The rich aviation history of Lincolnshire

Lincolnshire’s flat, open spaces were attractive as potential airfield sites during WWI. By 1945 Lincolnshire had 49 airfields, and today there are six operational RAF stations plus aviation heritage sites and trails to explore across the county.

In the RAF’s centenary year, displays and exhibitions will mark this rich heritage and the contribution made by all those who have made our lives safer.

Lincoln

Lincoln Castle has overlooked the city since 1068. I walked around the medieval walls before heading into the vault to see the city’s copy of the Magna Carta, dated 1215.

An exhibition entitled “Kings of the Sky, 100 years of military flying” will be showing in the castle from 5 to 8 May, 2018.

With imposing views over the city, Lincoln Cathedral is just a short walk from the castle and certainly worth a visit. The Airmen’s Chapel is a moving tribute to the men who lost their lives, with memorial books and four stained glass windows dedicated to them.

Walking back towards the modern city, I looked around the specialist shops and cafés of Bailgate and Steep Hill.

The International Bomber Command Centre is now open to the public. The visitor centre’s interactive displays tell the history of Bomber Command, while outside is an impressive spire 100ft tall, the wingspan of a Lancaster bomber.

Looking through the spire towards the cathedral, it is a reminder that the cathedral was a landmark meaning home for the returning airmen. A peace garden is planted with 27 lime trees to represent the bomber command stations and every airman lost is remembered on the Walls of Names around the spire.

Cranwell Aviation Heritage Museum is located near Sleaford. “Airships of Lincolnshire—Lighter than Air” explores the use of airships and hot air balloons which once operated from RAF Cranwell. It runs until March 28, 2018.

RAF Scampton is home to the RAF Aerobatic team, the Red Arrows (below). They perform displays during the year and can often be seen practicing above Lincoln.

In March 1943, wing commander Guy Gibson was asked to put together an expert crew, Squadron X, later renamed the 617 Squadron. The squadron flew Avro Lancasters from RAF Woodhall between January 1944 and May 1945 targeting the Ruhr dams in Germany. The operation was kept secret as they practised low flying over water for several months.

With Barnes Wallis’s bouncing bomb they successfully damaged the German dams and became known as the Dambusters. At the RAF Scampton Heritage Centre visitors can see Guy Gibson’s office as it was in 1943 and the grave of his pet dog who died the day of the Dambuster raid.

“Bastion in the Air” runs from 6 April -24 August and is a recreation of a WWI airfield in the Dambuster’s hangar.

Where to stay in Lincoln:

  • The White Hart Hotel, Bailgate
  • The Lincoln Hotel, Eastgate
  • Washingborough Hall Hotel

Woodhall Spa

RAF Woodhall Spa was at the centre of Bomber County with the 97, 619, 617 and 627 squadrons flying from the base. The Petwood Hotel was requisitioned by the RAF in 1942 and then used as the Officers’ Mess for the 617 squadron.

Visitors can go onto the terrace where Guy Gibson stood having a drink or look in the garden for the prototype bouncing bomb. I was moved by the memories written in the Squadron bar visitors book and agreed, “I felt very humble having a drink in the bar.”

A concert with the RAF Band in the garden of the hotel will include a Spitfire fly past on May 13, 2018.

Near Woodhall Spa in Tattershall Thorpe is the Bluebell Inn, which was a drinking spot for the Dambuster and Pathfinder crews.

Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre built in 1940 as part of RAF Woodhall Spa is just outside the village. It has displays of the history of RAF Woodhall Spa and it's squadrons.

RAF Coningsby is home to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Tours are led by ex-servicemen and my knowledgeable guide talked about the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Dakota and Avro Lancaster.

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby is a memorial to Bomber Command. It contains a collection of artefacts and stories from surviving airmen. The Avro Lancaster “Just Jane” taxies out onto the runway, allowing visitors to see and hear it in action.

Where to stay in Woodhall Spa:

  • The INN at Woodhall Spa
  • The Petwood Hotel
  • The Golf Hotel