Eight Merlins

29 September 2014

This was not some small aircraft visiting our small village, a huge aviation following came with it - this was history in the making 

It’s a rare enough sight to see a single Avro Lancaster flying above you, let alone two. It’s something that I must admit I’ve been rather blase about before. I’m lucky enough to to live in a part of this country that means during the summer months it’s rare that I don’t see a Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane, Dakota or, from the modern spectrum of things, a Eurofighter Typhoon flying overhead.

That said, when I heard the news about the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum sending across their beloved Avro Lancaster ‘VERA’ I was quite excited. For those that don’t know, there are only two airworthy Lancaster’s in the world. And both of them were going to based at RAF Coningsby. For the next month.

Canadian fever swept across Coningsby; flags were put up, bunting put into place as well as road closures arranged. This was not some small aircraft visiting our small village, a huge aviation following came with it. Thousands of people turned out to watch this mighty planes arrival in wet and windy conditions. VERA, and it’s crew, had flown all the way over from Canada stopping at Goosebay, Greenland and Iceland. Surviving the no doubt tricky conditions for a plane of it’s age and delicate nature.

After VERA had arrived it was obviously placed under some severe maintenance to prepare it for what was dubbed the ‘Bomber Tour’. Across the entire summer the two Lancasters, partnered with the rest of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, would be flying across the nation at multiple air shows and flypasts to show off these magnificent war machines.

My first experience of seeing VERA was in an evening a few days later. The sun was beginning to set on the Lincolnshire countryside and I decided to make a last minute decision to walk towards the runway to watch one of their practice displays. I clearly wasn’t the only one with this idea! Scattered down the fence at the runway were hundreds of people all waiting to see these goliaths of the sky in flight, together. For the first time in countless years.

The planes had positioned themselves at the opposite end of the runway awaiting flight control to give them the OK for lift off. A distant rumble became a more poised and potent sound as it reverberated around the surrounding area slowly building in volume. The sound of camera shutters started to fire off with people all around me pointing to the sky. One Lancaster popped above the fence-line then a few seconds later another one.

A thunderous roar surrounded the Lincolnshire countryside as the Lancasters were joined by a Hurricane & Spitfire in the skies. It was an incredible sight, one that I can’t even properly begin to describe. Several low passes later they formed up – nose to tail. It was at this point that I struggled to even begin to comprehend the sheer amount of noise and what it would have felt like to have had 10, 20 or even 30 flying above. It must have been just something else entirely.

As the test flight came to a close the sun set on RAF Coningsby. As the pilots returned from their sortie cheers erupted from the crowds that had gathered to see this spectacle. It was clear to see that seeing these two planes together for the first time in 50 years was something that touched everyone.

Over the next month or so seeing 2 Lancasters would become the new ‘norm’. Yet, every single time I heard those eight Merlins rumbling through the sky I would rush to window to watch these magnificent machines fly past. It really was a truly spectacular thing to take place – and certainly something that I’ll never see again.

As I write this blog news has come through that VERA has made it home safely to huge crowds in Canada. One day maybe we’ll repay the favour. Huge thanks to all involved who made this happen, it was definitely worth it.