning
[bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020]
[bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020]
[bs0u0155, Sep 28 2020]
Wings Over Dagenham
Horse-drawn Zeppelin [8th of 7, Sep 29 2020]
Lightning, intercepting a U2 and Concorde
[hippo, Sep 29 2020]
Garmin Avionics Packages
Less than the F35 paperclip budget. [bs0u0155, Sep 29 2020]
Holden's Lightning flight
"I was just cleaning it, and it went off ..." [8th of 7, Sep 29 2020]
||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.
||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!"
||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.
||//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
*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
||**lots of tracer, maybe all tracer? pulling up vertically in
front of a Tu-95 firing tracer would definitely be an
||//"You wanders into our airspace, we redecorates you
||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.
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.
||//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.
||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
||// the vast expanse of Canadian interior will be unreachable to the Lighting //
||In-flight refueling is a thing ...
||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.
||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.
||//the Scottish Electric Lightening// - the aeroplane
that gets less heavy over time...
||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.
||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.
||//why there wasn't more attention given to the Scottish
||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".
||[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.
||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."
||//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
||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>
||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
||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.
||// Holder's Lightning flight //
||For my next trick, I'll set myself afire.
||The F35 PR budget is so big you could write-off WWII
expenses (all of it) without the accountants even noticing...