Thunder City

Last updated
Thunder City Holdings
Industry Aerospace
Founded Cape Town, South Africa (1998-05-07 [1] )
Headquarters Cape Town, South Africa
Key people
Owner/Founder Mike Beachy Head; CEO Emilio Titus [2]
RevenueIncrease2.svg unspecified
Increase2.svg unspecified

Thunder City is an aircraft operating and maintenance company based at the Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town, South Africa. It was well known for owning the largest civilian collection of former military jet aircraft in the world. [3] These aircraft were used to perform in airshows and could also be chartered by the general public for recreational flights, including going supersonic and climbing to altitudes around 50,000 feet. Following a fatal accident in 2009 in which an English Electric Lightning crashed at an airshow, the company ceased flying operations after the accident investigation found major shortcomings in its maintenance programme. [4]


The company's other activities include upgrading older models of the Aerospatiale Puma helicopter with modern avionics and renovating airframes and engines. [5]

Company structure

Thunder City Holdings (Pty) Ltd. is the parent company of several subsidiaries:


Some of the aircraft are the most recently airworthy examples of the type.

In October 2012, three Lightnings, three Buccaneers and four Hawker Hunters were put up for sale. [7]

AAD 2008 controversy

During a display flight at the 2008 African Aerospace and Defence (AAD) show in Cape Town a pair of Thunder City Lightnings flew close to the city at supersonic speed. Only the higher one of the pair was planned to fly supersonic as it was considered to be high enough so as not to cause alarm, however the lower aircraft also broke the sound barrier. [8] The resulting sonic boom brought many complaints from the public. [9]

2009 Lightning crash

An English Electric Lightning T5, ZU-BEX, (RAF No. XS451) crashed while carrying out a display at the biennial South African Air Force Overberg Airshow held at AFB Overberg near Bredasdorp on 14 November 2009.

ZU-BEX in 2002 Electric Lighting & Jaguar (Cape Town, South Africa, 2002).jpg
ZU-BEX in 2002

The aircraft suffered hydraulic failure after a fire started in the rear of the fuselage. [lower-alpha 1] The pilot was killed because his ejection seat failed to operate due to the canopy not jettisoning. [lower-alpha 2] [10]

The accident investigation found major shortcomings in the maintenance program of the aircraft, [10] consequently the South African Civil Aviation Authority suspended the company's operating certificate in March 2010. [11] On 9 September 2010, it was reported that the Thunder City fleet would no longer take paying passengers.

On 22 August 2011 three Lightnings, three Buccaneers and four Hunters were listed as "for sale by private treaty" with Go Industry. The closing date for bids was 27 April 2012. [12] The first time Thunder City participated in an airshow since the 2009 crash was on 21 April 2012 at the AFB Overberg airshow. [13]

A set of Lightning tyres were sold by Thunder City to the Bloodhound SSC Project in August 2012. [14]


  1. The fire was caused by a fuel leak in the pipework supplying one of the aft-mounted reheat units. This leaked fuel pooled in the lower rear fuselage before the accident flight, being ignited by the reheat used during take-off. The resulting internal fire then burnt through the tailplane PFCU (Powered Flying Control Unit) hydraulic supply lines leading to a total loss of elevator control.
  2. The Martin-Baker Mk.4 ejection seat was inhibited from operating due to the canopy failing to jettison. This failure was found to be due to internal corrosion within some piping leading to the rupture under pressure of the line supplying high-pressure gas to the left canopy securing latch during canopy jettisoning, leaving the latch still engaged - normal release of both latches at the front of the canopy during jettisoning allows the airflow to flip the canopy up and away from the aircraft which then permits automatic activation of the seat firing mechanism. The canopy could also be manually jettisoned but investigators assume the pilot did not have the time to do so due to the low altitude at which the accident occurred. In the case of an unsuccessful automatic canopy jettison, the seat ejection system is designed to automatically fire the seat ejection gun as soon as the canopy has been successfully jettisoned manually. Although several of the ejection gun cartridges examined at Thunder City by investigators were past their 'expiry date', there is no reason to suppose they would not still have operated normally when and if they were actuated.

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  1. "THUNDER CITY HOLDINGS". CIPRO. Archived from the original on 2011-08-07. Retrieved 2008-10-19.
  2. Birns, Hilka (15 October 2008). "Thunder City launches Puma conversion programme".
  3. 1 2 "Local man takes to the skies with Thunder". Weekend Post. 2008-06-07. Archived from the original on June 12, 2008.
  4. "Thunder City has ceased flying". August 2010.[ permanent dead link ]
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Welcome to Thunder City". Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  6. "Thunder & Lightnings — Gloster Javelin — Survivor XA553". 2010-11-11. Retrieved 2011-10-03.
  7. "Thunder City Aircraft Company - Historical Military Jets". 22 Apr 2013. Archived from the original on 2 February 2013. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  8. "Africa Aerospace and Defence 2008". Retrieved 2011-10-03.
  9. Independent Newspapers Online (2008-09-21). "Air show booms rankle residents — South Africa | IOL News". Retrieved 2011-10-03.
  10. 1 2 "Aircraft Accident Report CA18/2/3/8706" (PDF). South African Civil Aviation Authority. Retrieved 27 October 2016.
  11. "Thunder City se vlerke geknip". Die Burger. 2010-09-08. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
  12. "Thunder City Aircraft Company — Historical Military Jets — GoIndustry DoveBid". 2011-08-04. Retrieved 2011-10-03.[ permanent dead link ]
  13. kykNET Overberg Airshow 2012,, Retrieved 2013-10-08
  14. "Bloodhound diary: Supercar needs supertrack". 24 August 2012. Retrieved 27 November 2014.

Coordinates: 33°58′58″S18°36′06″E / 33.982738°S 18.601786°E / -33.982738; 18.601786