Avro Lancaster

Avro Lancaster

Avro Lancaster, England, 2002
RoleHeavy bomber
Crew7—pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, mid-, upper and rear gunners
First flightJanuary 9, 1941.
Entered service1942
Length69 ft 5 in21.18 m
Wingspan102 ft31.09 m
Heightft in5.97 m
Wing areaft²120.8 m²
Emptylb16,705 kg
Loaded63,000 lb28,636 kg
Maximum takeofflbkg
Engines4 Rolls-Royce Merlin XX piston engines
Power1,280 hp954 kW
Maximum speed280 mph at 15,000 ft448 km/h at 5,600 m
Combat range2,700 miles with minimal bomb load4,320 km with minimal bomb load
Ferry rangemileskm
Service ceiling23,500 ft8,160 m
Rate of climbft/minm/min
Wing loadinglb/ft²kg/m²
Guns8 x Browning 0.303 in (7.62 mm) machine-guns in three turrets
Bombsnormal 14,000 lb (6,350 kg)
special versions 22,000 lb (10,000 kg)

The Avro Lancaster was a four-engined World War II bomber aircraft made initially by Avro for the Royal Air Force. 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-time bomber; unlike the Halifax, it was not used during the war for duties other than bombing.

The original design was for a twin-engined heavy bomber powered by Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. The resulting aircraft was the Avro Manchester, which proved a disappointment due to the unreliability of the Vulture. It was withdrawn from service in 1942 with only 200 aircraft built.

The chief designer of A. V. Roe, Roy Chadwick, switched to a design using four of the more reliable Rolls-Royce Merlin engines which resulted in an aircraft initially designated the Type 683 Manchester III. Renamed the Lancaster, it made its first test flight on January 9, 1941, and proved to be a great improvement on the Manchester. Most of the original Manchesters were rebuilt as Lancasters.

The majority of Lancasters during the war years were manufactured by Metropolitan-Vickers, Armstrong Whitworth and A.V. Roe. The Avro was also produced at the Austin motor works in Longbridge later in World War II. Only 300 of the Mk II with Bristol Hercules engines were made. The Mk III had newer Merlin engines but was otherwise identical to earlier versions; 3030 Mk IIIs were built, almost all at A.V. Roe's Newton Heath factory. Of later versions only the Canadian-built 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.

Lancasters from Bomber Command were to have formed the backbone 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.

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) or for special targets the 21 feet (6.4 m) long 12,000 lb (5,448 kg) 'Tall Boy'. Towards the end of the war, attacking hardened targets, the 'Special B' Lancasters could carry a single 25.5 feet (7.77 m) long 22,000 lb (9,979 kg) 'Grand Slam' or 'Earthquake' bomb. This required modification to the bomb-bay doors. (Note: the exact weight in kg of 'Tall Boy' and 'Grand Slam' bombs differs according to source. The figures above are the most common.)

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:

- H2S - Ground looking navigation radar system - though it could be homed on by German night fighters' NAXOS receiver and had to be used with discretion.

- Monica - a rearward looking radar to warn of night fighter approaches - a notable disaster, transmitting constant warnings of bombers in the same formation it was ignored by crews and instead served as a homing beacon for suitably equipped German night fighters.

- Fishpond - an add-on to H2S that provided additional (aerial) coverage of the underside of the aircraft to display attacking fighters on the main H2S screen.

- GEE - A receiver for a navigation system of synchronized pulses transmitted from the UK - aircraft calculated their position from the phase shift between pulses. The range of GEE was 3-400 miles.

- Oboe - a very accurate navigation system consisting of a receiver/transponder for two radar stations transmitting from the UK - one determining range and the other the bearing on the range. As the system could only handle one aircraft at a time it was only fitted to Pathfinder aircraft which marked the target for the main force. Later supplemented by GEE-H, similar to Oboe but with the transponder on the ground allowing more aircraft to use the system simultaneously. GEE-H aircraft were usually marked with two horizontal yellow stripes on the fins.

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 sinking '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.

Two Avro Lancasters remain in air-worthy 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 FM 213 of the Canadian Warplane Heritage museum.

Two Lancasters with extensive combat histories in Australian Squadrons have survived as static exhibits. S for Sugar of 463/467 Squadron RAAF flew 135 operational sorties, and is now on display at the RAF Museum, Hendon. G for George of 460 Squadron RAAF flew 90 operational sorties, and is now on display at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

External links

Related content
Related development Avro York
Similar aircraft
Designation series

652A - 679 - 683 - 685 - 688 - 689 - 691

Related lists

List of aircraft of the RAF

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

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