Avro Lancaster ‘Air to Ground’ photo sortie
Welcome to this latest edition of Aerodrome and our regular look at the fascinating world of aeroplanes and the historic aviation scene in the UK.
In the previous, rather topical edition of Aerodrome, we looked back ten years to the retirement of the RAF’s Nimrod maritime surveillance fleet and the arrival of the first aircraft selected for museum preservation at the Yorkshire Air Museum on Tuesday 13th April 2010. Since that blog was published, the RAF have now taken delivery of their first ‘Nimrod replacement’, the Boeing Poseidon MRA Mk.I, which arrived at Kinloss in a blaze of publicity on 4th February, the first of nine such aircraft purchased to perform this vital role. Clearly an extremely capable aeroplane, it remains to be seen if Poseidon will be held in the same public affection as its predecessor and indeed, if it will serve the nation as faithfully.
For this latest edition of our blog, we stay with the subject of classic British aircraft, but thanks to our good friends at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, we have something very special indeed. As well as making a welcome return to the home of famous Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’, thanks to one of the museum’s dedicated volunteers, we have been given access to some unique images of the aircraft which call East Kirkby their home – images which have been taken from 400ft above them. It’s time to strap yourselves in for a unique birds eye view of this popular historic airfield, and air to ground images featuring both a Lancaster and a Mosquito – you will definitely not want to miss this edition.
A living Bomber Command Tribute
Beautifully maintained, Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ is one of the best loved historic aircraft in Britain and a fitting ‘living’ tribute to the wartime personnel of Bomber Command
On the night of 17th April 1945, the Avro Lancasters of RAF No.57 Squadron were being prepared for their latest bombing raid deep into what remained of a devastated Third Reich and as everyone went about their duties at East Kirkby airfield, little did they know that the war in Europe would be over in just a matter of days. As crews tried their best to take their minds off the impending mission, their aircraft were being prepared for action by an army of ground trades, fuelled up and armed in a routine which had been perfected during five long years of war. Unfortunately, even these preparations for operations were extremely hazardous and on that evening, the normal sounds associated with a busy Bomber Command airfield were shattered by a huge explosion.
The bombs needed for the mission had been collected from the off-site bomb store and just before they were to be winched into the bomb bay of each Lancaster, they had to be fused by armorers, an operation which was intended to make the operation as safe as possible for all concerned. Unfortunately, on this occasion, something went wrong. As one of the armed 1,000lb bombs was being winched into position aboard a No.57 Squadron Lancaster’s bomb bay, it slipped its wire and fell to the ground, causing a huge explosion. The blast caused a chain reaction of explosions which had everyone running for cover and during the ensuing melee, four men would tragically lose their lives, with a further 17 suffering injury. In addition to the human casualties, six Lancaster bombers were destroyed and a further 14 damaged, in what would prove to be an extremely dark day in the history of RAF East Kirkby. The incident illustrated just how dangerous a place a wartime airfield was, whilst at the same time highlighting the invaluable work done by ground crews an associated trades during the Second World War.
Lancaster office. It is difficult to imagine how the young men of Bomber Command could fly these complex machines over great distances at night and under fire night after night during WWII
Following the end of the Second World War, activities at RAF East Kirkby gradually wound down and by 1964, it was deemed surplus to requirements and sold off by the government, quickly reverting back to farmland. Still owned by a farming family, the site retains its original control tower and many of the outbuildings constructed during the airfields wartime service and when viewed from the air, it is still possible to make out sections of the original runway and perimeter tracks. Significantly, the former East Kirkby airfield is now home to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and is home to a fantastic collection of wartime artefacts and memorabilia, with the evocative centrepiece being Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’, an aircraft which is maintained to an extremely high standard and in ground running condition.
Now a major visitor attraction in the region, a trip to the museum at East Kirkby is like stepping back into the 1940s and can be an emotional experience for anyone, especially if they have family links to Bomber Command operations during the Second World War. With all this taking place on the site of a preserved WWII RAF bomber station, can there possibly be a finer place to see an Avro Lancaster anywhere in the UK?
The museum itself was established by two local farming brothers who were determined to preserve the site as a memorial to the men of RAF Bomber Command and specifically as a tribute to their eldest brother Christopher Whitton Panton, who was shot down during a bombing raid over Nuremberg in the early hours of 31st March 1944. He was serving as flight engineer on a Handley Page Halifax B.III of No.433 Squadron (RCAF), operating out of Skipton-on-Swale in North Yorkshire for this raid, when it is believed his aircraft shot down by a marauding Messerschmitt Bf 110 Nightfighter. Five of the crew, including Chris Panton, tragically lost their lives on that night, with the remaining two being taken prisoner by the Germans.
Beautifully preserved, the original wartime buildings at the former RAF East Kirkby provide the backdrop to a truly memorable experience, when visiting the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
Purchased by the Panton Brothers in 1983, Avro Lancaster B Mk.VII NX611 ‘Just Jane’ was originally intended as a rather impressive personal aviation memorial to the memory of their older brother, but as time went on, it would become the focal point for something much more public. When they bought the aircraft, it was serving as Gate Guardian at RAF Scampton, however, as the existing arrangement required that it must serve ten years in this role, it would be a further four years before it could be moved to its new home at East Kirkby. This gave the brothers ample time to construct a hangar on the site of an original wartime T2 hangar and continue the renovation of the existing airfield buildings. As East Kirkby was a former Lancaster base, it seemed somehow fitting that NX611 would be forming the centrepiece of their unique tribute.
Following its arrival, work to reassemble and renovate their impressive acquisition began immediately and it did not take long before the brothers decided that this should not simply be a static aircraft memorial. Pleased with what they had achieved so far, they were now determined that the former East Kirkby airfield would once again reverberate to the sound of Merlin engines and as the renovation work progressed, they had yet another idea. What if they were to allow members of the public to view their magnificent aircraft and to experience the historic surroundings of this genuine former Bomber Command airfield? With this as their ultimate aim, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre opened its doors for the first time in 1988 and since that date, has attracted huge numbers of visitors to this quiet corner of Bomber County, to sample a memorable aviation experience which has many people coming back year after year.
From Gate Guardian to flying memorial
One of the most famous aircraft of the Second World War, the Avro Lancaster is familiar to millions of people and the opportunity to see one in taxiable condition means East Kirkby is a popular destination throughout the year
As one of the best loved historic aircraft in Britain, Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ has built up an army of dedicated enthusiast followers, many of whom will regularly make the trip to see her at East Kirkby, especially if she is making one of her frequent taxy run sorties. As impressive as the story of this aircraft undoubtedly is, information which began to circulate during the 2016 Airshow season proved to be nothing short of monumental in historic aviation terms – the aircraft’s owners were seriously exploring the possibility of returning this Lancaster to airworthy condition.
At this present time, the world can only boast two Lancaster airframes which are in airworthy condition, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster B.1 PA474 based at RAF Coningsby and the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Lancaster Mk.X FM213, which flies out of Hamilton International Airport, Ontario. As you can imagine, both of these aircraft are incredibly popular and are assured of attracting impressive crowd numbers at any event where they are scheduled to appear. As the sole airworthy Lancaster in Europe, it is also interesting to note that the BBMF’s PA474 is hangared only 8 miles away from East Kirkby, making this small corner of the UK a real hotbed of Avro Lancaster activity at the moment.
The decision to attempt to return ‘Just Jane’ to the air was not taken lightly, particularly as the costs associated with such a project are truly astronomical, not to mention the crucial CAA implications of returning a WWII era multi engined aircraft which has not flown for almost 50 years, back to airworthy condition. Despite these significant challenges, the team behind this exciting project used the aircraft’s 2016/2017 winter servicing programme to make a start, assessing the condition of the airframe and producing a schedule of tasks required to turn this dream into a reality. Crucially, this would also allow them to obtain a reasonably accurate indication of all cost implications associated with such a mighty undertaking.
The decision to remove the paint from NX611 meant the start of an extremely busy period for the LAHC team and offered some unique views of their beloved Lancaster
What comes off has to go on again. As ‘Just Jane’ had a busy year of events to undertake in 2017, she had to receive a new coat of paint once the initial inspection works had been completed
Back to the day (and night) job. Taxi runs, photoshoots and an East Kirkby Airshow all required the attendance of this famous aeroplane
Representing a high profile indication of their intentions, a decision was taken to strip all paint from Lancaster NX611, revealing the aluminium skin of the aircraft for the first time in around 40 years, an undertaking which would allow engineers to assess the condition of the aircraft and its suitability for a return to flight attempt. Any areas of concern they discovered could either be rectified immediately or logged for future attention and the task of attempting to source any rare and expensive components they were going to need, started in earnest. Clearly, this search for Lancaster parts would be a challenge and may involve contacting specialist suppliers from all over the world.
The task of removing 40 years of paint from a historic aircraft is a specialist undertaking, particularly when considering that previous repaints had simply been applied on top of existing schemes and on most areas of the airframe, six layers of paint had to be removed. In areas which featured the iconic RAF roundel and fin flashes, even more layers of paint were discovered, with around ten previous applications having to be removed, a significant amount of unnecessary weight lifted from the Lancaster’s airframe. This work was carried out by a professional aviation painting company who usually work on modern civilian airliners and it was interesting to learn that whilst it takes five days to strip the paint from a Boeing 747 Jumbo, it took twelve days to strip a WWII Lancaster.
With all the paint removed from the airframe, the renovation team at East Kirkby began their assessment of the Lancaster’s aluminium skin, looking for any areas of corrosion and undertaking a deep inspection of the component parts of the aircraft. The works also offered enthusiasts a truly unique view of the aircraft, as this assessment work (other than the actual paint removal process itself) was carried out during normal museum opening times, allowing them to see this famous Lancaster in various stages of disassembly, where it resembled a huge 1:1 scale Airfix kit. With everything from the bomb bay doors to the gun turrets removed from ‘Just Jane’ and various component parts stored on racking or wooden supports behind the aircraft, this was a real treat for anyone with an interest in historic aviation.
There is something truly evocative about seeing a historic aeroplane displayed at a former WWII RAF bomber station, with the addition of experienced reenactors attempting to recreate scenes from over 70 years ago
Unfortunately for the renovation team, ‘Just Jane’ still has to maintain her busy annual schedule of existing commitments, ensuring that vital income continues to flow in to the museum for as long as possible during this return to flight process. Following completion of the first winter inspection period, the aircraft had to be repainted back into her familiar scheme, placing yet more financial burden on what must surely be considered one of the world’s most exciting and ambitious aviation projects.
Ever increasing costs have the potential to end this Lancaster dream, however, we can all get involved in playing our own small part in ensuring Britain could have two airworthy examples of the most famous bomber of WWII flying in our skies. By either paying a visit to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre or by directly contributing to this project’s Rivet Club, we can help keep this project on track and hopefully at some point in the near future, have the satisfaction of knowing that we helped to get this magnificent aircraft back into the air.
Special Ops pre-flight briefing
An aerial view of the East Kirkby site, with the old control tower in the centre right and ‘Just Jane’s’ home in front of the line of parked cars. The old main runway runs off to the far right, beyond the furthest tree-line
Although the good people at East Kirkby work extremely hard to ensure ‘Just Jane’s’ legions of followers can enjoy the aircraft ether during a museum visit, or at one of the many special events held at the centre throughout the year, this hard work does allow them close access to one of the nation’s most famous aircraft and the opportunity to enjoy one or two little perks. One man who can often be found at the LAHC site and who has been a regular supporter and contributor to our Aerodrome blog is Martin Keen, a volunteer who has been helping at East Kirkby since 2005, originally as one of two resident photographers, but more recently undertaking a multitude of additional duties.
As a photographer, Martin has the opportunity to take plenty of images around the museum site, not only of the famous aircraft which are cared for here, but also the evocative surroundings of this former Bomber Command site. A keen embracer of technology, he has also taken his photography to new heights over recent years and we are extremely grateful that he has kindly allowed us to share a selection of his fascinating East Kirkby related images with fellow Aerodrome readers. As any photographer will tell you, the opportunity to secure an unobstructed, elevated vantage point from which to take your pictures is one which is highly prized, but few could hope to hover 400 feet above a historic Avro Lancaster. Fortunately, we know a man who can!
Looking like an Airfix model diorama, this is an elevated shot of ‘Just Jane’ which would simply not be possible without the advent of effective drone technology
It’s all a question of perspective. Different flight heights allow for very different views of the same scene, each one offering a stunning bird’s eye perspective of the East Kirkby site
Sometimes the shot of the day comes whilst using more traditional photographic methods
In addition to his trusty DSLR and impressive lens collection, Martin recently invested in a new piece of photographic equipment, one which combines flexible image gathering capability with the very latest electric flight technology – a camera drone. The impressive DJI Mavic Air drone is designed to allow users to safely and easily obtain video and still image footage from perspectives which are simply not available to traditional photographers, allowing something of a birds eye view of scenes we may all be familiar with, but never from these fascinating and captivating new angles.
Clearly, the operation of drones has come under increased scrutiny over recent months and as you may imagine, using one in the vicinity of a priceless historic aircraft is not going to happen without a certain amount of prior planning. Being on the edge of RAF Coningsby’s flight zone and their status as a QRA station does not really pose too many problems for Martin, particularly as he has the ability to check phone apps such as 360 Radar and Flight Radar 24 for any activity in advance of a planned drone flight. From a legal perspective, drones are not allowed to fly at heights above 400ft, but this is plenty high enough to obtain some pretty spectacular images and in many cases, pictures taken at lower heights have ended up being amongst Martin’s favourites.
Before embarking on any drone flight, as well as ensuring the immediate airspace is clear and all equipment has been checked and double checked, Martin also has to brief the pilots responsible for taxiing the aircraft he will be photographing. In addition to this, he also has to brief ground and fire crews, as well as any reenactors who may be present during the shoot. In most cases, if an event is open to members of the public, a drone sortie would not be planned, despite the incredible stability and safety features built into every machine. If the drone is allowed to fly, you can be confident that a fine selection of video and still images will be obtained, all of which will probably play a valuable part in future PR and marketing projects for the Heritage Centre.
Since arriving at East Kirkby, De Havilland Mosquito NF.ll Nightfighter HJ711 has become a significant enthusiast draw in its own right and has featured in a number of photoshoots and taxiing demonstrations
Historic aviation brothers in arms, East Kirkby now has a pair of iconic British aircraft to thrill the crowds during one of their event days
A fascinating elevated image of Tony Agar’s Mosquito, with the panels removed on one engine revealing the intricate network of pipework needed to allow the mighty Merlin engines to fire into life
In recent times, a visit to East Kirkby has not just been about Lancaster ‘Just Jane’, as this famous aeroplane now has a rather enigmatic hangar companion. De Havilland Mosquito NF.ll Nightfighter HJ711 arrived from its former home at the Yorkshire Air Museum during the summer of 2017 and since that time, has seen its restoration to taxiing condition gain renewed impetus. This resulted in the aircraft taxiing under its own power during the 2019 season, to the delight of the thousands of visitors who attended the annual East Kirkby Airshow or if they were extremely lucky, during a normal museum visit. Whilst performing these runs, the engines needed ‘proving and running in’, so were conducted with the engine cowling panels removed. This again allowed for some unique drone footage opportunities, particularly as the plan is to run the aircraft with her engine cowlings in place during 2020, making these early ‘running in’ images a fascinating record of this aircraft’s restoration story.
We end this special East Kirkby drone edition of our blog with a final selection of Martin’s fantastic images and if these don’t have us checking our diaries to see when we can next pay a visit to this magnificent museum, we should probably ask someone to check we still have a pulse. We would like to sincerely thank Martin for allowing us to feature this stunning selection of images within Aerodrome and to wish him and the rest of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre team every success for the coming season and in their ongoing endeavours to return their Lancaster back to airworthy condition.
In this final selection of images, we begin with a ‘before and during’ drone shot of an evening photoshoot event at East Kirkby, where the Avro Lancaster is very much the star of the show. All the pictures used in this edition of Aerodrome were taken by and are being shown with the kind permission of East Kirkby’s Martin Keen and have allowed us all to enjoy a different perspective on a visit to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre – thanks again Martin
For anyone thinking of paying a visit to East Kirkby this year, their Events Page is the place where you can find all the latest details regarding everything going on at LAHC this year. For those wishing to help the team in their endeavours to get Lancaster NX611 flying again, their Rivet Club is always grateful for any support it receives and will certainly put funds to very good use. Finally, if you would like to spend a thought-provoking few minutes watching an excellent short video which say’s much about what a visit to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is all about, you must watch their ‘She will fly again’ video. A great piece of work and a reminder of why so many of us keep going back to this wonderful place.
I am afraid that is all we have for you in this latest edition of Aerodrome, but we will be back as usual in two weeks’ time with more aviation related content for your enjoyment. If you would like to send us a selection of your own pictures, or suggest an aviation related subject you would like to see covered in a future edition, please use our email@example.com address, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
In between new editions of our blog, the aviation related conversation continues over on the Airfix Aerodrome Forum and we can also be contacted on either the Airfix or Corgi Facebook pages, in addition to Twitter for both Airfix and Corgi - please do get involved in the discussions and let us know what you think about Aerodrome.
The next edition of Aerodrome is due to be published on Friday 28th February, where we look forward to bringing you even more interesting aviation related features.
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