The British fighter that could exceed Mach 1 in a vertical climb

YouTube / Imperial War Museums

The English Electric Lightning was a twin-engine, single-seat, supersonic fighter with swept wings. The development of this aircraft was considered a major leap forward in terms of performance and technology. 

Supersonic Aircraft

The English Electric Lighting was developed to bring the RAF into the supersonic age. It was a plane that even during its prototype stage broke the sound barrier. 

As development increased, it was able to fly at twice the speed of sound. It had such a power-to-weight ratio that it can stand on its tail, exceeding the speed of sound in a vertical climb. 


The RAF at one point had been flying subsonic aircraft, until the Lightning came along. It would go on to become Britain’s last home-designed supersonic fighter. It would then see production in several main variants. 

Brilliant Aircraft

In all its versions, its main armament was a pair of air-to-air missiles. Most versions would also be equipped with 30-mm Aidan cannon. 

Original Use

It was originally developed to defend the v-bomber bases in the UK so that range wasn’t that important. Future versions, however, did increase fuel tankage. Some later versions can even carry over the wing ferry tanks. 

Accidentally Taking the Skies

The Lightning featured in the video owned by the Imperial War Museum is an IWM Duxford, XM135, and there was a particularly interesting story behind it.

In 1966, Wing Commander Walter ‘Taffy’ Holden accidentally flew this aircraft without a canopy radio, usable ejector seat, or any prior jet flying experience. Fortunately, since the aircraft was incredibly light, Holden was able to land safely back.