Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ has had a chequered history from her ‘birth’ in April 1945. She was built as a MK7 which was conceived as a tropicalized variant of the famous bomber to continue the fight with the Japanese forces after VE day.
As with every Mk7 Lancaster and Lincoln bomber that was produced around that period she never actually managed to get out to the Eastern conflict areas due to the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th August 1945.
NX611 stood in storage until she was sold to the French Navy ‘L’aerovonale’ for maritime work all around the world and she started her long journey out as far as Australia eventually seeing her as the only flying Lancaster in the world in the late 1960s.
While NX611 was protecting the Pacific regions; back in the UK two farming brothers, Fred and Harold Panton, were mourning the loss of their older brother Christopher who was shot down while flying with 433 Squadron on the 30/31st March 1944 on the infamous Nuremburg raid . Fred and Harold had vowed that they would make a memorial to Christopher and the men and women of Bomber Command. It’s with that intent that the paths of NX611 and the Panton family would cross.
In 1972, on the 29th April, NX611 was put up for auction at Squires Gate, Blackpool. Her final resting spot after flying with Historic Aircraft Preservation Society (HAPS) and Reflectaire in the air show circuit and becoming increasing expensive to operate until it was no longer viable.
Fred Panton saw the advert for the auction in the newspaper and believed the Lancaster would make the perfect memorial that the brothers had been seeking. Fate saw it that Fred and Harold would not win the Lancaster in that year; instead the Rt Hon Lord Lilford would beat them to it and become the 5th owner of NX611 in the hope that he could restore her back to an airworthy condition and take her to Jersey.
Fred and Harold kept in touch with Lord Lilford and waited for the next 11 years to be offered the aircraft once again.
By 1981 NX611 had been moved to be gate guardian at RAF Scampton and stand proud over the A15. The Panton family had now just moved to a site on the old airfield at RAF East Kirkby and were perfectly positioned to house NX611 if she ever came up for sale. Fred and Harold had been given first refusal of the Lancaster if Lord Lilford ever decided he would sell her and true to his word NX611 was offered to them in the summer of 1983. There was a lot of work to do before NX611 could be moved to East Kirkby, building a hangar being a large part of it! There were deals to be struck and logistics to be worked on but after 16 years of patience and hard work Fred and Harold finally saw their Lancaster arrive through the gate at East Kirkby to be rebuilt in the hangar in 1988.
Fred and Harold had originally bought NX611 to stand at East Kirkby so they could “pop in and see her when they wanted” but over time it was decided that the general public should be able to visit this elegant war horse and appreciate her in all her glory as a memorial to Bomber Command. In 1989 the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre officially opened to the public.
Over the coming years there were many conversations about the future of NX611 and whether Fred and Harold would venture down the path of restoring her from a static exhibit to a running aircraft and whether they would go ‘all the way’ and make her airworthy once more.
Flying NX611 was believed to be a dream too far at that stage and it was decided to get the engines running again and hear the sound of Merlins at East Kirkby for the first time in almost 50 years. In 1994 crowds at East Kirkby saw a Lancaster running all 4 engines once again and thoughts were turned to the next step with NX611 and whether she should be taxied along the remains of the hard standing. The next stage of work was done to Fred and Harold’s beloved Lancaster and a pilot from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby was invited in to be at the controls. The gathering crowds witnessed the majestic sight of a Lancaster taxying on the wartime concrete of RAF East Kirkby and Fred and Harold had reached their objective of bringing their Lancaster back to life and creating a wonderful memorial to their brother and the men and women of Bomber Command.
Over the coming years the words Lancaster and Panton become intrinsically linked and many thousands of people have witnessed the spectacle of Avro Lancaster NX611 ‘Just Jane’ living and breathing at East Kirkby.
But what next?……
In February 2010 Fred Panton took to local radio to announce that there were plans to restore NX611 to an airworthy condition and that the Centre were starting on the long road to restoration. Each year after that date more and more work has been done behind the scenes and with each passing winter the steps have been getting bigger and the progress has been gaining pace.
The winter of 2016 has seen the biggest steps yet and forms the beginning of some major works on the Panton’s beloved Lancaster. In November 2016 the team will make huge steps forwards in the project to restore NX611 to airworthy condition.
Following the application for the A8-23 approval with the CAA the family are now able to attend to some of NX611’s future needs and address the long list of work needed to make her airworthy once more.
You’ll see a complete strip and re-paint of the aircraft which will facilitate an assessment of the aircraft’s aluminium skin and permit any problems encountered to be resolved. To facilitate this work, NX611 will appear at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre as she never has done before as she will be rigged in a flying attitude on trestles and jacks with the following removed:
- Bomb doors
- All turrets
- Wing tips
- Undercarriage doors
- H2S blister
- Engine nacelles
- Fillet panels
Once the components and the paint are removed we will be assessing the condition of the airframe and rectifying any problems discovered along the way. This will provide an excellent base point to determine the extent of work required to be done over the winter overhaul periods. If all goes to plan, the target is to have all of the external airframe work completed.
The work to be performed during the 2016 winter maintenance season amounts to an investment in the region of £250,000. Not only does this work represent a significant step forward in the programme to return NX611 to airworthy but it also creates a unique opportunity for the general public to come and visit to see NX611 in a stripped down condition- something that has never been on offer before- certainly not up close as will be on offer at the Centre. Because of this opportunity there are restoration tours of the overhaul area to enable you to get a close look at the work being done and gain an understanding of the restoration effort. Further information on these tours is available from the website (www.lincsaviation.co.uk).
With such a significant investment to be made this winter a new club has been launched and called ‘The Rivet Club’. Although the Club requires a monthly donation it is solely centred around the restoration of NX611 and gives you special access to news updates and the weekly overhaul reports not available to non-members. More info about this can be found HERE.
Any donations towards the restoration project are gratefully received and of course the more funds we have available to us the more work we can complete and the sooner NX611 will return to flight condition.
If you want to make a ‘one off’ donation it can be done HERE
The stripping and re-painting of NX611 is a considerable undertaking and we are very fortunate to be supported this winter by MAAS Aviation (www.maasaviation.com) who is performing this task on a pro-bono basis. MAAS Aviation is an Irish/Dutch headquartered company which has been painting aircraft for 34 years. The company is one of the leading specialist aircraft painting companies in the world and operates aircraft paint shops in the Netherlands, Germany and in Alabama, USA. MAAS is an Airbus qualified company and operates paint shops in Germany an in Alabama for Airbus. This project has particular resonance for one of the directors of MAAS whose father was a Lancaster pilot in 514 squadron based in Waterbeach, Cambs. In addition to the support from MAAS, the repainting project is also being generously supported by Akzo Nobel Aerospace Coatings which has agreed to provide the paint material; Larchfield Graphics Ltd which is supplying consumable materials; Sea to Sky which is supplying the coating removal material and other sponsors will join the project in due course.
The winter of 2016 marks exciting times for Avro Lancaster NX611 and the World’s warbird community. Will you join us in the next step in the history of ‘Just Jane’?
Guest Blog For War History Online – By Andrew Panton