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RAF East Kirkby Airshow 2016



"...the familiar sound of Merlin engines again filled the air around the show ground"

The first weekend in August traditionally heralds the annual East Kirkby Air Show, one of the biggest events in the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre’s busy calendar. Based on the old wartime airfield of RAF East Kirkby, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre retains its original 1940's Control Tower along with the jewel in its crown, Avro Lancaster NX611.

The Museum runs this annual show to help raise funds for the on-going restoration of Avro Lancaster NX611, better know to her adoring fans as “Just Jane”. The organisers always manage to put on a varied day of entertainment for its visitors, with re-enactors, Lancaster ground taxi runs, model aircraft flying demonstrations, trade stalls, vintage cars, Military vehicles and much more to provide an excellent family day out. The flying programme always manages to include a broad range of aircraft types with this year being no exception. Scheduled to grace the skies of East Kirkby at the 2016 show included, amongst others the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, aerobatic displays from the Wildcats display team, RV8 and DR107 airframes, the vintage touch of the Great War Display Team, the ever entertaining Captain Neville’s Flying Circus, the centre’s resident C47 Skytrain and a high energy display from North American P-51D Mustang “Janie” piloted by Maurice Hammond of Hardwick Warbirds.



The action started at 12.15 with the arrival of the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in a three ship formation including Spitfires marks Vb and XVIe and the too long absent Avro Lancaster I, on one of her first public displays of the season after missing all of last years flying season after an engine fire. Sadly the pilot on the day had not yet received full public display authority so the flying on the day was limited to flypast only. That being said it is always a pleasure and honour to see the heavy bomber in the air.

Once the opening act had departed the familiar sound of Merlin engines again filled the air around the show ground with the first of two planned taxi runs from the resident ground running Lancaster “Just Jane”. These taxi runs throughout the year allow enthusiasts the chance to ride aboard the rare vintage air frame on the grass landing strip at East Kirkby. These taxi rides are an important part of the fund raising effort to get NX611 to a state of air worthiness. Speaking to Andrew Panton of Lincs Aviation Centre, the next step in the journey towards air worthiness will be a complete paint strip of the air frame over the winter months allowing corrective work to be carried out before a complete repaint to airworthy condition. Regular updates from the museum including news on Just Jane’s transformation are available by signing up for the regular museum email newsletter.

A regular part of air shows at East Kirkby is the presence of model aircraft flying displays, this year including displays from vintage propeller driven and more modern jet aircraft.

After an early break in the day the flying kicked off once more with some skilful formation flying from the Wildcat Aerobatic Display Team in their Pitts S2B aircraft. Flying feet apart, wing tip to wing tip the pair wowed the crowds with their refined flying display including a great mirror pass.

The aerobatic theme continued with a solo RV8 display from Matt Summers who put the small but highly manoeuvrable aircraft through its paces with some high climbs before tumbling back down through his own smoke.

A change of pace in the flying programme came from a multi ship display in the form of the Great War Display Team in the WW1 era reproduction aircraft. Today’s line up displayed 5 of the teams 10 aircraft, including a monoplane in the form of a Junkers CL1, a Fokker Dr1 Triplane and three Biplane designs including two Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a’s and a single Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c. The team carried out an air battle between German and Allied Force aircraft which proved to be quite an evocative site. The Great War Display Team have the added exciting and unique element of being the first display acts to be cleared by the CAA to display at 75 metres from the crowd under the new post-Shoreham rules.

Another regular visitor to the Air Show at East Kirkby is the Calidus Auto Gyro displayed by Peter Davies who takes advantage of the display acts ability to display at 50m from the crowd line at height of 100 feet due to its low speed and energy. The up close and personal display always manages to bring a smile to faces up and down the crowd line.

Keeping with the fun element of the air display, next up was Captain Neville’s Flying Circus in their vintage aircraft, carrying out routines such as giant cricket with aircraft and propeller balloon popping. Probably the most entertaining and “dare devil” part of the act was limbo flying, where each of the pilots attempted (and in many cases successfully) to fly their particular aircraft under a rope tied between two poles; a most entertaining display act.

As the flying circus landed and taxied back to the crowd line, the P-51D Mustang from the Hardwick Warbirds Stable held prior to take off on the concrete pan at the eastern end of the landing strip running through final checks and engine run ups. As checks were complete Maurice Hammond released the breaks and throttled forward running down the grass before quickly lifting off and climbing to height. A regular display act at the East Kirkby air show the Mustang put in some high energy climbs and dives back down to crowd / display centre. Always an impressive display, this year the display height and distance from the crowd felt noticeably further away, as a response to the new CAA rulings; an issue that East Kirkby isn’t alone in sharing.

After further Lancaster ground taxi runs and model flying, the flying programme continued with a graceful display from the resident C47A Skytrain “drag em oot”. The twin engined World War Two veteran troop carrier performed several top side passes along the crowd line, a fantastic site against the glorious blue skies and fluffy white clouds.

Once the C47 returned to terra firma a slight pause in the flying gave way to the familiar sounds of a Merlin roar as the Shuttleworth based Hurricane mk I flew in and along the crowd line to begin its display. Hurricane R4118 is the sole surviving Hawker Hurricane from the Battle of Britain, flying 49 operational sorties during the summer of 1940, notching up 5 enemy “kills” before being brought down itself. On the day the crowds witnessed a lovely flying display from R4118 with Dave Harvey at the controls, expertly showing off the lovely lines of the classic Hawker airframe with a number of topside passes.

A late addition to the show, the Bucker Bestmann display proved that you don’t need to have huge amounts of power to carry out an entertaining aerobatic display. This particular airframe is fitted with a 145hp engine (40 more than the original 105bp), but is capable of adequate climb performance and quick & snappy rolls and display manoeuvres.

Further aerobatic displays came in the form of Phil Burgess in his DR107 One Design. The bright green and white pocket rocket gave a fabulous display routine including some vertical climbs and steep dives whilst trailing plumes of white smoke, giving just a taste of what the type can do.

Last but not least was the final act of the flying display in the form of Plane Sailings PBY Catalina. The bright white twin radial engined flying boat quickly leapt from the grass and into the air thanks to the large amounts of lift generated by those high level wings. The flight crew gave a great display including demonstrations of the deployable wing tip buoyancy floats and the unusual looking landing gear arrangements.

This year’s show was near capacity, with a spectator crowd of approximately 4,800, blessed with perfect weather conditions for spectators and pilots alike. The events at East Kirkby always feel very personal, with the action feeling very close to you as a spectator, with this years show being no exception. The annual show has a 5000 ticket allowance, with many of those being sold to regular visitors who, like myself enjoy the nostalgic atmosphere that seems to flow within the museums grounds.

With reference to changes in the year’s air show rules and regulations put forward by the CAA in response the tragedy of Shoreham, I asked Andrew Panton how the centre has had to adapt to meet these new rules. Andrew informed me that the main difference they had encountered was the requirement to use the 230 and 150 meter display line which has pushed the aircraft further from the viewing crowds. The museum didn’t feel that this had made too much of a difference to them as they are only a small venue, but understandably the impact is greater at larger sites. In addition to this the event team were also required to submit more risk assessments and associated paperwork, but Andrew stated that this was already paperwork the team produced, so it wasn’t a problem.


From a spectator point of view the changes to the display lines were only really noticeable on a few of the display items, and didn’t affect the overall experience of what air shows that East Kirkby provide. It was fair to say that the team had planned and executed another highly successful air show, with only one cancellation in the flying programme in the form of T28 Trojan due to engine difficulties.



Review by Jonathan Wintle

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