The English Electric Lightning could be equipped with removable overwing external fuel tanks (I believe the only aircraft ever built with this feature).

English Electric Lightning F6 English Electric Lightning F6 source

Were they designed to be safely jettisoned in flight? Perhaps it was necessary to be inverted to do so.


2 Answers 2


According to Wikipedia:

The Lightning F.6 was originally nearly identical to the F.3A with the exception that it could carry two 260-imperial-gallon (1,200 L) ferry tanks on pylons over the wings. These tanks were jettisonable in an emergency, and gave the F.6 a substantially improved deployment capability.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ For certain values of "safely". Nothing you do in a Lightning is ever really safe. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2023 at 20:55

The answer is yes they could be jettisoned, but with extreme caution because doing so with anything but empty tanks could jeopardise the airframe. There is an apocryphal story that attempting to jettison full tanks would result in them staying where they were and it was the wings that were jettisoned.

Each tank could carry 260 gallons (approx. 2000lbs) of fuel each.

F6 Lightning source

You'll notice the triangular warnings on both the support and the tank, indicating to ground crew that caution was needed when adding and removing the "overburgers".

According to the Lightning Aircrew Manual the procedure for fuel dumping was:

A guarded, two-position OFF/FUEL DUMP switch is on the left console of the F Mk 6. Fuel is dumped through a pipe running from the bottom of the centre compartment to the aft end of each overwing tank. The pipes are sealed by a blanking cap held in position by a hinged lever connected by two explosive bolts. When FUEL DUMP is selected, the explosive bolts of both tanks fire to free the lever which hinges open under the influence of a spring. Air pressure then dumps the fuel overboard, the transfer in the tank to its centre compartment following the normal sequence. From full, the tanks take approximately two minutes to empty, and a further two minutes for residual fuel and vapour to clear.

It later notes

Overwing tank fuel may be dumped at speeds between 220 knots and the maximum carriage speed at heights up to 36,000 feet. Dumping is normally to be performed in straight and level flight but turns and not more than +2g may be made if necessary.

Dumping was a necessary pre-condition of jettisoning the fuel tanks. The manual doesn't provide any emergency scenarios in which such an action might be necessary, but does say:

Empty overwing tanks may be jettisoned between 200 and 250 knots and up to 0.75M at heights up to 40,000 feet in straight and level flight. Overwing tanks containing fuel are not to be jettisoned.

Here is XN725 during testing of the tanks, with large fins to ensure clean separation under various loads.

Lightning XN725 source


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .