Why flight testing the English Electric Lightning was such a challenge

Getting Britain’s first afterburning Mach 2 interceptor from the drawing board and into RAF service was no mean feat. Hugh Trevor describes the challenges faced by those tasked with flight testing the English Electric Lightning

It was a lovely clear July day in 1965. British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) chief test pilot James ‘Jimmy’ Dell and test observer Graham Elkington were accelerating to Mach 1.82 on a southerly trajectory, 35,000ft over the Irish Sea, side-by-side in the cramped cockpit of XM966. Originally a Lightning T.4 trainer, this aircraft had been rebuilt as the second prototype T.5 by BAC Filton. St Bees Head, Cumbria, was visible to port as the aircraft flew down Test Run Alpha towards the airfield at Warton, Lancashire.

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