Slightly to the south of the Lincolnshire Wolds you will find an airfield steeped in history and where one of the most famous aircraft from world war two calls home. East Kirkby airfield home to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and a rather famous aircraft the Lancaster “Just Jane” NX611 the only taxing Lancaster left in the world besides the two airworthy ones.  The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a family run museum set up over 20 years ago. Present day the Museum is seen as a living memorial to the 55,500 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during World War two.

Opened on the 20 August 1943 as a Bomber Command Station East Kirkby was the home of No. 57 Squadron between 27th August 1943 and 25th November 1945 and No. 630 Squadron between 15th November 1943 and 18th July 1945. In total 212 operations were carried out during the war of which 121 Lancaster’s did not return with a further 29 being lost due to operational crashes or accidents. After the war East Kirby was used by the United States Air Force for Air Rescue for four years before eventually closing in 1958.  The history of the airfield did not end there however when two Brothers Fred and Harold Panton bought some land close to and including part of the disused East Kirkby airfield where a few buildings still remained however in a state of disrepair. They used part of the area to set up a chicken farm. However they also began to renovate parts of the airfield included building a new hangar where an original T2 hangar had stood there during the war years.

NX611 was one of the last Lancaster’s to be produced at Austin Aero factory and was immediately stored by the RAF from 1945 until 1952 where it then Served with the French Navy as WU-15 from June 1952 until the 1960s after which it was flown to Noumeau, New Caledonia 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 England some seventy flying hours grounded in 1972 NX611 was put up for auction in Blackpool where she did not meet the reserve price and was eventually sold privately to Rt Hon Lord Lilford who would after the removal of Lancaster R5868 from Scampton place NX611 on gate guardian duties at the former Dam Busters base. That was until In September 1983 when NX611 “Just Jane” was purchased by Brothers Fred and Harold Panton and four years later after completing a total of ten years as the gate guardian at RAF Scampton NX611 was brought to East Kirkby courtesy of the RAF some sixteen years after Fred Panton first saw her at the Blackpool auction.

The process of restoration began in 1993 with work beginning on her four engines in where two ex RAF Engineers where brought in to do the work. Beginning on number 3 engine they were confident even after 22 years of being idle they could bring the engine back to life, with access to a number of spare parts the engine was rotated to make sure it would turn and the cam shaft covers where removed and replaced, the propeller was then removed and stripped and checked over and was found to be in perfect condition so it was rebuilt and fitted back onto the engine this process was carried out for the other three remaining engines as well as a number of other parts removed and changed and after £7000 of repairs the engines where ready to be fired up leaving us with the taxi capable “Just Jane we have today.  The future is bright for NX611 with a project underway to restore the aircraft to airworthy condition. A spares have been sourced and overhauled to airworthy standards to allow the project to progress faster once the aircraft is dismantled.

 

Article by Kurt Fairhurst assisted by Paul Akin and thanks to Andrew Panton-Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre