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Cold War top gun was one of first to join 1,000 Mph Club

David Jones, beside his Lightning jet interceptor in the 1960s  Picture: MoD

David Jones, beside his Lightning jet interceptor in the 1960s Picture: MoD

Archant

As a 23-year-old pilot flying the RAF's fastest jet, David Jones and 74 Squadron's top guns were our first line of defence if the Cold War ever warmed up.

David Jones at his home in Hunstanton, with a model of one of the aircraft he flew  Picture: Chris BishopDavid Jones at his home in Hunstanton, with a model of one of the aircraft he flew Picture: Chris Bishop

As Russia flexed its nuclear muscles in the 1960s, supersonic Lightning fighters based at Coltishall were ready to climb six miles into the skies to intercept Soviet bombers before they could attack our nation's nuclear bases.

Their speedy attack would safeguard Britain's V-bomber force and buy time for it to launch a counter-attack.

"I was the 20th Lightning pilot," said Mr Jones, now 85, whose membership of the 1,000 mph club now hangs on the study of his home in Hunstanton. "It was a load of nonsense, but it was a bit of fun. In those days 100mph was something in a car."

RAF COLTISHALL; LIGHTNING PLANES TAKING OFF; NO DATE; plate p1800RAF COLTISHALL; LIGHTNING PLANES TAKING OFF; NO DATE; plate p1800

The English Electric Lightning's phenomenal climb rate and air-to-air missiles made for a phenomenal deterrent. It took just 110 seconds - less than two minutes - to reach 36,000 ft.

"It was quite a push going up," said Mr Jones holding a model of XM135, one of the aircraft he flew. "Like a fast car, but in a car it stops after a little while. In a Lightning, it just kept going."

Joining the RAF in 1956, the then Plt Off Jones, from Cambridge trained to fly in Canada. From a piston-engined Harvard, he graduated to early T33 and Vampire jets, before moving on to the Hawker Hunter and north Norfolk. In 1959, the game-changing Lightning arrived on the scene, with 74 Sqn the first to fly them.

David Jones walked away unharmed after landing his aircraft on a carpet of foam  Picture: MoDDavid Jones walked away unharmed after landing his aircraft on a carpet of foam Picture: MoD

"It was a cold war and the Soviets would keep probing our air space and we'd have to go up," said Mr Jones. "As soon as they saw us coming, they would move into international waters. The Cold War was all about us saying: 'If you hit us, we can hit you back.' It worked - it was a peaceful era."

After a spell with 19 Sqn at RAF Leconfield, in East Yorkshire, he returned to Coltishall where he trained the next generation of Lightning pilots before retiring as a Sqn Ldr in 1976.

His career went more or less without incident, apart from a memorable prang at RAF Leconfield in 1963 where he landed a Lightning whose nose wheel had failed, putting the aircraft down perfectly on the carpet of foam laid down by firefighters - which was just as well with 800lbs of highly inflammable aviation fuel still sloshing around the jet's tanks, which would not have made for a good day at the office had a spark ignited it.

David Jones made an emergency landing after the nose wheel of his jet failed  Picture: MoDDavid Jones made an emergency landing after the nose wheel of his jet failed Picture: MoD

Mr Jones worked for the National Blood Transfusion Service for 20 years after retiring from the skies, arranging blood donor sessions across Norfolk.

He and wife Canny, who he married in 1964, remain stalwart supporters of Hunstanton lifeboat, of which he is treasurer. The couple have three children, five grand-children and two poodles.

Lightning pilots return from a mission  Picture: ArchantLightning pilots return from a mission Picture: Archant

Pilots and aircraft at Coltishall  Picture: ArchantPilots and aircraft at Coltishall Picture: Archant

Lightnings lined up at Coltishall  Picture: AchantLightnings lined up at Coltishall Picture: Achant

A Lightning touches down at Coltishall  Picture: ArchantA Lightning touches down at Coltishall Picture: Archant

A Lightning jet from RAF Coltishall being refuelled in the air  Picture: ArchantA Lightning jet from RAF Coltishall being refuelled in the air Picture: Archant

A Cold War Lightning fighter, which flew from RAF Coltishall at the West Norfolk and Fenland Aviation Museum at Wisbech  Picture: Chris BishopA Cold War Lightning fighter, which flew from RAF Coltishall at the West Norfolk and Fenland Aviation Museum at Wisbech Picture: Chris Bishop



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