Thunder & Lightnings

English Electric Lightning - Survivor XR773 (ZU-BEW, ex G-OPIB)

F.6 XR773 - Hangar 51 Aviation, Cape Town, South Africa

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Lightning F.6 XR773 at Thunder City, 31st October 2012; Francis Wallace

XR773 first flew in February 1966 (with Roland Beamont at the controls) and served with 74, 56, 5, and 11 Squadrons as well as the Lightning Training Flight. Retired from RAF service in 1988, she then became one of British Aerospace's small Lightning fleet, used for various chase and test duties before being sold to Classic Jets in Exeter in 1992. She was ferried to Exeter where she was maintained in good order until it became clear flying her in the UK wasn't going to be allowed. In 1997, XR773 was sold to Mike Beachy and was shipped to Cape Town South Africa to join the Thunder City fleet. By late 2000, work had begun on getting her airborne once again. A year later, she took to the skies once again, keeping original in-service colours and given the serial ZU-BEW.

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 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. Once Thunder City got approval from the CAA again, in September 2010, they put out a press release saying that they were shutting down operations, meaning that they were not going to operate as a business anymore, but carry on doing private flights only. In 2011, the collection was put up for sale, to which none was sold. Although ZU-BEW. was well looked after and undercover, she never took to the air again. The only lightning in the collection to take to the skies after this was ZU-BBD.

Thankfully, the news many have been waiting to hear, is that ZU-BEW., 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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