A little about IWM Duxford’s English Electric Lighting F1 interceptor XM135


IWM DUXFORD’s ENGLISH ELECTRIC LIGHTNING is a very early production example of the type.

Designed to protect Britain’s nuclear bomber force by intercepting Soviet aircraft that may target the bomber bases, even this early example could reach almost twice the speed of sound within minutes of taking off. (1)

Eventually more than 300 Lightnings would see service with the Royal Air Force as well as the air forces of Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

It would evolve and serve for more than 30 years. (2)

ENGLISH ELECTRIC LIGHTNING Interceptor XM135 on display at IWM Duxford. The aircraft wears the colours it had when in service with No. 74 Squadron RAF. Copyright: © R Maddox 2019.

ENGLISH ELECTRIC LIGHTNING Interceptor XM135 on display at IWM Duxford. The aircraft wears the colours it had when in service with No. 74 Squadron RAF. Copyright: © R Maddox 2019.

Lightning XM135 first flew on 14 November 1959 before serving in a variety of RAF units during a career spanning almost 25 years. (3)

During this time it became the last flying example of the F1 variant remaining in RAF service.

In 1962 while serving with No. 74 (F) Squadron RAF the aircraft was part of the ‘Tigers’ – the official RAF Fighter Command display team at that time. (4)

The team was formed of nine Lightning aircraft and named after the tiger’s head emblem on the squadron badge. (5)(6)

In July 1966 XM135 was about to be assigned to the Target Facilities Flight (TFF) at RAF Leuchars in Scotland and was undergoing major servicing at No 33 Maintenance Unit based at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire.

TFF units were formed to provide training for pilots flying other more modern Lightning aircraft in interception and combat techniques.

On Friday 26 July it unexpectedly took to the skies in the hands of the 33 MU’s Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Walter ‘Taff’ Holden.

Having read engineering at university, joined the RAF in 1943 and qualified as a pilot, Holden had chosen to serve as in the Engineering Branch.

Both he and the Air Ministry considered that his hands on flying experience would give him greater insight into rectifying the engineering problems that aircrew might report.

Having qualified on piston engined trainers his only experience of military jet flying was as an observer in a Gloster Javelin fighter and in an English Electric Canberra.

ENGLISH ELECTRIC F.1As undergoing deep servicing at No. 60 Maintenance Unit at RAF Dishforth. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference RAF-T 4439. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205378780.

ENGLISH ELECTRIC F.1As undergoing deep servicing at No. 60 Maintenance Unit at RAF Dishforth. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference RAF-T 4439. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205378780.

No. 33 Maintenance Unit was a mixed civilian and RAF unit that serviced after Meteor, Canberra and Lightning aircraft before they were returned to flying duties, either with their original unit or reassigned.

As part of his staff Holden had a qualified jet pilot who test flew the serviced aircraft. This officer was not qualified on the Lightning aircraft but Holden was able to ‘borrow’ a qualified and current Lightning pilot when necessary – often from nearby RAF Boscombe Down, the RAF’s test and evaluation centre.

As mentioned above XM135 was being reassigned to TFF and a persistent electrical fault that appeared when the aircraft was in moving in the first few metres of its take-off run.

This situation continued for weeks with the No 33 MU’s electricians replacing components time after time only to have the fault reappear. Not only was this frustrating to all involved, it was creating a backlog – and at a time when the unit was being prepared for closure.

On top of this at least one Boscombe Down pilot had said he would not fly the aircraft (and thereby clear it for reassignment to the TFF unit) until the fault had been clearly identified and rectified.

The pressure was on.

The electrical engineers decided to do a phased testing of all the possible electrical circuits that might be causing the fault.

They devised a plan whereby a pilot would be asked to run the engines move the aircraft about 50 metres and to operate banks of temporary switches each time which would be connected to monitoring equipment. In addition as these tests needed a section of (unused) runway a radio link was established with the airfield’s control tower so that they knew what was happening in case of any emergency.

Knowing that Holden was a qualified RAF pilot and that the all that was required was to move the aircraft over a short distance – and possibly also knowing that the tests could be repetitive and time-consuming – a Boscombe Down pilot suggested that Holden do the engine runs.

For ease of access and because of the additional monitoring equipment the aircraft had its canopy removed.

In addition the aircraft’s undercarriage was locked firmly in place and the ejector seat pins inserted so that a slip of the hand couldn’t send the aircraft crashing to the concrete below or the pilot rocketing into the sky above.

After a five-minute briefing on how to start the huge jet engines, Holden – wearing overalls and ear defenders like the rest of the ground crew – climbed into the cockpit and watched as the aircraft was towed to an unused runway.

Strapped into the aircraft, Holden had a member of his staff radio the airfield’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) to say he was starting the tests.

He noted the switch positions on a note pad, applied the aircraft’s brakes and then gently opened the throttle – feeling the aircraft vibrate as it strained against the brakes – moved the aircraft about forty metres, reapplied the brakes and flicked the switches back and added any relevant comments to his notepad.

With ATC permission he repeated the test with different switches and positions. The aircraft moved another forty metres. More notes and more flicking of switches.

While this second test was being conducted ATC had stopped a fuel tanker at the side of the runway and before the third test started had told it to cross to the other side.

Permission was sought and granted by ATC for what Holden thought would be the final test. He made his notes, repositioned switches, held the brakes and moved the engine throttles forward.

Then it happened.

He misjudged the extent of the throttle movement and the engines roared into reheat.

Now unburnt fuel was being mixed with the exhaust stream supplying even more power.

The eleven ton (11340kg) aircraft overcame the brakes and sprinted forward.

Using some very colourful language Holden tried to drag the throttles closed but they had locked in and needed disengaging.

Looking up he saw the fuel tanker had almost crossed the runway and he needed to ensure he didn’t hit them. With the undercarriage locked and reheat engaged it was impossible to steer the aircraft.

He hurtled towards the crossing point on the main runway where a transport aircraft was making its take-off run.

Running out of his own runway he saw the small village of Bradenstoke at its end.

Moving the control column back towards him, the jet into the air.

Having averted disaster on take-off he managed to disengage reheat and slowed the aircraft.

He now needed to land.

He had no flying helmet and no direct contact with the ground. He couldn’t eject as the seat was made safe by a multitude of safety locks.

He did the only thing he could and summoning up his pilot’s knowledge he came round towards the main runway for an emergency landing.

In all he made three attempts to land – learning more about the handling of the Lightning each time and recalling things like his brief introduction to the aircraft earlier in the day and times spent in the ATC armed with a copy of the Pilot’s Notes for the Lightning – an aide-memoire of facts and figures that he used should the pilot testing one of the serviced Lightnings have a technical question.

But although he was a qualified pilot his flying experience had been on training aircraft like the North American Harvard with him keeping up his knowledge on the little De Havilland Chipmunk – both very different to what was a few years earlier a front-line jet fighter.

On his third attempt he had all the information he needed to try a serious landing. He opted to land the ‘wrong way’ on the main runway – that way he wouldn’t overshoot and crash into Lyneham, another nearby village.

He made a wide circuit adjusting the controls to line up the jet with the runway. Down he came and as the main wheels touched the ground he released the braking parachute designed to slow the aircraft quicker.

Unfortunately he landed as he would have in one of the aircraft he was familiar with – all of these having a tail wheel and no nose wheel.

This means that he banged the tail of the aircraft against the ground and severed the brake chute cable which meant that the brake ‘chute had dropped useless to the runway as soon as it was released.

‘I felt reasonably calm because I had almost killed myself on five occasions in that 12 minute flight, yet I had miraculously survived.

What is more, I would see my wife and young family. Two or three times in that same 12 minutes, I thought I would never ever see them again.’

from Wing Commander Holden’s own account at http://counties.britishlegion.org.uk/counties/beds-herts-counties/articles-of-interest/a-memorable-fright

Although Wing Commander Holden was relieved to find he still had a career in the Royal Air Force the flight had a number of lasting effects on him.

By his own admission he was ‘unprepared for the release of the story to the public’ and became frustrated by the inaccuracy of some of the accounts written about his flight – some of which apparently had him flying while sitting on a box or even a wicker chair.

It is perhaps illustrative of the man that in an account written by him he notes complains that:

‘People wanted to write articles in newspapers, books, magazineS, interviews on TV and radio and underhand attempts to hear my account of what had happened.

Having admitted that I had made an unwise decision to do the ground tests, I decided that the unwanted publicity that I had attracted was in no way going to be for financial gain.

I steadfastly refused offers, although for a two-page article in the Sunday Express I requested the editors to make a contribution to the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund.

Despite prompts, no monies were ever handed over and I became very disillusioned with all publicity media.’

from Wing Commander Holden’s own account at http://counties.britishlegion.org.uk/counties/beds-herts-counties/articles-of-interest/a-memorable-fright

Elsewhere in the same account he states:

‘I have never sought publicity but, whenever it became impossible to suppress, I have had to live with it.

I enjoyed my career in the Royal Air Force, but not because of XM135!’

from Wing Commander Holden’s own account at http://counties.britishlegion.org.uk/counties/beds-herts-counties/articles-of-interest/a-memorable-fright

But he was to discover more than just frustration with the media.

He would spend at least two periods in hospital as a result of discovering a fear of high speed flying.

‘I had not come to terms with the emotional side of the event.

To return to my wife and family, after five close encounters with death, was indeed a miraculous experience, but I had not been honest with myself, to accept it as such, so I needed psychiatric help.

I could recall the technicalities of the flight without any hang-ups, but was unwilling to talk about that emotional side of the ordeal until I was placed under medical drugs and to bring those emotions to the surface.

That was a rewarding experience and it gave me a much better understanding of people who might need that same kind of help, after similar unfortunate occurrences.’

from Wing Commander Holden’s own account at http://counties.britishlegion.org.uk/counties/beds-herts-counties/articles-of-interest/a-memorable-fright

 OFFICE AWARD. The cockpit of Lightning XM 135. In this image - taken by IWM Duxford Volunteer Alun Clements at an Open Cockpit event some years ago at IWM Duxford - the small plaque commemorating Wing Commander Holden's leap to fame can be seen propped up on the cockpit coaming. Image © Alun Clements and used with his permission.

OFFICE AWARD. The cockpit of Lightning XM135. In this image – taken by IWM Duxford Volunteer Alun Clements at an IWM Duxford Open Cockpit event some years ago – the small plaque commemorating Wing Commander Holden’s leap to fame can be seen propped up on the cockpit coaming. Image © Alun Clements and used with his permission.

In 1974 the repaired aircraft was declared non-effective (that is no longer required by the RAF). (7)

It joined the Imperial War Museum’s collection at Duxford in April 1975 where it is resplendent in the colours it wore when serving with No 74 (F) Squadron RAF. (8)

Walter V Holden, BSc died on 11 December 2016 at the age of ninety. (9)

Additional information

The details of Holden’s flight and afterwards are based on a much fuller account written by him and published at:


It is also where the quotes by Holden are drawn from.

This same account can be found at a number of other websites.

I believe it was written to try and correct the inaccuracies and myths that had grown up around the story – such as Holden was sitting on a box ( https://www.pprune.org/archive/index.php/t-570180.html and https://www.pprune.org/archive/index.php/t-590489.html ) or even a wicker chair ( https://www.pprune.org/archive/index.php/t-161406.html ) when he inadvertently took off.


(1) http://www.skytamer.com/English_Electric_Lightning_F.6.html – retrieved 5 February 2019

(2)https://www.baesystems.com/en-uk/heritage/english-electric-lightning – retrieved 5 February 2019

(3) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/70000160 – retrieved 5 February 2019

(4) http://www.thunder-and-lightnings.co.uk/lightning/survivor.php?id=30 – retrieved 5 February 2019

(5) http://aerobaticteams.net/en/teams/i127/teams.html – retrieved 5 February 2019

(6) https://www.natotigers.org/tiger-units/74-f-squadron – retrieved 5 February 2019

(7) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/70000160 – retrieved 5 February 2019

(8) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022291 – retrieved 5 February 2019

(9) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/70000160 – retrieved 5 February 2019

A little book of wonders

Olivia Calman IWM London

Olivia has recently stopped volunteering with IWM London.

Before she left she wrote this post appealing for information on a personal project.

THE FIRST WORLD WAR produced all manner of art.

Trench art comes in several forms, magazines, carvings, shell cases and anything else you can imagine.

One form that is sometimes overlooked are notebooks. Each is a pocket art gallery, filled with life and colour that document a world known for mud and death. One such notebook sparked my curiosity.

But in order to find more I need help.

The notebook that started is all belonged to my great grandfather Gordon Calman.

It is full of paintings and sketches, phrases and signatures including Rudyard Kipling’s.

As you have seen in previous blogs Gordon fought in Europe during the First World War. Most of the art in this notebook dates from late 1917 – to early 1919, while Gordon was in France as a member of the New Zealand ‘Perriots’ concert party.

Gordon J Calman, 'Stars and Stars, 1919'. © Calman Family Collections, Wellington, New Zealand.

Gordon J Calman, ‘Stars and Stars, 1919’. © Calman Family Collections, Wellington, New Zealand.

Each picture in the notebook was penned by a different artist. Professionals and amateurs alike, who lived or travelled through the area. Below is an example.

E M Casey, 'Pilot Fish, France 1917', © Calman Family Collections, Wellington, New Zealand.

E M Casey, ‘Pilot Fish, France 1917’, © Calman Family Collections, Wellington, New Zealand.

This little book hints at a thriving artistic community amongst the mud, trenches and misery of this “the war to end all wars”.

I have seen reference to ‘Cal’ or ‘GJ Calman’ in another notebook, in an online forum, but so far have been unable to locate the physical notebook.

So here is my question. Have you seen any similar notebooks or diaries from the First World War?

Do you have one tucked away in a draw or cupboard or hiding in the attic?

I would love to hear from you as I continue to explore these hidden gems of the human spirit, hidden amongst the horror of war.

If you can help Olivia in her search please contact her through the comments section on this post.

Comments will be passed to her and she will reply directly to the email you give.

The Regent and the boy who would be King – His Royal Highness The Emir ‘Abd al-Ilah, Regent of Iraq and King Faisal II of Iraq, photographed by Cecil Beaton

Richard Maddox

PHOTOGRAPHED IN 1942 AT A PALACE IN BAGHDAD BY CECIL BEATON, the young King Faisal of Iraq is shown with the Regent ‘Abd al-Ilah who ruled Iraq on his behalf until the King acceded to the throne at the age 18.

All images copyright © IWM. Image details from (left to right)

Far left: IWM catalogue reference CBM 2398. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205127596
Middle left: IWM catalogue reference CBM 1161. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205266410
Middle right: IWM catalogue reference CBM 2399. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125082
Far right:  IWM catalogue reference CBM 2392. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125081

AMONG THE IMAGES MADE BY CECIL BEATON DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR THAT ARE IN IWM’S COLLECTION are those showing his work photographing what he became most known for – famous people of the time and fashion.

The images above show not just his technical portraiture skills but also his creativity. Together that made him a novel choice to document life in wartime for the British Ministry of Information.

The young prince is shown seated on the throne that he will one day inherit, with his regent behind and finally as a simple young boy seated on the floor.

Even the stiffness of the poses seem to tell the story of a young man aware of his future responsibilities.

Following the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was broken up and Britain started administering the provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul under a mandate from the League of Nations in 1921.

Following a revolt by the Iraqi population who feared the mandate as a cover for British colonisation it then became a as a semi-independent state governed jointly by the British and King Faisal who had been instrumental in the Arab Revolt and later in the defeat of the Ottoman forces in the area by the British in 1917 and 1918.

King Faisal continued to rule when the British withdrew and the Kingdom of Iraq was established in 1932 before dying following a heart attack in 1933. (1)

His son King Ghazi was killed in a car crash in 1939 aged 26 and King Faisal II became king of Iraq at the age of four. (2)

With the King too young to rule, the Emir ‘Abd al-Ilah acted as regent. Often referred to as his uncle, the Emir was his second cousin and was briefly removed from power by a nationalist coup lead by future Iraqi prime minister Rashid Ali al-Gailani in 1941 before being restored by the British. (3) (4) 

This coup attempt was backed by the Germans in a variety of ways including support from the ex German Ambassador Dr Fritz Grobba who having been left Iraq in September 1939 would return under a false identity. (5) 

On 14 July 1958 members of Iraq’s military seized power and executed the King, the Regent and other members of the Royal family and government. (6) (7) (8) 

King Faisal II was 23 years old and engaged to be married to Her Royal Highness Princess Sabiha Fazila Ibrahim Hanim Sultana of Egypt when he died.

As the echos from the gunshots faded the Republic of Iraq was born, its first president being Abd Al-Karim Qasim.

Later the place of execution – a new palace commissioned by the young King Faisal  – would become the Iraqi Republican Palace.

Interestingly neither Qasim or Saddam Hussein – who had a number of palaces – chose to live there. Following the end of the invasion phase of the Iraq War the palace was occupied by American military before being handed back to the Iraqi government in 2009. (9) (10)


(1) https://www.spectator.co.uk/2014/02/faisal-of-iraq-by-ali-a-allawi-review/ – retrieved 1 March 2019

(2) https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/08/why-britain-created-monarchies-middle-east – retrieved 1 March 2019

(3)  http://www.mideastweb.org/iraqaxiscoup.htm

(4) https://www.newhistorian.com/hitler-sends-bombers-aid-rashid-ali-al-gailanis-iraq/6464/ – retrieved 1 March 2019

(5) https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/blog/arcaheology-second-world-war-iraq/ – retrieved 1 March 2019

(6) http://www.niqash.org/en/articles/society/5955/ – retrieved 1 March 2019

(7) http://www.arabnews.com/node/1339046/middle-east – retrieved 1 March 2019

(8) https://adst.org/2014/07/the-iraqi-revolution-of-1958/ – retrieved 1 March 2019

(9) https://eng-archive.aawsat.com/theaawsat/lifestyle-culture/the-story-of-iraqs-republican-palace – retrieved 1 March 2019

(10) https://failedarchitecture.com/architecture-after-excess-the-palaces-of-saddams-baghdad/ – retrieved 1 March 2019