East Kirkby Air Show

Saturday 6th August 2016

With confirmation provided earlier this year that Scampton would take the RAF's airshow reins, replacing the much missed Waddington Airshow, 2016 is the last year that East Kirkby can lay claim to being the largest airshow in the county of Lincolnshire. With such an ambitious tag line to its name, the organisers stuck to their traditional formula of providing a laid back affair with a non-complex display line-up.

Dan Ledwood arrived in the 'UKAR Party Plane' at the idyllic Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre to report for UK Airshow Review. Photography by the author

August is a peculiar month for the UK airshow calendar - the majority of the larger scale events (Flying Legends, RIAT, et al) have all come and gone, leaving somewhat of a void for land-based airshows. Smaller shows, akin to East Kirkby, tend to dominate and therefore run the risk of having very similar display line-ups. Fortunately, East Kirkby has the unique opportunity to provide visitors with close-up views of their charismatic Lancaster, "Just Jane". For regular visitors it's very easy to take for granted the sight and sound of four growling Merlin 24 engines as the aircraft taxys around the expanse of East Kirkby's runway. Nonetheless the effort to get the aircraft prepared for regular taxi runs must be applauded, especially given that the aircraft operates purely from donations.

With the return to display duty of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Lancaster after a lengthy repair process, the event certainly whetted the appetite of many enthusiasts. East Kirkby proved to be the only place in the world, in 2016 at least, where two "running" Lancasters could be seen together. Unfortunately, the premise of seeing 'Just Jane' and 'Thumper' operating at the same time did not come to fruition, which could have been a wonderful centre-piece of the show.

For many people though, the view of the BBMF Lancaster and supporting Spitfires was from afar due to reports of incredibly poor traffic management and poor signage to the car parks. This is a situation that hasn't been of concern to East Kirkby before, even during the sold-out 3 Lancasters event which transpired to have 20% more attendees. According to the event organiser, Andrew Panton, a mix of exceptionally good weather (which increased seaside-bound traffic on the nearby main road) and a higher number of parking vehicles culminated in what was a problematic arrival for many.

The good weather brought about another issue as well, with the very high temperatures causing the stock of bottled water to run out prior to the afternoon's display flying. This unfortunately left the NAAFI café offering the only supply of drinkable water and resulted in many people getting quite dehydrated, the author included. Luckily bottled water was provided mid-afternoon after a last minute dash.

These issues aside, the display flying was very well-paced with gaps between each act kept to a minimum. With the crowd positioned on the northern side of the runway, photography early afternoon was exceptionally challenging but the sun swings around nicely later in the day to provide more suitable photography conditions. This was also the first time the author had been to a wholly CAA-governed show since the implementation of the new display regulations. With plenty of discussion on social media and various fora that increased display distances would neuter most displays, there was a certain degree of anxiety prior to attending that the small airshow would become a lost cause in the realm of new regulations. It is pleasing to report therefore that the majority of aircraft didn't seem ridiculously distant, with just a couple of acts being somewhat lost despite the short display line at East Kirkby.

One factor that certainly benefitted some displays were those holding exemptions granted by the CAA. It's very hard to imagine the likes of Captain Neville's Flying Circus flailing around the sky minus the japery of "aeroplane limbo" and "balloon popping". Somewhat stalwarts of East Kirkby, the crowd are still captivated by the sight of several vintage aircraft - including the world's only airworthy DH82B Queen Bee - skimming merely inches above the runway. Wildcat Aerobatics, who performed a significantly improved display with tighter formation flying, are also regulars at this venue.

Particular praise has to go to the warbird pilots, whose displays showed that the new regulations don't necessarily result in a lack of interest. In particular, Maurice Hammond provided a spell-binding routine at the helm of his P-51D Mustang 'Janie' with gentle aerobatics and graceful topside passes. The display was conducted, of course, to the soundtrack of the unmistakable Mustang whistle. Making an all too rare appearance was the C-47A Dakota "Drag ‘em Oot", which was displaying at its home base for the first time in the very capable hands of John Dodd. Large warbird displays are not particularly common on the UK display circuit, so seeing the aircraft perform was certainly one of the highlights of the afternoon. Not to be disregarded however was Plane Sailing's PBY-5A Catalina, which performed one of its best ever routines and also the most energetic topside pass of the day. Overall, it was certainly a very different style of display to that seen at any other venue.

The smaller aircraft performances should not be disregarded either though, with Will Greenwood being a late confirmation in his Bücker Bestmann (although the purist would argue that it's actually an Egyptian-built Heliopolis Gomhouria 181). Despite it being a relatively low-powered aircraft, his graceful aerobatics in the late afternoon light provided a pleasant change of tempo to that of the punchier warbird routines. The diminutive Rihn DR107 One Design, complemented with a powerful smoke system, provided a complete contrast of aerobatics to the gentile Bestmann. It's easy to see why its owner, Phil Burgess, has won numerous competition aerobatic medals due to the homebuilt aircraft's effectiveness at performing some particularly complex aerobatic manoeuvres.

It is certainly refreshing to see smaller airshows such as East Kirkby continue to attract healthy numbers of visitors, with the majority of the earnings from the day providing funds for the eventual return to flight of "Just Jane". The show once again provided a very casual affair, with the flying programme befitting the location. The return of a larger show to Lincolnshire next year will no doubt bring the limelight towards Scampton, but East Kirkby should not be overlooked and will hopefully continue to provide further aviation delights during the quiet August period.