Thunder & Lightnings

English Electric Lightning

Survivor XR773 (ZU-BEW, ex G-OPIB)

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F.6 XR773 - Thunder City Aircraft Company (for sale), 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. Sold to Mike Beachy Head in 1997, she was shipped to South Africa and work began on getting her airborne again late in 2000. A year later, she has flown once more, and unusually for Mike's aircraft, retained her in-service colours.

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 seperation 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. Worryingly it is reported that they continued flying regardless - e.g. see here.

In September 2010, Thunder City put out a press release saying that they were shutting down operations, blaming the financial climate and inconsistencies in how the SA CAA applied their regulations. This was the end of the Lightning in civilian ownership in South Africa and all of the TC airframes were put up for sale. More than 10 years on, none of them have been sold, and the Lightnings have not flown since at least 2012. The size of the effort to put any of these airframes back in the air with a known history of poor maintenance standards and a decade of disuse means it is surely unlikely any of them will fly again.

Information on this page current as of 19/03/2021, last updated by Damien

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