No 111 Squadron was formed at Dier-el-Belah, Palestine on 1 August 1917 as the first dedicated fighter squadron in the region. In 1955 the first Hunters had arrived, and two years later No 111 Squadron was nominated as the official RAF aerobatic team. At first the team, known as the 'Black Arrows', flew five and then nine aircraft until, at the 1958 Farnborough airshow, the Squadron, aided by No 56 Squadron, entered the record books when it successfully looped twenty-two aircraft! In 1961, the unit converted to Lightnings, operating successive marks until 1974. In 1965, No.111 Squadron formed a display team of nine Lightning F.3s which displayed at the Paris Air Show that year in formation with the Red Arrows Gnats.
The Lightning is the only all-British Mach 2 fighter aircraft. The aircraft was renowned for its capabilities as an interceptor; RAF pilots described it as "being saddled to a skyrocket''.
The F.3 had higher thrust Avon 301R engines, a larger, squared-off fin and strengthened intake bullet allowing a service clearance to Mach 2.0 (the F.1, F.1A and F.2 were limited to Mach 1.7), the A.I.23B radar and Red Top missile offering a limited forward hemisphere attack capability-and most notoriously-deletion of the nose cannon. The new engines and fin made the F.3 the highest performance Lightning yet, but with an even higher fuel consumption and resulting shorter range. The next variant, the F.6, was already in development, but there was a need for an interim solution to partially address the F.3’s shortcomings. The F.3A was that interim solution.
The F.3A introduced two improvements: a new, non-jettisonable, 610 gal ventral fuel tank, and a new, kinked, conically cambered wing leading edge-of course, incorporating a slightly larger leading edge fuel tank, raising the total usable internal fuel to 716 gal . The conically cambered wing noticeably improved maneuverability, especially at higher altitudes, and the ventral tank nearly doubled available fuel. The increased fuel was very welcome given the fact that a Lightning could burn 1.5 gallons per second. Watching the fuel gauge was vital for Lightning pilots.
The Lightning possessed a remarkable climb rate, and its time to reach an altitude, or time-to-climb, was exceptional. To achieve this short time-to-climb, Lightnings employed a particular climb profile, which was more shallow in angle compared to that demonstrated at air shows where its ability to rapidly rotate at the end of the runway and climb almost vertically away was spectaclary demonstrated.
In 1984, during a major NATO exercise, Flt Lt Mike Hale intercepted an American U-2 at a height which they had previously considered safe from interception. Records show that Hale climbed to 88,000 ft in his Lightning F.3 XR749. The normal service ceiling for this aircraft was 60,000 feet in level flight. Hale also participated in time-to-height and acceleration trials against F-104 Starfighters He reports that the Lightnings won all races easily with the exception of the low-level supersonic acceleration, which was a "dead heat".The painting depicts two 111 squadron Lightnings F3's on patrol during 1964.
Artist Paul Howard.
Available as an A3 size or 20x16 print.