Non-luminous relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds have been detected by the radio signals of low frequency ∼40–400 kHz which they radiate. The electron beams occur ∼2–9 ms after positive cloud-to-ground lightning discharges at heights between ∼22–72 km above thunderclouds. Intense positive lightning discharges can also cause sprites which occur either above or prior to the electron beam. One electron beam was detected without any luminous sprite which suggests that electron beams may also occur independently of sprites. Numerical simulations show that beams of electrons partially discharge the lightning electric field above thunderclouds and thereby gain a mean energy of ∼7 MeV to transport a total charge of ∼−10 mC upwards. The impulsive current ∼3 × 10−3 Am−2 associated with relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds is directed downwards and needs to be considered as a novel element of the global atmospheric electric circuit.