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Avro 683 Lancaster

The most iconic heavy bomber of World War II.
The four-engined Avro Lancaster heavy bomber was designed and built by Avro for the RAF during the Second World War. Entering service with RAF Bomber Command in 1942, it soon became their main heavy bomber.
 
The origins of the Lancaster are with a twin-engined bomber design submitted to meet Air Ministry Specification P13/36 and the resulting aircraft, the Avro Manchester. Although a capable aircraft, the Manchester proved underpowered by its Rolls-Royce Vulture engines and the type was withdrawn from service in 1942.
 
 Roy Chadwick
Avro's chief designer Roy Chadwick had been already working on an improved Manchester design using four of the more reliable, but less powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engines fixed on larger wings. The aircraft, initially designated Type 683 Manchester III was later renamed the Avro Lancaster.
 
The prototype aircraft (BT308) was assembled by Avro's Experimental Flight Department at Manchester's Ringway Airport and made its first flight on 9th January 1941. It proved to be a great improvement on its predecessor, being ‘one of the few warplanes in history to be 'right' from the start’.
 
Its initial three-finned tail layout was quickly changed on the second prototype (DG595) and subsequent production aircraft, to the familiar twin-finned specification.
 
The Lancaster is a mid-wing cantilever monoplane with an all-metal fuselage. The wings were constructed in five main sections as was the fuselage. All main sections were built separately and were fitted with all the required equipment before final assembly. Initially, it was powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin water-cooled piston engines driving de Havilland Hydromatic three-bladed airscrews and had retractable main landing gear with a fixed tail-wheel.
 
The majority of the aircraft built during the war years were manufactured by Avro at their factory at Chadderton near Oldham, Lancashire. They were then assembled and test flown from Woodford Aerodrome in Cheshire. Others were built by Metropolitan-Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth whilst a number were also produced at the Austin Motor Company works in Longbridge, Birmingham. In later years some were also produced at Chester and Castle Bromwich (both Vickers-Armstrong factories).
 
Utilising a long, unobstructed bomb bay meant the Lancaster could take even the largest bombs used by the RAF, including, the 4,000, 8,000, or 12,000 lb Blockbusters. The versatility of the aircraft was such that it was chosen to equip 617 Squadron, and modified to carry the Barnes Wallis designed Upkeep "Bouncing bomb" for Operation Chastise, the attack on Germany's dams at the Ruhr Valley.
 
Avro Lancaster 683 Mk 1 being loaded (Aircraft now at the RAF Museum Hendon) Avro Lancaster 683 Mk 1 being loaded (Aircraft now at the RAF Museum Hendon)
 
Although Lancaster was primarily a night bomber, it excelled in many other roles including daylight and precision bombing and in the latter role some were adapted to carry the 12,000 lb Tallboy and ultimately the 22,000 lb Grand Slam Earthquake bombs (also designed by Wallis).
 
Postwar, the Lancaster was supplanted as the RAF's main strategic bomber by the Avro Lincoln, itself a larger permutation of the Lancaster.
 
Avro Lancaster 683 B GR MkIII RAF - The last aircraft to see active service with the School of Maritime Recconnaisance  RF325 Avro Lancaster Last aircraft
 
Instead 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 in roles as diverse as photo-reconnaissance and aerial mapping, as a flying tanker for aerial refueling 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 then new London Heathrow Airport.

Variants

Type 683
Prototypes developed from Avro 679 Manchester
B.1                              
The original aircraft were produced with Rolls-Royce Merlin engines and SU carburettors. Minor details were changed throughout the production series such as the pitot head design which was changed from being on a long mast at the front of the nose to a short fairing-mounted probe on the side of the fuselage under the cockpit. Production aircraft had Merlin 22 and 24 engines.
B.1 Special
32 Aircraft were adapted to take first the super-heavy ‘Tallboy’ and then ‘Grand Slam’ bombs and included up-rated engines (with paddle-bladed propellers to give more power) and the removal of gun turrets to reduced weight and give smoother lines.  For the Tallboy, the bomb bay doors were bulged slightly whilst for the Grand Slam, they were removed completely and the area faired over. For some Tallboy raids the mid-upper turret was also removed. This modification was retained for the Grand Slam aircraft and the nose turret was also later removed. Two airframes (HK541 and SW244) were modified to carry a dorsal ‘saddle tank’ with 1,200 gallons (5,455 Litres) mounted aft of a modified canopy for increasing range. No. 1577 SD Flight tested the aircraft in India and Australia in 1945 for possible use in the Pacific but the tank adversely affected handling characteristics when full and an early type of in-flight refuelling (designed in the late 1930’s for commercial flying boats) was later used instead.
PR.1B1 Modified for photographic reconnaissance and operated by RAF No. 82 and No. 541 Squadrons. All armament and turrets were removed with a reconfigured nose and a camera carried in the bomb bay. The type was also operated by 683 Squadron from around 1950 for photographic reconnaissance missions whilst based at Aden and subsequently, Habbaniya in Iraq until disbanded 30 November 1953.
B.1 (FE)
 In anticipation of the needs of the Tiger Force operations against the Japanese in the Far East, a ‘tropicalised’ variant was based on late production aircraft. The B I (FE) had modified radio, radar, navigational aids and a 400 gallon (1,818 Litre) tank installed in the bomb bay. Most were painted with white upper-surfaces to reduce internal temperatures in the tropical sun and black undersides with a low demarcation between the colours, completely omitting any red colours on the national insignia in all cases to avoid confusion with the hinomaru insignia of the Japanese.
B.II Bristol Hercules radial engines (Hercules VI or XVI engines) powered variant of which 300 were produced by Armstrong Whitworth. One difference between the two engine versions was that the VI had manual mixture control, requiring an extra lever on the throttle pedestal. Very early examples were fitted with an FN.64 ventral turret although these were quickly removed due to problems with aiming the turret through its periscope (which prevented the gunner from seeing a target he was not already aiming at) and inadequate traverse speed. Due to the Luftwaffe Schräge Musik attacks, a variety of unofficial field modifications were made. These included fitting of 20 mm cannon or a .50 inch machine gun in the open hole where the FN.64 had been installed, before an official modification called for it to be fitted with a .303 inch machine gun although it was authorised on all aircraft. These were rarely installed on other variants as the ‘H2S radar’ that was normally mounted there. Three types of bulged bomb bay were used on the B.II, the prototype having a narrow bulge running from just aft of the cockpit to the end of the bomb bay, while early production examples had a full width bulge that ran the same length and on late production examples the bomb bay doors were prominently bulged throughout their length.
B.III This variant, which was built concurrently with the B.I and was indistinguishable externally apart from being fitted with Packard-built Merlin engines. The Packard Merlin used Bendix-Stromberg pressure-injection carburettors requiring the addition of slow-running cut-off switches in the cockpit.
B.III Special
Developed for the ‘Upkeep’ bouncing bomb as used for dam-busting Operation Chastise. A chain-driven hydraulic motor gave the bomb its ‘backspin’. Known at the time of modification as the Type 464 ‘Provisioning’ Lancaster, 23 aircraft of this type were built. The bomb bay doors were removed and Vickers-built struts to carry the bomb were fitted in their place at Woodford Aerodrome. Lamps were fitted in the bomb bay and nose for the simple height measurement system which enabled the accurate control of low-flying altitude at night. The mid-upper turret was removed to save weight and the gunner moved to the front turret so that he could assist with map reading.
ASR.III & ASR.3N.III
These were modified air-sea rescue aircraft with three dipole ventral antennas fitted aft of the radome and carrying an airborne lifeboat within the adapted bomb bay. The armament was often removed and the mid-upper turret faired-over, especially in post-war use. Observation windows were added to both sides of the rear fuselage with a port window just forward of the tail-plane and a starboard window into the rear access door. A number of ASR 3 conversions were fitted with Lincoln-style rudders.
GR.3 & MR.3
B.III’s modified for maritime reconnaissance.
B.IV Featured an increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage and new Boulton Paul F turret (two X 0.5in Browning machine guns) with framed "bay window" nose glazing. The prototypes (PW925, PW929 and PW932) were powered by two-stage Merlin 85’s inboard and later by Merlin 68’s on the outboard mounts. Because of the major redesign, the aircraft was quickly renamed Lincoln B 1. B.V - Increased wingspan and lengthened fuselage, two-stage Merlin 85s. Renamed Lincoln B 2B. VI - Nine aircraft converted from B.IIIs. Fitted with Merlin 85/87 which had two-stage superchargers, giving much improved high altitude performance. The B VI could achieve a maximum speed of 313 mph (505 km/h) at 18,200 ft (5,550 m) at 65,000 lb (29,500 kg) take-off weight and a service ceiling of 28,500 ft (8,690 m) at the same weight. Climb to 28,000 ft (8,500 m) at 65,000 lb (29,500 kg) take-off weight was accomplished in 44.8 minutes with a maximum climb rate of 1,080 ft/min (5.5 m/s) at 1,000 ft (305 m). A Lancaster B VI was dived to a maximum indicated speed of 350 mph (565 km/h) or Mach 0.72 at 25,000 ft (7,620 m) in June 1944. The Merlin 85/87 series engines were fitted with annular cowlings (similar to the Avro Lincoln) and three bladed paddle-type propellers were fitted. These aircraft were only used by Pathfinder units; by No. 7 Squadron RAF, No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 405 Squadron RCAF and by No. 635 Squadron RAF. Often used as a "Master Bomber" the B VI's were allocated to RAF Bomber Command apart from two that were retained by Rolls-Royce for installation and flight testing. Their dorsal and nose turrets were removed and faired-over. The more powerful engines proved troublesome in service and were disliked by ground maintenance staff for their rough running and propensity to 'surge and hunt', making synchronisation impossible. This was caused by variations in the fuel/air mixture and over time would damage the engine. The B VI was withdrawn from operational service in November 1944 and surviving aircraft were used by Rolls-Royce, the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Bomb Ballistics Unit (BBU) for various testing and experimental duties.
B.VII Final production version of the Lancaster. The Martin 250CE mid-upper turret was moved slightly further forward than on previous Marks and the Nash & Thomson FN-82 tail turret with twin 0.50 in (12.7 mm) Browning machine guns replaced the FN.20 turret with four Browning .303 Mark II’s. The Martin turret carried two 0.5 inch Browning Mark II machine guns which packed much more punch than the .303s of the older turret. However, these Martin turrets arrived too late for inclusion in the first 50 aircraft built by Austin and these were therefore referred to as Mark VII (Interim). Another 180 true Mark VIIs were built at Longbridge. Two sub-variants of the VII existed, the Far East (B VII FE) for use in tropical climates and the B VII Western Union, which went to France.
B.X Canadian-built B.III with Canadian and US made instruments and electrics. On later batches the heavier Martin 250CE was substituted for the Nash & Thomson FN-50 mid-upper turret, mounted further forward to maintain centre of gravity balance. Canada was a long term operator of the Lancaster, using modified aircraft after the war for maritime patrol, search and rescue and photo-reconnaissance until 1964. During the Second World War, Canada's Victory Aircraft (what later became Avro Canada) was responsible for the development of the Lancastrian, which was duly designated the XPP for Mark 10 Passenger Plane.
B.XV
Lancaster B.IV/Lincoln B.1 but built in Canada and renamed Avro Lincoln XV. One example built before order cancelled when war ended.
 

Specifications (Lancaster I)

Powerplant                     4 × Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V12 engines, 1,280 hp (954 kW) each
Span 102 ft 0 in (31.09 m)
Length 69 ft 4 in (21.11 m)
Maximum Weight     68,000 lb (30,909 kg)
Minimum Weight 36,457 lb (16,571 kg)
Capacity 7: pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer/nose gunner, wireless operator, mid-upper and rear gunners
Maximum Speed 282 mph (246 knots, 454 km/h) at 63,000 lb
Range 2,530 mi (2,200 nmi, 4,073 km)

Number Built

7,377   All marks and variants  

Survivors

Lancaster B.I
(W4783)                      
Australian War Memorial, Campbell ACT 2612, Australia
Lancaster B.VII
(NX622)
Aviation Heritage Museum of WA,  Bull Creek, Western Australia
Lancaster.X
(FM213 / G-GVRA)
Canadian Warplane Heritage Mueum, Hamilton Int Airport, Canada
Lancaster B.X
(FM159)
Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Nanton, Alberta, Canada
Lancaster Mk10.AR
(KB839)
Greenwood Military Aviation Museum, Canadian FB, Nova Scotia
Lancaster Mk10.P
(KB882)
Municipal Airport, City of Edmundston, New Brunswick
Lancaster B.X
(KB944)
Canada Aviation and Space Museum, 11 Aviation Parkway,  Ottawa, Canada
Lancaster B.X
(FM136)
Aerospace Museum of Calgary,  Calgary, Canada
Lancaster B.X
(FM104)
Canadian Air & Space Museum, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Lancaster Mk.10P
(FM212)
Canadian Historical Aircraft Association, Windsor, Canada
Lancaster B.III
(JA914)
German Museum of Technology, Berlin, Germany
Lancaster B.VII
(NX665)
Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland, NZ
Lancaster B.I
(PA474) 
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, RAF Conningsby, UK
Lancaster B.I
(R5868) 
RAF Museum, Hendon, UK
Lancaster B.X
(KB889)
Imperial War Museum Duxford, UK
Lancaster B.VII
(NX611)
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby Airfield, UK                         
www.lincsaviation.co.uk

Other information

Avro Heritage Museum (www.avroheritagemuseum.co.uk
RAF Museum, Cosford (www.rafmuseum.org.uk)
Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre (www.lincsaviation.co.uk)
The Lancaster Archive (www.lancaster-archive.com)
Dambusters Organisation (www.dambusters.org.uk)
The Avro Lancaster Tribute  (www.avro-lancaster.org.uk)