Once in a Lanc Time, One Year On – 8 August 2015

One year ago today, Lancaster FM213 touched down at a grim RAF Coningsby to begin a busy UK-wide tour. The following is a reprise of that exciting summer for aviation enthusiasts.

The Avro Lancaster entered service with the RAF in 1942 and served the nation well, initially taking the fight to Germany as Britain remained largely on the defensive and up against the odds – as exemplified by the Dambusters raids. Bomber Command suffered heavy losses in playing its part in the eventual victory in Europe, with Lancasters hitting vital strategic targets deep inside enemy territory. After VE Day a ‘Tiger Force’ of Commonwealth-nation bombers – largely Lancasters – was planned to embark for a role in the invasion of Japan but that campaign ended before that force departed. With peacetime came a rapid reduction in force strength, abetted by the introduction of more modern aircraft such as the Avro Lincoln – an aircraft owing much to the Lancaster in its design – though some Lancasters did find themselves a new life when exported to Argentina and France. Although the drawdown of Lancasters in RAF service took place fairly rapidly the type did continue in a number of support roles through to the nineteen-fifties, with the last official RAF Lancaster sortie taking place on 15 October 1956. There has been some debate as to when two Lancasters may have last been seen in the air together over the UK, with possibilities including visiting French or Canadian examples and what would become the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s PA474, but the general consensus is that such an event hadn’t occurred since that 1956 retirement.

There are currently just two airworthy Avro Lancasters in the world; the aforementioned PA474 in the UK and FM213, which is a Lancaster Mk. X built in Canada and which served with the RCAF through to 1963. Having been saved for preservation FM213 was later restored to flight, once again taking to the air in 1988. It is currently operated by the Canadian Warplane Heritage and based at Hamilton, Ontario. The Lancaster has been painted to represent the aircraft flown by Plt. Off. Andrew Mynarski VC – leading to it being known as the ‘Mynarski Memorial Lancaster’. Mynarski’s wartime 419 Squadron Lancaster was attacked over France by a Luftwaffe Ju 88 night-fighter on 13 June 1944 which caused severe fires to break out and trapped the rear-gunner Plt. Off. Pat Brophy in his damaged turret. The crew were ordered to bail out but Mynarski stayed behind attempting to free the rear-gunner until the flames had set his own clothing and parachute alight. Finally beaten by the dire situation Mynarski jumped and survived the descent but sadly succumbed to his severe burns shortly afterwards. Remarkably Brophy, still trapped, survived the crash of the Lancaster, being thrown from his turret on impact. His report on the heroism of Mynarski’s selfless actions led to the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross. Mynarski’s Lancaster was serial numbered KB726 and coded VR-A, both of which are included in the paint scheme of FM213 and leading to it also being referred to fondly as ‘VeRA’.

In February 2014 the BBMF website broke the exciting news that the Canadian Lancaster was planning to visit the UK and would join PA474 in the air at airshows and events throughout the country – a sight that many thought would never be seen. After much detailed planning ‘VeRA’ departed Hamilton on 5 August 2014 bound for the UK via Goose Bay (Canada) and Keflavik (Iceland). The final leg was scheduled to see an arrival at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire on 8 August accompanied by the BBMF’s Lancaster with escorting fighters plus the RAF’s display team the Red Arrows, but sadly the weather on the day over the UK not only ruined the chances of putting these welcoming formations together but also put the arrival of the Canadian Lancaster at risk. The piloting crew had options to divert to other airfields should the weather they were flying into be beyond safe limits, but they managed to continue. FM213 broke through the overcast rainclouds and landed safely on the wet runway at Coningsby to be greeted by thousands of enthusiasts and locals lining the fences, various dignitaries and military personnel, the press, and most importantly many veterans and their families. It proved to be a very emotional day for all those present; feelings which would continue throughout the tour.

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The focus of the UK tour would be to commemorate the wartime exploits of Bomber Command and their crews, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice. The general public took the tour to their hearts and every event at which the two Lancasters attended was sold out, with a noticeably high proportion of ‘non-enthusiast’ families. Coningsby village itself was adorned with Canadian Maple Leaf flags flying from the church, shop-fronts, pubs and people’s homes to welcome the visitors. Following a period of scheduled maintenance after the long trans-Atlantic flight the Canadian Lancaster carried out a test flight, and then, on the following day, 13 August 2014, the Memorial Flight’s PA474 joined FM213 to practice flying as a pair. Incredibly two Lancasters could be seen flying together over the UK for the first time in over half a century. It would be a sight soon to be witnessed around the UK in sometimes very emotional circumstances. On the following day the display routine was flown in front of Air Vice-Marshall Stuart Atha, Air Officer Commanding the RAF’s 1 Group, to gain his approval for the required Public Display Authority to allow for the two Lancasters to display at airshows. With the PDA granted the tour program could commence, and that it did immediately with their public debut at ‘Airbourne’, the seafront show at Eastbourne on that same day, Thursday 14 August. Having completed that display the two Lancasters and two Spitfires landed at the historic airfield of Biggin Hill in Kent which was intended to be their base for that weekend’s display commitments. The weather though intervened and the predicted high winds saw an early return to Coningsby and a cancellation for events on the 16th. This thankfully proved to be a rare occurrence on the tour.

Biggin Hill:

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Eastbourne’s second day:

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The tour program focused on a number of airshows and also included various flypasts. The plans for most days would schedule multiple displays with flypasts over locations en-route with links to the Lancaster and Bomber Command.

Operating from Southend Airport, and giving the chance of a three Avros shoot:

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Little Gransden:

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Goodwood Revival (over three days):

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Unlike the BBMF’s Lancaster the Canadian bomber is privately owned and receives no government funding so much effort had to be put towards securing finance to cover the cost of the tour. A major source of income would come from taking paying passengers for flights from Humberside Airport (from which wartime Lancasters operated when known as RAF Kirmington) and the tour also gained valuable sponsorship from Thwaites brewery who produce a Lancaster Bomber bitter. Amongst the locations visited one of the most poignant was Durham Tees Valley Airport – the wartime RAF Middleton St. George. This airfield was the operational base of Andrew Mynarski’s 419 ‘Moose’ Squadron and is home to a statue in his memory. Unfortunately the visit also witnessed the low point of the tour when one of FM213’s Merlin engines suffered a serious mechanical failure in flight. Thankfully the crew managed to land safely without further damage to the aircraft. The BBMF loaned a spare engine which took a few days to fit which resulted in a few airshows being missed and extra costs being incurred. This engine would be returned to Coningsby once the Lancaster was back home. Few will have failed to have been moved by the sight of two iconic wartime Lancasters together once again, and for the veterans it was most likely a final chance to do so. Most definitely ‘Once in a Lanc time’.

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Little Gransden Air & Car Show – 24 August 2014

‘The Lancaster Effect’ ensured a sell-out crowd at Little Gransden, and a record attendance amounted to an amazing donation of nearly £64,000 to Children in Need and a further £12,000 to local childrens charities. Dave Poile (pictured at work during the show) and his hard working team put together another packed and eclectic flying program, but it was the appearance by the pair of Lancasters that will live longest in the memory.

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‘Airbourne’ – Eastbourne International Airshow – 15 August 2014

The south coast seaside airshow at Eastbourne had the distinction of being the debut show for the two Lancasters, with the pair displaying on Thursday 14 August before making their way to Biggin Hill which was their planned operating base for the event (see https://avpicsphilwhalley.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/two-lancasters-arrive-at-biggin-hill-14-august-2014/). The period’s weather was mixed and caused a few minor issues with operations, and that of the 15th was mostly cloudy as can be seen from the images.

Some of the lighter aircraft operated from along the coast at Shoreham, including the RAF Tutor flown by Flt Lt Andy Preece who is seen in the morning having been present for the Shoreham Air Show’s media event before displaying at Eastbourne.

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The show programme included everything from warbirds and classic jets to current RAF aircraft, but it was the appearance of the two Lancasters which attracted record crowds for their debut, as they did at every other event they attended.

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Two Lancasters arrive at Biggin Hill – 14 August 2014

Having received their PDA that morning the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster and two Spitfires plus the Canadian Lancaster headed south from RAF Coningsby bound for their public display debut at ‘Airbourne’ – the Eastbourne Airshow. Their plan after their slot was to land on at Biggin Hill in Kent, which would be their base for the weekend. With a large group of enthusiasts, media and dignitaries waiting patiently at Biggin most thoughts turned to the weather. The airport was hit by a lightning storm and heavy rain which, if widespread, would have left the crews with no option but to put down safely somewhere short of their destinations.

Thankfully the weather proved to be sporadic enough for them to find a way through to Eastbourne and thence to arrive at Biggin and the expectant reception committee. Hopefully the weather won’t play such a part in the rest of the tour and that all the planned show and flypast commitments can be met without hitch.

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Canadian Avro Lancaster Arrives in the UK – RAF Coningsby – 8 August 2014

One of the most eagerly anticipated events on the aviation scene in recent years was the arrival in the UK of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Avro Lancaster X FM213 (marked as KB726 VR-A – leading to the aircraft often being referred to as ‘Vera’). Having crossed the Atlantic via Newfoundland, Greenland and Iceland, this last leg ending in Lincolnshire was planned to see the aircraft joined by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster, plus a Spitfire and Hurricane, for formation flypasts over various local locations and with the addition of the Red Arrows over Lincoln and Coningsby. Many thousands of expectant aviation enthusiasts gathered at all of the points on the route following her progress via social media and Flight Radar apps. The weather during the morning had been changeable but mostly fine, with Coningsby’s regular Typhoon movements and an arrival by VIPs in a HS125 taking place without issue. Sadly as the time for the RAF’s participation approached an extreme weather front moved in from the east drenching the thousands waiting patiently and leading to their cancellation.

All that remained was to get VR-A down safely. From underneath umbrellas all eyes were trained on the approach at Coningsby, and eventually a silhouette appeared from out of the gloom to put down gently onto the damp Lincolnshire runway. Having shut down on the taxiway the Lancaster was towed into position alongside PA474 in front of the welcoming party of veterans and invited guests. Outside the fence her arrival was met with cheers and clapping from the enthusiastic public, many of whom were locals from the village. The residents of Coningsby have a great affection for the airbase and particularly the historic BBMF, illustrated by the many flags on show welcoming the visitors from Canada.

KB726 will undergo servicing in the BBMF hangar before making practice flights with PA474 prior to their public debut at ‘Airbourne’, Eastbourne, on Thursday, followed by around eighty other appearances. The Lancaster will return to Canada on the 22 September.

Once the two fly together it will be the first time in around fifty years that such a sight has been seen, and will most likely only ever be repeated if or when the East Kirkby Lancaster NX611 is restored to airworthy condition. DSC_3037-pw DSC_3058-pw DSC_3050-pw DSC_3053-pw DSC_3054-pw DSC_3055-pw DSC_3056-pw DSC_3059-pw DSC_3067-pw DSC_3035-pw DSC_3077-pw DSC_3079-pw DSC_3081-pw DSC_3088-pw DSC_2822-Con-8-8-14-PW DSC_3092-pw DSC_2827-Con-8-8-14-PW DSC_2832-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2836-1200 DSC_2844-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2847-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2850-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2852-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2864-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2865-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2878-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_2935-PW DSC_2950-PW DSC_2954-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley DSC_3099-pw DSC_3104-Con-8-8-14-PhilWhalley

Little Gransden Air & Car Show – 25 August 2013

The show at Little Gransden is one of the friendliest events on the calendar and has raised large amounts for the Children in Need charity, yet sadly has suffered very unfairly to the weather. This year’s event was no exception, even to the extent of a risk of cancellation. Thankfully it did go ahead, and the efforts put in by the organisers and display director produced one of the highlights of the 2013 season.

Airfield owner Mark Jefferies flew his usual incredible display in his Extra:

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New girl on the aerobatic scene Lauren Richardson impressed in her Pitts:

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One of the most bizarre and original display acts for many years was the pairing of Chris Burkett in the G-Force Extra flying formation aerobatics with a 40% scale radio controlled version:

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Guy Westgate illustrated that an engine isn’t required to perform high energy aerobatics:

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The Twisters are always a highlight:

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Warbirds included the return of the Rolls Royce Spitfire after its gear retraction accident:

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Examples of some of the other displays:

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The arrival of Vulcan XH558 had everyone on their feet, and didn’t fail to impress at this small venue:

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A surprise display item and an unusually spritely performer was this Pilatus PC-12:

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Perhaps the most poignant moment of the day was the dedication of the Lancaster display to Ron Needle who was a rear gunner with 106 Squadron:

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The weather just about held during the day, offering some blue sky but also threatened rain at times. The afternoon ended with some impressive dark clouds, but everyone managed to get away safely having enjoyed a great show.

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Trooping the Colour and Queen’s Birthday Flypast – 15 June 2013

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Trooping the Colour is a ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. It has been a tradition of British infantry regiments since the 17th century, although the roots go back much earlier. On battlefields, a regiment’s colours, or flags, were used as rallying points.  Since 1748 Trooping the Colour has also marked the official birthday of the British sovereign.

The royal family, marching bands and participating troops proceed from Buckingham Palace, along The Mall to Horseguards Parade where the ceremony takes place.

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A return route takes the royal family back down The Mall to the Palace in time for the flypast, which the Queen and royal party view from the balcony.

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