Avro Lancaster

By far the most famous of all the RAF’s wartime bombers, the Lancaster had a rocky start to life, originating out of the very much less successful Type 670 Manchester. This twin-Vulture powered aircraft, created in response to the P.12/36 requirement, was essentially doomed from the start thanks to the Rolls-Royce engines, which even when they were running smoothly (a rarity) did not deliver their specified power.

The Type 670 prototype, L7246, flew in July 1939, but even at that point it was recognized that the aircraft, although having great potential for development, was never going to be a world-beater in its original form. Handley Page had also come to the conclusion that the Vulture was a dead end, even before metal had been cut on its HP.57 competitor, and had redesigned the aircraft to take four Merlins, this emerging as the Halifax. Avro quickly began working on the four-Merlin Type 683, this initially being known as the Manchester Mk. III.

Wartime needs had seen the Manchester put into service despite the serious and continued problems, but the early orders for 800 aircraft were cut back to 200 before the aircraft had even entered service. The RAF wanted Avro to instead build Halifaxes, but the company was able to get authorization to build two Type 683 prototypes, making the point that the new aircraft would be able to be built on the existing Manchester line with minimal retooling.

The Manchester Mk III prototype, BT308, was actually a Manchester fuselage given long-span wings and Merlin Xs, retaining (at first) the triple tail, although an extended width tail with enlarged fins would later be retrofitted, as would Merlin XX engines. The first flight took place on 9 January 1941, the type being officially named Lancaster a few weeks later. production aircraft began arriving in late November of that year, with Manchester orders having been converted over to Lancasters.

Lancaster Variants

B. Mk II: Very much pivotal to British air strength during WWII was the Merlin engine, and with the powerplant in such high demand by multiple aircraft programs, a shortage was feared, leading to evaluate the Bristol Hercules as an alternative for the Lancaster. Following trials in the fall of 1942, some 301 Hercules-engined Mk IIs were built, but these had significant shortcomings compared to the Mk Is, especially in bombload.

B Mk. VI: Two prototype and seven service conversions of Mk. IIIs with Merlin 85/87 engines in new Lincoln-type nacelles. No series production was undertaken, but the VI conversions did see combat use as pathfinders.

B Mk. VII: Martin low-drag dorsal turret in a more forward position; FN82 tail turret, preceeded by interim aircraft with FN50s.

PR.1: Postwar conversions with cameras in the bomb bay and armament removed.

ASR Mk III: Postwar SAR conversions, able to carry lifeboats

GR Mk.3: ASR Mk IIIs refitted with ASV radar; GR.3 RF325 of the School of Maritime Reconnaissance was the last operational RAF Lancaster, being retired in October 1956.

Lancaster Bibliography: Lancaster structural cutaway sketches Aviation February 1943 p.155

Photo: Lancastrian G-AGWK Star Trail of BSAA Air Pictorial February 1975 p.59

Photos (2): Lancasters HK541 and SW244 with saddle tanks. Air International April 1982 p.192

Photo: Royal Egyptian Air Force Lancaster B Mk.III Air International May 1982 p.245

John Rawlings “Tornado Heritage” Royal Air Force Yearbook 1983 An excellent history of No. 617 Squadron, including a photo of Upkeep-configured Lancaster ED817 and color profiles of another Dams Raid aircraft, B Mk.I (Special) PD133 YZ-P, NX750 WS-V of No.9 Squadron in the White/Black paint scheme, as well as two Lincoln profiles.

Photo: Lancastrian VM732 with outboard Avons, at Farnborough 1948. Aeroplane Monthly September 1986 p.455

“Lancasters by the Hundred – A Test Pilot’s View” RAF Yearbook 1986 Includes a large photo of a B Mk III taking off.

Photo: Lancaster I NF973 of No 149 squadron Aeroplane Monthly February 1987 p.61

Photo: In-flight shot of Lancaster TW911 with outboard Python turboprops Aeroplane Monthly September 1988 p.551

Mike Hooks “Operation Goodwill” Aeroplane July 2006 Chronicles a postwar tour of the US by No 35 Squadron Lancasters

Review: Lancaster B.I/III in 1/72 from Airfix Skymodel 8/06 p.62 Gerd Busse “Lancaster B Mk.III” Skymodel April 2009 p.4-12 Building the Hasegawa 1/72 kit as a Dambuster.

Preview of the Eduard bomb bay and interior/exterior detail set for the Revell 1/72 Lancaster kit Skymodel 19/09 p.46-47

Tony Gloster Review: Revell 1/72 Lancaster Dambuster. Scale Aviation Modeller September 2009 p.224

Jim Winchester Military Aircraft Visual Encyclopedia “Avro Lancaster” p.212-213 Color profiles of Manchester L7316, Dambuster B.III AJ-N, B.I (Special) YZ-Z, a pathfinder B.VI, and postwar GR.III RF325

Bill Gunston Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft of WWII p.80-81 B.III cutaway drawing, color profile of B.I R5868.

Chris Bishop, editor The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare ISBN 0-7607-2770-8 p.261: color profile of Lancaster III G-AHJW converted to a transport

Tony Butler British Experimental Combat Aircraft of World War II p.251: photos of Lancasters HK541 and SW244 fitted with saddle tanks

Phil Butler Air Arsenal North America: Aircraft for the Allies 1938-1945 – Purchases and Lend-Lease p.49: photo of Trans-Canada Lancastrian CF-CNA

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