Thunder City classic jets find buyer; work underway to return aircraft to flight

A buyer has been found for the fleet of extremely rare classic jets belonging to the defunct South African Thunder City collection, according to SA Flyer.

The South African aviation media site reports that all ten of the Thunder City jets have been purchased by Jay Smith, an ex-oil industry entrepreneur who now runs aviation maintenance firm Hangar 51.

World-renowned Thunder City, based in Cape Town, operated a fleet of four English Electric Lightnings, three Blackburn Buccaneers, seven Hawker Hunters, a BAC Jet Provost and an Aérospatiale Puma. The collection was said to be the world’s largest collection of airworthy classic jets, offering air displays and passenger flights. Its Lightnings and Buccaneers were the only flying examples of their kind in the world.

However, the company was rattled by a fatal airshow accident in 2009, involving one of their Lightning T.5s. Subsequent investigations found major shortcomings in the company’s maintenence operations, resulting in the fleet being grounded for over a year. Although some aircraft returned to flying airshows, they did not continue to fly fare-paying passengers. Much of the fleet was soon put up for sale, and the company flew their last airshow in 2015.

The death of the company’s 59-year-old owner, Mike Beachy Head, in May 2017, brought about the end of operations. Several years after his death, the company’s purpose-built hangar was sold, and the jets left outside, exposed to the elements.

With hopes fading that the aircraft would ever fly again, the remains of the collection were bought by Mr Smith in late 2021. This includes three Lightnings, three Hunters, three Buccaneers and one Jet Provost. As part of an effort to restore at least some of the aircraft to flight, Buccaneer S2B undertook a successful engine run on the 13th January 2022.

Hangar 51 already has experience of operating vintage jets, including an L-29 Delfin

SA Flyer reports that Mr Smith is in negotiations to move the fleet into a hangar at Cape Town and that he plans to “get as many of the aircraft flying as possible” for use in an air-to-air combat school similar to Draken International.