Even to the inexperienced eye the Lancaster, Britain's newest and fastest large four-engine bomber, looks good and is good. It not only is fast, but also extremely maneuverable, in spite of its size and weight. Fully loaded it weighs 60,000 lb. Its span is 102', length 69½', and it stands 20½' high. The vast bomb bay can carry well over six tons of bombs, which is bad news for Germany's war factories.
In combat, the Lancaster can give a good account of itself. This was significantly proved by the reluctance of enemy fighters to engage Lancaster bomber formations of the RAF flying by daylight to Milan and Le Creusot. These long range daylight missions are without fighter escort. The trick of flying in tight formation, learned from American crews, helps solidify the defense.
Normally, a Lancaster carries three power-operated turrets, which can bring guns to bear on any target within a wide range in a matter of. split seconds. These turrets give the Lancaster a total armament of eight 0.303-cal Browning machine guns, firing over 8,000 rounds per minute. An additional power turret can be fitted to the underside of fuselage, bringing the total armament, to ten machine guns.
Four underslung Rolls-Royce Merlins of over 1,200 hp each give the Lancaster its speed.
Feats of Lancaster aircrews in making raids far into enemy territory by day and night have thrilled the world. But without the efforts of ground crews and engineers, putting all their "know how" into insuring success, these raids would have been impossible.
Here is how Flight Sgt Ketley of Southampton, who is the non-commissioned officer in charge of maintenance for a flight at a Lancaster station, describes the ground crew's work.
Last Night's Damage First
"If there has been any damage to the aircraft in sorties the night before, we get a full report on it from the flight engineer. That has to be put right first of all. It may be just a few bullet holes to be patched in the wings, or we may have to change a complete engine, which will usually take us all of 48 hr. When there's a push on, the ground crews work in 12-hr shifts till the job is done.
"In addition, every aircraft must undergo a complete inspection every day before it is allowed to take off. We know how much depends on this, and we do make it a complete check. It takes a ground crew about 3 hr, each trade giving their own items a meticulous inspection.
"Everything that can go wrong is examined for faults. Electrical services, airframe controls, gasoline systems, radio equipment, instruments, automatic pilot, hydraulics, and guns and ammunition feeds all have to be gone over with care, and in addition the engines must have a minute and special inspection.
"Finally we run up the engines on the ground, trying out the hydraulics to flaps and turrets. It isn't till we're sure that everything is as perfect as we can make it that we hand the Lancaster over to the aircrew.There is Still the Air Test
"Before a Lancaster takes off for an air test, in preparation for the operational trip, the aircrew go through a complete routine cockpit drill, each member checking every item of the equipment, in his charge, and reporting to the first pilot that all's well, or the contrary. Even then, it is the duty of the first pilot to make his own check, for the final responsibility is his.
"Then everything is tried out in the air, with the flight engineer keeping check as on a regular flight."
Sgt A Garden of Keith, Scotland, is a flight engineer who has completed eight operational trips in a Lancaster. He describes thus his share in keeping a Lancaster in the air
"In my compartment I keep check on how all the engines are behaving. During an air test I keep a log of all the readings, and compare gasoline consumption with engine revs and the boost. Then I try out every combination of fuel systems, switching over to each tank in turn to insure that everything is in order.
"On an actual trip I still have much the same job, watching oil pressures and temperatures of coolant and engines not that anything often goes wrong but sometimes one gets hit by flak. As soon as I see signs of trouble. I either nurse that engine along, or if it's really bad I feather the propeller so it no longer turns over. Or if a tank is punctured by enemy fire, I switch all the engines over to it to drain it before the others."
If no one else realizes just how much depends on the engineers and ground crews, certainly the pilots do, for their lives depend on the conscientious care given to this work.
After the Milan raid one pilot said: "My kite Leo has been this week to Le Creusot and Milan that's two long trips in daylight but I never had to worry about craft or engine. Nice job from the ground lads!"
This article was originally printed in the April, 1943, issue of Aviation magazine, vol 42, no 4, pp 217, 399.
The original article includes 4 detail photos of service on a Lancaster