The Lancaster was the supreme heavy night bomber of the Second World War.
Though the frame was staggeringly huge - almost 70 feet long with a wingspan of 102 feet - the aircraft was highly manoeuvrable. After the lumbering heaviness of other aircraft, Lancasters seemed to fly with the lightness of a bird, and pilots transferring onto them were generally ecstatic.
Though their maximum speed was only 287 mph, a tail wind could make the true speed over 400 mph. They handled easily, even when carrying several tons of fuel and explosives. Unloaded, they flew with an easy grace and never liked to stall - pilots had to learn not to overshoot the runways because the aircraft would float forever if the approach speed was too high.
The wartime operational Lancasters would not have remotely looked like the immaculate gleaming specimens in modern-day museums. They were battered, beaten up and tatty. The topmost parts were painted a dull green and brown, but their main colour was a peculiarly soft, dense, absorbent sooty black, designed to give the least possible reflection to searchlights and flares, and to make the massive shape blend better into the night sky.


The Lancaster Bomber
The flying controls were not power-assisted, and it was extremely physically demanding for the pilot to throw his heavy aircraft around the sky when taking evasive action.
 If the plane was hit, the odds of getting out of it were very poor - the G-force could virtually paralyse you, and the escape hatches were not easy to use.
Though in combat the Lancaster looked after its crews better than any other bomber, when mortally wounded it could be a death-trap.
In flight, they shook with massive vibrations, and the noise was absolutely terrific. To those sensitive to airsickness, they had a peculiar sliding motion, like a boat on an ocean swell, and some crew members were routinely sick on every journey. When the pilot made a violent evasive movement, diving hundreds of feet in seconds, even the toughest were inclined to puke.
However, there is not the slightest doubt that the Lancasters inspired great loyalty, and that they deserved all the care and superstitious reverence which were lavished upon them. They were highly manoeuvrable and very robust, able to fly well after considerable battle damage, and there was an undeniable magnificence about them. It is hardly surprising that they were loved.


The interior was painted in a particularly insalubrious bile-green. In several places the ceiling was so low that one could only get about by slithering and contortions.
The fuselage was unpressurised, so above 8,000 feet oxygen masks had to be worn, and when moving from crew position to position portable oxygen cylinders had to be carried. Nor was the aircraft heated effectively, and the temperature could fall so low that frostbite of the hands and feet could result.



The Pathfinder Year - 97 Squadron at Bourn