Text & Pictures: Serge Van Heertum (other as mentioned) © sbap 2015


Little History

A small site at Hagnaby was first used as a “K”-type decoy, designed to attract enemy aircraft away from nearby Coningsby and Manby. The decoy ceased operation on June 27, 1941 and approval was given in August for the construction of a Class “A” bomber airfield with work being carried out in 1942-1943. This became RAF East Kirkby.
East Kirkby opened in August 1943 as an airfield of the 5th Group. It had the usual three intersecting runways all linked by a perimeter track. The technical site was located to the north, and contained two of the three hangars (a T2 and a later B1 model). The second T2 was located off the eastern perimeter track. A further four T2 hangars were constructed on the technical site when East Kirkby became the parent station of 55 Base, responsible for the administration and aircraft maintenance of Spilsby and Strubby. The communal and accommodation sites were located in fields north-west of the A155, whilst the bomb stores were located to the north-east, at the site of the former decoy.
The Lancaster of 57 Squadron arrived from Scampton on August 29, 1943. On November 15, 1943, “B” Flight 57 Squadron was expanded to form 630 Squadron.
A major accident occurred at the airfield on April 17, 1945. Whilst loading bombs in preparation for a raid on the marshalling yards at Chem, south-west Germany, a 1000Lbs bomb exploded, causing a chain reaction resulting in six Lancaster from 57 Squadron being destroyed, and fourteen suffering damage. There were seventeen casualties, four of which were fatal.
Following Victory in Europe on May 8, 1945, East Kirkby became a work-up base for aircraft destined for the Tiger Force. The force was created as part of the proposed Allied invasion of mainland Japan. Both 57 Squadron and 460 Squadron were to contribute aircraft which would form 533 Wing. However, the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced the Japanese to surrender and the need for the Tiger Force ceased. On July 18, 1945, 630 Squadron was disbanded as it was not required for the force, its place being taken by 460 Squadron RAAF from RAF Binbrook.

Post war…

After the surrender of Japan, East Kirkby was retained by the RAF on Care and Maintenance. Inbetween 1951-1958, the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command took over the airfield, redeveloping it. Rescue squadrons were stationed at East Kirkby (US code name Silksheen) for four years. Existing facilities were refurbished and a large aircraft parking area was built near the four T2 hangars. The east-west runway was extended eastwards by 1121 meters making its overall length 2400 meters. East Kirkby was finally closed in 1958.
The control tower is believed to be haunted. The airfield was featured in a 1980's BBC series about World War II airfields. Much of the runway is still intact today but mainly used by local farmers as hard standing and by model aircraft enthusiasts. Occasional civilian light aircraft have landed on the remaining runway in recent years and the airfield still appears on Civil Aviation Maps as a diversion emergency landing location.

East Kirkby airfield today (Google earth)

Aircraft, Squadrons and dates…
Opened as a decoy site for RAF Manby.
Fully opened as an RAF Airfield.
1943 (August)
N° 57 Sqn Operating Avro Lancaster/Lincoln. The squadron disbanded at the airfield on the November 25, 1945.
1943 (November)
N° 630 Sqn Operating Avro Lancasters. Disbanded at the station on the July 18, 1945.
July 1945
N° 460 Sqn RAAF Operating Lancasters. The squadron disbanded at the airfield on the October 10, 1945.
November 1945
Station put on Care and Maintenance.
August 1947
N° 139 Sqn Operating the de Haviland Mosquito. Left the station in February 1948.
August 1947
N° 231 OCU Operating the de Haviland Mosquito. The Operational Conversion Unit left the airfield in February 1948.
February 1948
Station placed back on Care and Maintenance.
April 1954
3931st ABG USAF Operating the Douglas C-47 Skytrain. The Air Base Group left the station in November 1954
November 1954
3917th ABG USAF Operating Douglas C-47 Skytrain. The Air Base Group left East Kirkby on the August 01, 1958.
December 1958
RAF East Kirkby closed.
RAF East Kirkby sold.

Aircraft museum…
The airfield, until that point being the site of broiler sheds owned by Mansfield's J.B.Eastwood Ltd was sold in 1981 to Fred and Harold Panton.
The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is a privately owned and run Museum and was set up by the two farming brothers to build it up as a memorial to Bomber Command and primarily as a tribute to their oldest brother P/O Christopher Whitton Panton, who was shot down and killed on a bombing raid over Nuremberg the night of March 30-31, 1944.

RAF 57 Squadron in April 1944 (Courtesy 57 & 630 Sqn association)
RAF 630 Squadron in MAy 1944 (Courtesy 57 & 630 Sqn association)

The main hangar

This is the location of the aircraft of the heritage center but also the exhibition stands of the The Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group.

Avro Lancaster “Just Jane”

In 1988, they bought “Just Jane” the gate guardian Lancaster bomber from RAF Scampton, which is regularly taxied out and having its four Rolls Royce Merlin XXIV engines running. “Just Jane” is one of only three airworthy Lancasters still capable of flying, but will not fly until the privately run museum can afford the airworthiness certificate.
NX611 was built by Austin Aero Ltd at their Cofton Hackett Works just south of Birmingham, rolling out of the Flight Shed on April 16, 1945, when it was put into storage In 1952, it was one of 54 Lancaster sold to the French Navy (Aeronavale) for £50,000 each, as part of a 1951 NATO arrangement. It was designated WU-15 (Western Union). In June 1961 it joined the Escadrille 9S (Surveillance) at Nouméa, New Caledonia.
On April 15, 1964, Lancaster NX665 (WU-13), was delivered to the RNZAF from New Caledonia to Auckland, New Zealand. The NX611 (WU-15) was also on this ferry-flight to return the crew of NX665.
Its service with the French Navy ended in 1965 due to spare shortages and maintenance problems and was flown back to England. On September 12, 1965, having flown 2.330 hours it was put into the Skyfame Museum at Staverton airfield, Gloucestershire. Registered as G-ASXX it became the gate guardian at RAF Scampton before being acquired by the museum owners.

WU15 during his French Navy career in the early 1960's  (Courtesy French Navy) Gate guardian at Scampton in the early 1980's  (Coll SBAP)

Douglas C47A Skytrain USAAF Serial Number 42-100882

This Dakota was acquired by the museum in 2006 and put back in airworthy conditions.
The aircraft is now restored wearing the USAAF 87th Squadron D-Day colours and participated in the commemorations of 70 years WWII in Normandy. This veteran aircraft had a rich career which can be resumed as follows
Troop Carrier (USAF/RAF/RCAF 1944/1966)
Military Freighter (USAAF/RAF/RCAF 1944-1966)
Assault Glider Tug (USAAF/RAF/RCAF 1944-c.1953)
Assault Glider Snatch Recovery Tug (USAAF/RAF 1944-1945)
Parachute Transport (RCAF 1946-1953)
Search and Rescue/MedeVac (+ Skis and Jato Rockets RCAF 1953-1959)
Multi-Engine Conversion Trainer (RCAF 1959-1960)
Civilian air transport (C-FKAZ 1966-1985)
Freighter transport (N5831B 1985-2006)

"Drag-Em-Oot" during the D-Day commemoration at Duxford in 2014
Many exhibitions of aeronautical souvenir... Barnes Wallis Unkeep Mine (training)
How it works...
8000 Lbs high capacity bomb The Tallboy bomb also designed by Barnes Wallis
English Electric Canberra B6 nose section The pilot seat

A part of the cockpit

The observer seat
Bedford "Queen Mary" Fordson W.O.T.1 Crew bus
Some RAF related vehicles UVS130 Leyland Hippo
AEC Matador bowser Do you remember Airfix models?
Fordson W.O.T.1 Foam tender David Brown Tractor
David Brown 30c Tug Tractor
1/1 diorama

The Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group (LARG)
The LARG is based at East Kirkby and gives a lot of presentations at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre.

A brief overview

The display origins of the Lincolnshire Aircraft Recovery Group (LARG) at The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre started in 1973 when aviation archaeology was just beginning to be recognized as a serious activity as it is today. Recoveries were carried out throughout Lincolnshire, with much emphasis being placed on talking to locals who remembered the incidents.
Their aim is to preserve what is now modern history, as a tribute to those who lost their lives during the war fighting for our freedom and to remind the young and not so young generations to the aircraft and men that flew during those dark days. There are now several permanent memorial plaques on display in the center, together with memorials erected on the crash sites of some of the aircraft involved.
The members of the LARG all work voluntarily on what is still just a hobby. The recovery of an aircraft is the “key point” of many weeks, months or even years of research that goes into planning a dig. With so many regulations and constraints ruling these activities, great care has to be taken to “get everything right" otherwise the recovery may not go ahead. After a successful dig, the hard work then starts cleaning the wreckage and bringing it back to displayable conditions. This work is done in the workshop at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, a job that involves meticulous work with wire brushes, scrapers, toothbrushes, emery cloth and ultimate patience so as not to destroy any more of the “mangled metal”.
The results of the work can be seen at the Heritage Centre during the displays in the main hangar.
Many crashes sadly involved the loss of lives and as mentioned earlier the LARG has erected memorials to commemorate those sad losses. The plaques were often unveiled by relatives of the men having been killed. Two of them are dedicated the crew of Hampden L4063 in the Cheviot Hills. Parts from this are being used in the Brian Nicholls Hampden Restoration Project at East Kirkby.

Another RCAF Sabre

FO Bedard RCAF Canadair Sabre Mk II
June 23th, 1953
RAF Leffenham
F/Lt Worsley and under officer Hick RAF Vampire WZ429
January 10th, 1954
RAF Cranwell

Supermarine Spitfire Vb (BL655)
Norman Alexander Watt from 416 (RCAF) Squadron was killed on July 1st, 1943
Crashed in Dorrington Fen area after an unrecover inverted dive.

Norman Alexander Watt
Lockheed P-38 Lighting wrecks... ...and the nose guns
Boeing B-17G from 92 bomb group
Mission during the battle of the bulge was aborded due engine failure
Crashed at Old Bolingbroke after two missed approach and one more engine failure
The 9 crew were killed in the crash
Luftwaffe Dornier Do 17z remains
Luftwaffe Dornier Do 17z remains Sgt W.R. Rogger Hawker Hurricanr Mk I  (P3785)
The aircraft from 56 OTU crashed on April 17th, 1941 in the area of Reckerby Farm

The Control Tower

One of the main features to the museum is the original control tower restored to show what an operational tower was like. Many says the tower is haunted and there is a definite “chill” in the air as you listen to and watch the recreated Bomber R/T as they return from Berlin. The new Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) display in the tower pays respect to the WAAF who was a very important but often forgotten part of the operations.

The WAAF in action Rest room
Operations Telegraph
The radio and operations control area
Next mission...Berlin Radio operator

RAF Escape Museum

The RAF Escaping Society collection is set up as a tribute to all those who helped downed airmen in occupied Europe. The displays include many personal stories of getaways and escapes as well as items used by aircrew to escape. Displays ranging from Goldfish Club, Caterpillar Club to French Resistance and prisoner of war (POW) camps. The displays in the Escape Museum are extremely important to the Centre as they highlight the sacrifices and the heroism of so many French and Belgian (réseau Comête) people in the Underground movement who helped the airmen return. For every airman who made it back to English shores, four of the helpers died. The Escape Museum opens up a completely different subject for many people interested in WW2 history.

Tribute to the Belgian "Réseau Comète"
Link trainer... ...and the monitor control table
Wood part of a Felixstowe F.2A flying boat of 1918

The Brian Nicholls Hampden Restoration Project

A rare example of one of the Royal Air Force’s Second World War “forgotten bombers”, the Hampden and its twin engine partners in the form of Whitley, Wellington and Manchester bore the brunt of bombing operations against Germany during the early war years, serving with distinction until retirement from front line Bomber Command service in late 1942.
With only one other Hampden under restoration to static display standards in the United Kingdom, this is an important, but very much long term project by the Lincolnshire Aviation Preservation Society. AE436’s formers and stringers are being rebuilt to original specifications, with current work focusing on the bottom part of the nose section and the bottom front spars. Once the top part of the fuselage will have been joined to the bottom part, the focus of the restoration will move to the rear fuselage, then to the tail boom on to the tail and wings.
Although the Hampden will be best remembered for its Bomber Command operations, the type also served in Coastal Command with 144 examples being converted to "torpedo carrying TB.I standard". AE436 was such a conversion, on strength with 144 Squadron Royal Air Force based at Leuchars, wearing the code PL-J.
The wreckage of AE436 layd on the mountainside until rediscovered in 1976 by the Västernorrland Historical Society. Following a funeral ceremony for the three deceased crew members at Kviberg Cemetery Göteborg, the wreckage was salvaged by the Swedish Air Force and returned to the United Kingdom. Initially the crated remains were stored at RAF Henlow until discovered in June 1987 by the late Brian Nicholls, a serving member of the Royal Air Force who was looking for a suitable restoration project. Having discounted restorations of “extinct” types such as the Whitley and Stirling as unfeasible, Brian settled on bringing a Hampden back to life. The crated remains of AE436 were delivered to RAF Coningsby where the contents were examined, prior to the project making the short journey to East Kirkby where restoration started in earnest during 1989.

The AE436 crew at day of the crash in Sarek National Park:
P/O D.I.Evans (Pilot) - F/O W.H.Bowler (Navigator) - F/S J.S.Jewett (Radio operator) - F/S J.P.Campbell (Turret gunner) - Cpt B.J.Sowerby (Machanic)

The presentation of the project Some pictures and original instruments
The AE436 in operation above Great Britain in 1942 Crashed on September 5th, 1942 the plane was found 34 years laterin Sweden
(Courtesy FLC)
The AE436 hall Some of the parts back from Sweden
The restauration project of Brian Nicholls The bottom part and construction plan

Percival P.31 Proctor Mk.IV NP294

A long term restoration project residing at East Kirkby, in the capable hands of the Lincolnshire Aircraft Preservation Society, is the Percival P.31 Proctor Mk.IV NP294.
This particular model of the successful Proctor family was used as a three seat radio trainer during World War II and was equipped with the T/R1154/55 radio installation, mounted in a cradle to the right of the pilot. Built in 1944, NP294 is a unique survivor from a batch of 258 Mk.IVs. The aircraft saw wartime service with N° 2 Radio School at RAF Yatesbury and N°4 Radio School at RAF Madley. Following retirement from RAF service the aircraft avoided sale on the civil market and interestingly retained its radio training fit until rediscovered lying in a hedge in a private garden near Stockport

Discovered in a private garden (Courtesy Air Britain) East Kirkby Proctor under restauration

In 2008 the museum opened an unlicensed partly grass / partly concrete landing strip for visiting military and civil aircraft. No aircraft is allowed to land without first contacting the owners through the museum's website or telephone number. Air traffic control during display flying days is provided by RAF Coningsby with a six mile "no fly" exclusion zone around East Kirkby on these days.

Possibilities to have a lunch in a pleasant rest room... ...and the most dangerous place for the wallet!
More about the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre?
Just click on the "Lancs" patch

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