The Avro Lancaster Bomber

Great Britain - Scott #1759 (1997)
Great Britain – Scott #1759 (1997)

On January 9, 1941, the Avro Lancaster — a British four-engined Second World War heavy bomber — took its first flight. It was designed and manufactured by Avro as a contemporary of the Handley Page Halifax, both bombers having been developed to the same specification, as well as the Short Stirling, all three aircraft being four-engined heavy bombers adopted by the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the same wartime era.

The Lancaster had its origins in the twin-engine Avro Manchester which had been developed during the late 1930s in response to the Air Ministry Specification P.13/36 for a capable medium bomber for “world-wide use”. Originally developed as an evolution of the Manchester (which had proved troublesome in service and was retired in 1942), the Lancaster was designed by Roy Chadwick and powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlins and in one version, Bristol Hercules engines. It first saw service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942 and as the strategic bombing offensive over Europe gathered momentum, it was the main aircraft for the night-time bombing campaigns that followed. As increasing numbers of the type were produced, it became the principal heavy bomber used by the RAF, the RCAF and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving within the RAF, overshadowing contemporaries such as the Halifax and Stirling.

A long, unobstructed bomb bay meant that the Lancaster could take the largest bombs used by the RAF, including the 4,000-pound (1,800 kg), 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) and 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) blockbusters, loads often supplemented with smaller bombs or incendiaries. The “Lanc”, as it was affectionately known, became one of the more famous and most successful of the Second World War night bombers, “delivering 608,612 long tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties”. The versatility of the Lancaster was such that it was chosen to equip 617 Squadron and was modified to carry the Upkeep “Bouncing bomb” designed by Barnes Wallis for Operation Chastise, the attack on German Ruhr valley dams. Although the Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles, including daylight precision bombing, for which some Lancasters were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) Tallboy and then the 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) Grand Slam earthquake bombs (also designed by Wallis). This was the largest payload of any bomber in the war.

Lancaster B Mk.I drawing with extra side views for the B Mk.I (Special) with Grand Slam bomb, Hercules-powered B Mk.II with bulged bomb bay doors and FN.64 ventral turret and the B Mk.III (Special) with the Upkeep store
Lancaster B Mk.I drawing with extra side views for the B Mk.I (Special) with Grand Slam bomb, Hercules-powered B Mk.II with bulged bomb bay doors and FN.64 ventral turret and the B Mk.III (Special) with the Upkeep store

In 1943, a Lancaster was converted to become an engine test bed for the Metropolitan-Vickers F.2 turbojet. Lancasters were later used to test other engines, including the Armstrong Siddeley Mamba and Rolls-Royce Dart turboprops and the Avro Canada Orenda and STAL Dovern turbojets. Postwar, the Lancaster was supplanted as the main strategic bomber of the RAF by the Avro Lincoln, a larger version of the Lancaster. The Lancaster took on the role of long range anti-submarine patrol aircraft (later supplanted by the Avro Shackleton) and air-sea rescue. It was also used for photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping, as a flying tanker for aerial refuelling and as the Avro Lancastrian, a long-range, high-speed, transatlantic passenger and postal delivery airliner. In March 1946, a Lancastrian of BSAA flew the first scheduled flight from the new London Heathrow Airport.

In the 1930s, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was primarily interested in twin-engine bombers. These designs put limited demands on engine production and maintenance, both of which were already stretched with the introduction of so many new types into service. Power limitations were so serious that the British invested heavily in the development of huge engines in the 2,000 horsepower (1,500 kW) class in order to improve performance. During the late 1930s, none of these was ready for production. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were pursuing the development of bombers powered by arrangements of four smaller engines, the results of these projects proved to possess favourable characteristics such as excellent range and fair lifting capacity. Accordingly, in 1936, the RAF also decided to investigate the feasibility of the four-engined bomber.

Avro Lancaster bombers nearing completion at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory at Woodford in Cheshire, 1943
Avro Lancaster bombers nearing completion at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory at Woodford in Cheshire, 1943

The origins of the Lancaster stem from a twin-engined bomber design that had been submitted in response to Specification P.13/36, which had been formulated and released by the British Air Ministry during the mid 1930s. This specification had sought a new generation of twin-engined medium bombers suitable for “worldwide use”. Further requirements of the specification included the use of a mid-mounted cantilever monoplane wing, all-metal construction; the adoption of the in-development Rolls-Royce Vulture engine was also encouraged”. Various candidates were submitted for the specification by such manufacturers as Fairey, Boulton Paul, Handley Page and Shorts; all submissions were designed around two-engine configurations, using the Rolls-Royce Vulture, Napier Sabre, Fairey P.24 or Bristol Hercules engines. The majority of these engines were under development at this point; while four-engined bomber designs were considered for specification B.12/36 for a heavy bomber, wings which mounted two pairs of engines were still in the experimental stage and required testing at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), the resulting increase in overall weight of adopting a stronger wing also necessitated further strengthening of the overall aircraft structure.

In response, British aviation company Avro decided to submit their own design, designated the Avro 679, to meet Specification P.13/36. In February 1937, following consideration of the designs by the Air Ministry, Avro’s design submission was selected along with Handley Page’s bid being chosen as “second string”. Accordingly, during April 1937, a pair of prototypes of both designs were ordered. The resulting aircraft, named the Manchester, entered RAF service in November 1940. Although considered to be a capable aircraft in most areas, the Manchester proved to be underpowered and troubled by the unreliability of the Vulture engine. As a result, only 200 Manchesters were constructed and the type was quickly withdrawn from service in 1942.

Designer Roy Chadwick and the Avro Lancaster
Designer Roy Chadwick and the Avro Lancaster

As early as mid-1940, Avro’s chief design engineer, Roy Chadwick, had been working on an improved Manchester design. This redesign was powered by four of the more reliable but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, specifically adopted the form of the Merlin “Power Plant” installations which had been developed by Rolls-Royce for the earlier Beaufighter II, installed on a larger wing. Initially, the improved aircraft was designated as the Type 683 Manchester III, it was subsequently renamed as the Lancaster. The prototype aircraft, serial number BT308, was assembled by the Avro experimental flight department at Ringway Airport, Manchester; the prototype was constructed from a production Manchester airframe, which was combined with a new centre section designed to accommodate the additional engines. On January 9, 1941, test pilot H. A. “Sam” Brown performed the prototype’s maiden flight at RAF Ringway, Cheshire.

Flight testing of the new aircraft quickly proved it to be a substantial improvement on its predecessor, aviation author Jim Winchester referred to the Lancaster as being “one of the few warplanes in history to be ‘right’ from the start.” The first prototype was initially outfitted with a three-finned tail layout, a result of the design having been adapted from the Manchester I; this was quickly revised on the second prototype, DG595, and subsequent production Lancasters to the familiar larger elliptical twin-finned tail unit that had also been adopted for the later-built Manchesters, discarding the stubby central third tail fin. The adoption of the enlarged twin fins not only increased stability but also provided for a greater field of fire from the dorsal gun turret position. The second prototype was also outfitted with more powerful Merlin XX engine.

Some of the later orders for Manchesters were converted in favor of the Lancaster; both bombers shared various similarities and featured identical design features, such as the same distinctive greenhouse cockpit, turret nose and twin tail. The designs were so similar that an entire batch of partially constructed Manchesters could be completed as Lancaster B I aircraft instead. Based upon its performance, a decision was taken early on to reequip twin-engine bomber squadrons with the Lancaster as quickly as possible. In October 1941, the first production Lancaster, L7527, powered by Merlin XX engines, conducted its first flight.

Avro Lancaster aircraft under construction at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory at Woodford, Cheshire, 1943.
Avro Lancaster aircraft under construction at the A V Roe & Co Ltd factory at Woodford, Cheshire, 1943.

Avro received an initial contract for 1,070 Lancasters. The majority of Lancasters that were manufactured during the war years were constructed by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Oldham, Greater Manchester and were test-flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. As it was quickly recognised that Avro’s capacity was exceeded by the wartime demand for the type, it was decided to form the Lancaster Aircraft Group, which comprised a number of companies that undertook the type’s manufacture, either performing primary assembly themselves or producing various subsections and components for the other participating manufacturers.

In addition to Avro, further Lancasters were constructed by Metropolitan-Vickers (1,080, also tested at Woodford) and Armstrong Whitworth. They were also produced at the Austin Motor Company works in Longbridge, Birmingham, later in the Second World War and post-war by Vickers-Armstrongs at Chester as well as at the Vickers Armstrong factory, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham. Belfast-based aircraft firm Short Brothers had also received an order for 200 Lancaster B Is, but this was cancelled before any aircraft had been completed. Only 300 of the Lancaster B II, which was outfitted with Bristol Hercules engines, were constructed; this had been produced as a stopgap modification as a result of a shortage of Merlin engines due to fighter production having higher priority for the engines at that time.

The Lancaster was also produced overseas. During early 1942, it was decided that the bomber should be produced in Canada, where it was manufactured by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario. Of later variants, only the Canadian-built Lancaster B X was produced in significant numbers. A total of 430 of this type were built, earlier examples differing little from their British-built predecessors, except for using Packard-built Merlin engines and American-style instruments and electrics.[citation needed] In August 1942, a British-built Lancaster B I, R5727, was dispatched to Canada as a pattern aircraft, becoming the first of the type to conduct a transatlantic crossing. The first Lancaster produced in Canada was named the “Ruhr Express”. The first batch of Canadian Lancasters delivered to England suffered from faulty ailerons; this error was subsequently traced to the use of unskilled laborers.

The Lancaster B I was never fully superseded in production by a successor model, remaining in production until February 1946. According to aviation authors Brian Goulding and M. Garbett, the Lancaster B I altered little during its production life, partially as a result of the sound basic structure and design; of the visible changes, the fuselage side-windows were deleted, the Perspex chin of the bomb-aimer was enlarged, and a larger astrodome was provided. Various additional bumps and blisters were also added, which would typically house radar equipment and radio navigational aids. Some Lancaster B I bombers were outfitted with bulged bomb bay doors in order to accommodate increased armament payloads.

Mark X nose showing twin .303 Brownings in turret over bomb-aimer's position
Mark X nose showing twin .303 Brownings in turret over bomb-aimer’s position
op view of the nose turret and the bomber's station
Top view of the nose turret and the bomber’s station

Early production Lancaster B Is were outfitted with a ventral gun turret position. In response to feedback on the lack of application for the ventral turret, the ventral turret was often eliminated during the course of each aircraft’s career. While some groups chose to discard the position entirely, various trials and experiments were performed at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire and by individual squadrons. A total of 50 Austin-built Lancaster B Is were constructed to a non-standard configuration, having a Frazer Nash turret installed directly above the bomb bay; this modification was largely unpopular due to its obstruction of the internal walkway, hindering crew movements. Various other turret configurations were adopted by individual squadrons, which included the removal of various combinations of turrets.

The Lancaster B III was powered by Packard Merlin engines, which had been built overseas in the United States, but was otherwise identical to contemporary B Is. In total, 3,030 B IIIs were constructed, almost all of them at Avro’s Newton Heath factory. The Lancaster B I and B III were manufactured concurrently and minor modifications were made to both marks as further batches were ordered. The B I and B III designated was effective interchangeable simply by exchanging the engines used, which was occasionally done in practice. Examples of modifications made include the relocation of the pitot head from the nose to the side of the cockpit and the change from de Havilland “needle blade” propellers to Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made “paddle blade” propellers.

The typical aircraft was powered by an arrangement of four wing-mounted Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines, each of which drove a set of 13 ft diameter de Havilland Hydromatic three-bladed propellers. While not optimal, the Lancaster was capable of flying the return journey home on only two operational engines, along with very limited distances on a single running engine. Goulding and Garbett have claimed that experienced Lancaster pilots were often able to out-manoeuver Luftwaffe fighters. It possessed largely favourable flying characteristics, having been described by aviation authors Brian Goulding and M. Garbett as being: “a near-perfect flying machine, fast for its size and very smooth…such a delightfully easy aeroplane to fly…there are instances of Lancasters having been looped and barrel-rolled, both intentionally and otherwise”.

Avro Lancasters of No. 50 Squadron fitted with exhaust shrouds intended to conceal exhaust flames from night fighters
Avro Lancasters of No. 50 Squadron fitted with exhaust shrouds intended to conceal exhaust flames from night fighters
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster I (s/n NG128, coded
A Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster I (s/n NG128, coded “SR-B”) of No. 101 Sqn out of Ludford Magna and flown by Fg Off R.B. Tibbs as part of a thousand-bomber raid, dropping its load over Duisburg, Germany, on 14-15 October 1944. Note the large aerials on top of the Lancaster´s fuselage, indicating that the aricraft is carrying ‘Airborne Cigar’ (ABC), a jamming device which disrupted enemy radio telephone channels. Over 2,000 sorties were dispatched to the city of Duisburg during 14-15 October 1944, in order to to demonstrate the RAF Bomber Command’s overwhelming superiority in German skies (“Operation Hurricane”). Left image: the Lancaster releases bundles of ‘Window’ over the target during a special daylight raid on Duisburg. Right image: a fraction of a second later, the aircraft releases the main part of its load, a 4000lb HC “cookie” and 108 30lb “J” incendiaries. Photos taken between October 14 and 15 1944.

The Lancaster benefited from a structure that possessed considerable strength and durability, which had been intentionally designed to maximize structural strength-per-weight; this resulted in the Lancaster being capable of withstanding some levels of damage resulting from attacks by hostile interceptor aircraft and ground-based anti-aircraft batteries. However, during the first year of the type’s career, some instances of structural failures were encountered on Lancaster B Is and a number of aircraft were lost in accidents as a result of the design limitations having been greatly exceeded. Compared with other contemporary aircraft, the Lancaster was not an easy aircraft to escape from; in a Halifax, 25 per cent of downed aircrew bailed out successfully, and in American bombers (albeit in daylight raids) it was as high as a 50 per cent success rate while only 15 per cent of the Lancaster crew were able to bail out.

The Lancaster uses a mid-wing cantilever monoplane configuration. The wing is constructed from five separate main sections while the fuselage is likewise composed of five sections. Aside from a few elements, such as the fabric-covered ailerons, the Lancaster’s oval-shaped fuselage had an all-metal covering. All of the wing and fuselage sections were manufactured separately, during which they were outfitted with all of the required equipment in advance of final assembly being performed, as a measure intended to accelerate the rate of production. The Lancaster was equipped with a retractable main undercarriage and fixed tailwheel; the hydraulically-actuated main landing gear raised rearwards into recesses within the inner engine nacelles. The distinctive tail unit of the aircraft was outfitted with a large twin elliptical fins and rudder arrangement.

During early 1942, No. 44 Squadron, based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, became the first RAF squadron to convert to the Lancaster; it was quickly followed by No. 97 Squadron, which was also based at Waddington. On March 2, 1942, the first operational mission of the Lancaster, deploying naval mines in the vicinity of Heligoland Bight, was performed by aircraft of No. 44 Sqn. On March 10, 1942, the first bombing mission was conducted over the German city of Essen, North Rhine-Westphalia.

While the Lancaster had been designed to conduct night-time operations, daylight raids were occasionally performed by the type as well. The existence of the Lancaster was revealed after a daytime raid upon an engine factory located in Augsburg, Swabia, Bavaria conducted by Nos. 44 and 97 Sqns on April 17, 1942. Due to the high loss rates typically involved in such operations, daytime bombing missions were performed sparingly until the Allies had achieved a level of aerial supremacy over the Axis powers.

Avro Lancaster over Hamburg, Germany.

On October 17, 1942, another audacious daytime raid was performed by 90 Lancasters of No. 5 Group, bombing the Schneider Works at Le Creusot, France; only one aircraft was lost during the course of the mission. During 1942, the Lancaster remained in relatively short supply, which meant that training and crew conversion courses typically had to be performed by the squadrons themselves; there were no aircraft furnished with dual controls at this time, thus pilots would have to perform their first flight without the instructor being capable of directly acting on the controls themselves.

Throughout July 1943, large numbers of Lancasters participated in the devastating round-the-clock raids on the city of Hamburg during Air Chief Marshal Harris’s “Operation Gomorrah”. A particularly famous mission performed by the Lancaster was the mission flown May 16-17, 1943, codenamed Operation Chastise, to destroy the dams of the Ruhr Valley. The operation was carried out by 617 Squadron in modified Mk IIIs carrying special drum-shaped bouncing bombs, which had been designed by British engineer Barnes Wallis. The story of the operation was later made into a film, The Dam Busters.

Crewman with homing pigeons, 1942. Pigeons were customarily carried aboard Lancasters as a means of communications in the event of a crash, ditching or radio failure.
Crewman with homing pigeons, 1942. Pigeons were customarily carried aboard Lancasters as a means of communications in the event of a crash, ditching or radio failure.

During the latter half of 1944, a series of high-profile bombing missions were performed by the Lancaster against the German battleship Tirpitz. Executed by Nos. 617 and 9 Sqns, a combination of Lancaster B I and B III bombers were armed with 12,000 lb ‘Tallboy’ bombs and were adapted with enlarged bomb bay doors in order to accommodate their special payloads and additional fuel tanks to provide the necessary endurance. A total of three attacks, individually codenamed Operation Paravane, Operation Obviate and Operation Catechism, were conducted against Tirpitz, which was anchored in a fjord in Occupied Norway. The first of these attacks disabled the vessel while the third mission was responsible for sinking the ship. As a result of actions such as Operation Chastise and the sinking of Tirpitz, No. 617 Sq was perhaps the most famous of all Lancaster squadrons.

During early 1945, a total of 33 Lancaster B Is were modified so that they could deploy the 22,000 lb Grand Slam bomb; the Grand Slam, considered to be the ultimate conventional bomb to be used during the conflict, was so heavy that the bomb and the Lancaster itself weighed roughly the same. On March 13, 1945, the first operational use of the Grand Slam was performed by a Lancaster of No. 617 Sqn against the Schildesche viaduct at Bielefeld, North Rhine-Westphalia. Amongst the final wartime operations performed by the Lancaster was the destruction of Eagle’s Nest, the extensive holiday home complex used by German leader Adolf Hitler.

RAF Lancasters dropped food into the Holland region of the occupied Netherlands, with the acquiescence of the occupying German forces, to feed people who were in danger of starvation. The mission was named ‘Operation Manna’ after the food manna which is said to have miraculously appeared for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. The aircraft involved were from 1, 3, and 8 Groups, and consisted of 145 Mosquitos and 3,156 Lancasters, flying between them a total of 3,298 sorties. The first of the two RAF Lancasters chosen for the test flight was nicknamed “Bad Penny” from the old expression: “a bad penny always turns up.” This bomber, with a crew of seven men (five Canadians including pilot Robert Upcott of Windsor, Ontario), took off in bad weather on the morning of April 29, 1945, without a ceasefire agreement from the German forces, and successfully dropped its cargo.

Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster B I PA474 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Photo taken on July 9, 2005.
Royal Air Force Avro Lancaster B I PA474 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Photo taken on July 9, 2005.

The Lancaster conducted a total of 156,000 sorties and dropped 608,612 long tons (618,378 tonnes) of bombs between 1942 and 1945. Only 35 Lancasters completed more than 100 successful operations each, and 3,249 were lost in action. The most successful survivor completed 139 operations, and was ultimately retired from service and scrapped in 1947. From 1942 onwards, the Lancaster became the mainstay of the British heavy bomber fleet; by the end of the war in Europe, there were roughly 50 squadrons equipped with the Lancaster, the majority of these being the Lancaster B I model. From its entry into service, the original model of the Lancaster was operated in almost every major bombing raid of the European conflict.

Adolf Galland (commander of the Luftwaffe fighters) considered the Lancaster to be “the best night bomber of the war”, as did his adversary, Arthur “Bomber” Harris, who referred to it as the RAF Bomber Command’s “shining sword”. Goulding and Garbett wrote that: “The achievements of the Lancaster and the men who flew it have been widely acclaimed, and the aircraft has been described as the greatest single factor in winning WWII, an exaggeration but a pardonable one”.

Lancasters from Bomber Command were to have formed the main strength of Tiger Force, the Commonwealth bomber contingent scheduled to take part in Operation Downfall, the codename for the planned invasion of Japan in late 1945. Aircraft allocated to the Tiger Force were painted in white with black undersides and outfitted with additional radio units and navigational aids to facilitate their use in the Pacific theatre. The addition of large saddle-type external fuel tanks was considered and trialled in Australia and India, but this was discontinued due to their perceived vulnerability to attack. Together with the new Avro Lincoln and Liberators, the bombers would have operated from bases on Okinawa; the envisioned invasion did not happen when such action was made unnecessary by the surrender of Japan.

As a byproduct of its sound design and operational success, various developments and derivatives of the Lancaster were produced for both military and civilian purposes. One of these was the Avro Lincoln bomber, initially known as the Lancaster IV and Lancaster V. These two marks became the Lincoln B1 and B2 respectively. A civilian airliner was based on the Lancaster, known as the Lancastrian. Other developments were the York, a square-bodied transport and, via the Lincoln, the Shackleton which continued in RAF service as an airborne early warning (AEW) system, being in use until its retirement in 1992.

Diagram comparing the Lancaster (blue) with its RAF contemporaries; the Short Stirling (yellow) and the Handley Page Halifax (pink).
Diagram comparing the Lancaster (blue) with its RAF contemporaries; the Short Stirling (yellow) and the Handley Page Halifax (pink).

In the post-war climate, the Lancaster continued to see use for several more years, during which a number of high-profile operations were conducted. Immediately following the end of hostilities, the Lancaster was used as a crude transport aircraft, being used to ferry thousands of prisoners of war (POWs) back to the British Isles from across the continent. Aerial tours of the devastated German cities were also performed using the type. Repatriation flights returning POWs and ordinary troops alike continued until November 1945. During the summer of 1946, Lancasters of No. 35 Squadron performed a tour of the United States. These aircraft were autographed by various American movie stars during the tour, and continued to bear these up to their retirements. A pair of Lancasters, PD328 and PB873, performed several ground-breaking long distance flights, including round-the-world and trans-polar trips.

In RAF service, the Lancaster remained at the forefront of Bomber Command; the Lancaster B I was gradually replaced by the improved Lancaster B I (F/E) models. During 1947–1948, No. 82 Squadron received new dedicated photo-reconnaissance models of the Lancaster B.1; these aircraft were painted silver and lacked any defensive turrets. Photo-reconnaissance Lancasters with used to aerially survey Central and East Africa and at least one was later operated by the Ministry of Aviation. Coastal Command received a small quantity of Lancasters, which were normally based at RAF Kinloss, Moray Firth.

The Lancaster continued to be operated in significant numbers until the introduction of the new Avro Lincoln, being itself a derivative of the Lancaster; the Lincoln was not available in quantity for several years following the end of the conflict. In December 1953, the final Lancaster in service with Bomber Command was retired. In late 1954, the last Lancaster in active service with the RAF, an aircraft which had been used for aerial reconnaissance missions, is believed to have been retired.

Three Avro Lancaster B.Is of No. 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at Waddington, Lincolnshire (UK), flying above the clouds. Left to right: W4125,`KM-W', being flown by Sergeant Colin Watt, Royal Australian Air Force; W4162,`KM-Y', flown by Pilot Officer T.G. Hackney (later killed while serving with No. 83 Squadron); and W4187,`KM-S', flown by Pilot Officer J.D.V.S. Stephens DFM, who was killed with his crew two nights later during a raid on Wismar. Photo taken on September 29, 1942.
Three Avro Lancaster B.Is of No. 44 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based at Waddington, Lincolnshire (UK), flying above the clouds. Left to right: W4125,`KM-W’, being flown by Sergeant Colin Watt, Royal Australian Air Force; W4162,`KM-Y’, flown by Pilot Officer T.G. Hackney (later killed while serving with No. 83 Squadron); and W4187,`KM-S’, flown by Pilot Officer J.D.V.S. Stephens DFM, who was killed with his crew two nights later during a raid on Wismar. Photo taken on September 29, 1942.

A total of 59 Lancaster B.Is and B.VIIs were overhauled by Avro at Woodford and Langar and delivered to the Aeronavale (France) during 1952-1953. These were flown until the mid-1960s by four squadrons stationed in France and New Caledonia in the maritime reconnaissance and search-and-rescue roles.

Between 1948 and 1949, a total of 15 former RAF Lancasters were overhauled at Langar for use by the Argentine Air Force. During its Argentine service, Lancasters were used offensively in suppressing and supporting military coups.

Beginning in 1946, Lancaster Mk Xs were modified for service with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). Fourteen aircraft were modified to perform aerial and photo-reconnaissance missions; these would go on to perform much of the mapping of northern Canada until as late as 1962. Throughout the 1950s, the RCAF operated seventy modified Lancasters, designated Lancaster 10MR/MPs, as Maritime Reconnaissance and Patrol aircraft in an anti-submarine role. Modifications involved the installation of radar and sonobuoy operators’ positions, removal of the rear and mid-upper gun turrets, installation of a 400-gallon fuel tank in the bomb bay to increase the patrol range, upgraded electronics, radar, and instrumentation, and a cooking stove in the centre section. They served throughout the 1950s, when they were replaced by the Lockheed Neptune and Canadair Argus.

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM)
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) “Mynarski Memorial” Lancaster flying at the 2006 AirVenture America air show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Civil conversions of the type continued during the initial postwar years. In 1946, four Lancasters were converted by Avro at Bracebridge Heath, Lincolnshire as freighters for use by British South American Airways, but proved to be uneconomical, and were withdrawn after a year in service. In addition, four Lancaster IIIs were converted by Flight Refuelling Limited as two pairs of tanker and receiver aircraft for development of in-flight refuelling. In 1947, one aircraft was flown non-stop 3,459 miles (5,567 km) from London to Bermuda. Later on, these two tanker aircraft were joined by another converted Lancaster; these saw use during the Berlin Airlift, achieving 757 tanker sorties.

From 1943 to 1947, the Canadian Government Trans-Atlantic Air Service (CGTAS) provided a trans-Atlantic military passenger and postal delivery service using a modified long-distance transport version of the Lancaster Mark X. Nine of these aircraft were produced, referred to as Lancaster XPPs (for Lancaster Mk.X Passenger Planes), and each was equipped with rudimentary passenger facilities. The inaugural flight from Dorval (Montreal) to Prestwick, Scotland on July 22, 1943, was completed non-stop in a record 12:26 hours; the average crossing time was about 13:25 hours. By the end of the war, these aircraft had completed hundreds of trips across the Atlantic. CGTAS ushered in the era of commercial air travel across the North Atlantic, and in 1947 the service became part of Trans-Canada Air Lines, which carried paying civilian passengers in the Lancaster XPPs until they were replaced by Douglas DC-4s in 1947.

Royal Mail poster for the 1997
Royal Mail poster for the 1997 “Architects of the Air” stamp set

Of the 17 surviving and largely intact Lancasters known to exist, two are airworthy; one, PA474, based in Coningsby, the UK, is operated by The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and the other, called Vera (coded VR-A, FM213), is in Canada, operated by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount Hope, a suburb of Hamilton, Ontario. Another Lancaster, Just Jane, NX611, a B MkVII, based in East Kirkby Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is able to taxi but is not currently airworthy, though there are plans to return her to flight in the future. The fourth Lancaster with working engines and able to taxi is Bazalgette FM159 based at the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. It has been carefully restored from a vandalised state and is now a main tourist attraction.

In 2014, the Canadian aircraft toured the UK in a series of joint displays with the BBMF aircraft.

In 2017, formerly retired after its Cold War service and more than 50 years on display in Edmundston, New Brunswick, Lancaster KB 882 moved to its new home at the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton, Ontario where it will be restored and placed alongside the museums’ restored RAF Handley Page Halifax heavy bomber. NA 337.

For the 2018 flying season, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Chastise, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Lancaster was painted in the markings of Guy Gibson’s 617 Squadron aircraft (Code AJ-G, ED932) when he commanded the “Dambusters” raids.

Great Britain - Scott #1758-1762 (1997) first day cover
Great Britain – Scott #1758-1762 (1997) first day cover

Scott #1759 was released by Royal Mail in Great Britain on June 10, 1997, part of a five-stamp “Architects of the Air” set which acknowledged the designers along with their best known aircraft. The 20-pence stamp honored Reginald Mitchell and the Supermarine Spitfire MkIIA (Scott #1758), the Avro Lancaster Mk1 was featured on a 26-pence stamp which mentioned designer Roy Chadwick, Ronald Bishop and the De Havilland Mosquito B MkXVI are commemorated with the 37-pence value (Scott #1760), the 43-pence denomination call attention to George Carter and the Gloster Meteor T Mk7 (Scott #1761), and the 63-pence high value remembers Sir Sidney Camm and the  Hawker Hunter FGA Mk9 (Scott #1762).  Designed by Turner Duckworth, the stamps were printed by Harrison & Sons Ltd. using the photogravure process, perforated 15 x 14.

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