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The Avro Lancaster was a four-engine World War II bomber aircraft made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force (RAF). First used in 1942, together with the Handley-Page Halifax it was the main heavy bomber of the RAF, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and squadrons from other Commonwealth and European countries serving with RAF Bomber Command. The Lancaster was primarily a night bomber.
Avro Lancster WW2 Bomber aircraft
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight 2005
The origins of the Lancaster design was in a twin-engined heavy bomber powered by Rolls-Royce Vulture engines submitted to Specification P.13/36 which was for a new generation of twin-engined medium bombers. The resulting aircraft was the Avro Manchester, which although a capable aircraft was troubled by the unreliability of the Vulture. It was withdrawn from service in 1942 by which point 200 aircraft had been built.
Avro's chief designer, Roy Chadwick, was already working on an improved Manchester design using four of the more reliable but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines on a larger wing. The aircraft was initially designated Avro Type 683 Manchester III, it was later named the Lancaster. The new aircraft made its first test flight on January 9, 1941, and proved to be a great improvement on its predecessor. Most of the original Manchesters were rebuilt as Lancasters; the designs were very similar, and both featured the distinctive greenhouse cockpit, turret nose, and twin tail although the Lancaster discarded the stubby central tail fin of the Manchester.
The majority of Lancasters during the war years were manufactured by Metropolitan-Vickers, Armstrong Whitworth, and Avro. The plane was also produced at the Austin Motor Company works in Longbridge, Birmingham later in World War II. Only 300 of the Lancaster Mk II with Bristol Hercules engines were made. The Lancaster Mk III had newer Merlin engines but was otherwise identical to earlier versions; 3,030 Mk IIIs were built, almost all at A.V. Roe's Newton Heath factory. Of later versions only the Canadian-built Lancaster Mk X was produced in any numbers, built by Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario, 430 of this type were built. They differed little from earlier versions, except for using Packard-built Merlin engines and having a differently configured mid-upper turret. 7,377 Lancasters of all marks were built over the war; a 1943 Lancaster cost £45-50,000 (approximately equivalent to £1.3-1.5 million in 2005 currency ).
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, from bases on Okinawa.
In 1942-45, Lancasters flew 156,000 operations and dropped 608,612 tons of bombs. 3,249 Lancasters were lost in action. Only 35 Lancasters completed more than 100 successful operations. The greatest survivor completed 139 operations and survived the war, to be scrapped in 1947.
Lancaster I NG128 dropping its load over Duisburg on Oct 14, 1944
An important feature of the Lancaster was its extensive bomb bay, at 33 feet (10.05 m) long. Initially the heaviest bombs carried were 4,000 lb (1,818 kg) "Cookies". Towards the end of the war, attacking special and hardened targets, the B1 Specials could carry the 21 foot (6.4 m) long 12,000 lb (5,448 kg) 'Tall Boy' or 25.5 foot (7.77 m) long 22,000 lb (9,979 kg) 'Grand Slam' "earthquake" bombs. This required modification of the bomb-bay doors.
The Lancaster had a very advanced communications system for its time; the famous 1155 receiver and 1154 transmitter. These provided radio direction-finding, as well as voice and Morse capabilities. Later Lancasters carried:
The most famous use of the Lancaster was probably the 1943 mission, codenamed Operation Chastise, to destroy the dams of the Ruhr Valley using special drum shaped bouncing bombs designed by Barnes Wallis, and carried by modified Mk IIIs. The story of the mission was later made into a film, The Dam Busters. Another famous action was a series of attacks against the German battleship Tirpitz with 'Tall Boy' bombs, ended with the sinking of the Tirpitz.
A development of the Lancaster was the Avro Lincoln bomber, initially known as the Lancaster IV and Lancaster V, these two marks became the Lincoln B1 and B2 respectively. There was also a civilian airliner based on the Lancaster, the Lancastrian. Other developments were the York, a square-bodied transport, and the Shackleton, which continued in airborne early warning service up to 1992.
In 1946 four Lancasters were converted by Avro at Bracebridge Heath, Lincolnshire as freighters for use by British South American Airways, they proved to be uneconomical and were withdrawn after a year in service.
Four Lancaster IIIs were converted by Flight Refuelling Limited as two pairs of tanker and receiver aircraft for development of in-flight refuelling. One aircraft was flown non-stop 3,355 miles in 1947 from London to Bermuda. Later the two tanker aircraft were joined by another converted Lancaster and were used in the Berlin Airlift, they achieved 757 tanker sorties.
Avro Lancster rear gun
The original Lancasters were produced with Rolls Royce Merlin XX engines. Minor details were changed throughout the production series - for example the pitot head design was changed from being on a long mast at the front of the nose to a short fairing mounted on the side of the fuselage under the cockpit. Later production Lancasters had Merlin 22s and later Merlin 24s. No designation change was made to denote this change.
Adapted to take first the super-heavy Tallboy and then Grand Slam bombs. Upgrated engines with broad bladed propellers gave more power; the removal of gun turrets reduced weight and gave smoother lines. For the Tallboy the bomb bay doors were bulged — for the Grand Slam they were removed completely and the area faired over.
Bristol Hercules powered variant. 300 produced. These aircraft used Hercules VI or XVI engines. One difference between the two engine versions was the VI had manual mixture, leading to an extra lever on the throttle pedestal to control mixture. These aircraft were almost invariably fitted with an FN.64 under turret and bomb bay bulge.
These aircraft were fitted with Packard built Merlin engines, and produced in parallel to the B.I. The two marks are indistinguishable externally. The minor differences between the two variants were related to the engine installation, and included the installation of slow running cut off switches in the cockpit, due to the SU Carburettors on the Packard Merlin engines.
Variant built to take the "Upkeep" (bouncing) bomb for the Dambusting raids. The struts and mechanism to take the cylindrical bomb were fitted below the bomb bay and search lights fitted for the simple height measurement system. The mid upper turret was removed to save weight - the gunner was moved to the front turret to allow the bomb aimer to assist with map reading.
Increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage. Two-stage Merlin 85s - later renamed Lincoln B.1
Increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage. Two-stage Merlin 85s - later renamed Lincoln B.2
9 aircraft converted from B.IIIs. Fitted with Merlin 85s which had two stage superchargers, for improved high altitude performance. These aircraft were only used by Pathfinder units, often as "Master Bomber".
The B.VII was the final production version of the Lancaster. Martin 250CE mid-upper turret re-positioned slightly further forward than previous Marks. Frazer nash FN.82 tail turret with twin Browning 0.5in machine guns replacing four-gun 0.303in FN.20.
The B.X was a Canadian-built B.III, differing in having Canadian/US made instrumentation and electronics. Also on later batches, the Martin 250CE was substituted for the Frazer Nash FN.50 mid upper turret. The greater weight of this turret necessitated moving the turret forward for balance reasons. Canada was a long term user of the Lancaster, utilising modified aircraft in Maritime Patrol, Search and Rescue and Photo Reconnaisance roles until 1963.
There are 17 known Avro Lancasters remaining in the world, two of which remain in airworthy condition, although few flying hours remain on their airframes and actual flying is carefully rationed. One is PA474 of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the other is FM213 of the Canadian Warplane Heritage museum.
Among the non-flying survivors are:
Avro Lancster cockpit
The exact weight in kilograms of the 'Tall Boy' and 'Grand Slam' bombs differs according to source. The figures given are the most common.
Whilst 8 .303 in machine guns were the most common Lancaster armament, twin .50 turrets were later available in both the tail and dorsal positions. A Preston-Green mount was available for a .50 cal mounted in a ventral blister, but this was mostly used in RCAF service. Some unofficial mounts for .50 cal or even 20 mm guns were made, firing through ventral holes of various designs.
This Lancaster is carrying Airborne Cigar (ABC) equipment
as indicated by the two vertical aerials on the fuselage
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