First held in 2008, the East Kirkby Airshow has become one of the more laid back and relaxing shows on the UK calendar and this year’s addition was no different! AeroResource’s Jamie Ewan headed to the heart of ‘Bomber County’ for a look at the days goings on.
Now in its eighth year, this year’s show at East Kirby attracted a bumper crowd of almost 4,000 to the picturesque airfield in Lincolnshire with its rather excellent line up. Home to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (LAHC) run by the Panton Family, the talk before the show was about one aircraft in particular and, unusually, it wasn’t a certain Avro jet!
Mention East Kirkby and many will instantly think of one aircraft in particular from the Avro stable. That aircraft? Avro Lancaster B.VII NX611, or ‘Just Jane’ as she is better known. In addition, with the show being held to help raise funds for the ongoing restoration of ‘Just Jane’ to flight condition her name was not far from most people’s thoughts. However, the aircraft on the lips of many was one that has been taking the 2015 airshow circuit by storm after an eleven-year hiatus – Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF –L6739/G-BPIV and, to add to the excitement the aircraft was operating from the wartime airfield.
As is becoming more popular at shows, especially smaller events, the majority of the aircraft taking part in the display arrived in the morning allowing the crowds to see the flight line take shape. Along with a number of visiting aircraft not involved in the display, these formed an impromptu static line that included no less than three Scottish Aviation Bulldogs. Other types on the line included a replica Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a, Hardwick’s North American AT-6D ‘Fools Rush In’, a number of de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moths, a splendid looking Piper PA-22-150 and numerous other general aviation and warbird types. Their close proximity allowed the crowd a different glimpse into the world of display flying with a view of the pilots going through various rituals and ‘wing counting ceremonies’ as they prepared for their slots.
The task of opening the day’s flying action fell to the Large Model Association with a selection of their marvelous scale creations including various Second World War types and modern day jets, flying both solo displays and well thought out set pieces. Whilst the models – some of which looked like the real thing in terms of scale speed – buzzed through the skies, the real life history aspect of East Kirbky was apparent as a number of re-enactors dressed as ‘Bomber Boys’ took in the flight-line and posed for the appreciative photographers.
When the final wartime raid launched from East Kirkby on April 25th, 1945 (four Lancasters from 57 Squadron heading off to lay mines in Norway, and another five from 630 Squadron joining the raid on Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s Bavarian mountain retreat), no one could have imagined that the roar of a Lancaster would still be heard there 70 years on. Of the 7,377 Lancasters built, ‘Just Jane’ is one of just 17 that remain largely intact across the world and one of even fewer that is still capable of letting the Rolls Royce Merlin engines sing their song.
The Lancaster destined to become ‘Just Jane’ was built as NX611 by Austin Motors at their Longbridge works in April 1945 and produced as part of the order for 150 Lancaster BVIIs for the Royal Air Force ‘Tiger Force’. How she ended up at East Kirkby is a story in itself and includes spells with the French Navy (or Aéronavale) as a Maritime Radar, Cartography and Search and Rescue asset, bombing raids over Indo-China, massive ferry flights, auctions, test flights with engine failures and also long spells on gate guard duties.
Opening the full size display, on the ground at least, was the first of three taxi runs in the hands of Loz Rushmore, many couldn’t help but notice that the aircrafts port aileron was missing. As part of the ongoing return to flight, the aileron is current undergoing overhaul to airworthy condition with the work needed taking longer than initially thought. Given the airfield’s history with the type, one could almost of been back in 1944 watching a battle torn ‘Lanc’ arriving home from a sortie against the Third Reich.
Joining NX611 for her trundle out onto the airfield was another East Kirkby resident with Mark Edwards at the helm – Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Drag-’em-oot’. A veteran of both D-Day and Operation Market Garden, the aircraft wears the authentic colours of the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron, 438th Troop Carrier Group, 9th Troop Carrier Command when based at Greenham Common – in fact, the very scheme it wore when it was delivered to the European theatre of operations in 1944. Powered by two wonderful sounding Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92s, the airframe still bears the scars of battle with numerous bullet holes around cockpit and nose, including one through the pilot’s seat picked up in an aerial skirmish.
As with the Lancaster, East Kirkby is also historically associated with the C-47s of the United States Air Force’s 3931st and 3917th Air Base Groups, which called the Lincolnshire base home from 1951 until its closure in 1958.
As well as the Second World War ‘heavies’ on the ground, fighters were represented with displays from three of the most famous of the conflict filling the skies with the snarl of Merlins – the Supermarine Spitfire, North American Mustang and Hawker Hurricane.
Sweeping in with a topside pass, Richard Lake’s Supermarine Spitfire LF Mk XVIe TD248/G-OXVI gave a spirited display in the hands of ex-Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Officer Commanding, Ian Smith. Adorned in the colours and codes (CR-S) worn by 74 Squadron in May 1945 when they were part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, the aircraft showed off the aircraft’s unique ‘e’ wing – ‘e’ denoting the wing developed to carry either four 20mm Hispano Cannon or Two 20mm Hispano Cannon along with two 0.50in Browning Machine Guns.
Giving a similarly spirited display was East Kirkby regular Maurice Hammond in one of his two North American P-51D Mustangs – 414419/LH-F/G-MSTG better known as ‘Janie’. Wearing the black and yellow checks of the 350th Squadron while based at Raydon, Essex, as part of the 353rd Fighter Group, the aircraft represents the mount of Major Bill Price who named ‘Janie’ after his sister. During the display, which is flown at maximum power pretty much throughout, the thirsty 1509hp V-1650-7 Merlin drinks a litre of Avgas in just over a minute.
Of the three fighters to display, it was Peter Vacher’s Hawker Hurricane Mk I (R4118/UP-W/G-HUPW) in the hands of well-regarded display pilot Carl Schofield, that had the crowd the most captivated as it swooped through the darkening Lincolnshire skies – and rightly so! The reason for the captivation is that R4118 one of very few genuine Battle of Britain veterans. Regarded as the most historic British aircraft to survive the Second World War in flying condition, it flew 49 sorties from Croydon while on charge with 605 (County of Warwick) Squadron and was responsible for the downing of five enemy machines. How apt it was to watch an actual veteran of the battle roar through the sky much the same as it had 75 years ago in the hands on one of “The Few”.
However, of the Second World War machines on show, it was a twin-engined multirole type that gripped the crowd’s attention more than the rest. Upon arrival earlier on from its Duxford home in the hands of Lee Proudfoot, it was quite clear to see that there is an effect similar to that that follows the Avro Vulcan – the Blenheim effect. Having been delighting the UK display circuit since its debut at its home airfield in May, the aircraft has been one of the undoubted highlights at any shows it has appeared thus far and East Kirkby was no different. Following a huge restoration effort by a dedicated team from the Aircraft Restoration Company, G-BPIV is currently finished in the markings of L6739/Q-YP, which served on 23 Squadron in the early days of the war. Why L6739? Well that comes down to the Mk.1 nose now installed on the aircraft, which originally came from that particular airframe. Unbelievably it is the only Mk.I nose in existence and owes it survival to the fact it had been used as the basis for an electric car!
The display, which included a number of flowing curving topsides showing off the aircrafts camouflaged upper surface, also showed off the menacing black underside fitted with a ventral pack housing four .303 machine guns. As the sound of the aircraft’s Bristol Mercury XX radials filled the sky, one couldn’t help but wonder how the aircraft that performed the first offensive sorties against all three Axis Powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – had in someway become forgotten. Thankfully, the memory (and heroism) of all Blenheim Boys of both Fighter and Bomber command is honored by this wonderful example of the type.
As part of the finale, Maurice Hammond and Carl Schofield took up positions on Lee Proudfoots wing to form a loose ‘Vic’ as he took the lead – it was somewhat different to see the pairing of the Blenheim and the P-51D. Whilst the three aircraft powered down the A-Axis from the northeast, both ‘Just Jane’ and ‘Drag-’em-oot’ manoeuvred their way out onto the grass for their final ‘salute’ to the crowd. As the three flyers flew their final pass – the Hurricane and Blenheim departing from slot – the heavenly roar of six Merlins, two Mercury radials and two Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasps was fittingly replaced by a rambunctious round of applause from up and down the airfield.
Representing the inter-war years was one of the finest and striking looking machines at East Kirkby on the day – Nigel Pickard’s beautiful Spartan 7W Executive (NC17633). One of just 34 produced by the Spartan Aircraft Company in the four years between 1936 and 1940 (NC17633 being the 21st example) the aircraft was thrown around in style by Bob Morcomb. Seldom seen outside of its home at Little Gransden the aircraft was making its first visit to the show and its highly polished finish was certainly an eye catcher in the sun. Here is hoping that next year we see Nigel’s other Spartan Executive (NC17615) taking part with a pairs display.
Fitting nicely in the interwar period were the four machines of the delightful ‘Captain Neville’s Flying Circus’ who flew a medley of barnstorming acts including balloon bursting, streamer cutting and limbo flying as well as a game of cricket. Made up of the first De Havilland DHC-1 Chipmunk built for the civilian market (G-ALWB), one of six remaining Thruxton Jackaroos (G-ANTZ), the pre-cursor to the CAP10, the Piel CP-301B Emeraude (G-AZGY) and an earlier type from the De Havilland drawing board De Havilland DH.82A Tiger Moth NM181/ G-AZGZ, the team are incredibly enjoyable to watch as they whirl around the sky in a relaxing and fun manner.
Although the Spartan was used exclusively for getting from A to B in style, a number of them were pressed into military service in the training role during the Second World War. Three of which (with the serials KD100, KD101 and KD102) were used by the Royal Air Force in California for flight training which connected it nicely with the display that followed – airshow maestro Rod Dean in Scottish Aviation Bulldog T.1 XX543/G-CBAB. Despite being a small aircraft featuring a wingspan of just 33ft, it certainly made a big impression as it used a majority of the A-Axis throughout the display. Well known throughout the display world, Rod showed the crowds exactly why he is one of the best on the scene, with a superbly executed display in height and energy management and splendidly flown aerobatics.
Further aerobatics were dished out by both Nigel Wilson in his Yakovlev Yak-52 (G-BXJBY) and the two Pitts S2Bs (G-DIII and G-ZIII) of Wildcat Aerobatics – the latter also providing a look at formation aerobatics.
Based out of Elmsett Airfield in Suffolk, Nigel Wilson’s Yak-52 is an ex-Soviet Air Force machine where it was coded 15 yl (yellow) and is powered by an Ivchenko M-14P 9 cylinder 360hp radial engine. Finished in a white and yellow scheme with numerous hints of black, the aircraft is wearing the titles of Nigel’s sponsor – Hobby King. The sheer ruggedness and manoeuvrability of the type was evident as Nigel went through his display in a crisp manner while using both the A and B axis and, like the Bulldog, a fine example of energy and height management. A popular display throughout the country, the Yak arrived from another display at Old Buckenham, East Anglia, straight into its slot with Nigel having already flown his Yak routine and a display in Beechcraft D17S Staggerwing N9405H at the Old Buckenham Airshow.
Like the Yak, the Wildcat Aerobatics Pitts were busy with the show at Old Buckenham (their ‘home’ show) and flew across after their display on the Saturday. Following the tragic loss of Wildcat 3 pilot David Jenkins earlier this year, the team has returned to a formation pairs display for the 2015 season – Al Coutts flying as Wildcat 1 and Willie Cruickshank as Wildcat 2. Formed in 2010, the team fly a superbly choreographed display that brings two iconic Pitts Specials together for unbelievably close formation aerobatics, precision pairs synchronised flying with unlimited aerobatics chucked in for good measure.
Although not as extreme, another example of well-tuned aerobatics was given by Adrian Haton in his superb looking Silence Twister G-TWSS. Designed around the wing profile of the Supermarine Spitfire, the Twister uses the latest composite materials for both strength and weight purposes. Unlike the fast pace of the Pitts and Yak, the Twister performed a slow, elegant ballet through the blue skies with the use of a smoke system really making the display stand out as the aircraft looped and rolled serenely.
Chris Burkett of G-Force Aerobatics added another taste of both basic and advanced aerobatics in his 2010 Extra EA-300S, G-EXIL albeit with a twist. When it comes to a ‘pairs’ display one can normally expect an aircraft of the same type or even one of similar capabilities to be involved but not with Chris! He flies a well thought out pairs display with a 40% scale RC model of his aircraft in the hands of Mike Williams. Dubbed ‘Little and Large’ the two aircraft tear up the sky with a synchronised segment before solos from each – the full scale Extra top siding the crowd as the scale model takes centre stage.
Having just arrived back in the UK after displaying out in the US, Peter Davis was on top form with his unique up close and personal display in RotorSport Calidus Gyro Copter G-ULUL/91. Flying a mesmerising ballet of manoeuvres using the entire speed range, the crowd were suitably impressed – even more so with the aircraft producing a couple of ‘blade slaps’. Under the motto ‘Bringing the display to the crowd’ – which he certainly does – the use of highly visible gloves adds a nice touch when flying with no hands, as does the smoke generator. The sheer agility of the aircraft is evident with the majority of the display happening in front of the crowd throughout. Unlike the Merlin in the Mustang that drinks fuel, the Calidus is far more economical with burn rate of between 12 and 18 litres… an hour!
Opening in 1988, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is more than a fitting backdrop to the show, honouring the 55,573 men who were lost and life during the dark days of the Second World War. With numerous aircraft, classic cars, cockpits and the centre itself on show, there was more than plenty for the family to do throughout the day. Who knows, we maybe one step closer to seeing ‘Just Jane’ returning to the sky and, when it does, AeroResource will be there for sure!