Avro Lancaster

For expectant spectators at airshows across the country, the deep, unmistakable hum of the Avro Lancaster's Rolls-Royce Merlin engines announces the start of her flying display. The crew of the Avro Lancaster produce an evocative and emotive flying display that pays tribute to the men and women of the Royal Air Force who died in the service of their country.

What type of aircraft is the Lancaster?

The Avro Lancaster is a military aircraft that met an Operational Requirement specification for a "medium bomber for world-wide use". The aircraft needed to carrying a 4,000lb payload, at a minimum speed of 275mph, at a height of 15,000ft over a range of 3,000 miles.

Who designed and manufactured the Lancaster?

The Avro Lancaster was designed by a team at A V Roe (Avro) & Company Limited led by Roy Chadwick. Avro was founded in 1910 in Manchester by Alliott Verdon and Humphrey Verdon Roe. The company produced many well-known aircraft including the Avro 504, Avro Lincoln and Avro Vulcan. The company also developed missle technologies after the Second World War. The company merged with Hawker Siddeley Aviation in July 1963. Roy Chadwick was born on 30 April 1893 and joined Avro in 1911. He was a prolific designer, responsible for 504, Lincoln and Vulcan. He died whilst testing a prototype Avro Tudor II which crashed on take-off on 23 August 1947. Lancaster aircraft were produced at a number of sites by different manufacturers, including Metropolitan-Vickers and Armstrong-Withworth, and also under licence by Victory Aircraft in Ontario, Canada.

What is the specification of the Lancaster?

The Avro Lancaster is a four-engined bomber, powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin piston engines. Versions were also built with Bristol Hercules engines and Merlin engines manufactured under licence by American company Packard. The Lancaster has a distinctive shape, with a nose bubble and glass cockpit at the front and a twin tail with oval fins and rudder at the rear. The Lancaster was defensively armed with 8 machine guns in total, mounted two in the nose, two in the upper turret and four in the rear turret. The aircraft carried a crew of seven: pilot, flight engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator and upper and rear gunners.

What is the operational history of the Lancaster?

Number 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron was the first RAF Squadron to be equipped with Lancasters, from December 1941, and at RAF Conginsby in Lincolnshire in January 1942. By the end of the Second World War over fifty squadrons operated Lancasters. The Lancaster was operated in Europe and the Far East. The most significant and famous operation flown by Lancaster, was operation Chastise. Flown by 617 Squadron, based at RAF Scampton, it was a raid on the Ruhr Dams in Germany. Specially modified aircraft capable of carrying Barnes Wallis' "bouncing bomb" attacked the Möhne, Eder, and Sorpe dams on the night of 16/17th May 1943. Led by Guy P Gibson, the Möhne and Eder dams were breached and the Sorpe damaged; fifty-three members of 617 squadron failed to return. Towards the end of World War 2 the Lancaster was equipped with increasingly large bomb loads. Lancaster aircraft dropped the 12,000lb Tallboy and 22,000 lb Grand Slam earthquake bombs - both designed by Barnes Wallis - against key strategic targets including railway bridges, viaducts and submarine pens. Production ceased in February 1946, although the aircraft was operated laterly in maritime surveillance and reconnaissance roles in France and North America. Four aircraft were converted to a civilan role with British South American Airways.

Why is the Lancaster an aviation icon?

Bomber Command's Sir Arthur Harris believed that the Avro Lancaster "surpassed the other heavy [bomber] types" during the Second World War. Bomber Command lost 3,431 aircraft and an estimated 21,000 Lancaster crew. In total 55,573 members of RAF Bomber Command gave their lives so that we could live our own. Flying as part of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, the Avro Lancaster ensures that we will never forget.

Where can I see a Lancaster aircraft?

There are seventeen, recorded, complete Lancaster airframes known to be in existence. Of these, there are two airworthy examples. The first is BBMF Lancaster PA474 based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom. The second is Lancaster Mk X FM 213 of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum based at Hamilton International John. C. Munro Airport, Mount Hope, Ontario, Canada. She carries the markings of Lancaster Mk X KB 726 VR-A of 419 "Moose" Squadron. Lancaster, NX611 "Just Jane", based at East Kirby Airfield in Lincolnshire, is in taxiable condition. Static examples can be seen at a number of museums, Lancaster R5868 is at the RAF Museum London and Lancaster KB889 is at Imperial War Museum Duxford.


ManufacturerA V Roe Ltd (United Kingdom)
DesignerRoy Chadwick
Aircraft typeMilitary heavy bomber
Length69ft 5in
Wingspan102ft 0in
Height19ft 7in
Weight36,828lb (empty)/63,000lb (loaded)
Ceiling height23,500ft
Engines4 x Rolls-Royce Merlin XX piston engines producing 1,280hp
Range2,700 miles

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  • Avro Lancaster PA474
  • Avro Lancaster PA474
  • Avro Lancaster PA474

Facts and Figures

  • 7,377 Lancaster aircraft were built between January 1941 and February 1946
  • The Lancaster's large payload was the 22,000 lb Grand Slam earthquake bomb
  • Lancaster aircraft flew 156,192 sorties during the Second World War
  • Lancaster aircraft dropped 608,612 tons of bombs in raids on enemy territory
  • 91 civilian Avro Lancastrian aircraft were built between 1943 and 1945
  • 35 Lancaster aircraft flew more than 100 sorties in the Second World War
  • Lancaster ED888 completed 140 sorties, the most by any Lancaster
  • Lancaster G-AHJV flew 3,445 miles from London to Bermuda non-stop in May 1947

Further Reading