Surprisingly the Avro Lancaster was not wanted by the Air Ministry and almost didn’t come into existence.
Its predecessor, the two engine Avro Manchester was a semi-failure (more on that in another post) so its designer made plans for a four Merlin V-8 engine, Manchester III - renamed the Lancaster. Resources were scarce and the RAF already had the Halifax so Avro was told to ‘go dig for it’ when they requested aluminum alloy for the prototype.
With the persistence of Avro, friends at Rolls Royce providing engines, and engineers scrounging enough metal, they produced a prototype which became the most famous and most successful WWII night bomber.
The Lancaster had an impressive performance and load carrying capacity and was the only WWII aircraft able to carry the 22,000 pound ‘Grand Slam Earthquake’ bomb which could destroy a whole street. This bomb was so expensive that only 41 were ever dropped and crews were forbidden to jettison them. Special landing gear for overweight landings and bellied-out bomb-bay doors were fitted to the Lancaster’s that carried the ‘Grand Slams’.
These big bombers were surprisingly agile with their standard corkscrew evasion maneuver being a combination of near aerobatic banks, wingovers and max-performance climbs and descents. They could even manage barrel rolls and loops with one Luftwaffe pilot reporting that a Lancaster evaded him by doing a loop.
Conditions were tough for their 7 man crew; the heating system cooked some and froze the rest, protective armour plating was minimal to keep weight down, and the three gun turrets for the 8 - 10 x M1919 Browning machine guns were exposed and cramped. The crew survival rate for hit Lancaster’s was low.
7,377 ‘Lankie’s’ were built with the first mission in March 1942, it’s most famous ‘Dambuster’ operation taking place in May 1943, and the final mission in April 1945. They delivered 608,612 tons of bombs in 156,000 sorties. Over half those produced were shot down and 55,573 crew men were killed as a result.
Today only 17 Lancaster’s remain in the world with two able to fly, one in Canada and one in England.
Sadly, the mighty Lancaster isn’t available to fly in our Flight Simulators.
By Royal Air Force official photographer, Miller (Flt Lt) - http://media.iwm.org.uk