3 Lancasters at East Kirkby

A dozen Merlins roar as the three Lancasters are brought together

A dozen Merlins roar as the three Lancasters are brought together – East Kirkby, September 14 2014

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.

Days before the original reunion, VeRA was forced down in Durham (pic. borrowed from BBC)

Days before the original reunion, VeRA was forced down in Durham (pic. borrowed from BBC)

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.

Made it at last - the three Lancasters set hearts a-flutter

Made it at last – the three Lancasters set hearts a-flutter

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.

The fourth and final pass brought the Lancasters towards the crowd line

The fourth and final pass brought the Lancasters towards the crowd line

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.

Final salute - the Lancs bid farewell after their unique reunion

Final salute – the Lancs bid farewell after their unique reunion

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From two Lancasters to three!

News last month that the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster will be flying across the Atlantic this August to take part in a series of events with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight truly set hearts a-flutter. For the first, and likely only, time in their remaining lifetimes the last two airworthy examples of the mighty ‘Lanc’ will be joining forces – for many airshow goers it simply couldn’t get better than that.

Until, that is, it was announced that the pair would be adding an extra date to their schedule when they fly over East Kirkby airfield, home of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and residence of the other active Lancaster in Britain: the celebrated ‘Just Jane’.

'Just Jane' will create a thundering trio of Lancasters at East Kirkby on September 2nd

‘Just Jane’ will create a thundering trio of Lancasters at East Kirkby on September 2nd

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a privately owned and run museum that was founded by farmers Fred and Harold Panton as a tribute to their eldest brother, Christopher, who was shot down and killed as aircrew on a bombing raid over Nuremberg on 30/31 March 1944. The Panton family farmed nearby the wartime Bomber Command station at East Kirkby and the young brothers,Fred aged 13 and Harold aged 10 ½ when their brother died, became accustomed to living cheek-by-jowl with the heavy bombers throughout the last three years of the war.

In his grief, their father forbade all talk of Christopher and the war for many years, in which time the boys became successful poultry farmers. In the 1970s the brothers finally visited Christopher’s grave and, in 1981, bought the former airfield at East Kirkby, which had remained an operational air base until the late 1950s and subsequently become a chicken farm.

The airfield was purchased not only for the useful extension of their poultry business but also as a home for the brothers’ other recent purchase – a Lancaster bomber.

Almost airborne, almost airworthy: 'Just Jane' stretches her legs

Almost airborne, almost airworthy: ‘Just Jane’ stretches her legs

Their Lancaster B.Mk.VII, serial NX611, was built at the Longbridge works by Austin Motors in April 1945 as the third aircraft of an order for 150 Lancaster B.VIIs destined to join the RAF’s TIGER FORCE for operations in the Far East against the Japanese.

TIGER FORCE was never required, and the Lancasters were consigned to storage until April 1952, when 54 of the aircraft were sold to the French government for £50,000 apiece to serve as maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

For the next decade the Lancaster was flown from bases in Brittany and Morocco. She then flew halfway round the world to New Caledonia, a French island territory approximately 1000 miles east of Australia, where she took part in bombing missions in the long war for independence in French Indochina.  Upon decommissioning in 1964, NX611 was bought by the Historic Aircraft Preservation Society and flown back from Australia to the UK thanks to funding from the RAF, the Royal Australian Air Force, the Hawker Siddeley Group, Shell Petroleum and Qantas.

Upon returning to Britain, NX611 was restored to wartime configuration and flew regularly until 1970 when she was deemed to be beyond economic viability. The Lancaster was put up for auction – with the Panton brothers among the bidders at that time – but after much wrangling the Lancaster ended up on display at the gate of RAF Scampton, where she would remain for the next 14 years.

The Pantons had never given up on their dream of owning the Lancaster, however, and in 1983 their offer to purchase her was finally accepted – although she remained on duty at Scampton until 1987, when the long task of dismantling and moving her to East Kirkby for restoration would begin.

It was discovered that the airframe and engines remained sound, despite their long years out in the elements, and from 1990-95 she was overhauled one step at a time until she was able to taxi with all four engines bellowing.

 

With the airfield restored to its former glory and brimful of Bomber Command artefacts, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Museum has subsequently become a Mecca for historians, enthusiasts and film-makers alike – including Peter Jackson and his Dam-Busters screenwriter Stephen Fry – for the past 20 years. In 2011, it was used in the filming of the BBC’s Doctor Who episode, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

Fred Panton passed away suddenly in the summer of 2013, leaving a remarkable legacy in the care of  his brother and their family. All the more remarkable for the fact that ‘Just Jane’ might yet return to the skies. The relentless determination of the brothers, allied to such fine fund-raising devices as ‘Taxi Rides’ for paying punters and a very fine line in charitable cheeses, has brought NX611 to the required standard to apply for a Certificate of Airworthiness – although both funding and the possible implications for the nature and character of the museum continue to keep enthusiasm tempered.

Within 24 hours of the announcement that the only two Lancasters currently flying in the world would be paying a visit to East Kirkby and the third airworthy example, all 5,000 tickets were sold out. On September 2nd there will be 12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines thrumming across this perfectly preserved memorial to the men of Bomber Command – and the S&G will be there to record the occasion for all who cannot be there.

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If the Canadian Lancaster’s twin displays with the BBMF are the airshow event of the decade, then this will undoubtedly be the defining moment. To find out more about the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, visit its website here.

Canada’s Lanc set to storm UK summer

Only two airworthy Avro Lancaster bombers exist in the world out of the 7,377 that were built… and to the joy of aviation enthusiasts worldwide they will be brought together this August. News that the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s fabulous Lanc will fly across the Atlantic to join forces with the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s celebrated example has set the Internet all a-twitter… and rightly so, too.

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum's Lancaster is coming to Britain

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Lancaster is coming to Britain

 

It is arguably the single biggest event of its kind in historic aviation in the past 50 years – and which in all honesty few enthusiasts ever thought would be feasible. Now we may all look forward to a month-long series of public appearances to be undertaken throughout the UK by the Lancaster pair at some of the biggest air displays in the world.

David Rohrer, CEO of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, said: “A rare window of opportunity was identified to bring the only two flying Lancasters in the world together as a special salute to all the veterans of Bomber Command, many of whom are in their late eighties or older now.”

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Lancaster Mk. X was built at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Toronto in July 1945. Although she did not see wartime service, she was rebuilt in 1952 following a serious accident and the centre section which was fitted during the repairs did in fact see operational service over Germany. She flew as a maritime rescue aircraft until 1963 and then lay dormant until 1977, when an 11-year project saw her restored to airworthiness as a memorial to the  9,887 Canadian aircrew who perished in RAF Bomber Command.

Canada operated Lancasters until the early 1960s

Canada operated Lancasters until the early 1960s

The Lancaster is dedicated to the memory of P/O Andrew Mynarski and is referred to as the “Mynarski Memorial Lancaster” and is painted in the colours of his aircraft KB726 with the codes VR-A, which flew with RCAF No. 419 (Moose) Squadron. Andrew Mynarski won the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth’s highest award for gallantry, on June 13, 1944, when his Lancaster was shot down in flames by a German night fighter. As the bomber fell, he attempted to free the tail gunner trapped in the rear turret of the blazing and out of control aircraft. The tail gunner miraculously survived the crash and lived to tell the story, but sadly Andrew Mynarski died from his severe burns.

Now the Canadian Lanc is being fettled for the marathon 18-hour flight which will depart from Hamilton, Ontario on 4 August and is expected to arrive in England on 8 August. The North Atlantic crossing will be in bursts of no more than five hours and will include en-route stops at Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada, Narsarsuaq, Greenland, and Keflavik, Iceland, prior to arriving at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire – home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

The BBMF's Lancaster PA474 will be awaiting its new partner at RAF Conningsby

The BBMF’s Lancaster PA474 will be awaiting its new partner at RAF Conningsby

 

Shortly after arriving, the Lancaster will undergo a scheduled maintenance inspection and then the Canadian crews will complete a short training program with the BBMF in preparation to participate in air displays and fly pasts with the current schedule starting on 14 August.

A full schedule will be released in the near future that will provide full details about the Lancaster pair’s appearances in 2014, including stops at Coningsby and Humberside, flypasts including Middleton St. George and East Kirkby and a host of other special events.

For those among the Scarf & Goggles parishioners looking to book tickets at events where the Lancaster pair will be appearing, the current schedule is as follows:

Plenty more to follow on this story…

Airfix delights little boys of all ages

It’s not every day that Airfix releases an all-new Avro Lancaster. In fact it’s about once every 20 years on average. To mark the 70th anniversary of Operation CHASTISE and the ingenious ‘bouncing bomb’ created by Barnes Wallis that was delivered by the brave young men led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson, an all-new model kit in 1/72 scale has been produced and it goes on sale this weekend:

New box, new model... a happy day for big kids

New box, new model… a happy day for big kids

Today model kits, like Scalextric cars and pretty well everything else these days, are made using 3D CAD design, making for the most crisp, detailed and accurate miniatures around. Well, they do if they’re done properly. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so here’s one that has been done in advance of the model’s launch:

Pre-production model put together by one of the members at Britmodeller.com

Pre-production model put together by one of the members at Britmodeller.com

It looks like the only way you’ll get a better Dam-Buster Lanc is to be Peter Jackson!Curiously neither of the versions included in the decal set is the celebrated AJ-G flown by Gibson himself. Presumably they think that enough people will have those decals left over from older kits. Instead you get AJ-T, a reserve aircraft flown by Ft Lt Joseph Charles McCarthy DFC RCAF, and AJ-E flown by Flight Lieutenant Robert Norman George Barlow DFC RAAF.

And if the kit isn’t enough to satisfy your commemorative urges then there’s a new print available by the same chap who did the box art. Yes, the ‘painting’ is also done on computers these days…

New Dam-Buster print by Finest Hour designer, Adam Tooby

New Dam-Buster print by Finest Hour designer, Adam Tooby

The kit carries a retail price of £29.99 but discounts are often available from specialist retailers. The print is available from Finest Hour Art (click to visit) at £24.99 for A3 and £29.99 for A2.

Munro, a Mossie, a Star and ‘the N-Word’

Last week I happened across a couple of rather heart-warming photographs of Les Munro, the last surviving pilot from the Dam-Busters raid 70 years ago this May, climbing aboard the world’s last flying de Havilland Mosquito, soon after it got back into the skies over New Zealand last autumn. Like many pilots, Munro flew both the Mosquito and the Lancaster during World War 2, and was happy to get reacquainted with his old charge.

Les Munro back in the cockpit of a Mosquito

Les Munro back in the cockpit of a Mosquito

Getting into a Mossie was never easy for the two-man crew, who had to clamber up a vertical ladder and through a hatch only a fraction bigger than they were. That this gentleman, now well into his nineties, should attempt the feat and then clearly relish the chance to get airborne was rather special, I thought.

This in turn reminded me of another special old gentleman I met at Grantham railway station back in the summer of 2009. I turned around and there was none other than Richard Todd, wartime paratroop leader and star of countless matinees from the 1950s which, like any child of the Seventies, I would watch on the sofa when home from school.

Wearing what was clearly a ‘uniform’ of smart tweeds with a mustard-coloured waistcoat, he was still instantly recognisable as the hero of those monochrome adventures. We were also the only two people on the platform, and he seemed to welcome a bit of company.

Richard Todd - in typical 'uniform'!

Richard Todd – in typical ‘uniform’!

We got chatting about this and that – he was waiting to collect a friend who was coming to lunch – when conversation turned quite naturally towards his best-loved role: that of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, leader of the Dam-Busters raid. And what, I asked, did he think of the forthcoming remake of the film by Lord of the Rings maestro, Peter Jackson?

“Nothing printable!” he chuckled. “Did you know that he’s building these Lancasters out of plastic… in China? You simply can’t tell that story the way it was any more. We didn’t have computer effects but we did have real Lancs – and of course there’ll be no Nigger!” At that moment the train arrived, and the great man beetled off in search of his friend. He died that same December from a cancer that he was already no doubt confronting when we met, although he was not the sort of person to let such an affliction show in public.

Mr. Todd would be astonished that we are still awaiting Peter Jackson’s remake of The Dam-Busters, some four years later. Much of the delay is because his retelling of The Hobbit has swollen to become a trilogy of high-tech movies, but there have been other reasons… not least in finding the best way to deal with Nigger – the name that Gibson, like many thousands of others, gave to his beloved black Labrador and which plays such a key role in the Dam-Busters story.

At long last, however, Jackson has built up one of his ten full-size Lancasters in all its Chinese plastic glory on a New Zealand airfield and is testing new camera equipment on it for his film. Meanwhile the script writer, British wit and Dam-Busters fanatic Stephen Fry, has indicated that a compromise has been reached on renaming Gibson’s dog. It seems that Guy Gibson himself would often shorten it to ‘Nigsy’ and this will be acceptable to all parties, so the Dam-Busters may well return in time to mark 70 years since VE Day in 2015.

Jackson's first Lancaster in pre-production shooting

Jackson’s first Lancaster in pre-production shooting for The Dam-Busters