Thunder & Lightnings

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

F.6 XP693 - Ian Black, Binbrook. Lincolnshire

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Lightning F.6 XP693 at Binbrook, 10th July 2023; Ian Black via Airfix

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 aficionados 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 displaying Lightning ZU-BEX at an airshow. 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 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 approval to carry out private flights. Sadly, ZU-BEY was never returned to flight after this incident, but her sister ZU-BBD did. In 2016, Thunder City sadly closed for good, with the aircraft going up for sale, and were stored outside for some years.

In late 2021, Hangar 51 Aviation acquired some of the fleet with a vision of returning them to flight - however ZU-BEY remained up for sale. In 2023 in a surprise announcement, Ian Black revealed via Airfix that he had bought the aircraft and had it dismantled and transported back to the UK - to join his other Lightning at Binbrook! The revelation was made on the 91st birthday of his father, George Black, himself a famous Lightning pilot.

Information on this page current as of 12/07/2023, last updated by Damien

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