ABOVE: The Lightning was operated out of RAF Binbrook by 5 Squadron and 11 Squadron.

English Electric Lightning F.6 XP693 has returned to RAF Binbrook, where it was unveiled at an event to mark Lightning pilot Air Vice-Marshal George Black’s 91st birthday.

Air Vice-Marshal George Philip Black CB OBE celebrated his birthday with lunch in the newly refurbished Station HQ, surrounded by esteemed friends and colleagues. As part of his special day, his son (and fellow Lightning pilot) Ian Black arranged possibly the biggest birthday present possible: the world’s largest Airfix kit which, at 1:1 scale, was transported in via lorry. The ingeniously decorated shipping container contained the disassembled Lightning XP693, which will now be reassembled at the former Lightning base.

The ‘Warton Lightning’ – so named for its work as a trials aircraft at Warton, Lancashire – first flew in June 1962 and was retained by BAe, where it played a pivotal role in the development of the Panavia Tornado’s Foxhunter radar from 1988 to 1992. However, after being finally retired in 1992, XP693 was later transported to Thunder City in Cape Town, South Africa. Here, under the registration ZU-BEY, it became one of the last airworthy Lightnings worldwide. Following a crash of sister ship XS451 during a 2009 air display, Thunder City finally closed in 2016, marking an end to the type’s airborne appearances.

Although XP693 is not set to take to the skies again, its return to what Ian Black describes as the Lightning’s ‘spiritual home’ is the culmination of many years of hard work, and its preservation will surely stand as a fitting tribute to all those involved with the Lightning’s prestigious story.