Thunder & Lightnings

English Electric Lightning - Survivor XP693 (ZU-BEY, ex G-FSIX)

F.6 XP693 - Hangar 51 Aviation, Cape Town, South Africa

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Lightning F.6 XP693 at Thunder City, 1st November 2012; Francis Wallace

XP693 first flew on 16th June 1962 as an F.3 but was retained by BAC for development work, being converted to F.3A (interim F.6) standard and later to a full F.6. She spent most of her life as a trials aircraft, at Boscombe and Warton, with such varied tasks as avionics work for the MRCA (Tornado) programme, cannon firing trials, use as a high-speed radar target, etc. XP693 is a Lightning many afficionados of the type know well, because of her years on the testing scene and her flying career extending until the end of 1992. Keeping her highly polished natural metal finish for that whole time, she was a distinctive part of BAe's test fleet and on retirement was sold to the Classic Jet Aircraft Company and flown to Exeter as G-FSIX.

Stripped down and practically rebuilt by Barry Pover's team, she was possibly the most perfect Lightning in existence and as such was one of several to be transported to South Africa to join Mike Beachyhead's collection of aircraft known as Thunder City, where she was given the serial ZU-BEY and was returned to the air, becoming a regular airshow performer.

Sadly in November 2009 a fatal accident claimed the life of pilot Dave Stock whilst flying one of Thunder City's other Lightnings, XS451. The SA CAA's initial investigation found that the ejector seat and canopy separation mechanisms had both failed, and Thunder City had not serviced the seat when it was due in September 2009, instead of extending the service interval by 30 days and then another 45. This began a sequence of events whereby the SA CAA looked harder at the question of operation ex-military types on the civilian register and reportedly revoked TC's Air Operating Certificate. In September 2010, Thunder City put out a press release saying that they were shutting down operations due to not meeting CAA approval. After much work and effort, they managed to get CAA approval and so got a Buccaneer, a Hunter and eventually ZU-BBD back in the air. However, they could now only carry out private flights rather than offering back seat flights to anyone. After the crash of XS451, ZU-BEY never took to the skies again. However, she was kept undercover and was well looked after. Around 2016, Thunder City closed for good, putting the aircraft outside for storage, and putting them up for sale.

Thankfully, the news many have been waiting to hear, is that ZU-BEY, along with the other Thunder City airframes were purchased by Hangar 51 based in South Africa in late 2021, with the vision to return a few of them to the air once again for all to enjoy - hopefully, this will include one of the Lightnings!

Information on this page current as of 12/01/2022, last updated by Jake

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