The Lightning F.53 is a single-seat interceptor aircraft, of all-metal construction, powered by two fuselage mounted, straight-flow, turbo-jet engines. The aircraft is capable of supersonic performance in most flight conditions. The leading and trailing edges of the mid-mounted main plane and the stab tail plane are highly swept, as is the leading edge of the single fin. Because of the high sweep-back of the main planes, the ailerons are positioned right close to the wing tips more so than on less highly-swept main planes.

The structure is orthodox for it time being mainly of semi-monocoque design, except for some use of honeycomb-sandwich panelling e.g. in the rudder, tail plane and ailerons. The fuselage is constructed in two units, the front unit containing the pressurised cockpit and engine air intake duct, and the rear unit the engines and jet pipes. The main planes are assembled to the rear fuselage as a single unit prior to final assembly of the complete fuselage. Access to the engines and items of equipment is gained through removable or hinged hatches, and numbered access panels, in the skin.

The nose is formed by the circular lip of the single air-intake duct and the conical centre-body which houses the A.I radar. Aft of the nose, the intake duct dips to pass under the cockpit and then divides to form separate ducts to the two engines. Beneath the duct are the nose undercarriage bay and a removable armament pack. The top of the duct is the lower limit of the pressurised cockpit area, the forward and aft limits being pressure bulkheads. Fixed windscreen panels and a jettisonable clam-shell canopy cover the cockpit, and a dorsal spine, housing miscellaneous equipment, extends aft from the canopy to the leading edge of the fin.

The major part of each main plane constitutes an integral fuel tank of irregular shape, extending almost from the centre-line of the aircraft. Part of the leading-edge structure forms a second fuel tank, the whole of the flap forms a third fuel tank and the ventral tanks a fourth. Additional fuel can be carried in two jettisonable over-wing fuel tanks.