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National Honour for Lightning 50 Years After Reaching ’Mach 2’


WARTON, LANCASHIRE – The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has today (12 September) made the trip to BAE Systems in Lancashire to honour the English Electric Lightning, the first and still the only all-British fully supersonic aircraft type, with an Engineering Heritage Award.

The Ligntning set a record for a fighter jet in frontline service with the Royal Air Force for over 28 years.

The fighter is one of the most iconic designs of the 20th Century – and is one of only 45 objects of significant engineering excellence to be recognised by the Engineering Heritage Award Scheme operated by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (I Mech E).

Officials from I Mech E gathered at BAE Systems’ Warton manufacturing facility in Lancashire on Friday to meet with former pilots and those who worked on the Lightning for the unveiling of a special English Heritage Award plaque by Warton’s own Lightning ‘gatekeeper’ aircraft – FMk.6 XS928.

Chartered Engineer, Professor Isobel Pollock, Chair of IMechE Heritage Committee said: “This is not just one of the world’s most proud engineering creations – it is an example of British excellence that made the rest of world sit up and notice. This year marks 50 years since it first reached Mach 2 – twice the speed of sound, so bestowing a heritage award on something that is still making history today is amazing.” The award will be unveiled by IMechE President, Professor Bill Banks.

In total 339 of the aircraft type were built – today just four remain that are able to fly. Back in the Fifties and Sixties, BAE Systems’ facilities at Preston, Warton and Samlesbury were hives of activity as thousands of Lancashire aerospace workers cut new ground by delivering one of the fastest fighters the world has seen.

Ironically, the Lightning owes its existence to the fact that its Chief Designer W.E. ‘Teddy’ Petter had previously designed Britain’s first jet bomber - the Canberra - an aircraft so fast the Ministry of Supply realised that virtually no fighter could catch it – and if the Soviets could produce something similar then Britain would need a supersonic fighter to deal with any counter threat.

In 1947 English Electric and Fairey Aviation submitted proposals for a supersonic jet to meet what was known as Experimental Requirement 103 – it was Petter’s design that triumphed and on 12 May 1949 English Electric was awarded the contract to proceed.

The Lightning was a classic response to the demands of the ‘Cold War’ – a hugely capable fast-response fighter with a ceiling of at least 60,000ft and a maximum speed in excess of 1,500mph.

Simon Howison, Engineering Director, for BAE Systems Military Air Solutions business, said: “It is the spirit that gave birth to the Lightning that drives much of what we still do today here at Warton. We are still pushing boundaries, still striving to astound through innovation and delivery and we are still getting the results. Indeed the F-35 Lightning ll – the namesake of the original Lightning that we are now engaged in at Samlesbury is testament to that.”

He added: “It is a fantastic honour for us to receive this Award today, and it is a tribute to all those who worked on such an incredibly ambitious and ground-breaking programme. Few aircraft carry a reputation like that of the Lightning – still fewer have achieved similar levels of capability. Days like today remind us all that the UK can and should be proud of what it does in the fields of engineering and technology. For me the big question now is – what will I Mech E be honouring in another 50 years time.”


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