Two-fisted Punch – How a Scale Model English Electric Lightning F. Mk 6 Came About.
A decade and a half after the end of World War II, you could be forgiven for imagining Britain as a nation unlikely to produce much apart from the mundane necessities of life that were so universal to the 1950s. Yet this was the very same decade that saw the English Electric Lightning, a formidable aircraft that was unleashed for and because of the Cold War. If nothing else, it shows that Britain took the perceived threat of what Russia were up to in the quest for global domination seriously.
Early in his career as an employee with the famed Bristol Aircraft Company, Jindabyne Aero Club member and Aero Modeler, Peter Williams worked in Filton Airfield, Bristol, on a Lightning Mk 1 and Mk 1A and a conversion of this to a two-seat trainer, T5. His contact, involvement with this extreme form of aeronautical engineering left him somewhat in awe of the English Electric Lightning to this very day so much so that an idea spawned with him to create one in scale model detail.
The idea originally started when Peter attended a jet show for models at Temora and while I was there, he met a man, Brian Kenton, from Melbourne who builds flying models of jets. He says: “I was so taken with what I saw, I decided at that point to look at building a model for myself.”
He wanted to build a model that wasn’t a flying one because as he says; “I don’t have the expertise to fly one anyway.” From that meeting however, the gentleman came over to meet further with Peter in Jindabyne to discuss the feasibility to build one that could be copied – creating moldings in order to develop an actual flying model. Brian Kenton, has become instrumental in assisting Peter get the lightning project to fruition and the two have become firm friends. In 2012, the two embarked on a trip to UK to visit the air museums. Peter describes the trip; “Many Lightnings were seen, probably the better ones being at Bruntingthorpe, an old airfield where the Bruntingthorpe Preservation Group currently runs 2 Mk 6 Lightnings for fast taxiing. We attended one of their weekend runs, and because of our interest (we) were allowed a day to privately inspect the aircraft.” Peter says that this airfield and the museum exhibits are a ‘must see’ for any aviation enthusiast.
Peter started drawing what he thought to be a good size but with the fact in mind that the original aircraft had two engines. This would be something of a challenge to build, let alone fly mainly because of the concept of incorporating two engines in a scale model of this type of aircraft. This aircraft he has finally created is an F. Mk 6, the last and in his opinion, the best model of all the Lightnings built.
For an aircraft that first saw service in the latter 1950s, the Lightning was around for a long time in aeronautical terms (around at both ends of – and developed because of the Cold War) with the help of continuous development, but finally withdrawn from service in the RAF in 1986/87. Service outside of the UK included Saudi Air Force and Kuwait Air Force.
This was a ferociously rapid aircraft – try Mach 2.2 – significantly faster than the Concord – but historically, the Lightnings had problems in terms of range because of the limitations of the amount of fuel they could carry – particularly with the early aircraft. Peter says; “It was designed just to do short circuits around the ground to air missiles that Britain was going to use as defence against the Russians (at the height of the Cold War) so it wasn’t anticipated as an interceptor or long range aircraft. Of course, after the advent of the inflight tankers, the Lightning then had a far greater capability.
Powered by Rolls-Royce 302 Avon engines producing 13,220 Lb of thrust, typical operational altitudes were about 60,000 ft but towards the end of the Lightning’s operational life, stratospheric levels were achieved on more than one occasion of 86,000 ft. It could climb from sea level to 40,000 ft in about 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Peter says; “with elevators on the back, it was a totally new concept. It meant that the aircraft could get off the ground very quickly and climb vertically because it had these two huge engines, it was a rocket.” There are few military aircraft in service today that could match this truly amazing projectile.
In his design and construction, Peter had allowed for the space where the two engines would go if the right sized powerplants were available. The detail of the internal spaces is quite incredible as are many other features such as the air brakes, landing gear assembly and the associated gear doors. The engines were installed one on top of the other but staggered with one slightly ahead of the other as one method of addressing the issues of weight distribution and the enormous heat generated under normal operating conditions. Peter’s design changed the ventral tank (which was very large on the Mk 6) modifying it into a split tank to allow access to an engine. However, he is aware that some people would opt for his design that would also allow one single bigger engine to be used with the exhaust being divided between the two tail pipes.
Long term hopes that Peter has for this project is to be involved in the building of and manufacture of the kits of a flying version and one which has far greater authenticity than many of the kits which look very plastic and consequently don’t resemble the real thing very effectively.
Powerplants for this aircraft is envisaged to either be in the form of 2 engines using JetCat P60 turbines which produce 13 Lb thrust at a staggering 165,000 RPM. Alternatively to simplify things, Peter suggests that the option of one single, much bigger engine could be taken. There wouldn’t be huge differences in performance but really, it’s just a personal preference of how far the individual builder is prepared to take the resemblance factor… and money. In terms of speeds, it is thought that speeds of 200 MPH would be the normal order of the day so it stands to reason that it will take some expertise to tame a beast capable of this sort of speed because the visual footprint of this aircraft would make it very hard to track once it gets a bit of altitude under it.
Peter has gone to great pains to keep the panel lines and the rivet lines as close as possible to the actual aircraft in order to maintain the authenticity he seeks in the model. On this particular model, the nosewheel will operate, the landing gear doors will open and close as the undercarriage retracts and extends.
All in all, this model promises the future development of a scale model very closely based on the real thing and one day in the future, if you ever see one of these flying around at a model flying exhibition, you’ll know how it came about. So far, countless hours have gone into this project to get it to this stage. Time and concentration. “Yes,” counters Peter Williams, “just ask my wife!”