Lancaster Q&As
answered by BBMF Bomber Leader, Flt Lt Neil Farrell

On the 7 May 2020, the RAF Museum partnered with Royal Air Force Coningsby and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) to share 360 cockpit images on our Facebook page, of both the RAF Museum Lancaster R5868 and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster PA474.

Although the basic cockpit layout is the same, the BBMF example now features a dual control layout and revised instrumentation. This exclusive look inside the cockpits allowed our social media followers to compare the subtle differences between both aircraft, and the chance to ask BBMF Bomber Leader, Flt Lt Neil Farrell questions.

RAF Museum Lancaster R5868 Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster PA474

We received hundreds of comments and questions and below are Flt Lt Neil Farrell’s answers to the most frequently asked:

1. Why are the throttles in both planes at full power?

PA474’s throttles are only in this position at the moment because the aircraft is undergoing maintenance. All prop type a/c of this era will be at full power during take-off. For the Lancaster this is 3000 RPM and plus 7 or plus 9 inches of boost depending on the length of runway. This power setting is not for continuous operation and the Lancaster is quickly throttled back to 2400 RPM and 4 inches of boost.

2. Why does the Museum’s Lancaster only have single control?

(An answer given in the comments by a Facebook follower: “PA474 didn’t have dual controls when I worked on her back in ‘67-‘69 at Waddington. She was in standard operational configuration. The dual controls are actually a training set up with two control wheels feeding into the single control column. It has nothing to do with it being delivered too late for the war in Europe or modification for the Pacific theatre, the BBMF have simply re-rigged it in the training configuration – presumably because they want to fly it with two pilots for safety reasons.”)

This is correct. The only person to land the Lancaster is the captain in the left-hand seat. The dual controls for the co-pilot work fully but the seat is not considered sturdy enough to fly the aircraft in critical stages of flight, i.e. take-off and landing. We expose new pilots to this seat to learn the procedures and how a display sequence works etc. The co-pilot can also fly the a/c to and from displays giving the captain a rest. The co-pilot is also able to pilot the a/c during flypasts at public events.

3. What is the Lancaster like to fly?

Very nice to fly. Perfectly balanced and straightforward. Given its vintage, it is very stable (the point of a bomber!) yet has a pleasing roll rate when assisted by a boot-full of rudder to get the turn going. We fly it nowhere near the weights used during the war (approx 68000lb). We rarely get above 48000lb, so it is quite nimble. There isn’t really much to go wrong, it is a very clever design and ergonomically sound. However, as with all tail-draggers it is difficult to taxi and land. You can argue that all great aircraft want to be in the air and not the ground. This is certainly true of the Lancaster. It is very difficult to taxi as the huge rudder will want to turn the aircraft in any crosswind. You are not able to lock the tailwheel as you are with the Dakota, so you are constantly using differential breaking to keep straight. Easier than it sounds!!! The controls get very sloppy and the control inputs get bigger. It is very easy to ground-loop a tail-dragger, which is why our cross wind limits are so low.

4. What is the Lancaster like to fly considering her size and weight?

Most of this is answered above. What I will add is how noticeable the a/c is during take-off at higher fuel loads. There is a much more noticeable forward push required on the control column to raise the tail.

5. Does PA474 still have that distinctive old aeroplane smell?

Yes it does. They all have a distinctive smell from that period. When you walk into the hangar with the doors shut, we often remark, “That is the smell of the 1940’s.”

6. Is the Lancaster still flight worthy? Can’t help but notice its absence recently.

Yes, she is, and we hope to fly her at some point soon.

7. The RAF museum states both aircraft are an early and later version of the Mk l model the museum example being the original construction this example first flying in June 1942 and the other Mk.l being first up in May 1945…so AVRO did not move through consecutive Mk. numbers for this type as they upgraded or modified as time progressed?

Avro did move through consecutive Mk. numbers for the Lancaster but the basic design (i.e. the Mk.I) remained substantially unaltered throughout the type’s production. A batch of 300 Bristol Hercules powered Mk.II’s were built but the main production variants – and produced concurrently – were the Mk.I and Mk.III, the latter differing from the former principally through the installation of American built Packard Merlin 28 (and later the Packard Merlin 224) engines. The proposed Lancaster Mk. IV and Mk.V featured a longer fuselage, higher aspect ratio wing and more powerful engines, this development was so significantly different to the original design that it was renamed the Lincoln.

A small number of Mk.III’s were converted into Lancaster Mk.VI’s powered by two-speed, two-stage supercharged Rolls-Royce Merlin 85 or 87 engines driving four bladed propellers. The Mk.VI’s did not feature a nose or dorsal turret and were fitted with the latest H2S radar plus special radar jamming equipment.

Martin mid-upper turrets (with two .50 machine guns) became available in April 1945 and these were incorporated into what became the Lancaster Mk.VII, 180 of which were manufactured exclusively by Austin Motors. The Mk.VII was essentially a Mk.I incorporating Mk.I and Mk.III modifications but with the Martin mid-upper turret placed further forward (38ft. 5.5 in. from tip of nose to centre of turret) and in lieu of the Frasher Nash mid-upper turret featured on the Mk.I and Mk.III.

Finally, Lancasters produced in Canada were designated Mk.X.

8. In the Museum Lancaster l see there is a sideways seat position behind the pilot’s armour backed seating position. Was that for the Flight Engineer’s position as l see what looks like the Radio Officer’s position with the equipment there for radio operation?

This seat is for the Navigator’s station. The radio operator is a bit further down the length of the a/c but on the same side. The Navigator also operates the radio in the BBMF Lancaster.

9. I have seen an example in one photo looking forward toward the cockpit, within an early Lancaster, (from the U.K. 1970 book: Lancaster ) showing the Flight Engineer kneeling on a sideways folding ‘dickey seat ‘ as he looked toward the Pilot Officer. Were these not standard as l noticed in the Museum aircraft, this type of seating not there – a clear galley way through beside the pilot?

The “dickey seat:” was, as far as I know, standard and it can be easily folded away when not in use, allowing a clear way forward and down to the bomb aimer’s position. It was there for the Flight Engineer to assist the pilot during take-off and landing as he would move the throttles etc. BBMF use this as the seat for the co-pilot now.

10. What is the age difference between these 2 aircraft and are there any big differences between the two (layout inside etc)?

They were built three years apart, R5868 in June 1942 and PA474 in May 1945. We plan to bring you further 360 photos so you can see other differences through the rest of the aircraft.

11. When will PA474 be painted with different markings next and can you give us a clue on the new name she will adopt when this work will be due?

The next major maintenance is likely to be 2025; the paint scheme has not yet been decided.