On 9 January 1941, Avro test pilot, Captain Harry “Sam” Brown, made the first flight of the prototype Lancaster, BT308, at RAF Ringway near Manchester.
A development of the twin engine Avro Manchester, the prototype was designed by Roy Chadwick, the Chief Designer of A.V Roe & Company Limited, and was powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. The aircraft was originally designated Type 683 Manchester III, but was renamed Avro Lancaster after the first flight.
The Lancaster provided much needed performance and stability. Based on its immediate success in test flights a decision was taken to change twin engine bomber squadrons to the Lancaster as quickly as possible. Some of Avro’s later orders for Manchester bombers were converted to the Lancaster design. Both aircraft had some identical design features, such as the same distinctive cockpit, turret nose and the twin tail, which helped with the conversion of the orders.
Although considered to be a capable aircraft in most areas, the twin engine Manchester was troubled by the unreliability of its Rolls-Royce Vulture engines. In April 1941, all Manchesters were temporarily grounded due to a higher than expected number of engine bearing failures. Then in June, a second grounding was ordered due to continuing engine troubles. Rolls-Royce eventually stopped work on the Vulture engine design in 1941 and concentrated on their more reliable Merlin design.
Did you know? Several different Marks of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine also powered the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and de Havilland Mosquito
A grand total of 7,377 Avro Lancasters were built. At the peak of production 27 Lancasters were completed every week thanks to the simplicity of Chadwick’s design.
The aircraft went on to carry the brunt of the night bomber war in World War II. In May 1943 it was used by 617 Squadron to carry out Operation Chastise, more famously known as the Dambuster Raids.
The Avro team’s ability to innovate was such that, just 11 years later in August 1952, the Avro team that created the 200kt, 20,000ft Lancaster flew the prototype 500kt, 50,000ft Vulcan. Sadly, Roy Chadwick died in a crash of the Avro Tudor 2 prototype in August 1947, so never saw what is probably his greatest creation fly. His role as Chief Designer was taken over by Stuart Davies.