Tag Archives: WWII

“Once in a Lanc-time” opportunities

As we come barreling into August (seriously, where did the summer go?!) we are fast approaching what has been my most anticipated aviation event of the summer.

Tomorrow, Aug 4th, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum‘s Lancaster Mark X begins a journey that no Lancaster has undertaken in decades.  At 10am local time, the Lancaster’s 4 Merlin engines will roar down the runway in Hamilton, ON and propel the aircraft on the first leg of a journey that will take it across the North Atlantic to England.  Once in England, the Canadian build Lancaster Mk X will join its long lost cousin, the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight‘s Lancaster B I. Together they will fly to 2 months of airshow dates throughout Britain.

The significance of this trip is heightened by the fact that these 2 aircraft are the only airworthy examples of their type. They are the sole representatives of an airframe that was, and continues to be, such an iconic part of the RAF’s bomber fleet and of the Allied bomber offensive in Europe.

When Americans think of World War 2 bomber aircraft, without fail, the first airplane (and many times, the only) that most will mention is the Boeing B-17. No doubt that the B-17 has earned its legendary place among aircraft. It certainly is a powerful, graceful, and capable airframe. Due to many factors that include some good marketing and a plethora of references in popular culture, many Americans would be led to believe that the B-17, with a little help from its friends, spearheaded the allied bombing campaign in Europe. In fact, the B-17 wasn’t even the most produced American heavy bomber in Europe, that honor goes to the B-24.

For the good people of Great Britain and her Commonwealth nations, the Lancaster holds a similar place in their hearts that the B-17 does to those of the Americans.

Brought into service in Europe at roughly the same time, the Lancaster was the iconic bomber of Britain’s Bomber Command. Not as heavily armed with defensive firepower  as it’s American counterparts,  (the Lancaster was armed with the standard British armament of .303 machine guns, while all of the American heavy bombers carried the heavier M2 .50 cal for defensive firepower) the Lancasters flew at night to help minimize their exposure to anti aircraft artillery and enemy fighters. Even with the added cover of darkness, Bomber Command’s losses were just as staggering as the losses of the American 8th Airforce, which was also based out of England.

The Lancaster could carry a significantly heavier payload of bombs than could the American heavy bombers, and with just a little modification (engine upgrades and removal of defensive armament), the Lancaster was able to deploy the 22,000 lb Grand Slam bomb. The most a B-17 was realistically able to carry was less than half of this amount.

These days, the Lancaster is carrying a less deadly cargo. The CWHM’s Lancaster allows passengers to experience what it was like to fly in one of these powerful and majestic aircraft. This in itself is an awesome experience , but for this occasion, the CWHM thought of something even better…

In order to help raise funds for the trip to England, the CWHM has auctioned off the chance to join the crew on their crossings of the Atlantic. I was sorely disappointed when the bidding quickly outpaced anything that I could afford, even in my wildest dreams (which is good for them, not so good for me!). The winning bid went for about $79,000.00 and has given a once in a lifetime opportunity (and probably the last opportunity of it’s kind, ever) to one lucky Englishman. In addition to the ride to England, the CWHM has also mentioned that they will be putting  up an auction for the trip back to Canada, (I suppose I’ll have to start a crowdfunded campaign to be able to bid on a seat) so there will be at least one more lucky member of the public who will be able to have this experience.

I would love to be able to make it to England and attend some of the airshows where these 2 aircraft are going to be performing together. As that in and of itself is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The gravitas of this whole event is expressed very well in this radio interview conducted by the BBC’s William Wright.

I look forward to seeing updates from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and hopefully many pictures and videos of these two beauties in England.

Who knows, maybe one day the RAF BBMF will return the favor and bring their Lancaster across the Atlantic and tour North America (yes, I know, the pipe dreams of a poor #avgeek, but a boy can dream cant he!)

So to the CWHM’s Lancaster and crew I wish you a hearty Bon Voyage on your tour,  and as always, until next time

Clear skies and tailwinds.

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Death and Resurrection

It is a sad, but unavoidable fact that every day we lose more and more of the “Greatest Generation”.  According to the National WWII Museum, approximately 555 WWII veterans die every day.

Yesterday we lost one more, Major Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk.

Maj. Van Kirk was the navigator of the B-29 Enola Gay. He was the last surviving member of the first air crew to release a nuclear weapon in combat (one of only 2 crews to ever have).

There has been much debate in the 69 years since the Enola Gay left Tinian that August morning regarding the use of atomic weapons against the Japanese nation.  No matter how you personally feel about that decision, there is no doubt that the men of the Enola Gay and the other flight crews and squadron personnel of the 509th Composite Group changed the world.

They were aviation pioneers that, with their service and sacrifice, helped put an end to WWII and in the same broad stroke ushered in the Nuclear Age, and subsequently the Cold War (with all that came with it, good and bad).

I had the pleasure of being around the National Museum of the Air Force when Maj. Van Kirk came to deliver a lecture in 2012. The buzz surrounding his visit was palpable. The transcript of his lecture is available on the NMUSAF website, and is definitely worth the read, as is the biography that was published around the same time called My True Course  written by Suzanne Simon Dietz.

It seems as a society we have been swept away in all that the modern age has to offer and more and more we seem to take for granted the men and women of the “Greatest Generation.” Now, more than ever,  we need to make sure that we listen to and catalog all of the stories and all of the hard earned lessons that we can from these men and women before it’s too late.

As I was sitting down to write today, I did see a piece of news that brings me hope: The restoration specialists at the National Air and Space Museum have completed another milestone in their restoration of the HE-219 Uhu.

When completed, the Smithsonian’s HE-219 will be the only example of that airframe anywhere in the world. The fuselage and engines are already on display at the Udvar-Hazy center (I must confess that I cannot wait until the complete aircraft is on display, the Uhu has always been one of my favorites). This wonderfully eccentric night fighter will help to tell the story of the battles in the dark over Europe during the Allied air offensive against Nazi Germany. It is definitely one of those aircraft that catches people’s attention, and as such, it is wonderful to see it getting the TLC that it needs to make it whole again.

In the midst of reading about the sad news of Maj. Van Kirk, it gives me hope to know that there are many people all over the world working hard to preserve aviation history for generations to come. We may be losing the “Greatest Generation,” but with all of the hard work that countless people put in around the globe to resurrect the aircraft of their era we can rest assured that their legacy is going to live on in perpetuity. Through the aircraft (and other artifacts), we can connect with those that designed, flew, and maintained them, past, present, and future.

Until next time,

Clear skies and tailwinds.