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Farnborough Air Sciences Trust ( FAST )

Posted by Scott Sullivan on

“ The English Electric Lightning from dawn to dusk” Village Hotel, Farnborough: 23/02/16

Flyingraphics were lucky to be able to attend a talk by Air Vice-Marshall ( Retired ) George Black CB, OBE, AFC and his son Ian Black, who both shared their experiences flying the English Electric Lightning to a, filled to capacity auditorium. The title of the talk was “dawn to dusk”, this relates to the fact that George Black was one of the first RAF Lightning pilots and his Son Ian Black was the last RAF pilot to be trained on the Lightning, a rather unique family legacy, another of which will be explained at the end of this piece.

After a brief welcome and introduction from FAST Trustees the audience was invited to observe a minutes silence in the memory of the recently departed Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, a long time patron of FAST, by watching a series of slides depicting his most distinguished, never to be repeated or beaten, flying career and life.

First to take the podium was George Black, whilst viewing archive slides he provided a fascinating narrative describing his long and distinguished career in the RAF and specifically his experiences with the Lightning.

Air Vice-Marshall George Black joined the Royal Air Force in 1950 and after undergoing flying training in Canada, joined No 263 Squadron at RAF Wattisham in 1952. In 1956 he was seconded to the Fleet Air Arm with a carrier-borne attack squadron. Two years later he took a course at the central Flying School and in 1959 became an Advanced Flying Instructor and later Flight Commander on Vampire T11s. In 1961 he was with No 74 Squadron for the introduction into service of the Lightning. AVM George Black described his introduction to the Lightning by recounting just a few short hours of simulator experience before strapping on a Lightning for his solo, made more incredible when explaining that there were no two seat trainer versions at that time. Imagine what it must have been like to solo in the most powerful jet of it’s time, like nothing seen before, having only just stepped out of a simulator!  Amazing. This was followed by a period of staff duty at Headquarters Fighter Command. He became Commanding Officer No 111 Squadron equipped with Lightnings in 1964 and subsequently leading the Lightning Display Team in 1965, which included at a moments notice to flight to Jordan and provide the then King of Jordan a flight experience in a two seat trainer. A staff tour at the Ministry of Defence followed in 1966. A flying tour as Chief Flying Instructor at the Lightning Conversion Unit was followed by another tour as Commanding Officer No 5 Squadron, also equipped with Lightnings.

The Joint Services Staff College course was completed in 1970 and the following year he took up a staff appointment in the Ministry of Defence. In 1972 he was appointed Station Commander at RAF Wildenrath, which was followed by an appointment as Group Captain Operations, Headquarters 38 Group in 1974. Until 1976 he was closely involved with policy and concept of operations for the Harrier Force, and was Field Force Commander of the RAF Germany squadrons for two years. After attending the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1977, he was appointed as Group Captain Operations No 11 (F) Group.   He became Commander Allied Sector One, Brockzetel in May 1980 in the rank of Air Commodore and became Aide-de-Camp to HM The Queen in July 1981. A tour as Commandant of the Royal Observer Corps followed in February 1983 and he held this appointment until September 1984. Following promotion, he became Deputy Chief Staff Operations at Headquarters Allied Air Force Central Europe, a post he held until his retirement in April 1987.

Air Vice-Marshall Black has over 5,000 flying hours on about 100 different types of aircraft and is a member of the RAF Historical Society.

Following his Father, after a short interval Ian black took to the stage. Ian started by outlining his RAF flying career, having started at the Height of the Cold War by flying back seat in the F-4 Phantom in RAF Germany, Ian wanted to pursue his childhood dream of following in his hero’s ( Father’s ) footsteps, and started pilot training in 1984. In Ian’s own words with mathematics not being his strongest subject and also, initially having his flying skills described as ‘distinctly average’, Ian had his work cut out. Having said that by the end of pilot training in 1986 Ian had been awarded prizes for; flying ability, aerobatics and navigational skills.

After flying training, Ian was selected for an Air Defence Role flying the English Electric Lightning, fulfilling his childhood dream. Some twenty five years after his Father had been one of the first Lightning pilots, Ian was unknowingly to become the last RAF pilot to be trained on the Lightning, subsequently serving with 11 (F) Sqn in a QRA role flying 400 hours in the Lightning.

During his talk Ian remarked, as did his Father previously, what a superbly responsive, advanced, unique and overwhelmingly overpowered aircraft the Lightning was in flight, however it required the upmost of concentration, attention and respect. Ian described the best part of any sortie as landing safely and feeling the tug of the break shoot before powering down to taxi. He also described the need for constant attention in flight especially on an intercept where they may be required to drop down to 1000ft above the North Sea in the dark while trying to navigate an intercept through the radar welly, when there was a constant need to readjust flight controls and monitor fuel levels. Finding yourself 100 miles off shore over the North Sea with minima fuel levels was not ideal!

Ian went on to describe many other anecdotes, far too many to mention here but it was a fascinating insight into the life of a Lightning pilot, all of which was greatly appreciated by the audience.

Ian’s flying career continued post lightning onto F.3 Tornado with 23 (F) Sqn then 25 (F) Sqn, before returning to 11 (F) Sqn. Ian flew Tornado in the first Gulf War, Falklands Islands and a ‘Red Flag’ exercise at Nellis AFB. Having flown 1200 hours on the Tornado ADV, Ian was only the second RAF pilot selected as an exchange Officer with the French Air Force flying the Mirage 2000 based at Orange in Provence, from 1993-1997. During this time Ian took part in a number of operations over Bosnia and Iraq with nearly 800 hours on the Mirage of which 300 hours were on live combat missions.

Ian left the RAF in 1997 and joined Virgin Atlantic Airways where he is currently Captain on the Airbus A340/ A330 fleet but presently qualifying on the Boeing 787 Dream Liner.

As hinted at the top of this piece the Black dynasty with Lightnings is quite unique, in fact the gate guardian at the FAST museum http://www.airsciences.org.uk/museum.html is that of a T.5 English Electric Lightning XS420 http://www.xs420.com. Not only has George Black flown this aircraft but so has Ian Black, more remarkably, Ian’s brother Stuart was also treated to a flight in XS420 by his Father, so this aircraft has a unique Black family provenance. The attached image was taken on the afternoon of the talk in front of XS420 and includes from left to right; Ian Black, Richard Hall ( proud owner of XS420 ), George Black and former Chief Test Pilot Vic Lockwood, ( but there’s another story ).


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