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Avro Lancaster Heavy Bomber / Reconnaissance (1942)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/2/2014

The Avro Lancaster was the definitive heavy bomber of the British cause during World War 2 - considered by many to be the best of the entire conflict.

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The Avro Lancaster went on to become the most important British heavy bomber or World War 2. Interestingly, its success was born from the failure of the Avro Manchester bomber - a twin-engined heavy bomber first flown in July of 1939 and adopted in November of 1940. The type was hampered by unreliable engines that led to only 202 examples being produced in all. The Lancaster was born from this failed design to include different engines set along a revised wing. The prototype version was nothing more than a revised Manchester complete with its triple vertical finned tail unit - the key difference lay in the selection of the Rolls-Royce Merlin X series inline piston engines of 1,145 horsepower each. Within time, the triple-finned tail unit was given up in favor of the standard twin rudder arrangement common to the Lancaster history.

In its prototype form, the Lancaster went airborne for the first time on January 9th, 1941. With World War 2 in full swing and the British commitment extensive, the prototype was quickly handed to Boscombe Down for formal evaluations. Development was so speedy that a production-quality form was airborne as early as October 1941 and the series, upon passing its requisite trials, was adopted for operational service in February of 1942, quantitative orders forthcoming. Early production versions were born for Manchester airframes still on Avro lines and inducted into RAF service as the Lancaster B.Mk I.

With production in full swing, the Lancaster was immediately placed into frontline action. Each aircraft required a standard operating crew of seven to include the pilot, bombardier, navigator, flight engineer, radio operator, dorsal gunner and rear gunner. Each man was specifically trained for their respective positions about the craft that ranged from the nose to the tail. The bomb bay was given much of the central internal volume. The flight deck consisted of a heavily glazed canopy with conventional seating and controls. The nose was equally glazed over to provide the bombardier and his equipment unfettered views of the action ahead and below. The undercarriage incorporated two main landing gear legs (single wheeled) with a tail wheel at rear. Outwardly, the Lancaster followed the same design style of other British bomber aircraft of the war, nothing beautiful but full of business. Original Lancasters showcased a bomb bay initially intended to carry up to 4,000lbs of ordnance. During the height of the war, a typical Lancaster set off with approximately 14,000lbs of conventional drop bombs and eventually even fielded the massive 22,000lb "Grand Slam" bombs (their size forced the bomb bay doors to be removed altogether).

Beyond its bomb load out for its offensive armament, the Lancaster was outfitted with no fewer than 8 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns for self-defense across three Frazer-Nash hydraulically-powered turrets at the nose, dorsal spine and tail. Two were installed in a nose/chin turret and operated by the bombardier. Two were fitted to the dorsal turret at amidships along the fuselage spine. Four were installed in a powered tail turret at the extreme aft of the aircraft. Unlike its American brethren, the Lancaster lacked a belly turret and beam waist gunners for additional defense and utilized a smaller-caliber machine gun type (as opposed to 0.50 caliber). At one point, the thought of adding a belly turret was entertained but never followed-up.

The need for capable Lancasters was such that its production was tied to other much-needed aircraft meaning that there proved a near-shortage of available Merlin engines threatening manufacture. To supplement stocks of Rolls-Royce Merlins, the American concern of Packard was brought into the fold to produce the same powerplant in the United States (under license). In extreme circumstances, the RAF took on Lancasters fitted with Bristol Hercules VI/XVI radial piston engines of 1,735 horsepower. As Melin engines themselves evolved so too did the various Lancasters coming off the assembly lines - new mounts included the Merlin XX, 22 and 24 series.


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Specifications for the
Avro Lancaster
Heavy Bomber / Reconnaissance


Focus Model: Avro Lancaster B.Mk I
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: Avro (AV Roe) / Armstrong Whitworth - UK
Initial Year of Service: 1942
Production: 7,377


Crew: 7


Length: 69.49 ft (21.18 m)
Width: 102.00 ft (31.09 m)
Height: 20.01ft (6.10 m)
Weight (Empty): 36,901 lb (16,738 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 69,999 lb (31,751 kg)


Powerplant: 4 x Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V12 water-cooled, inline piston engines generating 1,280 horsepower each.


Maximum Speed: 287 mph (462kmh; 249 kts)
Maximum Range: 2,529 miles (4,070km)
Service Ceiling: 24,508 ft (7,470 m; 4.6 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 0 feet per minute (0 m/min)


Hardpoints: 0
Armament Suite:
STANDARD:
2 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns in nose turret
2 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns in dorsal turret
4 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns in tail turret

OPTIONAL:
4,000lbs to 22,000lbs of internal ordnance or specialized mission equipment (22,000lb Grand Slam, 12,000lb Tallboy or 9,250lb Upkeep bombs).


Variants:
Type 683 - Initial Avro Model Designation


Mk I - Initial Prototype and Production Model Designation (1941); two prototypes completed.

B.Mk I - Redesignated from 1942 onwards; definitive production model; 3,425 examples completed.

PR.Mk I - Photo-reconnaissance variant based on the Mk I sans armament.

B.Mk I (FE) - Tropicalized Far East variant of the Mk I

B.Mk II - Fitted with Bristol Hercules VI/XVI radial engines; 300 produced by Armstrong Whitworth.

B.Mk III - B.Mk Is fitted with American Packard Merlin engines; 3,039 produced.

ASR.Mk I - Air-Sea Rescue Platform

GR.Mk III / MR.Mk III - Maritime Reconnaissance Platform

B.Mk IV - Lengthened fuselage with increased wingspan; fitted with Bouton Paul turret and 2 x 0.50 caliber Browning machine guns; mixed Merlin 85 and 68 engine configuration; redesigned nose; becoming the Lincoln B.Mk I.

B.Mk V - Lengthened fuselage with increased wingspan; Merlin 85 engines; becoming the Lincoln B.Mk II.

B.Mk VI - B.III conversions with Merlin 85/87 supercharged engines.

B.Mk VII - Final production Lancaster variant; Martin dorsal turret with 2 x 05.0cal Browning machine guns moved forward along spine; 2 x 0.50cal Browning heavy machine guns at tail turret.

B.VII (FE) - Far East Variant

B.VII (Western Union) - French-bound Mk VIIs

B.Mk X - Canadian-produced Lancaster B.III

B.Mk XV - Canadian-produced Lancaster B.IV (Lincoln B.Mk I).


Operators:
United Kingdom