English Electric 'Lightning' F.3
For FSX / Prepar3D Published by Aerosoft
Reviewed by John Guest
Aerosoft's English Electric 'Lightning' F.3 caught my attention as
soon as it first appeared on Aerosoft's website. It just so happens
that the English Electric 'Lightning' happens to be one of my
favourite aircraft. For me, it represents the pinnacle of aircraft
development in the history of British aviation. This Aerosoft title
is one I could not resist, so after a brief look at the real thing,
let’s take a look at what you get for your money.
English Electric are famous for building another aircraft, the
English Electric 'Canberra'. This was a truly remarkable aircraft,
capable of flying at 50,000 ft., and with a nuclear capability. In
an exercise just after the 'Canberra' came into service, it became
clear that the RAF was unable it intercept such an aircraft, and so
Requirement Specification ER.103 emerged to produce an aircraft that
could. This aircraft was also to be capable of traveling up to Mach
1.5. The design submitted in response to this requirement was that
of the English Electric P.1A. It was to be able to meet or exceed
all the requirements of the specification and do this with an
amazing initial climb rate of 50,000 ft. per minute, something no
other aircraft could rival.
Two P.1A prototypes were built, the second improvement on the first,
and was distinguishable by having the underbelly fuel tank bulge
that was seen on the production aircraft. Both P.1As had a teardrop
air intake at the front with no cone.
English Electric P.1A
The P.1B was an improved version of the P.1A and looked like the
production aircraft, having the coned intake and the underbelly fuel
tank bulge. The P.1B is distinguishable by the tail, which has a
filet, this was absent in the production aircraft. The P.1B was a
success, exceeding Specification ER.103, and was chosen to go into
English Electric P.1B
Production started on the F.1 and the F.1’s armament included two
Aden cannons, and air to air rockets or missiles. The cannons were
mounted in the nose, each side of the pilot and above the air
intake. The F.2 was virtually the same aircraft but with some minor
modifications. These two versions were limited to Mach 1.7 because
of airframe strength concerns.
'Lightning' F.1 - Cannon Ports Visible on the Upper Nose
The F.3 was a major development on the F.2. The cannons were removed
and replaced with forward looking radar, the wing leading edges were
improved, it had a greater fuel capacity, the fuselage was
strengthened, more powerful engines were fitted, and the tail was
flattened at the top. This version could exceed Mach 2.
The F.3 was eventually replaced by the F.6 with increased fuel
capacity, noticeable by its much larger ventricle bulge which
contained both fuel and reintroduced cannons. Fuel capacity was
doubled by providing over wing, ferry fuel tanks which could be
It is important to note this aircraft was not designed as a fighter.
Its primary role was that of an interceptor. Its job was to get to a
height as rapidly as it could and destroy an incoming enemy aircraft
armed with a nuclear bomb. Don’t forget, the aircraft was designed
before the days of nuclear missiles. Its flight plan would be rapid
climb to 60,000 feet, intercept and destroy an incoming enemy
aircraft, return to base and be ready to do the same again as soon
as possible. Consequently, its low fuel capacity was not seen to be
an issue as the expected flight time was to be measured in minutes
rather than hours.
Pilots who flew the 'Lightning' loved it. It was, by all accounts, a
delightful aircraft to fly. I have to admit, for me, that is part of
the mystery and wonder of this aircraft. You only have to see a
'Lightning' take off to understand this was no ordinary aircraft.
Whilst a delight to, it was no walk in the park to either, and the
pilot had little in the way of sophisticated equipment to help him.
There were no complex fly by wire systems, no computer aided
decisions for the pilot to make, no frills, nothing of that ilk
whatsoever. It was, after all, conceived just a few years after the
World War II.
What you did have were two massively powerful engines stacked one on
top of the other and a stick to control it with. So I have to ask
the question, was it a delight to fly in the same way as a Spitfire,
graceful, responsive and a sublime experience? Or was it a delight
to fly because it scared you so much that you had to change your
trousers every time you few it? I will never really know, as no
self-respecting pilot would admit it, but I suspect it was the
latter. Let’s see if Aerosoft’s version provides any clues.
The specifications of the English Electric 'Lightning' F.3 are as
● take-off speed - 160 kts at 30,000 lbs;
● maximum take-off weight - 35,500 lbs;
● maximum normal landing weight - 34,500 lbs;
● maximum speed - Mach 2.27 at 36,000 ft;
● minimum speed clean - 180 kts;
● minimum speed clean, flaps and undercarriage down - 140 kts;
● initial rate of climb - 50,000 ft/min;
● landing speed - 155 kts;
● engines: 2 x Avon 301R;
● ceiling: 60,000 ft + (FLTLT Mike Hale recorded 88,000 ft in
● crew: one;
● radar: AI-23B; and
● armament: 2 x Red Top missiles.
Availability and Installation
This aircraft add-on is available from the Aerosoft web site as a
'download only' product. It is priced at €24.95 (including VAT), or
the equivalent on currency cross rates. The file size of 250MB is
reasonable for an aircraft of this type and quality and it requires
610MB of HDD space for installation. Installation is simple and is
managed by an executable file which automates the process. The
package supports Microsoft Flight Simulator X with Acceleration and
Perpar3D v2.2 or higher. This review is based on the FSX version.
The product comes with three documents. Volume 1 is the add-on’s
manual, which is available as a free download from the Aerosoft
website. The other two are scanned copies of documentation on the
real aircraft. Volume 2 is a guide to the cockpit and Volume 3 is a
scanned copy of the original pilot’s notes. These scanned booklets
are a testament to the quality of the add-on. The document which is
a scanned copy of the original aircraft’s cockpit guide can actually
be used to find your way around the add-on's cockpit. Another of the
documents included is the original pilot’s notes. These are more of
an interesting read but some of the information contained in this
documentation is relevant to the add-on, especially the information
on the aircraft’s procedures, limitations and instrumentation.
Included in this scan is another cockpit layout guide.
Finally there is the add-on’s own manual. This is an 18 page manual
which covers all the information you need to know to get started
with the aircraft. There is a brief introduction which traces the
fate of the aircraft presented in the simulation. There are the
usual sections on the system requirements, installation, support,
recommended FSX settings keyboard assignments etc. I felt that there
could have been a bit more information available in this document in
just a few areas. For example: there is a section on inflight
refuelling, It tells you that is possible, and a height band in
which you can do it but no more that this. Not a clue on how to
initiate the refuel. Nice though the original documents were, and
all credit to the accuracy of the virtual cockpit, but I felt that a
corner had been cut here and the scans used to make up the
difference. In any event the document set did not meld together
On the other hand, there was a detailed set of cockpit panels with
instructions of how each usable button worked. By that I mean
buttons to drag, those that have both left and right mouse click
functions etc.. A nice and very useful touch I thought. Detailed
information on what the buttons do is available in the real aircraft
cockpit document. Other more complex items such as the radar scope
were explained in greater detail here.
Having read up on the 'Lightning', I was expecting raw power and
great beauty. Starting FSX with the F.3 cold and dark, the first
thing I did was a walk around - a full body inspection. It’s worth
mentioning here that the title 'Lightning F.3' is a bit of a
misnomer. Sure there is an F.3, and it comes in several colour
schemes, but there is also a single example of the F.1A and the F.2.
As you will see from the illustrations below, from the exterior at
least, these two bonus variants match their real world counterparts.
Unfortunately, that is as far as it goes. The performance and
virtual cockpit for these two extra aircraft are identical to the
F.3. One can’t help feeling that a speed limitation of Mach 1.7 for
these earlier variants would have been nice to reflect the top speed
of the real world counterparts.
My walk around started at the nose. With the F.3 under scrutiny,
what met my eyes was very pleasing indeed.
Looking at the Engines Behind the Cone
Looking into the air intake behind the cone, a single engine can be
seen. This is the lower of the two engines. So far so good. It is
right that only one engine can be seen as the second engine is
mounted above and behind the first. It would not be visible without
the aid of a torch. The cone mountings are good, as are the colours
used. Next I duck under the wing to check out the undercarriage. The
detail in the undercarriage legs, wing void and doors is very good
indeed. All good so far.
Undercarriage and Bay
Emerging at the tail, I glance at the tail fin. It’s an F.3 for
sure, as the tail is cropped as it should be.
F.3 Tail - Clipped at the Top
I then switch to the F.1A to make sure that this detail has been
changed to conform to the F.1A's true life form.
F.1A Tail - Pointed at the Top
It has a rounded tip, still all good then. Next, the engines from
the rear perspective. As anticipated, there are two engines mounted
one on top of the other. Well rendered turbines are visible as they
should be. The fuel delivery rings for the afterburners are clearly
Jet Exhausts with Afterburners
After checking the other side of the aircraft, I come to the nose
F.3 Nose - No Guns
The F.3 nose has no guns visible and the 'Red Top' missiles have
nicely rendered lensed noses. With the F.3, the 'Red Top' missiles
are default, but can be exchanged for 'Firestreak' if wanted.
F.1A Nose - Gun Ports Visible
The F.1A’s nose has the gun ports visible, normally shrouded, but
open as shown in the screen shot when 'guns' are selected on the
weapons control in the cockpit. Nicely rendered 'Firestreak'
missiles are present on the F.1A and F.2 and are not interchangeable
with 'Red Top' missiles as these variants of the 'Lightning' did not
Over all, the detail and rendering is superb, as the screen shots so
far have illustrated, with beautiful burnished metal and incredibly
clear markings etc..
This add-on is a high end product. As with most top of the range
aircraft, there is no 2D cockpit. I feel this does not detract from
the product at all. This is a complex aircraft simulation and a 2D
cockpit would not be able to cope with half of what is on offer
here, and like many recent high quality products, a 2D cockpit would
be worthless baggage. If you like to fly 2D, then this product is
not for you - go and buy something simple.
For all the aircraft in this package, the virtual cockpit is that of
the F.3. OK, so this is not quite right, the F.1A and F.2 cockpits
were different, but I think it is acceptable, given the complexity
of the virtual cockpit. For those of you who are wondering what the
earlier variant 'Lightning' cockpit was like, the answer is, quite
different. No thermometer style airspeed indicator in the F.1A and
F.2 and the large radar scope wasn’t in the F.1A.
The Real Cockpit
The cockpit contains so many usable switches it is difficult to know
where to start. I cannot begin to list everything that can be done
from the virtual cockpit, it’s just too much. Suffice to say,
everything that FSX allows and is pertinent to the 'Lightning' F.3
can be done from the virtual cockpit, and a bit more besides.
One particular favourite feature of the virtual cockpit and of the
real aircraft is the thermometer style airspeed indicator. This
moves a marker up the scale from left to right until it reaches
about 600 kts at the extreme right hand side of the gauge. As Mach
numbers takeover, a scale then moves from right to left under the
stationary marker to indicate the airspeed by Mach number.
Back in the 1970s I owned a Morris 1100. It too had a thermometer
speedometer. I can’t help wondering if this car's speedo was
inspired by the gauge in the 'Lightning'. If so, I can’t think of a
more un-appropriate car to have such a thing!
The Aerosoft Cockpit
One of the more prominent features of the cockpit on the 'Lightning'
is the radar scope. In the illustration above it is stowed away with
its cover on, as it would be when not in use.
Using the Radar with the Sun Shield
The cover can be opened such that it forms a sunshield to enable the
pilot to see the radar screen in bright sunlight. Alternatively, the
cover can be removed and stowed away for night use of the radar.
This can be seen in the illustration below.
Using the Radar Without the Sun Shield
The radar function is not true to the real life counterpart, this
would be impractical to implement in FSX or P3D. Instead, the radar
offers several 'Modes' which can be selected by a dial which provide
what appears to be a customised version of the GPS output available
in many FSX/P3D aircraft. The only problem this radar has is its
visibility. With the sun shade on it is necessary to move the
pilot’s vision to the right by a fair amount, this is not achievable
by head movement alone. The pilot has to physically move to the
right whilst still looking forward. Not much of a problem if you
have a device like 'TrackIR', but harder when using keyboard alone.
The only way to achieve this required view is to use the eye point
left/right commands which can be a bit fiddly. It’s probably better
to remove the cover completely.
There are separate models for the F.1A, F.2, and the F.3. However,
differences in the models seem to be limited to outward appearance
only. I can’t help thinking this is a shame. Why go to all the
bother of creating an external F.1A and F.2 appearance and not make
the changes to make them perform differently. As I said before,
having the single virtual cockpit is, in my opinion, understandable,
but to at least tweak the top speeds down a bit to give the feel of
the earlier variants was an opportunity missed.
It does state in the manual the F.1A and F.2 outward appearances are
there for repainting purposes only, but as far as I can see, there
is no paint kit available. Another opportunity missed.
The Aerosoft 'Lightning' comes with nine liveries, seven F.3
liveries, one F.2 livery, and an F.1A livery. These cover liveries
from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, and therefore cover the
whole period that 'Lightnings' were in service. The liveries are
Above Left to Right
'Lightning' F.3, 11 Squadron, RAF, 1983
'Lightning' F.3, 56 Squadron, RAF, 1967
'Lightning' F.1A, Firebirds Aerobatics Team, RAF, 1963
Above Left to Right
'Lightning' F.3, 29 Squadron, RAF, 1967
'Lightning' F.3, 74 Squadron, RAF, 1965
'Lightning' F.3, 'Lightning' Training Flight, RAF, 1975
'Lightning' in Flight
Above Left to Right
'Lightning' F.2, 92 Squadron, RAF, 1963
'Lightning' F.3, 111 Squadron, RAF, 1964
'Lightning' F.3, 56 Squadron, RAF, 1967
Before we start, let’s quickly look at the options you have to
configure and start the aircraft. Pressing 'Shift + 2' brings up the
This screen allows you to choose a 'cold start' or a 'hot start'.
For the F.3 variants, it also allows you to swap out the 'Red Top'
missiles for the older 'Firestreak' armament.
Walk around completed, it’s time to put the F.3 to the test. To do
this I am going to fly three sorties out of Farnborough. Flight one
will be a scramble intercept mission, an all out after burner climb
to 40,000 ft, a quick flight at altitude, and a rapid return to
base. This emulates a classic 'Lightning' intercept. The second
flight will be a more sedate affair, a fuel conserving take-off
without afterburners and a ferry flight to Boscombe Down. The third,
an attempt to find the ceiling of this aircraft. As mentioned above,
FLTLT Mike Hale recorded 88,000 ft in 1984.
Flight 1 - The Classic Intercept
The 'Lightning' could be started one of two ways. The slow and
steady check list way, or the rapid scramble way. The latter needs
just three actions, switch on the oxygen, the master Gyro, and pull
up the starter panel gang switch and you are good to go. Sitting on
the end of the runway with the breaks on, push up the throttles,
then let her go. As soon as she is rolling straight, it’s full
afterburner on and a few seconds later you are airborne. Staying
straight and level, retract the undercarriage, the nose wheel is
last up, that’s realistic, and clean up the flaps. By now you are
really moving, so its stick back to a 60 degree climb and the
altimeter goes crazy.
A 60 degree climb is easily sustainable for the first 10,000 ft.
After that the sustainable climb angle slowly decreases until at
30,000 ft where the climb angle is 20 degrees. Beyond this, the
climb angle slowly deteriorates to five degrees at 50,000 ft.
Anything above this is a much slower effort. On this, my first
flight of the two, I had used almost 30% of my total fuel by 40,000
ft. Fuel was limited and probably gave me 15 to 20 minutes at normal
power to make my intercept and return to base. Not a lot of time
then. So that seemed to match the real thing fairly well. I have to
say that flying like this is exciting stuff, there are few flight
simulator add-ons which will get you to 40,000 ft as fast as this
one will and few that will fly as high as this as well. Not having
much time left, I did no more tests and returned to Farnborough.
Landing is fast. The air breaks help to slow the aircraft down
before and after touchdown and these are located each side of the
fuselage, just where the tail fin starts. Once on the ground, cut
the throttle and deploy the chute and the aircraft slows to taxi
speed. Dump the chute and taxi to the parking area. My feelings
after this first flight are that the flight dynamics and the
aircraft’s characteristics are excellent.
Flight 2 - Ferry to Boscombe Down
The purpose of this flight is to fly as economically as possible in
order to fly as far as possible between refuels. I will be looking
at the fuel very carefully on this run. So, no afterburner, maximum
flaps for take-off, and a more sedate climb to start with.
Farnborough to Boscombe Down is only about fifty miles, so a cruise
altitude of 15,000 ft was selected. This may not seem to be the best
test for economy, but the 'Lightning' had a limited range, and so
would not fly too far without an airborne refuel. The 'Lightning'
uses a lot of fuel during take-off and climb so 15,000 ft was
selected to minimise the fuel consumption that a significant climb
would have for such a short hop. Both Boscombe Down and Farnborough
were used for aircraft experimentation and development in the 1960s,
and therefore, such a short flight between the two would be a
Flaps down and throttle forward to full power without afterburners,
I was slightly alarmed at the length of runway needed to leave the
ground. However, once in the air and with the flaps and
undercarriage up, I set her up into a 15 degree climb. Such is the
power of the 'Lightning' that FL150 was soon reached, but with a
fuel cost of only about 10%. A short sub-sonic cruise was quickly
followed be a decent into Boscombe. Landing the 'Lightning' at a
shade under 200 kts is a fast and unforgiving experience. Like all
early jets, the engines don’t respond immediately to an increase in
throttle. There is a very pronounced lag from throttle to the power
response. Slow too much on your approach and stall, and you are
toast. You will not get the aircraft to respond in time. Approach
speeds must be carefully monitored and a go around decision made
earlier than most aircraft. Once a commitment to land is made, the
air breaks may be used to slow the aircraft, but you are going to
hit that runway going fast. This flight ended with 64% of fuel
remaining, most of the consumption was incurred on take-off, and a
fair amount whilst landing. From this performance, I would say the
endurance fairly represents that of the real thing.
Flight 3 - Altitude Record Attempt
In order to gain such a dizzy height, the 'Lightning' had to climb
to altitude conserving fuel as much as possible. But once at that
altitude, the aircraft was accelerated to its maximum speed with
full afterburner power, and then using this momentum, zoom up to the
required height. Although the flight models are the same for all the
variants in this add-on, I have chosen to fly an F.3 with a top
speed of Mach 2.1 rather than the F.1A or F.2 which should be
limited to Mach 1.7 for greater realism.
Take-off at normal power was uneventful, as was the climb, and at
40,000 ft I was doing about 350 kts and had used 20% of my fuel.
That’s 10% less than the intercept climb, which is a significant
amount in the 'Lightning'. Accelerating to Mach 2 at this height was
sure and steady, with no handling issues, and at Mach 2 I pulled the
stick back. The altitude went crazy as I shot upwards. 50,000 ft was
passed very quickly, the climb slowing down after that, but I still
continued rocketing upward. 60,000 ft was passed, but not so quickly
this time. 65,000 ft passed with a significant slow down, and by
70,000 ft, climbing was becoming hard as I had lost a lot of
airspeed. At 71,000 ft I topped out, with 60% of my fuel gone, I
need to descend to get back to the airfield with enough fuel to
land. Wouldn’t you just love to call up ATC and give your height as
I felt that with a refuel at 36,000 ft, I could have gone higher,
either by repeating the zoom climb or by slow degree. The
performance in this exercise is what I expected when compared with
real world accounts from 'Lightning' pilots.
The Edge of Space - You can see the stars in daylight and the curvature of the earth
All in all, the folks who put this package together have done a fine
job. The flight characteristics and dynamics are all you would
expect of this aircraft. It’s a beast, best at sprinting, and
although very stable within its flight envelope, step to close to
the edge and she will punish you - hard!
Special Effects and Extras
A VC10 tanker is supplied as AI for simulated refuelling, as the range of the 'Lightning' is so limited. How you
control the AI tanker is up to you although it is possible to refuel
this add-on in mid-air without another aircraft. To do this, the
aircraft must be between 10,000 ft and 36,000 ft and be flying at
between 250 and 300 kts.
Sound Barrier Shock Wave and Sonic
An additional animation is supplied with this
add-on. As the aircraft approaches the sound barrier, a vapour cone
builds up around the aircraft and dissipates after the sound barrier
is breached. As this happens, a sonic boom can be heard. I haven’t
come across this in an add-on before, and it is a nice little
addition. It is only visible and audible from outside the cockpit so
you have to be quick with the view change to catch it. As far as I
could see, this only happens when you go through the sound barrier
for the first time in a flight, which is a bit of a shame as it a
fun addition and would be nice to repeat several times a flight.
aircraft is armed with an array of weapons:
The aircraft can be armed with a selection of
missiles. Different aircraft variants have different default
missiles. The F.3 is armed with
'Red Top' missiles, but these can be
changed for the older 'Firestreak' missiles if required. The F.1A
and F.2 have 'Firestreak' and they cannot
be changed. Firing the missiles requires an
arming sequence, after which the joystick trigger is used to fire
them. There are no animations for
the missile launch which is disappointing.
The F.1A and F.2 have cannons in the nose. The F.3
was not armed with cannons. Selecting guns will uncover the gun
ports in the nose
when flying the earlier variants, but I
could not get the guns to fire. The F.3 has an identical arming knob
which includes a superfluous
checklists supplied with this add-on are first class. There are two
sets of checklists, a normal procedures checklist set which is
accessible by using 'Shift + 3' on the keyboard and then selecting
the tab on the list for the checklist you require. The thing that
raises this aspect of the 'Lightning' above other add-ons is the
inclusion of a full set of emergency procedure checklists. This is
accessible by selecting 'Shift + 4' on the keyboard. Both checklist
booklets are illustrated below.
A full set of sounds come with this add-on. They are of a high
standard and the quality suggests they were recorded from the real
aircraft. This is something that is expected for a high end add-on
these days. The only thing I found strange was the lack of loud jet
noise in the cockpit. Maybe that is realistic. After all, the
business end is well behind you in a 'Lightning', but it somehow
The technical requirements for the 'Lightning' F.3 are as follows:
● Intel Core 2 Duo, E6850 CPU (Core 2 Quad recommended);
● 2GB RAM (4GB recommended);
● DirectX 9 compatible graphics card with minimum 512MB (1GB
● Microsoft FSX (SP2, Gold or Acceleration) or Lockheed
Martin Prepar3D V2.2 or higher; and
● Windows XP, Windows VISTA, Windows 7, Windows 8 (fully
updated), 64 bit versions recommended.
Older, finely detailed add-ons have had a detrimental impact on my
average spec machine in respect to frame rates. The F.3 had
virtually no frame rate impact at all. It seems that quality
offerings these days are almost guaranteed to have a minimal impact
on frame rates and the Aerosoft 'Lightning' F.3 is no exception. I
rate the performance as excellent.
Value for Money
At the time of writing this package costs €24.95. That’s about £20
or US$32 at current exchange rates. It’s a deal, it’s a steal. It is
fantastic value for money. Simple as that.
Reviewer Computer Specification
The specifications of the computer on which the review was conducted
are as follows:
NVidia 2GB graphics;
Windows 7, (64bit); and
Microsoft Flight Simulator FSX Acceleration.
In the last year or so, there have been some very impressive
additions to the military side of FSX and P3D. The Aerosoft English
Electric 'Lightning' F.3 is right up there with the best. It is a
truly magnificent beast and captures the real world aircraft
Yes, there are a few little niggles mentioned in this review, but
these are mostly where the developer has perhaps tried to put in a
little bit more for their customers and not added the depth to those
extras in line with the main product. I guess some will like that
side, personally I would like to have seen the product stay strictly
on the F.3 topic and concentrate on the one version, or to provide
more robust F.1A and F.2 variants in the package. If the latter was
produced, then I would have been happy with a bigger price tag.
Like the real world 'Lightning', this add-on is not for the faint
hearted. It wouldn’t be very good if it was. If you are new to
flight simulators, then make this product a goal. Fly something more
forgiving first and work your way up to the 'Lightning' F.3, and
when you are ready, then go and buy it. If you are an experienced
virtual pilot, then lucky you, you are in for a treat!
A fantastic add-on at a very good price. An exciting aircraft with
phenomenal performance. A real challenge to fly!
● External Model:
● Flight Characteristics (does it fly by the numbers):
● Flight Dynamics (does it feel like what it looks like):
● Value for Money:
The Aerosoft English Electric 'Lightning' F.3 is awarded an overall Mutley’s Hangar score of 9.7/10,
with an "Outstanding" and a Mutley's Hangar Gold Award.