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Words: Phil Bonner, Development Officer, Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire and Alice Kirstiansen
Featured in the August 2014 issue

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It was on Christmas Eve 1941 that the Lancaster first entered into service with the RAF, with 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington.

With its four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and increased bomb load the aircraft was a vast improvement on the Squadron’s twin-engined Hampden bombers. Just four months later, six Lancasters from 44 Squadron accompanied by a further six from 97 Squadron at RAF Coningsby carried out a daring low-level daylight raid to Augsburg, the furthest place in Germany that Bomber Command had targeted.

For that raid Squadron Leader John Nettleton was awarded the Victoria Cross; the Lancaster legend had been born to be further enhanced by the Dambusters Raid. Not only did the Lancaster enter service in the county; there were over thirty Lancaster squadrons that operated from airfields in Lincolnshire during World War Two.

A total of 7,377 Lancasters were built in the United Kingdom and Canada but today there are only a handful remaining and only two of these are airworthy. Many of our readers will be familiar with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Lancaster PA474. Built at the Vickers Armstrong Broughton factory near Chester, it rolled off the production line in May 1945, too late to see service in the war. The aircraft is now a familiar sight in the skies over Lincolnshire, often accompanied by a Spitfire and Hurricane.

At the Lincs Aviation Heritage Centre one can also see Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ which was built at the Austin Motors factory at Longbridge, Birmingham in April 1945 but did not see operational service. The aircraft was purchased by Fred and Harold Panton in memory of their brother Christopher, who lost his life flying with Bomber Command. ‘Just Jane’ can still taxy under the power of her four Merlin engines and the Centre attracts many visitors on taxy days.

Soon there will be the roar of another four Merlins in the skies of Lincolnshire. On Friday 8th August the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Lancaster will touch down at RAF Coningsby where it will join the only other airworthy Lancaster in the world – that of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – having set off from Hamilton, Ontario four days earlier. The transatlantic route is similar to the wartime route flown by Lancasters on ferry flights during World War Two.

The Canadian Lancaster was built at the Victory Aircraft factory in Malton, Toronto in July 1945, one of 430 Lancasters built in Canada. The aircraft flew in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as a maritime patrol aircraft with 405 Squadron. Although many Canadians flew with Bomber Command in Lincolnshire, there was no Canadian Lancaster squadron in the county.

In 1943 Number 6 (RCAF) Group had been formed, controlling Canadian bomber squadrons primarily in Yorkshire and the surrounding area. The cost of the Group was borne primarily by the Canadian government and thirteen Canadian squadrons flew Lancasters in the Group. It was with one of these Canadian squadrons that Christopher Panton lost his life.

The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s Lancaster is displayed in the colours of 419 (Moose) Squadron as the ‘Mynarksi Memorial Lancaster’. Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski was a Canadian mid-upper gunner whose Lancaster was attacked by enemy fighters and set on fire. He desperately attempted to save the life of the rear gunner and subsequently died as result of the burns he received. For his bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Although the two Lancasters will not be displaying together here in Lincolnshire, a full list of flying events for the Canadian Lancaster can be found at http://www.warplanet.com/lancaster-2014-uk-tour.aspx Please also check the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitor Centre website http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/bbmf or telephone 01522 782040 to find out if there are any opportunities to see the Lancasters together at Coningsby.

LANCASTERS WILL MAKE EXTRAORDINARY SPECTACLE
The location and appearance of the county make it the perfect place to base Royal Air Force stations, so it’s no surprise that Lincolnshire is set to host one of the most exciting aeronautic events of the century.

Today, Lancaster bombers are a rare sight. The two historical bombers which are still airworthy will be brought together over August and September of this year to provide amazing spectacles for the general public.

One of these rare and beautiful planes is Avro Lancaster PA474, which is owned by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), and is based at RAF Coningsby. PA474 was originally built to carry out strategic bombing raids in the Far East, but was not needed after the end of the war with Japan. The bomber has instead been used for photographic reconnaissance duties, as a pilotless drone, and has appeared in several films before eventually being transferred to BBMF in 1973 and restored to airworthiness the same year.

Being one of the only airworthy Lancasters in the world, PA474 takes part in many air shows in the UK – including the hugely popular Waddington Air Show – and it is often a wonderful feeling for members of the public to see such a magnificent piece of history adorning the sky above their heads.

This August, Lancaster PA474 will be taking part in a much more unusual and exciting event, touring UK air shows with the only other airworthy Lancaster in the world, which is flying over to pay a visit to England.

Avro Lancaster KB726 is owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and is based in Mount Hope, Canada. The plane served with Search and Rescue operations under Maritime Air Command and was acquired by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in 1978 and restored to airworthiness ten years later, in 1988. Lancaster KB726 will leave for the UK on 4th August 2014, and, if all goes to plan, will arrive in Lincolnshire on 8th August. The bomber will make several stops in Canada, Iceland and Greenland, before arriving at RAF Coningsby, where it will be greeted by over 200 RAF veterans to kick-off the celebrations.

Over the next two months, the Lancaster bombers will appear together at over twenty-five air shows in the UK, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for thousands of spectators. These shows will help to raise money to go towards the restoration of a third Avro Lancaster, NX611, which is based at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (LAHC). Although she is not yet able to fly, NX611 (or ‘Just Jane’ as she is known by many) provides taxy runs on the runway of the LAHC to visitors of the museum. The Heritage Centre has said that it would love to restore this wonderful Lancaster to airworthiness, and hope that these events will gather the funding they need. There is a news page on their website with information about the ongoing restoration, how you can donate, and the Canadian Lancaster visit.

Although ‘Just Jane’ is not yet airworthy, she will not be left out of the celebrations. A very special event will be taking place at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in September, which will see all three Lancasters brought together for the first time since the 1950s. Unfortunately, tickets for this event are now sold out.

The events of this summer are set to be a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in the Lancaster bomber, World War Two enthusiasts, or even families looking for a fantastic day out. Avro Lancasters are a rare sight, especially airborne, and so the performances of Lancaster PA474 and KB726 will be an extraordinary experience for spectators.

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