Avro 683 Lancaster Bomber
Avro 683 Lancaster Bomber Factfile:
Type: Heavy Bomber
Crew: 7 – Pilot, flight engineer, wireless operator, navigator, mid-upper & rear gunners and bomb aimer
Length: 69 ft 6in (21.18 m)
Wingspan: 120 ft (31.09 m)
Height: 20ft (6.10 m)
Engines: Four 1,640-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V12 inline piston engines
Maximum Speed: 287 mph (462 km/h)
Cruising Speed: 210 mph (338 km/h)
Altitude: 24,500 ft (7470 m) service ceiling
Range: 2,530 miles (4072 km)
Weight: empty 36,900 lb (16 738 kg) to 70,000 lb (31 751 kg) with payload
Armament: Eight Browning .303 (7.7 mm) machine guns. Comprising four in the tail turret, two each in the nose and dorsal turrets.
One 22,000 lb (9979 kg) bomb or 14,000 lb (6350 kg) smaller bombs & incendiary devices.
Operators: RAF (Royal Air Force) RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force)
Number produced: 7,377 in total
History Of Avro Lancaster Bomber:
The Avro Lancaster was designed to find a replacement for the poor performing Avro 679 Manchester bomber built in 1939. This twin-engine medium bomber was found to be under-powered with its pair of 1,760-hp (1312-k W) Rolls-Royce Vulture engines and handling was difficult. Roy Chadwick led the team at Avro to design a four-engine version of the Manchester powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.
The original Manchester airframe (BT308) was modified making the wings larger and powered by four 1,145-hp (854-k W) Rolls-Royce Merlin X engines and keeping the triple tail assembly of the Manchester. The prototype took its maiden flight on 9 January 1941. Although successful, it was agreed that performance would be much improved if the triple tail assembly was changed to the twin fin and rudder configuration the Lancaster is well known for today.
A second prototype with some modifications was tested at Boscombe Down on 13 May 1941 and fitted with Merlin XX engines. The extended wings and new engines made handling a dream for an aircraft of its size, and by Christmas 1941, No 44 Squadron at Waddington, Lincolnshire took delivery of the first three production Lancaster Mk 1’s (re-designated Lancaster B.Is)
Early Lancaster production was at Chadderton in Oldham and Yeadon, Leeds. But the success of the plane meant other companies had to help keep up with production. These included; Armstrong Whitworth, Coventry, Austin Morris, Birmingham, Vickers Armstrong, Chester and Bromwich and Metropolitan Vickers, Manchester. So many Lancasters were being built in the early war years that the threat of not enough Merlin engines could cause a serious problem. (Merlin-engines were also used in Spitfires and Hurricanes) This was overcome by Packard in the USA stepping in to help with engine production.
On 26 November 1941 a new prototype (the Lancaster II or B.II) was fitted with Bristol Hercules 1,735-hp (1294-k W) VI or XVI radial engines. Produced by Armstrong Whitworth, Coventry, No. 61 Squadron at Syerston Nottingham took the first batch of B.II’s in 1942.
Although Lancaster BII’s slowly replaced squadrons flying the BI’s, the Hercules-powered ‘Lancs’ as they affectionately became known, fell short of the standards set by the BI’s. The Hercules-engine was slower than the Merlin and not such a great altitude could be reached. Crucially, they had a 4,000 lb (1814 kg) less bomb load. Only 301 BII’s were built until production at the Armstrong Whitworth factory in Coventry changed back to building BI’s.
Several versions of the Merlin-engined Lancaster appeared; the 1,280-hp (954-k W) Merlin XXs & XXIIs and the 1,620-hp (1208-k W) Merlin XXIV.
The bomb bay was modified to carry increasingly sized bombs, as bomb development raced to gain the upper hand in WWII. A typical bomb load would be a single 4,000 lb (1814 kg) bomb and 12 incendiaries or 15 x 1,000 lb (453 kg) bombs. Then came 8,000 lb (3629 kg), 12,000 lb (5443 kg) ‘Tallboy’ and the gigantic 22,000 lb (9979-kg) 25 ft long ‘Grand Slam’ earthquake bomb. Only Lancasters were capable of carrying such weights in WWII.
Lancasters sporting the Packard-built Merlins became known as B.III’s. B.I’s and B.III’s were produced at the same time in the assembly lines and to even add more ‘Lancs’ to Britain’s war effort, Victory Aircraft at Malton Ontario Canada started to build Lancasters in 1942, which were named B.Xs. The first B.X arrived in the UK on 6 August 1943 and 430 were built.
Never making it into production, the Lancaster B.VI was powered by Merlin 1,635 hp (1219-k W) engines. The dorsal and nose turrets were removed and the aircraft housed state of the art (for the time) radar and electronic countermeasures equipment to operate ‘pathfinder’ sorties.
The last production version of the Lancaster was the B.VII built by the Austin motor company, Longbridge, Birmingham. The main difference from earlier versions, was that the English Nash & Thompson dorsal gun turret was replaced with the American-built Martin gun turret, which was mounted closer to the middle of the aircraft for better balance. This boasted two 0.50-in (12.7-mm) guns.
Special Note On The Avro Lancaster Bomber:
For the Dambuster raid, Dr Barnes Wallis modified the Lancaster B.III by taking the bomb bay doors off to allow room for his famous bouncing bomb. Also, the front turret was removed and spotlights fitted to the underside of the wings to mark the correct height for releasing the bomb (60 ft).
The Lancaster holds a special place in most people’s hearts, taking center stage in the ‘Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’. Statistically speaking, the Lancaster flew more sorties than any other aircraft in WWII (156,000) and dropped more bombs – totaling 608,612 tons (618380 tonnes) and over 51 million incendiaries.
Copyright, Andrew 2013
Photograph courtesy of (c)JWardPhotography.co.uk