Tag Archives: East Kirkby

Another clip from East Kirkby

Rather annoyingly my planned clip of the Merlins being started up on my recent visit to see ‘Just Jane’ at East Kirkby wasn’t so good on listening to it – I thought, or rather I remembered being able to hear each Merlin add to the symphony on start up – sadly the camera I was using to record it, didn’t……..

Not to disappoint I remembered I had shot some video when I went to See Doug Williamson when he visited with other ex RAF bomber aircrew last September to take a taxi ride. The weather was bloody awful for the run, but I took this video of Jane and the boys taxing back to the hanger after the run – and as always, the Merlin’s didn’t disappoint!

A clip from my visit to East Kirkby – Jane getting revved up…….

Perhaps one for the aficionados…..a 2 minute clip of the view from the Air Bombers compartment of ‘Just Jane’ revving up to full power before releasing for a simulated take-off start. My advice is turn the volume right up – if you can then shout and not hear yourself in your own head – that’s how loud it was. Shut your eyes for a bit and imagine the noise, only air borne – and being part of it for 6 hours at a time and finally open them and feel the bumps and jolts as the brakes are released and you accelerate to take off on your mission for today……

It seems to take a while from uploading to being able to find the clips on YouTube to put in WordPress – I’ll see if I can put another up, of the Merlins starting up at the start of the taxi ride.

Looking for Bob – Taxi ride in ‘Just Jane’, East Kirkby.

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Technically, an impossible view of the Air Bomber’s compartment of NX611 ‘Just Jane’. Spacious and claustrophobic at the same time.

I decided to delay this post until today, as its the 2nd anniversary of Dad passing away.

This time last year, I was utterly overwhelmed to receive a taxi ride voucher for ‘Just Jane’ as a wedding anniversary present from my wonderful wife Bev – made slightly embarrassing I must confess, by the small fact that I totally forgot the anniversary. I have to admit that my initial elation was tempered by the realisation that I was going to have to wait a year and a day to do it………..

Across a year, you remember and forget appointments and I have to confess that I occasionally forgot or put to the side this event, however as it got closer, I began to have mixed feelings about it. I never thought I didn’t want to do it, though perhaps, guilty of over-thinking things as is sometimes my want, I began to mix up the visit to East Kirkby with my thoughts about the loss of Dad and my frustration with knowing so little about his time with the Squadron, apart from all that I have discovered myself. It’s not as if I was expecting him to materialise next to me, but in some respects, the opportunity to sit in the Air Bomber’s nacelle, were he sat and see the view from it, as he had, made me feel like I was closer than I had so far been to a part of him that I never knew. I had no idea how I was going to feel or react to this and perhaps the fact it was going to occur in a very public setting, with others in the aircraft and smiling throngs outside waving at me, made me feel increasingly uncomfortable about it – I suppose I was having difficulty reconciling what might be a deeply personal and emotional experience with what, perhaps to others was a bit of a joy ride.

On arrival at East Kirkby on Saturday morning, my mood was not helped. Just as I arrived, Jane was taxiing back after her first run – I was met with her facing me, Merlins at 18,000rpm, sounding utterly magnificent – I had to blink the wetness from my eye and try to swallow the lump in my throat……..

Having registered, it was just a case of kicking my heels till the rest of the family arrived and it was time for the pre-taxi briefing.

Bev and the family arrived and I think it was clear that I was anxious and distracted, we spoke, but it felt to be honest as if I was killing time a little.

At 12.15 it was time for the pre-taxi briefing and although inevitable, it felt a little strange to be having a health and safety lecture prior to getting into a Bomber – but there we are. Suddenly our hosts moved onto the matter of the crew positions we would be occupying – my heart was in my mouth – I WAS going to be in the front of the aircraft, but now sat with other people, not knowing their motivations for being there that afternoon, I had no idea what right or priority I might have. Thankfully and perhaps based on experience and sensitivities understood, the first question was simply

‘Is there anybody here today that had a relative in Bomber Command?’

I and an other chap put our hands up. I am, perhaps in hindsight a little ashamed to admit that at that point I suddenly felt a sense of superiority – I was here for a ‘proper’ reason. I despise people with this sort of attitude, but I have to be honest I did feel it. We were asked what positions our relatives flew and whether we wished to take them – my colleagues father was a Wireless Operator – and yes, we did thank you very much……..

Once the remaining positions had been agreed we walked out of the briefing room and onto the hanger apron –  going closer to Jane than I had ever been allowed to before.

As ‘Air Bomber’ I get in first – the simple explanation being that the inside of the aircraft is so small we have to literally get on in the linear order of positions we will occupy – there is little easy chance to move around each other once in – I consider this and find it difficult to believe – but having walked up 5 steps and stepped into the rear fuselage, it actually feels like a massive understatement – the fuselage is stupidly narrow and as my eyes grow accustomed to the darkness I realise that  not only is it tight where I am stood, it actually funnels up to what seems the very distant bright pool of light inside the cockpit.

Making my way gingerly through the aircraft I realise that almost immediately I am climbing up a series of steps in the floor – progressively reducing the distance between floor and ceiling. I am aware of the issues associated with traversing the main wing spar, but when I get to it, its even more ridiculous than I imagined. I had thought it would be perhaps a thinnish girder running across the floor. In fact, its more like a small coffee table – it’s not about stepping over or through the space, its actually about rather inelegantly sitting, sliding and pulling yourself over it. First in and dignity intact, but only just, I stand in the cockpit and immediately am struck with its bright airiness and also it’s terrifyingly exposed feeling. We take it in turns sitting in the pilots seat and feeling the controls – surprisingly light and I find it amazing since the linkages to the control surfaces are all mechanical. With my heart pounding, I negotiate the small opening at the right hand side of the cockpit control bulkhead and slide down into the Air Bombers compartment.

I lean forward, my knees on the cushions that cover the emergency escape hatch and rather self consciously peer out of the bombing nacelle – I’m not religious at all, but it strikes me the position is similar to kneeling in a church and the irony in this realisation is not lost on me…….

The compartment feels cramped, yet spacious all at once. The front gun turret is directly above me and having never thought about it before I realise (perhaps obviously) that by standing and dropping the gunnery seat, I am in the operating position – again, realising this I consider the contradiction of size and space in the Lancaster – having almost crawled to get to this place, I can now theoretically stand up in this part of the aircraft and the Pilot is still (relatively) above me.

The time comes for the Merlins to be fired up and this is the bit that I have been looking forward to and dreading in equal amounts. Numerous trips already to see Jane have always given me a lump in my throat when I hear the 4 engines running – now I am amongst them – part of the aircraft. The silence is broken by the starboard outer banging, stuttering and finally winding up into life – the airframe begins to vibrate discernibly and the noise is already excessive as starboard inner repeats the start up process and adds to the developing symphony. Port inner and port outer join the chorus and suddenly I am there on an airfield somewhere in Cambridgeshire  – really, it doesn’t matter what I can see outside – the sound, the smell the vibrations and movement of the aircraft still stationary remove it from a point in time now and places it back at a point now distant – for the first time that afternoon  I am aware of a broad grin spreading across my face – this is UTTERLY FUCKING FANTASTIC………………

A massive hiss from, I assume, the hydraulics of the brakes, the rpm drops and we move forward, turning once and then again until we leave tarmac and roll onto the grass airstrip – the first significant bang of my head on the paraphernalia of the front turret above me…….

The Pilot guides Jane through a series of slow arcs till we sit out of view of the assembled crowd. We stop and I sit crouched, looking out ahead of me, the grass stretching out in front. The roar of the Merlins begin to climb and I suddenly realise perhaps what it feels like to be airborne in a Lancaster. The sound is suffocating – I shout and cannot even hear my voice in my head. We sit still for what seems like an eternity – my eyes begin to wander over the interior of the compartment and I realise suddenly how exposed I feel – the inner surfaces of the airframe paneling is barely 2 mm thick and the bubble in front of me is perspex – actually being in the thing, in the air, thousands of feet above the ground is incomprehensible – to have flak exploding nearby and be constantly waiting for the call from one of the gunners that a fighter is approaching strikes me simply as suicidal………….

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Sat in Bob’s office.

I am jolted, literally, back to the present as Jane lunges forward, feeling just as she would as she built up speed for take off all those years ago. While in truth this forward burst of movement lasts only maybe 3-5 seconds, its the same all enveloping feeling of acceleration you get in a modern airliner, however my mode of transport this afternoon makes it feel rawer and more poignant.

All too soon our taxiing is over and we return to the crowd across from the hanger. I find it a little uncomfortable to be sat at the front on our return, fully visible, but I manage the necessary smiles and waves to the onlookers. The Pilot brings Jane to a halt, runs those amazing engines back up and then kills them. Silence and its all over………….

Was Bob with me in the Lancaster? – yes and no I think. He was in the sense that he has been with me every day since he left us, but at the same time, I got no further in understanding the man that flew over occupied Europe during 3 years of the war. I think in hindsight, my mistake was that I didn’t realise that I was looking too closely into a picture – to the point that I only saw Bob as a single pixel – pulling back to see all those brave boys of Bomber Command, each one a pixel, all forming a bigger picture, I realised I now understood a little more of what they as a group had experienced and felt every time they climbed into a Lancaster regarding the claustrophobia, the noise and the exposed place they were in – I can understand no more than that, because beyond this I would have had to have flown with them – and as I didn’t have to to, I am eternally grateful to those that did……….

Robert Douglas ‘Jock’ Sommerville DFC.
1st November 1922 – 29th August 2011.

East Kirkby – home of ‘Just Jane’

NX611 ‘Just Jane’

I have been to Easy Kirkby once before, many years ago now. I approach this visit with slight trepidation. On my first visit, it was with curiosity – a chance to see a Lancaster – a plane that Bob flew. On that visit I was surprised the effect of hearing the aircraft’s engines run had on me – I actually found it it remarkably moving and had a lump in my throat.

This time we are not so lucky, Jane is sat in the hanger – one of her ‘in’ days, but is still wonderful to see the old girl again and stand so close to her – now it feels far more poignant.

From the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre website;
The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a privately owned and run Museum and was set up by two farming brothers, Fred and Harold Panton. It has been built up as a memorial to Bomber Command and primarily as a tribute to their eldest brother Christopher Whitton Panton; who was shot down and killed on a bombing raid over Nuremberg on 30/31 March 1944.
For a short time after the war there was interest from the brothers to visit Christopher’s grave in Germany, but their father denied them the chance as he wanted ‘nothing more to do with the war’. Until, in the 1970’s Mr Panton called Fred over and told him to ‘get off to Germany and bring me a photograph of Chrisy’s grave’ which of course Fred did as soon as he could. This reignited Fred’s interest in the War and when NX611 came up for sale it was eventually purchased by the brothers and brought to their land at East Kirkby. Even though they had planned to keep it only for their private collection it was suggested that they should make it into an exhibit for the public and this Museum was set up with the Lancaster and Control tower as its centre pieces.
The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre was then opened in 1988 and has hosted visits from many famous people both from the aviation and show-biz worlds.  We are all extremely proud of the accomplishments of the Centre, one of the biggest independent museums receiving no funding or Lottery grants.  We can only hope that we will be able to continue to educate the following generations to the sacrifices and roles of Bomber Command.

“Just Jane” was built by Austin Motors at Longbridge near Birmingham, in April 1945. Given the serial number NX611, she was one of the first 150 B Mk VII Avro Lancasters destined as part of the RAF’s Tiger Force in the Far East. However, Japan’s early surrender meant these aircraft were suddenly surplus to requirements and, instead of seeing service, NX611 ended up in storage at Llandow. There she stayed until 1952. From then on, a chequered career followed.
In April 1952 she was bought by the French Government. Painted midnight blue, she flew maritime patrol for the French Naval Air Arm. Ten years later, she went to Noumeau, New Caledonia, was painted white and used for air sea rescue and cartography. Then in 1964, the French presented her to the Historical Aircraft Preservation Society and flew her to her new home in Sydney where she was overhauled before being flown back to Britain. It took nine days to complete the 12,000 mile journey back to her homeland- seventy flying hours- landing at Biggin Hill on 13 May, 1965.

Temporarily grounded, due to expiry of permitted flying hours, it was 1967 before NX611 flew again, but even then public appearances were brief because of prohibitive costs.
She was flown to Lavenham in Suffolk and, a few years later, in 1972, was put up for auction at ‘Squires Gate’, Blackpool.

Meanwhile, in Lincolnshire, determined to commemorate the death of their brother Chistopher who was killed on the Nuremburg Raid in March 1944, and all of the men who served in Bomber Command, Fred and Harold Panton had decided to purchase a Second World War Bomber. At one time, they had had their eyes on a Halifax which was coming up for sale, but their father told them, in no uncertain terms, they would not be permitted to keep one at his farm.

The years passed, but the brothers still held on to their dream. Eventually, Fred and Harold became co-owners of their own farm. When some land came up for sale which included part of the defunct East Kirkby airfield they bought it. Some areas of concrete and a few buildings still stood on the old airfield, in a state of disrepair.  They used part of the area to set up a chicken farm. However, with the idea of owning an exhibition aircraft still foremost in their in their minds, they also began to renovate the “working area” of the airfield. That included building a new hangar, where an original T2 hangar had stood there during the war years.

Learning about the forthcoming auction, via an advertisement, Fred and Harold decided to try and purchase the old Lancaster. This aircraft could be the perfect monument to their brother’s memory. When Fred saw NX611 for the very first time at Blackpool, she stood lonely and forlorn, waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Around her, a great crowd stood- some hopefully putting in bids, but most just watched- curious to see one of the country’s finest types of Bomber at close range.  Sadly, due to the reserve not being reached, she was withdrawn from the auction and later privately sold to the Rt Hon Lord Lilford.  Fred and Harold kept in contact with her new owner and eventually, whilst she stood Gate Guardian at RAF Scampton, near Lincoln, and after one or two hiccups in the furtherance of their ambition to own her, a deal was struck with Lord Lilford’s agent.

In September 1983, NX611 was finally purchased by Fred and Harold and, four years later, after completing an agreed total of ten years gate guardian at RAF Scampton, she was brought to East Kirkby, courtesy of the RAF.  It was sixteen years since Fred had seen her at Blackpool auction.

The first moves towards restoring one of her four engines were made in 1993. Two ex RAF engineers were brought in to do the job. They began work on No3 engine. Although it had been idle for 22 years, they were confident they could bring it back to life. Accessing the spare parts was organised, the engine rotated to ensure it would still turn and the cam shaft covers removed. Both had to be replaced, although the engine cylinders were in good working order. Then the propeller was removed, stripped down and examined and – apart from having to adjust the blade settings – everything proved to be in fine order and was rebuilt.
Local contractors were brought in to check the wiring and make good where necessary. That alone was a ten-day job.
The engine’s starter motor, magnetos, fuel booster pump and ignition harness were removed and checked, the fuel tank was pressurised and the fuel jettison system reset. When the throttle controls between the cockpit lever and the engine were uncovered, it was discovered that almost a third of the small control rods had to be replaced.
However after about seven hundred man hours and at a cost of £7000 the engine was finally ready.
This work was then completed for all four engines and they are now at a fully operational taxiing standard.

Visit the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre website here.