On Saturday 17th March 2012 the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre held their first ever dedicated photographers event with their resident Avro Lancaster “Just Jane” at the former RAF East Kirkby. Adam Duffield reports from this unique event…
Tucked away in the Lincolnshire countryside is the remains of the former World War 2 airbase RAF East Kirkby. During the war this Bomber Command base was home to two squadrons of Avro Lancaster’s however, nowadays it is home to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. The museum, founded in 1988, serves as a memorial to the aircrew of Bomber Command who lost their lives during World War 2 and in particular to the brother of the museum founders who lost his life during a mission over Nuremberg. The centre piece of the museum is the beautifully restored Lancaster Mk VII NX611 “Just Jane” one of just 3 such aircraft in the world capable of carrying out a number of engine run and taxi’s for the general public throughout the year.
On this particular Saturday however something different was planned. Recognising the difficulty of obtaining unique shots of the aircraft, the museum decided to host an event targeted at photographers, from amateur to professional, which would provide opportunities not normally available when visiting at any other time. The chance of being able to wander around a Lancaster unhindered by ropes or hangers along with the potential of an engine run in the evening meant this was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss.
Arriving at the museum I was handed a detailed itinerary of the day along with a wristband that would allow access to the aircraft. A quick glance at the days proceedings quickly showed that a lot of thought had gone into the photographic setups and with timetabled slots for each of 4 different aircraft placements it was easy to plan out the shots I was after.
Walking out towards the main hanger I discovered the aircraft in the first of the days positions with a set of access stairs up against one side to give a rarely seen view into the cockpit. Unfortunately my arrival was behind schedule and with time and queues against me I was unable to get a view inside. After a few quick exterior shots the Lancaster was towed further back from the hanger and in line with the original World War 2 control tower for position number 2. From here, lovely photo opportunities were available with not only the control tower in the background but also some period RAF vehicles. A number of us soon realised that the only thing getting in the way of shots was an unfortunately placed barrier rope but this was quickly rectified by the museum staff once they were informed. The access stairs were also left in place to give an elevated shooting position and it was only whilst teetering on the edge of these did I notice the increasing numbers of re-enactors gathering by the vehicles.
For me these re-enactors really made the day something different. Like many people I know, my focus is almost always on getting shots of the aircraft in front of me however by bringing some willing volunteers in period dress into the mix a whole host of other photography options opened up. A wander to the side of the control tower found them casually milling around some of the vehicles which included a Ford WOT 1 Crew bus, AEC Fuel Bowser and Bedford Ox Tractor unit. To the casual onlooker it may not have looked like they were doing anything of interest, but a couple of people huddled around an open bonnet of the Bedford Ox with “Just Jane” in the background can make for some very unique shots. With the re-enactors more than willing to work with the gathered photographers they regularly re-positioned to create various different options and were more than happy to take requests for poses.
All too soon a tractor was hooked up to the Lancaster and a scurry of activity ensued to re-position the aircraft and vehicles to the 3rd setup of the day. Utilising the concrete pan away from the museum buildings this position involved not only the Lancaster but fuel bowser, crew bus bomb trailer to create a pre-mission ‘bombing up’ scenario. It’s tough for me to pull a single highlight from the entire day but seeing how well this was done has certainly got to be up there at the top. The initial setup consisted of the vehicles and aircraft sitting on the pan giving some uninterrupted photo opportunities. Then, from behind us, appeared two lonely re-enactors who walked through the photographers and onto the aircraft to check it over. These were then followed by a steady stream of people, from flight crew to bomb handlers who all appeared and took up their own positions and duties in what seemed like a well-rehearsed performance. This included the winching of a small bomb into the bomb bay of the Lancaster which, as I found out after talking to a member of museum staff, was the first time they had attempted to do this. Again, stairs were provided to give even more shooting angles and certainly seemed to go down well. As the re-enactors finished their duties and the light fading fast there was time left for a few closer shots of the aircrew boarding before the crowd were moved back for the grand finale of the event.
Whilst advertised as simply an engine run in front of the hanger it was an interesting twist when a member of staff climbed the stairs and gave the gathering two options – either a static engine run where the aircraft was on the concrete pan or a start up on the pan followed by moving everyone back to the hanger for the aircraft to taxi over to us. Whilst it was a unanimous decision for the later it certainly showed the museum staffs were keen to accommodate the requirements of as many people as possible.
It wasn’t long before the rumble of the first merlin engine started up followed closely by the other three. Whilst it wasn’t as dark as I would have personally liked during the start up the experience of being that close is something that you have to be there to comprehend. With the photographers then moved back to the hanger behind the safety line “Just Jane” taxied her way towards us as everyone tried to get into the best positions for shots. By that time the remaining sunlight had gone and with the Lancaster parked up in the position she started the day, the museum lighting created yet more amazing photo chances. After what seemed like only a few minutes the engines shut down and silence descended upon the airfield once again only to be broken by a round of applause for both aircraft and crew for putting on a good performance. Whilst the ground crew readied the hanger to tow the aircraft back in, there was the final opportunity for static shots including a few with the re-enactors back to provide something a bit different.
It’s hard to believe that this was the first time the museum had put on a day specifically for photographers. The level of planning in the organisation of the day combined with the positioning of the setups certainly showed that a lot of thought and input had gone into what photographers would be looking for. It was disappointing to hear a few photographers complain during the day about poor lighting and other things outside of the control of the organisers as I’m not entirely sure what they could have done about the cloud cover! There are a few areas that in my opinion could be improved upon but it was good to hear that the museum are more than happy to take feedback on board to try and improve on events in the future. Certainly, in my opinion, the event was a success and I’m looking forward to seeing what they have planned for similar events in the future.