EE/BAC Lightning F.53

Lightning F53

The Lightning was the last great British single-seat fighter, bar none, because there won't be any! The English Electric Company/BAC was keen to export the Lightning, but despite considerable interest from many countries, including Austria, Japan, Germany, Singapore, Nicaragua and Brazil, however, the company salesmen had little success when competing against the very generous 'arrangements', which usually accompanied orders placed with other aviation companies from the USA and France.

Lightning F.53 recce pack performance

However, The Royal Saudi Air Force eventually decided to replace their aging F-86 Sabres and B-26 Invaders with the Lightning F53, an export version of the F6, under Operations magic Palm and Magic Carpet, part of an overall export deal worth 1.5 billion. Eventually 34 aircraft equipped the RSAF and another 12 aircraft were operated by the Kuwait Air Force.

Lightning F.53 with recce pack in the foreground

Although never carried operationally by RAF Lightnings, the F53 was offered for sale with a reconnaissance capability. The reconnaissance system replaced the missile package and extended rearwards to include the forward part of the ventral fuel tank. Contained in the rotatable section of the pod were 5 Type 360 70mm Vinten cameras which were directed left, right, fore, aft and centre providing complete coverage. To eliminate humidity problems a self-contained de-mister was provided, together with a range of lenses to provide coverage at heights ranging from 200ft to 30,000ft. Film magazines held 500ft of film each enabling coverage of a strip of land 87nm long at 200ft and 195nm at 30,000ft.

Lightning F.53 recce pack

The option of purchasing the reconnaissance system was only taken up by the Saudi Air Force, but four sets were purchased and four F53s hard wired to operate them - however in the end they saw only limited operational use. The actual suitability of an aircraft like the Lightning for reconnaissance duties is somewhat debateable. Whatever the outstanding characteristics of the Lightning in terms of general performance and handling, the weaknesses of poor range/endurance and maintenance difficulties, would have severely limited the use of the aircraft in RAF operations, particularly when a Canberaa PR9 can go as high as a Lightning and much, much further. Unfortunately, how the 'League of Little Men' would have taken to sedately photographing targets on the ground, rather than the free-for-all dogfighting at which they so excelled, will remain unanswered!!

Updated 8 Jan 09