The venue for the evening and night photo shoot of an Avro Lancaster was an original wartime airfield of East Kirkby which is now the home of the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre a family run museum which was opened in 1988 by local farmers Fred and Harold Panton over 20 years ago. It serves as a memorial to RAF Bomber Command from World War Two and to their eldest brother Chris who was shot down and killed during a bombing raid over Germany in 1944. The family were able to purchase Avro Lancaster B Mk.VII (NX611) known as 'Just Jane' and for decades have been restoring the famous wartime aircraft which was built in 1945 to flying condition. Currently the bomber is only able to taxi around the airfield. She last flew in the early 1970s before being put up for auction in Blackpool in 1972 and later re-sold to the Panton brothers in 1983.
The evening started slowly, it was overcast and the light was dull. 'Just Jane' was out on the grass and very little was going on apart from an expanding gaggle of photographers that were gathered around the former war time bomber....enter Neil Cave (Timeline Events).
Describing Neil as the organiser would be an under statement, yes he got everything together, exclusive access to 'Just Jane', the 15 RAF and civilian dressed re-enactors with authentic wartime vehicles, but he added his own enthusiasm and made sure everyone got the shots they wanted. He choreographed the positioning of the aircraft in conjunction with the period vehicles and the re-enactors, who needed shepherding around to make sure the cameo scenes looked as natural as possible. He later supervised the lighting which came into play as soon as the sun went down, while doing all this he was taking his own pictures. This is not to say the 90 or so photographers were powerless, they too were able to gather the almost too numerous re-enactors to create their own cameo scenes and photo shoots. The photographers also had the ear of Neil and could suggest their own ideas which whenever possible he would try to incorporate.
The event opened at 17:00 as the museum was closing for the day and its visitors were leaving. At 17:30 Neil gathered the photographers together in front of 'Just Jane' to tell them of his plans for the after-hours event. Some re-enactors would be positioning themselves around the front of the aircraft and then move around to the side. Despite the number of photographers it was easy to work your way around the crowd to get the shots you wanted. The re-enactors had endless patience holding poses for as long as necessary always willing to comply with Neil's and the other photographs requests.
By 19:00 everyone was moved back a little and 'Just Jane's Merlin engines were started up. She then taxied out to the end of the grass runway to make a fast taxi-run in easy reach of all photographers with a telephoto lens. Miraculously at this point the sun streaked across the airfield for the first time in the whole day. 'Just Jane' for the next 15 minutes taxied around in a sort of dance immediately in front of us with the golden evening light enhancing her every move. Nothing in the backdrop of open countryside betrayed the shots as being taken nearly 70 years after the Lancaster was first flown.
With more than enough images taken from every angle she taxied on to the hard standing and the pilot shut her engines down. More shots were taken with the re-enactors and authentic vehicle props and an enormous World War Two High Capacity blockbuster or 'cookie' bomb. Incidentally an original Barnes Wallis Bouncing Bomb is on display in the museum.
Later at 21:00 the Lancaster was turned around and towed into a position in front of the original Control Tower which has now been restored to reflect its former days during the war. More time was spent with the re-enactors as the sun went down producing a glorious sunset. Electric floodlighting was arranged to illuminate the scenes. It was now that a tripod became more or less essential due to the 30 second exposures typically used. This required the re-enactors to keep still throughout the long exposure if they were to not to be blurred in the image. This was naturally a challenge for them and it took a number of images for me to get the shots I wanted which necessitated post-processing some composite images.
Finally the climax to the night 'Just Jane' was started up one more time for some wonderful shots of her under floodlights with blue flame flickering from her engine exhausts. The event ended at 22:30 some 30 minutes later than planned and surely everyone was totally satisfied as I was. The fee for the evening of £55 was money well spent especially knowing that it went towards covering the re-enactors costs with the remainder being donated to the museum towards the costs of the engine runs and for the continued preservation of 'Just Jane' which should lead to her taking to the skies again in the two years if all goes well.