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History of the Lancaster


Avro spite of the triple tail fins and twin engines, the similarity to the later Lancaster is obvious


    The story of this great aircraft got off to a very inauspicious start.

    Due the political climate of the mid 1930's, the British Air  Ministry began to think of developing a long range bomber similar to the much-publicized American Boeing 299.(The ancestor of the B-17). This led to two sets of specifications being issued. The first of these, B.12/36,  rather conservatively, called for four engines and a slight increase in performance over the Boeing design. This would lead to the Stirling.

     The other specification, P.13/36, called for a medium-heavy to heavy bomber. It was to be very fast, with a cruising speed of 275 mph, achieving this by means of a high wing loading. New engines under development were to be used, some 2,000 horsepower per unit was expected to be available. The bomber  was to have a range of  3,000 miles carrying a load of  of 4,000 pounds. A major innovation was to be power operated gun turrets which had just been perfected.

    The A.V. Roe Company was selected to develop this prototype. The concept, by Roy Chadwick, Avro's chief of design was good except for one serious problem. This was the choice of powerplant...The Rolls Royce Vulture. 

    The Vulture was supposed to be a replacement for the the very successful Rolls Royce Merlin engine. No one dreamed that the Merlin would serve right through the war, eventually producing as much as 2,000 hp. At the time, it was thought that the Vulture would be the new 2,000 hp class of powerplant. It was a very complex 24 cylinder X type design, based on four  Rolls Royce Peregrine Engines connected to a common crankshaft. 

    This untried engine never did put out enough power. The resultant Manchester twin engine airframe would rapidly lose altitude on one engine......and engines frequently failed, often totally. They had the further annoying habit of sometimes bursting into flames while they did so.

    By 1941, due to the desperate need for heavy bombers, several squadrons were operating the aircraft,..... needless to say, without much success. Frequent problems caused frequent groundings.

Manchester Specifications

TYPE: Heavy Night Bomber


POWERPLANTS: two 1750 hp Rolls Royce Vultures

DIMENSIONS: Span: 90' 1"; Length: 69' 4 1/4"; Height: 19' 6"

PERFORMANCE: Maximum speed: 265 mph @ 17,000 feet; Service ceiling: 19,200 '; Range: 1,630 miles

ARMAMENT: two Browning .303 machine guns in the nose turret, two .303's in the dorsal turret, four .303's in the tail turret; Maximum bomb load: 10,350 lbs.

Finally!....Birth of the Lancaster

CWH by Lance Russwurm

    Fortunately, however, by this time the solution to the problem was becoming apparent. Merlin engines, built under license by Packard,  were suddenly available in large numbers, because of the unexpected speed and quantity of American production.

    The basic design of the airframe made it easy to convert it into a four engined Merlin configuration. It consisted of many bolt together sub assemblies. Chadwick put in a new wing and centre section to take the four Merlins. This one was a winner. Originally planned to be the Manchester III, it was decided that a new name was in order to reflect the vast change in performance. The Lancaster was born.

    Although detail modifications were numerous, the aircraft changed very little in any fundamental way during its service life. Its major components, due to their modular construction could be easily changed in service. Its wing was rather slender for a bomber of the time, certainly a factor in its high performance.

    The central portion of the Lancaster airframe was extremely strong. At its heart was a floor that ran the length of the section. This not only added great strength but it formed the roof of the bomb bay, upon which bombs of up to ten tons could be slung. The extreme uninterrupted length of this area is the reason that only Lancasters were capable of dropping the giant "Earthquake" bombs used later in the war. These 22,000 pound monsters would reach supersonic speeds during their descent and could punch right through the sixteen foot thick reinforced concrete roofs of German sub pens and other installments.

    The airframe didn't change much, but new bombsights, electronic counter measures and  navigation aids, along with the use of pathfinder squadrons,  vastly improved the efficiency of  bombing operations. Crack squadrons, especially the 617 "Dambusters",  used Lancasters to achieve pin point accuracy and great fame in the destruction of  dams, sub pens, NAZI rocket sites, ships and other vitally important targets. 

    A ventral turret on earlier versions was deleted when it became apparent that the British bombing successes were due to night missions and stealth rather than defensive armament as on the American B-17 daylight bomber.

    The only visibly different version was the Lancaster II which was powered by four 1,650 hp Bristol Hercules VI or XVI engines. This was done as an insurance against the continuing supply of Packard built Merlins. Some 300 of these were built, but performance wasn't as good as that of the Merlin version.

    Nine of the 32 Victoria Crosses awarded to airmen in the war went to Lancaster crew members. (see also: The Andrew Mynarski Story)

Lancaster Specifications

TYPE: heavy Bomber

CREW: seven or eight

POWER PLANTS: four 1280 hp Merlin XX (Mk I); four 1650 hp Bristol Hercules VI or XVI radial engines (Mk II); four 1300 hp Packard-Merlin 28 (Mk's III and X); four 1750 hp Rolls Royce Merlin 85/102 (Mk IV)

DIMENSIONS: span: 102'; length: 69' 4"; height: 20' 6"

WEIGHTS: empty: 36, 457 lb (Mk's I, II and X) loaded: 72,000 lb (with 22,000 lb bomb)

PERFORMANCE: maximum speed: 287 mph (Mk's I, III and X); Service Ceiling: 22,000 ft; Range: 2500 miles

ARMAMENT: two Browning .303 machine guns in nose turret, two madchine guns in dorsal turret, four Browning .303 machine guns in tail turret or two .50 calibre machine guns in the tail. Up to 18,000 lb of bombs, onw 12,000 lb bomb or one 22,000 lb bomb if modified

Victory Aircraft, Canada

     In 1940, Britain turned to Canada in her time of need as a place to build aircraft out of the reach of German bombers. The National Steel Car Corporation's new plant in Malton, Ontario was chosen for the location. This company had been building Westland Lysanders, wings for Handley Page Hampdons and were involved in one capacity or another with Ansons, Harvards, Yales, Hurricanes and Martin Marauders.

     The need for heavy bombers was considered paramount and the Lancaster was chosen as the best design. The initial order was to be for not less than 250 machines. The engines were to be American Packard built Merlins. The Canadian Lancs, known as the Mk X's, were similar to the British Mk III's but Canadian or American radios, instruments and ball bearings were used. A new efficient wiring system was also fitted. 

    In August, 1942, a Lancaster Mk I was flown over from England to be used as a tool making pattern. 

     Due to management problems, in November 1942, the company was declared a crown corporation by the government and was re-named "Victory Aircraft", later to become A.V. Roe Canada Limited or Avro Canada.

The first Canadian prototype KB700, named "The Ruhr Express" was flown on August 1, 1943.

     Ultimately, 430 Lancaster X airframes were completed before the war's end. Peak production in the first quarter of 1945 reached one aircraft a day with a peak work force of 10,000 people. The last one emerged from the factory in September, 1945.





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