Bringing three priceless aircraft together 70 years after their prime was always going to be a big ask. Originally scheduled for 2 September, the dramatic engine failure suffered by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Lancaster ‘VeRA’ put paid to many plans to witness the three big Avros in action together – and one could only sympathise with the Canadian team, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the redoubtable Panton family as they dealt with the issue.
The irony was not lost that the Canadian Lancaster wears the colours of KB726, code VR-A, in which Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski earned a posthumous Victoria Cross for attempting to save the live of his rear gunner when they were shot down in flames in June 1944. It was from this airfield, in its wartime guise of RAF Middleton St. George, that Pilot Officer Mynarski and the rest of No. 419 ‘Moose’ Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force took off on the fateful mission.
Nevertheless, thanks to the BBMF and the Pantons, a replacement Merlin was fitted and plumbed in at a pace not seen in almost 70 years and the two flying Lancasters were reunited in the air in time for their remaining dates, including the Goodwood Revival. Meanwhile the Pantons worked feverishly to get a new date for the ‘3 Lancasters’ event – not least calling every ticket holder in person to let them know that their tickets would be valid for a rescheduled event on Sunday, 14 September.
Thousands of people made the return journey to the fabulous Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby, to soak up the atmosphere beneath brooding clouds. Many were in their tenth decade, men with breasts brightened by medals and women who had lived and worked around the Lancasters as they flew out towards occupied Europe every night. By 15:20 the crowd was five deep along the full length of the flight line and then, with the museum’s own ‘Just Jane’ ticking over on the field, her two sisters hove into view.
It was a truly magnificent occasion and an achievement that was well worth the wait. Not until Peter Jackson finally leaves Middle Earth behind him and begins recreating RAF Woodhall Spa for his long-awaited Dam-Busters remake will such a sight be seen again – and at least on this occasion there was no CGI involved!
Congratulations and deserved thanks to the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the Panton family for making this once-in-a-lifetime spectacular come true.