They Bought a WWII-Era Lancaster Bomber to Honor Their Brother — and Now They Want It to Fly Again


Fred and Harold Panton created the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirby, Lincolnshire, to honor the reminiscence of their brother Christopher, who died in an Avro Lancaster bomber throughout a raid over Nuremberg in 1944. On the coronary heart of this family-owned historic plane assortment is Simply Jane, a Lancaster in the midst of an in depth restoration to get it again to flight standing.

Inbuilt April 1945 by Austin Motors in Birmingham, the Lancaster, tail quantity NX611, was supposed for service within the Far East, however the British ultimately bought it to the Aéronautique navale (French naval aviation) as an alternative. In 1964, the four-engine bomber returned to the UK, the place the Historic Plane Preservation Society flew it for a number of years. With working prices climbing, the society put the Lancaster up for public sale in 1972. The Pantons positioned a bid however had been unsuccessful. The Lancaster failed to succeed in its reserve value, however a non-public deal led to a brand new mission because the gate guardian at Royal Air Drive Scampton airfield.

The airplane’s nostril artwork was initially commissioned within the Eighties for a newspaper article about girls within the RAF. (©Karis Youngman)

The Pantons lastly succeeded in buying NX611 in 1983. They named the bomber Simply Jane after a comic book strip from the battle years and made it the centerpiece of their rising museum. Ten years later, they began returning Simply Jane to operational taxiing customary. That concerned a complete restoration of the airframe in addition to appreciable work on the airplane’s 4 1,640-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. The engine work alone required 700 hours of labor, at a price of round $9,400.

In 2017, the museum launched a brand new 10-year program to revive the Lancaster to airworthy standing. It’s going to price about $4 million and require a whole overhaul, which suggests checking each half—together with the radome, gasoline tanks, management surfaces, engine cowlings, bomb bay doorways and instrument panels—and the substitute of all of the rivets. By November 2019, the starboard tail fin, rudder, engine subframes and all 4 propellers had been eliminated, inspected and changed.

The Lancaster’s engines had been enough for taxiing however required substitute earlier than a return to the air was attainable. The museum had one however wanted to buy and overhaul three extra at a price of $168,000 every. “The following step was to work out the logistics and ensure we had all of the data, drawings and spares,” mentioned museum director Andrew Panton. “We obtained outdated drawings and spar jigs from the RAF—we knew they’d match as a result of our Lancaster had supplied the measurements. Throughout 2016/2017 we labored on acquiring spares. I flew to Alberta, Canada, to acquire three-and-a-half engines’ value of spares, in addition to 4 plane value of undercarriage items. We had 9 propeller blades come from Tampa, Florida. We purchased new tires from Dunlop, who’ve the most important plane tires in manufacturing.”

Stripped down, the Avro Lancaster awaits the intensive work that can return it to flying standing. (©Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre)

One of many museum’s supporters bought a field of Lancaster devices and gauges on eBay. “The field came to visit from Eire within the submit,” Andrew mentioned. “The items had been coated in radio luminescent paint, which got here up as radioactive when scanned within the submit, so that they needed to be completely unpacked and repacked earlier than we may have them.” When the vendor discovered why the museum needed the devices, he mentioned that his father had flown Lancasters in the course of the battle. “He had an organization known as Mass Aviation and supplied to do the paintwork,” Andrew says. That meant eradicating 4 or 5 layers of paint, and a further eight to 10 layers on the roundels. “It took them 12 days to do the paint stripping.”

There was additionally some corrosion underneath the wings that required consideration. The duty of stripping, cleansing and portray Simply Jane took 1,680 hours and required 270 gallons of paint stripper, 100 rolls of masking tape, 2,000 sheets of polythene, 5½ gallons of inexperienced paint, 3 gallons of darkish earth paint, 16 gallons of black paint and 21 gallons of primer.

Between November 2019 and April 2020, the restoration staff had deliberate to concentrate on the rearmost fuselage part, from the rear turret to the primary transport joint, at an estimated price of $161,000. Throughout that interval, the plan was to service all of the engines, take away the rear turret and do a full restoration of the rear fuselage—however then COVID-19 put all of the work on maintain. In consequence, restoration of the rear fuselage and wings has solely simply begun.

The Lancaster reveals off its newly utilized camouflage and markings. (©Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre)

Winter is the time for restoration work. Throughout the remainder of the yr the Panton household helps elevate cash for the restoration with Taxy Rides, when paying clients can take a ground-based journey within the Lancaster. Every Taxy Trip expertise takes 45 minutes, with about 15 of them spent using within the airplane. Members can sit within the rear turret, center turret, radio operator’s seat, navigator’s seat, cockpit or bombardier’s place. “Taxiing helps to supply restoration funds,” Andrew says. “It takes place from Might to November annually, and there are about 60 days taxiing concerned—about 120 journeys in all. There are 9 or 10 individuals onboard within the cockpit and different areas of the plane, about 1,200 individuals annually. They get a tour onboard, see the completely different factors the place the crew would have been positioned, then the engines are revved up and the airplane taken across the grassy airfield. It’s a very dramatic sight. Persons are very enthusiastic. Typically they’ve household hyperlinks to the Lancasters with relations having flown in them in the course of the battle. We frequently get individuals coming who nonetheless bear in mind them.”

Through the summer time the museum has 5 full-time engineers and three management employees engaged on Simply Jane for the Taxy Rides. When restoration begins up for the winter months, it takes the companies of eight full-time engineers and 5 volunteers. The museum stays very a lot a household affair. Andrew is Fred’s grandson. (Fred died in 2013.) His sister Louise additionally works on the heart because the museum curator and a information on Simply Jane.

“The gathering has been constructed up through the years, some issues we’ve got acquired and there have additionally been donations from veterans who may see that the objects could be effectively cared for right here,” says Andrew. “We purpose for shows that complement the plane we’ve got on website resembling a Mosquito, Hampden and a Bristol Blenheim.” Earlier than lengthy, hopefully, they may have an airworthy Lancaster as effectively.

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