Visit Lincolnshire’s Aviation Heritage

 

During WWII, Lincolnshire became known as ‘Bomber County’. However, the region’s rich aviation heritage goes back to WWI when the city of Lincoln was at the centre of the UK’s fledgling aviation industry. As well as visiting the city of Lincoln, I explored the county’s aviation heritage recently.

Avro Lancaster Mark I receives an engine overhaul at RAF Scampton during WWII. © IWM (CH 6428)
Avro Lancaster Mark I receives an engine overhaul at RAF Scampton during WWII.
© IWM (CH 6428)

At its peak, the city was one of the largest aircraft production areas in the world. Today, Lincolnshire has the Red Arrows, the RAF Aerobatic Team, at RAF Scampton, and the RAF’s largest air show, held at RAF Waddington, as well as many other aviation sites which can be visited.

I visited the RAF Scampton Heritage Centre, to find out more about the home of 617 Squadron, also know as the Dambusters Squadron. RAF Scampton is an operational station so you need to pre-book your tour and bring photo ID.

Stained glass window at RAF Scampton
Stained glass window at RAF Scampton
© Steven Whitehead

The Heritage Centre has over 1000 items related to the station’s history and the highlight for many is the recently restored office of Guy Gibson who was Commander of the ‘Dambusters’ Squadron. The grave of his black labrador, who died on the night of the Dambusters raid (car accident), can be seen from his office window and is still lovingly tended.

Guy Gibson’s Office at RAF Scampton
Guy Gibson’s Office at RAF Scampton
© Steven Whitehead

RAF Scampton is a fascinating place to visit as it has had a rich and varied history and not only WWII achievements. It was home to one of the UK’s nuclear deterrents in the post-war-era: the Blue Steel Missile. Visitors can also see the Museum of RAF Firefighting at RAF Scampton with the biggest collection of fire memorabilia in the country and the largest collection of ex-military fire engines in the world. Plus, The Red Arrows practice most days so you’re very likely to get an impromptu air show.

Red Arrows
Red Arrows © Purple Sea Donkey

For lunch, I went to The Blue Bell Inn. It’s a country pub, with friendly staff, and strong connections to the Royal Air Force. The building dates back to 1257 so while ducking down because of the low ceiling and oak beams do look at the signatures on the ceiling and see if you can find Prince William’s who stopped by when he was training at nearby RAF Coningsby.

Prince William’s signature on the ceiling at The Blue Bell Inn (He wrote “W. Wales”)
Prince William’s signature on the ceiling at The Blue Bell Inn (He wrote “W. Wales”)

My afternoon visit was to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Centre (BBMF) at RAF Coningsby. It’s open Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm, and some weekends in the summer. You don’t need to pre-book so can just turn up and join one of the regular tours.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Centre
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Centre

This is most definitely not a museum as all of the planes are airworthy. In fact, they have the only airworthy Lancaster in Britain, along with five Spitfires, two Hurricanes, a Dakota and two Chipmunks. While everyone there agrees that planes should be seen in their “natural environment” (up in the air) it is also a treat to see the planes in the hanger while the engineers work on them.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Centre
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Centre

You can see the oldest airworthy Spitfire in the world (74 years old) that was used in the Battle of Britain and the Tour Guides explain about more than just the working of an aircraft as they have stories about the pilots and crews which brings a much more emotional side to the visit.

Avro Lancaster B Mark 1 (Special) of No. 617 Squadron based at Woodhall Spa, in flight, May 1945. © IWM (MH 30791)
Avro Lancaster B Mark 1 (Special) of No. 617 Squadron based at Woodhall Spa, in flight, May 1945.
© IWM (MH 30791)

As I mentioned, there is only one airworthy Lancaster in the country but there is another one in the world. And here’s the really exciting news: the Canadian Lancaster is flying to England this summer!

It will leave Hamilton, Ontario on 4 August with plans to arrive in the UK on 8 August. After scheduled maintenance – wouldn’t that be a good time to visit BBMF! – both planes will be involved in air displays and fly pasts from 14 August. (2014 info)

For a great place to stay while exploring Lincolnshire, I can recommend The Petwood Hotel in Woodhall Spa. The hotel was famously the Officers’ Mess for the 617 Dambusters Squadron and you can still visit the Squadron Bar at the hotel which has a range of memorabilia and tributes to Guy Gibson VC and other officers.

Petwood Hotel
The Petwood Hotel © thorpe

A good time to visit the village is for the annual Woodhall Spa 1940’s Festival each summer. There are open air concerts, vintage bus rides, dancing and lots of fun.

Woodhall Spa 1940s Festival
© Woodhall Spa 1940s Festival

Exploring Lincolnshire’s aviation history is an excellent reason to get to know the area. The RAF Waddington International Air Show is a summer event. It’s the RAF’s largest airshow and incredibly popular. The site is just four miles from Lincoln city centre so it would be easy to combine your visit with getting to know the city.

© Purple Sea Donkey
© Purple Sea Donkey

To help you plan your trip, have a look at www.aviationheritagelincolnshire.com and there’s an Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire app which uses maps and lists significant aviation museums and memorials in ‘Bomber County’.

Thanks to VisitLincoln for their help arranging my visit to Lincolnshire.

This article was first published on the VisitBritain Super Blog in March 2014.

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