Merlin powered ‘Synchro Pair’ star at East Kirkby show
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. Thankfully, with the most intense period of 2019 UK Airshow activity now behind us, it is time to take stock, fill up those hard drives and rest those weary limbs for a few days, as there is nothing like four consecutive Airshow weekends to remind you that you are definitely not getting any younger. After an incredibly busy July, August tends to be much more civilized for me, as your roving Aerodrome reporter does not usually attend any of the seaside shows which invariably take place during this month, choosing to take things a little more slowly, in anticipation of a busy end to the season. Even though there are currently only a couple of August events in the diary, I did start the month with something of a bang, as I travelled to Lincolnshire to take my place amongst the crowds at one of my favourite Airshows of the year, the East Kirkby Airshow. Offering a very different aviation experience to the one I had enjoyed at an exhausting Royal International Air Tattoo just two weeks earlier, the annual East Kirkby Airshow has a number of unique features which keeps the crowds coming back year after year and with the 2019 show promising to offer some unique photographic opportunities, this was definitely not the year to give this event a miss. In the latest edition of Aerodrome, we bring you a photography rich review of this hugely enjoyable show and the opportunity to see (and hear) De Havilland Mosquito NF II HJ711 firing up her Merlin engines for the first time at an East Kirby Airshow, as this magnificent nightfighter performed taxying demonstrations with famous Avro Lancaster ‘Just Jane’. Before we begin, could I please ask any Aerodrome readers who may be planning to attend one of the seaside Airshow events taking place over the next few weeks, to please send in a selection of your pictures, so that we can share them with fellow readers all over the world – our usual firstname.lastname@example.org address is the one to use please. Right then, let's head to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and some ‘Merlin magic’.
No ordinary Airshow event
View from the office. Taken from the cockpit of the Lancaster, as the first members of the public are admitted to the show. As usual, the Lancaster proved to be the centre of attention
With so many Airshow events for the UK aviation enthusiast to consider attending each year, we can sometimes find ourselves a little spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding which ones to support at the beginning of each new season. With ever increasing transport and accommodation costs now a significant consideration for us all, events which offer something that little bit different appear to be increasing in popularity, be that in the types of aircraft scheduled to take part in the display, or simply what the event offers in terms of atmosphere. Many of the country’s smaller events will take large sections of their crowd figures from the surrounding area, as local people look to support a local event, whilst at the same time, looking forward to an interesting family day out. Some of the larger, arguably more famous events, which take place at locations such as Duxford and Fairford’s Royal International Air Tattoo, will attract people from much further afield, as the sheer numbers and variety of aircraft on display will prove an irresistible draw for both enthusiasts and the more casual hobbyist alike. Undoubtedly, the more shows you attend, the easier it is to compile your list of favourites and whilst some events have to be attended simply because of their aviation reputations, others continue to attract the crowds by virtue of their enjoyment factor and the fact that they offer something the larger shows don’t – charm and character. From a personal perspective, one event I look forward to attending every year is the East Kirkby Airshow, a show which is held on the site of a former WWII Bomber Command airfield and home to the impressive Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. With only limited space available to the organisers, crowd numbers are restricted to around 5000 people each year and once you have experienced this show, you will most definitely be wanting to come back again in future years. As I joined the crowds queueing outside the centre early last Saturday morning, I was excited to be back at East Kirkby once more and very much looking forward to enjoying a day at one of my favourite Airshow venues.
The former Bomber Command airfield at East Kirkby was originally opened in August 1943 and was to become the home of the Avro Lancasters of Nos. 57 and 630 Squadrons during the latter stages of WWII. East Kirkby based Lancasters were used on 212 operational raids against enemy targets, with 121 aircraft and their crews failing to return and a further 29 Lancasters lost due to training accidents and technical issues. One particularly unfortunate accident occurred on the night of 17th April 1945, when a No.57 Squadron Lancaster was being bombed up in preparation for that night’s raid – as the bombs were being armed and winched into the bomb bay, a fused 1,000lb bomb dropped to the ground and exploded. The blast ignited the rest of the aircraft’s bombs and set off a chain-reaction of explosions amongst the other Lancasters parked nearby. Three service personnel tragically lost their lives in the explosions, with a further 14 suffering injury - at least five aircraft were destroyed, with many others sustaining damage, on a night which illustrated just how dangerous a wartime airfield could be and how the invaluable work of ground crews and armourers deserves much greater recognition than it usually receives.
Providing a rather visual warning to approaching nightfighters, Just Jane’s rear turret houses a pair of fearsome looking uprated 0.50 cal machine guns
Taken during the evening, this beautiful picture of ‘Just Jane’ clearly shows the missing aileron, which is being restored as part of the ongoing project to return this aircraft to flight
East Kirkby airfield was to see only limited use in the years following the end of WWII and was deemed surplus to RAF requirements in 1964 - sold off by the government, the majority of the airfield simply reverted back to farmland. The site still retains its original control tower and many of the outbuildings which were constructed during the airfield’s wartime service, however, it is now owned by a farming family, who went on to establish the impressive Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at the site over twenty years ago, determined to create a living memorial to the men who served in Bomber Command during WWII, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Central to their collection is Avro Lancaster B Mk.VII NX611 ‘Just Jane’, one of the most significant historic aircraft in Britain today and a major tourist and enthusiast attraction in this part of the world. The aircraft is also the subject of an ambitious restoration project, which will hopefully see the aircraft returning to airworthy condition, becoming only the third flying Avro Lancaster in the world, if the team at LAHC are successful. This monumental ten year project is one of the most exciting in the world of historic aviation and it is estimated that more than 4 million pounds will be needed if this dream is to become a reality. As a flying memorial to Bomber Command, the team will need all the support they can get if ‘Just Jane’ is to take to the skies once more and whilst Airshow revenues will certainly help, we can all do a little more, by visiting the Lancaster Restoration section of their website and making a small donation, or becoming a member of their Rivet Club. We will be devoting a future edition of Aerodrome to the ongoing restoration of ‘Just Jane’, assessing where the project is now and looking at what needs to be done in the future.
With such rich aviation heritage as this for visitors to immerse themselves in, it is no wonder that the annual East Kirkby Airshow continues to go from strength to strength, combining the delights of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre with an exciting and varied flying display. With several aircraft restoration projects also on the go at the site , a hangar full of memorabilia and various aviation related displays to discover, Airshow day also offers numerous trade stalls and food outlets, classic car displays, period music, re-enactors and even a performance by the popular D-Day Dolls for visitors to enjoy, all of which takes place behind the backdrop of a preserved WWII RAF bomber station. With aviation history seeping from every period building and every inch of aircraft hardstanding, East Kirkby airfield has so many stories to tell that it is no wonder this evocative venue manages to captivate those fortunate enough to discover it and keep them coming back time after time. Even the airfield windsock has a wartime tale to tell, as it comes complete with a bullet hole, the result of a German nightfighter strafing attack, whilst it was mounted on a pole at the former RAF Spilsby, another local wartime airfield which was situated close by.
Early morning engine test for the Mosquito, to check everything was in order for its afternoon starring role
One of the huge draws at any East Kirkby Airshow is the opportunity to see the LAHC’s magnificent Avro Lancaster performing taxy runs along the length of the temporary crowdline, under the power of its four mighty Merlin engines. As the aircraft starts its engines in the shadow of the airfield’s original Control Tower, it makes a unique living aviation tribute to the men and women of Bomber Command and is a truly moving experience worthy of the ticket price alone. Although still a major show attraction, this year, ‘Just Jane’ had some significant aviation company during her afternoon taxying duties, as another famous British aircraft type was performing its own powered taxy runs for the very first time at an East Kirkby Airshow - De Havilland Mosquito NF II HJ711. Only arriving at the airfield in July 2017, this long time former resident at the Yorkshire Air Museum seems to have been given a new lease of life at its new Lincolnshire home and following years of tireless work by its owner Tony Agar, he has finally managed to get the aircraft’s two Merlin engines working, with the aircraft now faultlessly ground running under its own power. This latest Airshow offered the tantalising prospect of seeing both aircraft moving under their own power for the first time, a historic development which was not lost on an expectant crowd. With an early morning Mosquito engine run confirming that everything was ok for the aircraft to take part in this unique aviation event, the afternoon saw both aircraft taking part in their individual taxy runs and as they crossed in the centre of the airfield, the magnificent sight (and sound) of six Rolls Royce Merlin engines turning at the same time delighted everyone in attendance. Not only a definite highlight of this year’s show, this sight has to be considered one of the highlights of the entire Airshow season and one which will undoubtedly result in ticket sales for the 2020 event being snapped up in record time.
Flying highlight of 2019
This recently restored Westland Lysander proved to be the undisputed flying highlight of the 2019 East Kirkby Airshow
With all these Merlin engines on display at the East Kirkby show, it may come as something of a surprise to hear that in my opinion, the undisputed flying highlight of the day and indeed of the entire 2019 Airshow season so far, was an aircraft powered by a rare Bristol Mercury engine. Westland Lysander V9312 was making its East Kirkby Airshow debut, having only returned to airworthy condition at the end of August 2018, following a restoration project which had taken almost 15 years to complete – indeed, the aircraft had made so few public display appearances since its triumphant first flight, that this proved to be a real coup for the show organisers and was certainly a highlight act as far as the gathered masses were concerned. Originally built at the Westland factory during 1940, the restoration team believe that this aircraft is the only solely Westland built Lysander in flying condition, as others use Canadian manufactured components in their construction. One of the most distinctive British aircraft of the Second World War, the Lysander was an Army cooperation/liaison aircraft which was also pressed into service as a light bomber. It possessed exceptional short take-off and landing performance and was therefore able to operate from unprepared grass strips and even farmers fields. The aircraft would go on to earn an unrivalled reputation as a clandestine nocturnal light transport aircraft, serving the vital agent supply channel between Britain and enemy occupied France, whilst also supporting the French Resistance movement with weapons, information and personnel.
Lysander V9312 served with several RAF units between January 1941 and April 1942, before being involved in an accident and suffering damage to its wing. Sent for repair, the aircraft was converted to target tug configuration and would later be sent to Canada under the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, where it was used to train pilots destined for service in Europe, North Africa and the Far East, with Canada’s quiet skies allowing them to gain flight experience in relative safety. Last flying in October 1944, the aircraft was eventually struck off charge in October 1946 and would spend the next few years in the possession of several Warbird collectors in North America, eventually ending up as an unrestored airframe in the sizeable Kermit Weeks collection. Finally arriving at the Aircraft Restoration Company facility at Duxford in the summer of 2003, the aircraft has been the subject of a concerted restoration project by a team of full time and volunteer engineers at ARCo, with the length of the project dictating that quite a number of people have been involved with its return to flying condition. Resplendent in its RAF No,225 Squadron colours scheme, one of the units with which this aircraft served during its service career, this is a stunning addition to the UK historic aviation scene and one enthusiasts will hope can remain in the country for many years to come.
A stunning restoration, it is thought that this is the only solely Westland built Lysander still flying in the world
Despite its somewhat ungainly appearance, the Westland Lysander is a surprisingly agile performer, not only taking the grass strip at East Kirkby in its stride, but also showing real agility once in the air. Operating from the airfield for the duration of the show, the Lysander was put through its paces by accomplished Warbird pilot John Romain, flying a long routine which not only showed off the unique attributes of this very rare aircraft to an appreciative audience, but did so at relatively close quarters, turning an enjoyable flying display into an unforgettable aviation experience. With the confidence of an exceptionally gifted aviator, this was one of those very special moments where I found myself wanting to put the camera down and just enjoy the display and that does not happen to me very often. At the end of the display, I simply said to myself, ‘That was magnificent’ and decided there and then that as far as I was concerned, that was the display of the year – just one more aviation highlight in the many I have enjoyed at various East Kirkby Airshows.
The music of Merlins
Even though every East Kirkby Airshow can boast an interesting and varied flying programme, the show will always be inextricably linked to one of the finest aero engines this country has ever produced, the incomparable Rolls Royce Merlin. With the four engines of Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ being joined by the two powering the Mosquito this year, you might think that six was enough for anyone, however, the organisers were not done yet and there proved to be a further two Merlins to come. Rivalling both the Lancaster and Mosquito in the aviation popularity stakes, the Supermarine Spitfire is one of the most famous fighting aeroplanes ever to take to the air, with its elliptical wings being a familiar design feature recognisable to most of the population, despite the fact that its first flight took place over 83 years ago. The Spitfire which thrilled the crowds at this year’s show was PR Mk.IX PL965 from the Hangar 11 Collection at North Weald, in the capable hands of Peter Teichman and representing an extremely rare variant of this famous fighter, one which was bred for speed and the need to obtain clear reconnaissance photographs. The fastest of all the Merlin powered Spitfires, this particular aircraft is now quite a rare performer at UK Airshows, as its owner has decided to drastically reduce his display commitments after many years of thrilling show audiences across the UK and Europe.
Airshow adversaries, both the Spitfire and the Hispano Buchon are powered by variants of the famous Rolls Royce Merlin engine
Although always representing the enemy, Britain’s growing contingent of airworthy Buchons are some of the most popular Airshow performers and always look comfortable sitting on the tail of a Spitfire or Hurricane
Acting as the Spitfire’s feared wartime adversary, Hispano HA-112-M1L ‘Buchon’ is a licence built Spanish version of the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109G, with the most significant difference between this and the wartime aircraft being the adoption of a late specification Merlin engine as opposed to the Daimler Benz DB-605 powerplant used on this ‘G’ variant of the Luftwaffe’s most famous fighter. With large numbers of these aircraft making their way to the UK during the late 1960s to play a starring role in the epic Battle of Britain movie, there has been a recent renaissance in the popularity of the Buchon and Britain can now boast no fewer that five airworthy examples of this handsome aeroplane. Ably illustrating the legendary combat agility of these diminutive fighters, Buchons regularly take on the role of the enemy at Airshows up and down the country and have secured an army of admirers, as they give chase to Spitfires and Hurricanes during mock dogfight routines. The aircraft which performed at East Kirkby was ‘White 9’ (G-AWHH), operated by Air Leasing and brought the show’s compliment of working Rolls Royce Merlin engines to eight.
As one of the smaller Airshow venues in the display calendar, East Kirkby offers the enthusiast the opportunity to get much closer to the aircraft taking part in the show than most, allowing for a much more engaging experience than can be obtained at many of the larger shows. When the Lancaster powers up its mighty Merlin engines, this awesome cacophony really does cause your innards to pulsate and your ears to pound, an unforgettable experience which can only be enjoyed at three different locations around the world. As display aircraft taxy past the crowd and head for the end of the runway at the beginning of their routine, they acknowledge the adoration of the crowd who wave enthusiastically as they pass by, knowing that they can clearly be seen by the pilot who is about to entertain them. Once they return, they can revel in the approval of the crowds, in a manner similar to how an actor who has just given a rousing stage performance can gauge the mood of their public – this is a really enjoyable experience for both display pilot and audience and helps to make everyone feel that they are much more involved in everything that is going on.
East Kirkby Airshow in pictures
We begin this photographic review by looking at one of the largest aircraft to operate from the grass strip at East Kirkby, the graceful Consolidated Catalina
Now an East Kirkby regular, visitors have the opportunity to go inside the aircraft before the flying display begins and there is always a queue to inspect this WWII classic
The diminutive stature of this airfield makes it a perfect venue for the Great Warbirds Display Team to transport us back to the aerial fighting above the trenches
One of the most distinctive aircraft of the Great War, this Fokker DR.1 replica is about to give the Allied aircraft of the display team a very tough time
Fokker scourge – The two DR.1s appear to be toying with their prey, as another victory is claimed
This beautiful Beech 18 brought a little culture to the flying display and was sporting D-Day markings for the occasion
Another aircraft which proved to be deceptively agile, the Beech 18 certainly showed the crowds what it could do
The Mosquito and Lancaster prepare to welcome their guests at the latest East Kirkby Airshow
Always a huge draw for enthusiasts, ‘Just Jane’ was forced to share the aviation limelight at this year’s show
For the first time at an East Kirkby Airshow, De Havilland Mosquito HJ711 thrilled the crowds with a taxying demonstration under the power of its Merlin engines – quite a historic occasion
An aviation sight to behold, Lancaster and Mosquito salute the crowd with six mighty Rolls Royce Merlin engines singing in unison
Without doubt, the Lysander performed one of the most impressive display routines I have ever seen and proved to be a real highlight of the day
Lysander, Lancaster and Mosquito in the same shot, this Bristol Mercury powered Army cooperation aircraft did its level best to upset this Merlin party
The end of a successful display, pilot John Romain brings the Lysander back to East Kirkby to enjoy the adulation of an appreciative crowd
Rhapsody in blue. The gentle evening sunlight allowed for some beautiful images to be taken, with this Photo reconnaissance Spitfire PR.IX looking particularly splendid
Final shot of the day has to go to the magnificent Mosquito, and its first East Kirkby Airshow taxy performance – job well done!
As one of the most memorable East Kirkby Airshows I have ever attended, this latest event only served to reaffirm my affection for this fantastic show and why I will always make sure this is one of the first events added to my schedule at the beginning of each new season. As each subsequent staging of the show will now also chart the progress of the ongoing project to return Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ to airworthy condition, there will hopefully be one show in the not too distant future when the Lancaster will triumphantly display above its home airfield for the first time and as this will be one of the most significant events in the history of British post war aviation, I just hope that I am one of the lucky ones taking my place in the crowd to witness such a spectacle.
At any point during the year, if you ever have the opportunity to drop into the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and view the Lancaster for yourself, the restoration team will be only too happy to receive you and anything you buy in the gift shop or give to the project by way of a donation will be gratefully received. For those who may be a little further afield, but might still like to lend their support to the team, the Rivet Club offers the opportunity to contribute a regular monthly amount from as little as £2.00 to the project, allowing us all to share in the glory when ‘Just Jane’ finally takes to the air, each knowing that we all played our own small part in helping to make this historic aviation achievement happen. Could the county of Lincolnshire boast two airworthy examples of the Avro Lancaster at some point in the not too distant future? This would be rather fitting for an area of the country which proudly proclaims itself to be Bomber County, a reference to it wartime heritage of hosting a large number of operational RAF airfields and their support personnel.
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. As always, if you have any ideas for a future edition of Aerodrome, or if you would like to supply a feature of your own which will be of interest to our worldwide aviation readership, please send your suggestions to our regular contact e-mail address at email@example.com, where we will be delighted to hear from you.
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The next edition of Aerodrome is scheduled to be published on Friday 23rd August, when we look forward to seeing you all back here for more aviation indulgence.
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