The East Kirkby Airshow has typically included an interesting selection of participants in its flying programme, but the 2017 line-up presented a welcome departure from the norm with a decidedly historic focus headlined by some of the country’s rarest airworthy warbirds.
Visitors were greeted upon entry by the towering spectacle of that great East Kirkby monolith, Avro Lancaster NX611 Just Jane. The showground, meanwhile, was positively alive with something going on around every corner; from the main hangar emanated 1940s music as swing dancers entertained the gathered crowd, the apron was occupied by an array of vintage cars and motorbikes and spectators browsed the myriad stalls. The upbeat and warm atmosphere felt more akin to that of a bustling village fete than an airshow.
For the aviation enthusiasts, the morning offered a chance to examine the two based Second World War bombers. Following Just Jane‘s deep winter maintenance, the Lancaster has been repainted and is looking very smart indeed. One new resident attracting considerable attention in the main hangar was Tony Agar’s de Havilland Mosquito composite, displayed in a disassembled state following its recent arrival from its long-term home at Elvington. The move will enable the Mosquito to be restored to ground running condition and this will surely be a huge draw for East Kirkby’s future events and photo-shoots.
The sizeable crowd at East Kirkby quite clearly comprised families in the main. Their respect for local RAF history was made abundantly clear when the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) opened the day’s aerial proceedings from nearby RAF Coningsby with the trio of Lancaster, Spitfire Mk.XVI and Hawker Hurricane Mk.II. They captured everyone’s attention and each pass by the Lancaster received spontaneous applause. It really was wonderful to see.
Despite the weather remaining dry at East Kirkby, the poor conditions faced by some participants elsewhere in the country necessitated considerable rejigging of the flying order. Thanks go to commentator Ben Dunnell for updating the crowd throughout the afternoon, and to the RC scale model pilots for keeping us entertained during any prolonged gaps!
With the BBMF appearing as something of an aperitif before the main programme got underway, the opening slot proper was handed to a newcomer on the British airshow scene. Making his public air display début in Will Greenwood’s Heliopolis Gomhouria was Sam Worthington-Leese, a flying instructor with the Goodwood Aero Club and Ultimate High. The charming ‘Bestmann’ was put through a fine routine of aerobatics which demonstrated the type’s surprising manoeuvrability. It is always pleasing to see new blood being injected into the display scene, and this was a promising début from one of the leading lights in the Hawker Typhoon RB396 restoration project. While the Typhoon’s return to flight is still a long way off, the team have already made significant progress towards achieving their aim and have generated considerable support within the preservation scene – we look forward to seeing more of this exciting project in future. Conditions early on in the programme were somewhat grey and blustery, so credit to the pilots for putting on some excellent displays, as Kevin Hale did in his beautiful Auster AOP6 TW536. Kevin has fast become a regular on the airshow circuit since purchasing the Auster, appearing at events up and down the country.
Another prolific airshow act and the only modern aircraft on the bill was Peter Davies in his Calidus Autogyro. The Autogyro is a perfect act for small venues, and its diminutive stature and compact display sequence worked well at East Kirkby.
The Historic Aircraft Collection’s unique Hawker Fury is one of the most exquisite airworthy vintage aeroplanes in the world, and one which has seemingly been overlooked by the vast majority of airshow organisers. It was fantastic to see the aircraft scheduled to appear at East Kirkby’s August airshow, however in the event the attempt to bring the aeroplane north was thwarted by inclement weather over East Anglia – a great shame, and we hope the Fury might be able to attend a future event at the venue. More positively, Hawker Hurricane Mk.I R4118 was able to fly up to Lincolnshire for a late afternoon display slot, its appearance in the programme having been delayed due to thunderstorms at its home base. R4118 is operated by Hurricane Heritage at Old Warden, and was flown at East Kirkby by Stu Goldspink in a typically graceful display.
Another aircraft of pre and early war RAF vintage making a starring appearance was the Bristol Blenheim Mk.IF, replacing the Avro Anson (which was unable to display but visited the event as a static participant). Thanks to the wonders of modern technology we were able to follow the light bomber’s journey from its base at Duxford, as the Aircraft Restoration Company streamed live in-cockpit video from their Instagram account. Since the aircraft’s much anticipated return to the airshow scene in 2014 we’ve been lucky enough to see many displays by the Blenheim up and down the country. This particular routine at East Kirkby, flown by John Romain and set against some brooding summer clouds, was one of the finest.
Also flying in from Duxford was T-28 Fennec G-TROY, a long-time British airshow act now adorned with a smart US paint scheme. The Great War Display Team’s weather related cancellation left their cache of pyrotechnics set up and unused on the far side of the airfield, and these were imaginatively incorporated into a ground attack demonstration by the T-28. Following a series of strafing runs, the pugnacious radial was put through its paces by Boscombe Down test pilot Dave Southwood, whose routines always offer an entertaining spectacle and indeed, a flawless dynamic aerobatic routine provided the best display of the day.
The Fennec was the first of a trio of Vietnam-era types in the flying display. Justin Needham brought his immaculate Cessna O-1 Bird Dog which, whilst similar in appearance to your common and garden Cessna, is very much a warbird as denoted by its South Vietnamese Air Force livery and underslung rockets. Closing the show was Tony De Bruyn in his Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, putting on a very enjoyable demonstration of the aircraft’s agility against a backdrop of rapidly moving storm clouds to the south. It’s great to see Tony and the Bronco Demo Team supporting British airshows large and small, bringing to the fore a once elusive type.
There have been improvements to aspects of East Kirkby’s showground, too. There were terrible queues to exit the airfield after the ‘3 Lancs’ events in 2014 and subsequent airshows and special attraction days have suffered from heavy traffic, but a second exit has now been opened to alleviate pressure on the main gate. Despite a large crowd, there were certainly no issues getting out when I came to leave not too long after flying concluded.
With a more vintage-centric line-up and excellent displays from a varied mix of newer acts and seasoned veterans, this was a thoroughly enjoyable show. More so than ever there is reason to visit the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and the events staged at East Kirkby, to see the Mosquito being brought back to life and to support the restoration of Lancaster Just Jane. Imagine too what future events may look like, when the proposed longer north-south runway has been created and Just Jane is an airworthy star attraction. A tantalising prospect for what is already one of the gems of the British historic aviation landscape, but one which needs continued hands-in-pocket support in order to flourish.