53-696 / ZF594

North East Aircraft Museum      

ex Saudi Arabian F53, now NE Aircraft Museum

English Electric Lightning F.53 (53-696 / ZF594) belonging to the North East Aircraft Museum was purchased from BAC and flew in the Saudi Arabian Air Force.

On 14. November 1968 test pilot John Cockburn lifted Lightning F.53, 53-696, from the runway at Samlesbury on its maiden flight, cunningly disguised as G-27-66. Upon landing at Warton, the aircraft began a series of shake-down flights that were to culminate in its ferry trip to Saudi Arabia. The pilot on this occasion was R. Ingham and as before, the aircraft staged via Akrotiri supported by RAF Victor tankers. Arriving at Jeddah on 3. June 1969 the Lightning joined the LCS with whom it was serving when they moved to RSAF Riyadh on 26. November 1972. Unfortunately not long after arrival, on 9. July, the aircraft suffered Category 3 fire damage which grounded it for the next few months. A tour at Dharan with 2 Squadron followed the repair work, the aircraft remaining with them until transfering to 6 Sqdn at Khamis Mushayt in May 1975.

No. 6 Sqdn was to move to King Abdul Aziz AB in June 1976, taking 53-696 with them, although this state of affairs only lasted until 23 January 1977 when 53-696 joined 2 Sqdn again, this time at King Faisal / Tabuk AB in the north of the country. A short tour on the strength of 13 Sqdn as 1308 began on 18 April 1978 and continued until 1982 when the aircraft returned again to 2 Sqdn. Initially coded 226 the aircraft later assumed the code 'Y'. It was still wearing this code when it made its last RSAF flight on 13 January 1986.

The next day, painted as ZF594, the aircraft headed for Warton where it was to enter long-term storage whilst awaiting possible resale. During its working life 53-696 had flown a total of 2.057,06 hours. With no market forthcoming, 53-696 was put up for disposal, being purchased by the NEAM for a token sum during 1988. In November of the following year 53-696 was moved to the Museumís premises near Sunderland to join the rest of this burgeoning collection.

- quoted from Lightning, The Operational History by Kev Darling. Airlife Publishing, ISBN 1 85310 521 X

The ex-Saudi Lightnings were sold by Saudi Arabia on the understanding that they would not carry Saudi Air Force livery right from the moment they flew out from the country. This ban on Saudi livery extends to their existence in museums.



ex Saudi Arabian F53, now NE Aircraft Museum

The Lightning was the only all-British supersonic aircraft, and the RAF's first supersonic aircraft (ie supersonic in level flight). Its development was announced in 1950, but actually, work had been proceeding secretly for 2 years.

Initial work was carried out by Teddy Petter, and was taken over by Freddie Page in 1949 when the former moved to Folland Aircraft. Ironically the need was for a fighter advanced enough to intercept high-flying, fast bombers, like English Electric's own Canberra.

The first flights were made from Boscombe Down because the runway at Warton, at that stage, was too short.

A unique way of minimising the drag of twin engine installation had been put forward by Petter. This involved stacking the engines vertically (staggered to avoid too much weight aft, with the lower engine forward of the top one), effectively tucking them behind the cockpit, fed from the nose and achieving minimum frontal area. In fact, you get twice the engine power for an increase in the frontal area of only one and a half times. The wingsweep is 60 degrees, the ailerons being situated on the wing edge at right angles to the airflow, connecting the leading and trailing edges. The wing was thin and incredibly strong.

The tailplane was mounted low to overcome the transonic pitch-up experienced by earlier British aircraft. It is a slab tailplane - there are no elevators, the entire tailplane moves. This arrangement is now typical of many aircraft today.

The power delivered to the aircraft was so immense that the aircraft could be stood on its tail and made to execute a vertical climb.

The conical section in the middle of the nose houses a Ferranti radar system.

A major defect of the Lightning was its lack of range (according to one source : "the great British tradition of having wholly inadequate fuel capacity"). Originally it had been only planned to be used within an approx 250 km radius around each V-Bomber base. To overcome this problem a bit, instruments were introduced for in-flight refuelling. When 74 Squadron moved to Singapore, it involved the largest refuelling exercise ever undertaken till then by the RAF.

On the 4. April 1957 Duncan Sandys, the Defense Minister, had announced that there was no requirement for further fighter aircraft, because missiles would replace aircraft. The Lightning program was allowed to go ahead because apparently so much money had been spent on it already.

A change of attitude in the early 1960s allowed a second-generation of Lightnings to be built, starting with the F3.

Lightning aircraft became involved in the QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) program, whereby aircraft were ready for immediate launch, pilots hanging around already in their flying gear etc. .

In its latter years, it made up several mixed-fighter configurations, working with the F4 Phantom. The Lightning could only see forwards with its radar, but the Phantom could complement this with its ability to look downwards.

Production ceased in September 1972, and, despite only planned to have a service life of eight years originally, it served in the RAF until 30. April 1988 (with 11 Squadron).

Foreign Lightnings


The lack of range was considered to be an obstacle to exporting the aircraft.

Saudi Arabia

34 multi-role F53 Lightnings (based on the F6) were delivered to Saudi Arabia (of which ours is one). These carried the usual air-to-air missiles, but were also capable of ground-attack, carrying bombs and rocket launchers.

They flew for the first time in December 1966, and were used for fighting in Yemen, the only time that the Lightning was ever used in anger.


Kuwait received 12 F.53s.



  • Mk 1 First flew 29 October 1959. The 1A first flew on 16 August 1960, and had a retractable fuel probe.

  • Mk 2 July 1962. Fully variable afterburners, auto-pilot and steerable nosewheel. The 2A was a modification of 31 F2s which included some of the features of the later F6.

  • Mk 3 represented a major turning point for the Lightning, first flying on 16 June 1962. It incorporated a broader angular fin, flattened at top to compensate for the destabilizing effect of the missiles ('Advanced Firestreaks', later called Red Tops). Also it had no guns.

  • Mk 52 5 F2s modified for export to Saudi Arabia.

  • Mk 53 see above, w.r.t Saudia Arabia and Kuwait.

  • Mk 6 Guns re-instated. Over-wing fuel tanks could be added. Larger wing which was kinked and cambered at the front and flatter at the end, square tail and increased internal fuel capacity which increased range by about 20%. First flew on 17. April 1964 and entered regular RAF service in October 1965.

  • T4 trainer based on F1

  • T5 first flew in March 1962, based on F3



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