The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is an aviation museum in East Kirkby, Lincolnshire, England. It was opened to the public in 1988 by Lincolnshire farmers Fred and Harold Panton, as a memorial to their older brother, Christopher Witton Panton, who died during the Second World War. It is now widely seen as a living memorial to the 55,500 men of Bomber Command who lost their lives during WW2. It holds one of the rarest aircraft, an Avro Lancaster Bomber, in its collection along with many wartime vehicles including a Ford WOT1 Crew Bus, the only one of its kind known in existence. They feel that Bomber Command has never been given the recognition that it deserves and they see it as their job to educate both old and young as to the acts of heroism and dedication shown by Bomber Command throughout the Second World War. The average age of the air crew, each man a volunteer, was 22 and not even 1 in 4 completed their first tour of 30 operations, most definitely a debt that we cannot repay but also a debt that should not be forgotten.
Pilot Officer Christopher Panton served as a Flight Engineer with Royal Canadian Air Force 433 Squadron, based at RAF Skipton-on-Swale. On the night of 30/31 March 1944, he was flying in Handley Page Halifax HX272, one of 782 heavy bombers taking part in a raid on the German city of Nuremberg. This attack, known as RAF Bomber Command's "Black Friday", would become notorious for the high losses incurred – 108 British aircraft were lost, 665 aircrew were killed and 159 taken prisoner. One of those aircraft was HX272, which caught fire and exploded after being attacked by a night fighter over Friesen, Germany. Christopher Panton was among the five crew killed, the remaining three survived to become prisoners of war. By the early 1970s, Christopher's younger brothers – Fred and Harold Panton – were successful poultry farmers. They became interested in acquiring a Second World War aircraft as a tribute to him and managed to obtain an option to purchase Avro Lancaster Mk VII, NX611, then serving as a gate guardian at RAF Scampton. The aircraft's purchase had the condition that it remain at Scampton until 1983. In 1981, they bought a part of the former Royal Air Force airfield, RAF East Kirkby, to be a site for the aircraft when it became available. The Lancaster was moved there in 1987 and has been there ever since. Other exhibits have also been acquired and historic aircraft with other owners are housed there, but the Lancaster remains the museum's focus.
"Just Jane" was built by Austin Motors at Longbridge near Birmingham, in April 1945. Given the serial number NX611, she was one of the first 150 B Mk VII Avro Lancasters destined as part of the RAF's Tiger Force in the Far East. However, Japan's early surrender meant these aircraft were suddenly surplus to requirements and, instead of seeing service, NX611 ended up in storage at Llandow. There she stayed until 1952. From then on, a chequered career followed. In April 1952 she was bought by the French Government. Painted midnight blue, she flew maritime patrol for the French Naval Air Arm. Ten years later, she went to Noumeau, New Caledonia, was painted white 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 her homeland- seventy flying hours- landing at Biggin Hill on 13 May, 1965. Temporarily grounded, due to expiry of permitted flying hours, it was 1967 before NX611 flew again, but even then public appearances were brief because of prohibitive costs. She was flown to Lavenham in Suffolk and, a few years later, in 1972, was put up for auction at 'Squires Gate', Blackpool.
Meanwhile, in Lincolnshire, determined to commemorate the death of their brother Chistopher who was killed on the Nuremburg Raid in March 1944, and all of the men who served in Bomber Command, Fred and Harold Panton had decided to purchase a Second World War Bomber. At one time, they had had their eyes on a Halifax which was coming up for sale, but their father told them, in no uncertain terms, they would not be permitted to keep one at his farm. The years passed, but the brothers still held on to their dream. Eventually, Fred and Harold became co-owners of their own farm. When some land came up for sale which included part of the defunct East Kirkby airfield they bought it. Some areas of concrete and a few buildings still stood on the old airfield, in a state of disrepair. They used part of the area to set up a chicken farm. However, with the idea of owning an exhibition aircraft still foremost in their in their minds, they also began to renovate the "working area" of the airfield. That included building a new hangar, where an original T2 hangar had stood during the war years. Learning about the forthcoming auction, via an advertisement, Fred and Harold decided to try and purchase the old Lancaster. This aircraft could be the perfect monument to their brother's memory. When Fred saw NX611 for the very first time at Blackpool, she stood lonely and forlorn, waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Around her, a great crowd stood- some hopefully putting in bids, but most just watched- curious to see one of the country's finest types of Bomber at close range. In September 1983, NX611 was finally purchased by Fred and Harold and, four years later, after completing an agreed total of ten years gate guardian at RAF Scampton, she was brought to East Kirkby, courtesy of the RAF. It was sixteen years since Fred had seen her at Blackpool auction.
Other aircraft on display that the visitor can enjoy a taxi run in are C47A Skytrain USAAF Serial Number 42-100882. December 1943 to September 1944. Delivered to the USAAF Dakota December 1943. Assigned to 9th Air Force Troop Carrier Command (E.T.O) Flew to the UK in February 1944. Assigned to 87th Troop Carrier Squadron, 438th Troop Carrier Group, IX Troop Carrier Command, Greenham Common, Berkshire. (438th provided the 4 lead squadrons on D-Day, seen off to France by Gen. Eisenhower). Fitted with model 80 Glider pick-up gear to recover an assault glider from the D-Day landing grounds for refurbishment/re-use in future operations. Towed and assault glider in Operation Elmira on D Day (Carried soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division) and re-supply after the landings. Recovered WACO Assault gliders from Normandy landing grounds July/August 1944. Transferred to RAF on 2nd September 1944. Assigned to No.1 Heavy Glider Servicing Unit, 38th Airborne Forces Group, Netheravon, Wiltshire from September 1944 until August 1945. Recovered gliders from Normandy landing grounds and collected and delivered WACO, Hadrian and Airspeed Horsa assault gliders to RAF bases prior to Operation Market Garden (Arnhem) and later, in March 1945 in readiness for Operation Varsity, the Rhine Crossing. Transferred to 435 (RCAF) Squadron at Down Ampney, Wiltshire in August 1945, under RAF control. Carried out freight duties and troop movements throughout Europe and Scandinavia until April 1946, including returning Allied POW’s. BATTLE DAMAGE: Numerous bullet holes from aerial attack to cockpit and nose areas, including bullet through pilot’s seat back. Flak and ground fire damage to under wing and rear fuselage areas. Dates and locations of damage unknown. Crew injuries in action unknown. Most likely related to the Arnhem re-supply campaign.
Handley Page HP.52 Hampden TB.I AE436 PL - J. A rare example of one of the Royal Air Forces Second World War 'forgotten bombers', the Hampden and its twin engined 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 standard in the United Kingdom, this is an important, but very much a long term project by the Lincolnshire Aviation Preservation Society. AE436's formers and stringers are being rebuilt to original specification, with current work focusing on the bottom part of the nose section and the bottom front longerons. Once the top part of the fuselage has been joined to the bottom part, the focus of restoration will move to the rear fuselage, then tail boom, 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 one such conversion on strength with 144 Squadron Royal Air Force based at Leuchars, wearing the code PL-J. As added protection for the Arctic conveys heading to the Murmansk region, 144 and 455 Squadrons were ordered to prepare for operations in northern Russia. During the evening of 4th September 1942 AE436 and its crew departed from their forward airfield at Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands for Afrikaner, a Russian airfield located near to the Finnish border. A total of 16 Hampdens from 144 Squadron took off for their transit of some 1200 miles, but due to a storm front AE436 went slightly off course over Sweden and struck Tsata mountain, 130 km WNW of Jokkmokk, during the early hours of the 5th September.With a crew of five onboard, the impact is thought to have instantly killed Pilot Officer Bowler and Sergeants Jewett and Campbell, with Pilot Officer Evans and Corporal Sowerby miraculously surviving the impact to be briefly interned by the Swedish military. To avoid a lengthy internment in Sweden, the two survivors told Swedish authorities that they had in fact crashed in Norway, some 15 miles from the Swedish border as a result of an attack by German aircraft. Evans and Sowerby went on to claim that they were initially captured by Norwegian and German soldiers, but after a night in custody they managed to escape along a mountain valley and into Sweden. It would appear the claims were believed as both survivors avoided internment in Sweden and were back in the United Kingdom by 21st September.
The centre also houses the cockpit of an English Electric Canberra WH957; & the wreckage of Supermarine Spitfire BL655; it crashed in July 1943, killing its Canadian pilot, Flying Officer Norman Alexander Watt. There are two aircraft undergoing restoration to flying condition, a Percival Proctor and a Handley Page Hampden. The centre's collection includes twelve Second World War-era, RAF ground vehicles and a concrete–filled, practice Upkeep bomb (bouncing bomb). Access to the museum is via a gravel pathway. The museum is wheelchair accessible apart from a couple of upstairs rooms. Wheelchairs are available for loan. Assistance dogs are welcome. There are baby changing and disabled toilet facilities. The NAAFI and shop are fully accessible. A return bus runs hourly from Lincoln to Skegness stopping at the nearest town to East Kirkby called Spilsby. Although there is a bus stop outside the Centre's gate you will need to book a callconnect bus to stop there. This can be done online Book a callconnect bus.
Location : Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Spilsby, Lincs PE23 4DE
Transport: Skegness (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 4, 6, 8, 9 and 22 stop near by.
Opening Times : Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 16:00; from Easter to October open until 17:00
Tickets : Adults £8.00; Concessions £7.00; Children (6 - 15) £3.00
Tickets Special Events: Adults £10.00; Children (6 - 15) £4.00
Tel: 01476 568783