By Austin Hancock
Lincolnshire, UK – After years of taxying on the ground, desperate to takeoff, Avro Lancaster “Just Jane” is now on track to fly. For the past 20 years, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre has taken immaculate care of “Just Jane,” aka Serial Number “NX611.” “Just Jane” was built by Austin Motors at Longbridge near Birmingham, in April 1945. Given the serial number NX611, she was one of the first 150 B Mk VII Avro Lancasters destined as part of the RAF’s Tiger Force in the Far East. However, Japan’s early surrender meant these aircraft were suddenly surplus to requirements and, instead of seeing service, NX611 ended up in storage at Llandow. She was stored until 1952.
In April 1952 she was bought by the French Government. Painted midnight blue, she flew maritime patrol for the French Navy. Avro Lancaster NX611 in at RAAF Butterworthaval Air Arm. Ten years later, she went to Noumeau, New Caledonia, was painted white and used for air sea rescue and cartography. Then in 1964, the French presented her to the Historical Aircraft Preservation Society and flew her to her new home in Sydney where she was overhauled before being flown back to Britain. It took nine days to complete the 12,000 mile journey back to her homeland- seventy flying hours- landing at Biggin Hill on 13 May, 1965.
The airplane changed hands frequently up until September of 1983. At this point, the “Lanc” was acquired via auction by Fred and Harold Panton, founders of the museum. They bought the aircraft to serve as a memorial to their brother Christopher, who was “killed on the Nuremburg Raid in March 1944, and all of the men who served in Bomber Command.” From here, restoration was done to the point of “taxy-able,” and rides have been sold in “Just Jane” since then.
Now, we join the Lincolnshire Aviation team in their quest to return “Just Jane” to the skies. Up to now, the main barrier to NX611’s ability to take flight has been funding. As with any WWII Warbird, the financial aspects always seem to be one thing holding back progress. Fortunately for the Lincolnshire crew, all the other aspects are in place and strong. The museum volunteers/workers, members, and museum patrons are all present. The funding is now following these strong pillars to success. Donations, admission fees, and taxy ride tickets are, and shall continue to pave the way for “Just Jane’s” flight. During the restoration to airworthy, the team plan’s to still operate the Lancaster each season for taxy-rides, to generate funding during the longer-term restoration to airworthy. So, even as a “work in progress,” “Just Jane” can still fend for herself and raise funds. The goal is to be flying by 2020.
Restoration to flight-status began this past November, as “tear-down” began. Parts including the radar radome, control surfaces, turrets, engine cowlings, bomb-doors, panels, et al. were removed to open-up “Just Jane” to inspection and repairs to airworthy status. The oil-filters were removed from the hungry RR-Merlin engines, as well, to check for signs of metal. No indications were found of metal fatigue or failure internal to each engine, so “all clear.” A team of 8 engineers made quick work of the initial unwrapping of the Lanc. The airplane has been rigged in level-flight attitude (tail-high) as to take unneeded stressors off the airframe, during her prolonged time spent in maintenance. Also, the provides easier access to certain sections of the plane for repairs.
As the work on “Just Jane” has progressed, since November, the more detail oriented work has come about. Items such as spark-plugs, wires, engine tuning are receiving rigid attention from the team of engineers. They want this Lancaster to run better than new. Not only will Jane be running tip-top when she takes to the skies, she’ll be looking spectacular as well. The team has decided to strip-down the old paint, and apply a fresh coat for the upcoming seasons. This is no easy task, however, as the process took 12 days. For comparison, a standard airliner takes about 4. To say that the Lincolnshire crew pays attention to detail would be an understatement. As the paint has been removed, mars to certain panels have been discovered. With a little progressing sheet metal work, these skins will be good as new. A decision was made to replace the main-planes rivets, for the better of Jane, going into the future. This choice will delay the restoration a bit, but prevent a future issue as the begins flying.
Removal of the fuel tanks is necessary under the maintenance regimen for “Just Jane.” Again, this is a task proving to be rather complex in comparison to others. The inboard tanks are very close-tight to the main spar, making removal of the screws close to impossible. It is a delicate job, as “one wrong move” or an overly-aggressive twist of the wrench, could cause harm to the main-spar itself. The rigorous tasks that must be overcome to get Jane in the air are nothing short of intense, yet the team continues to push forward. Today, work is continuing on sheet metal and paint, along with system-related items (engines, brakes, etc.) Also, the re-painting has begun! The goal is to be at 40% completion of the total airworthy restoration by this taxy season.
As the 2017 taxy season edges ever closer, maintenance work will begin to wind-down shortly. However, once “Just Jane” is put back in the barn next fall, restoration to airworthy will pick right up where it left off. For those who wish to support the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre’s efforts to get Jane flying again, the options are limitless. For starters, one can join the “Rivet Club,” for as little as 2 Euros a month. This option provides regular newsletter updates, straight to one’s email inbox. Furthermore, as mentioned above, taxy season starts shortly. Every taxy ride bought gets “Just Jane” another step closer to grasping the skies. Donations of all amounts are also welcome, and encouraged, at any time. To support “Just Jane,” check out the Lincolnshire website www.lincsaviation.co.uk
Below are photos showing the primer and the black and green paint being applied. The cowlings have all been paint stripped and rubbed down ready for priming and top coat, one of the things this has revealed is the red paint from the spinners while she was stood at Scampton!
To support “Just Jane,” check out the Lincolnshire website www.lincsaviation.co.uk