RAF East Kirkby
- For the post 1981 use of this facility, see the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre
|RAF East Kirkby
Memorial to Number 57 and 630 Sqn, East Kirkby
|Operator||Royal Air Force
United States Air Force
|Location||East Kirkby, Lincolnshire|
|Elevation AMSL||46 ft / 14 m|
Royal Air Force East Kirkby or more simply RAF East Kirkby is a former Royal Air Force station near the village of East Kirkby, south of Horncastle in Lincolnshire, just off the A155. The Greenwich meridian passes through the base.
Stationed at East Kirkby were:
- No. 57 Squadron RAF (5 Group) 27 August 1943 - 25 November 1945.
- No. 630 Squadron RAF (5 Group) 15 November 1943 - 18 July 1945.
On 17 April 1945, near the end of the Second World War, a 57 Squadron Lancaster was being loaded with bombs when a fully armed 1,000 lb bomb was unintentionally dropped onto the tarmac. Because the bomb had had its fuse inserted it detonated, setting off the rest of the Lancaster's bombload. A massive explosion killed three airmen, injured 16 others, wrote off six other Lancasters beyond repair and badly damaged a nearby aircraft hangar.
The final wartime raid from East Kirkby was flown on 25 April 1945. In total, 212 operations were carried out during the war, from which 121 Lancasters did not return. Another 29 aircraft were lost due to operational crashes or accidents.
630 Squadron disbanded in July that year and its place was taken by No. 460 Squadron RAAF from RAF Binbrook. This squadron joined No. 57 for transfer to the Far East as part of Tiger Force. In the 1950s, the base was used by the United States Air Force for Air Rescue squadrons for four years. The station (code name Silksheen) closed in 1958. It was sold by the government in 1964.
The airfield became the site of broiler sheds, and is now home to an air museum, Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, which bought Just Jane, the gate guardian Lancaster bomber from RAF Scampton, which is regularly taxied out and stood with the four Rolls Royce Merlin XXIV engines running. Just Jane is being restored to flight by the museum.
NX611 was built by Austin Aero Ltd at their Cofton Hackett Works just south of Birmingham, rolling out of the Flight Shed on 16 April 1945, when it was put into storage, and in 1952, it was one of 54 Lancasters sold to the French Naval Air Arm, (L’Aeronavale) for £50,000 each as part of a 1951 NATO arrangement. It was designated WU-15 (Western Union). In June 1961,it joined Escadrille 9S (Surveillance), in Nouméa, New Caledonia.
On 15 April 1964, it accompanied Lancaster NX665 (WU-13), on delivery to the RNZAF, from New Caledonia to Auckland, New Zealand, returning to New Caledonia, with the crew of NX665. In 1965, its service with the L’Aeronavale over, due to spares shortages and maintenance problems, it was flown to England and on 13 May 1965 landed at Biggin Hill Airport, Kent, as part of the 'Historic Aircraft Preservation Society' Collection (HAPS). It had flown 2,330 hours. It had been registered as G - ASXX for its flight back to the UK and later stood as the gate guardian at RAF Scampton before being acquired by the museum owners Fred & Harold Panton.
The control tower is believed to be haunted. The airfield was featured in a 1980s 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.
RAF East Kirkby was investigated by the Most Haunted team in 2003 for their third series on Living TV now called Sky Living. Yvette Fielding and her team investigated the museum and site for alleged paranormal activity. The episode was transmitted on Tuesday 7 October 2003 on Living TV. It was the first episode of the third series of the paranormal investigation show Most Haunted.[better source needed]
In 2008 the museum opened an unlicensed part-grass and part-concrete landing strip for visiting military and civil aircraft. No aircraft should land without contacting the owners first via the museum's website or telephone number. Air traffic control on flying display days is from RAF Coningsby and there is a six-mile "no fly" exclusion zone around East Kirkby on display days.
- Halpenny, B.B. Action Stations: Wartime Military Airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands v. 2. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, Patrick Stephens Ltd, 1981. ISBN 0-85059-484-7.
- Halpenny, B.B. Ghost Stations Lincolnshire (Paperback). L'Aquila Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1871448061.
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