After twelve years of air defence operations in RAF Germany, the Lightning fighters based at Gutersloh have phased out of service in favour of Phantoms.
After twelve years of air defence operations in RAF Germany, the Lightning fighters based at Gutersloh have phased out of service in favour of Phantoms. It is the end of an era, for the Lighting is the last of the traditional British single-seat fighters. The strain of thoroughbreds goes back to such famous types as the Sopwith Camel, Bristol Fighter, Gladiator, Spitfire, Hurricane, Meteor and Hunter.
The Phantoms which are taking over the air defence role in Germany are twin-seat machines, with greater range and weapons load, in comparison to the Lighting. But to the men who fly the 'green marrows' as the green-painted Lightningsare lovingly called, there will never be another aircraft with the appeal of the Lightning. As a single seat high performance jet, the Lighting is a very 'hot' machine. It can out-manoeuvre almost any existing fighter, and it has particularly aggressive appearance. It has a high or low-level capability and for its intercept and identification task in RAF Germany, has proved to be superb gun or missile platform.
The Lightning arrived in RAF Germany in 1965, replacing the Javelin all-weather fighter, and becoming the first truly supersonic Royal Air Force fighter to be permanently based on the Continent. The variant to equip the two RAFG squadrons Nos. 19 & 22 has been the F Mk2, later up-dated to become the F Mk2A with extra fuel tanks fitted. Unlike all other RAF Lightning. The German-based Mk2s have always retained twin 30mm cannon armament in the aircraft's nose. This has proved to be very worthwhile feature, for there are many combat situation where missile-only armament might be a disadvantage. As the identification of aircraft in the designated air defence zone is the primary duty of the Lighting squadrons, every 'scramble' has resulted from the need to see the potential target, before taking action. In war the Lightnings could destroy their targets without visual reference, but missiles cannot be loosed on what in peacetime might prove to be a stray private aircraft with radio difficulties: This is why all the latest fighters have reverted to the internally-fitted cannon as a supplement to missile armament. The cannon is still a formidable weapon in the air to air role, and it also provides a measures of air to ground firepower for use against targets of opportunity.
Throughout their career in Germany the Lightings have been on instant standby ready to 'scramble' at the sound of the alarm. Two Lightnings have been kept in special battle flight setters, fuelled and armed...ready to go within a couple of minutes... and the crews have lived, on rotation, a few feet from their machines.
Once the scramble has been ordered, it takes but a few seconds for the pilots to sprint from the crew room, built next to the aircraft, to the waiting Lightning. A few seconds later and engines come alive, chocks are pulled away and the fighter tears away down the taxi-track to the runway. As soon as the nose comes into line full re-heat is applied and Rolls Royce Avon jets thrust the aircraft into the air is as long as it has taken to describe the action.
The radar carried by the Lightning can 'look On' to a target automatically at night or in the worst type of weather and the pilot has only to monitor the situation and 'fire' when instructed electronically. In practice however there are few aircraft which can evade the Lightnings visual 'kill' and camera evidence usually confirms this after an exercise.
The Lighting was hailed as the "last manned RAF aircraft" in the late fifties, when it was (incorrectly) through that missiles would take over all the roles traditionally performed by combat aircraft. What these planners failed to realise was that outside all-out nuclear war the flex ability of manned machines far exceeded the limited capability of 'push-button' missiles. You could send an aircraft up to check-out a 'mystery' blip on the radar screen, but with a missile-only policy the stark choice remains - "Do I risk destroying an innocent or friendly aircraft, or do i risk leaving it too late to react if the blip is hostile?" The Lightnings have been keeping the air lanes over Northern Germany secure in a troubled world.
Although these purposeful aircraft are leaving the European skies, as their base at RAF Gutersloh becomes the new home of the RAFG Harrier force, the unique 'nicked delta' shape will continue to grace the air over Britain and the North Sea. Two home-based Lighting squadrons will continue in air defence service until the early eighties. The Lightning will,by then, have been in front-line fighter use for over twenty years, a record unmatched by even the famous Spitfire.