top of page

New Life Awaits Ex SA English Electric Lightning ZU-BBD

English Electric Lightning XS452, better known to South Africans as ZU-BBD, first flew on 30th June 1965 and began her service career with the OCU at Coltishall in September of that year. She ended her career with the LTF at Binbrook, and on disposal in 1988 was bought by Arnold Glass as part of his plan to operate several Lightnings. Flown to Cranfield, she mouldered away there while Arnold's plan came to nothing and ended up being sold to Tony Hulls of T5 Projects for restoration to taxiable condition.

The late Mike Beachyhead made Tony Hulls an offer he couldn't refuse, transported her to Cape Town and with Barry Pover's Classic Jets completed the restoration to full airworthy condition in 2001 she flew again, gaining her registration, ZU-BBD.

In November 2009, pilot Dave Stock lost his life in a fatal accident while flying one of Thunder City's other two-seat Lightnings, ZU-BEX (ex XS451), at an airshow in the Cape. The initial investigation conducted by the SACAA revealed that both the ejector seat and canopy separation mechanisms had failed. It was found that Thunder City had not serviced the seat when it was due in September 2009. Instead, they had extended the service interval twice, first by 30 days, and then by another 45 days.

In 2010, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) revoked Thunder City's Air Operating Certificate due to concerns about ex-military aircraft being used for civilian operations. As a result, Thunder City announced that it was shutting down operations. They were however eventually able to obtain approval from the CAA to operate a Buccaneer and a Hunter for private flights. They also managed to get ZU-BBD back in the air, but this was short-lived as Thunder City closed down in 2016 and the aircraft was put up for sale. The fleet was initially stored inside, but in 2020 it was moved outside while awaiting a new owner.

Jay Smith, an oil entrepreneur who had sold his business and driven by his passion for fast jets, bought the Thunder City collection. Smith and his company Hangar 51 planned on getting the ZU-BBD back in the air. Sadly he never realised this dream.

In 1997, the Anglo-American Lightning Organisation (AALO) was founded by Andrew Brodie, Jon Roth, Phil Wallis and Max Waldron. The group acquired English Electric Lightning T.5 XS422 in the UK and relocated it to Stennis International Airport, MS in the USA where it was meticulously restored to fast taxi capability.

The project has been led by Chief Engineer Phil Wallis and supported by a regular team of engineers, namely Dave Yates, Dave Tylee, Simon Johnson, Milton Roach, Kelvin Ware, Steve Browning and Jason Skinner. However, over the years many other engineers have also contributed such as Geoff Commins, Rory Elliot, and Nic Woodhouse to name but a few. Pilot Will Ward has also assisted them over the years and has fast-taxied XS422 on several occasions at Stennis International Airport.

In September 2023 AALO acquired a second Lightning T.5, XS452 (ZU-BBD) and the entire spares inventory from Hangar 51 in South Africa. After inspecting the aircraft and assessing the supporting equipment and spares, AALO believes it has a package that is capable of returning a Lightning to flight and meeting all its operational requirements.

After much consideration and with a heavy heart, AALO has decided to exit the USA and will no longer be involved in the restoration project of XS422. The organization will now dedicate all their efforts to returning XS452 (ZU-BBD) to flight by 2026.

As AALO closes the door on the U.S. they continue with the same team, and the same dream: to return a Lightning to flying condition.



bottom of page