So after an aborted attempt on the Saturday, my flight in one of only two flying Lancaster Bombers in the world went off on Sunday and yes, it was all that and a bag of chips. It was in short, utterly awesome. A truly unique flying experience, which I’ll get a bit deeper into under the video.
No matter how much you read about the experience of bomber crews you can’t appreciate how drafty, cold and bone deep noisy these aircraft are. Even with my ear plugs jammed a deep in my ears as I could get them, you can’t hear anything anybody else says to you over the roar of the engines. The only thing between you and them is about twenty feet and some 20 gauge Aluminum. A metal which does a fantastic job of transmitting heat away from you. We never got above 2000 ft and it was pretty chill. The standard service ceiling was 23,500 ft where it sits at around -5C on a good day. My flight was one hour a regular bombing mission was at least eight. I could move around a bit, regular crew were stuck in their assigned positions and if you were in the tail, it had to be the loneliest place on Earth.
So it’s cold, it’s drafty, it’s loud and it smells because a good chunk of the Merlin exhaust seeps into the fuselage. Add to that the real lack of windows and a rough ride and you get a pretty good recipe for being airsick. Now I knew this was a real possibility for me as my gut and negative G of any type have never really done well together and this ride was bouncy enough that it became a concern about halfway through. I’m lucky that I’m tall, I was able to jam my shoulders into the gun yolk on the top turret to stop from being bounced around too much but once I was down in the beast’s belly, I was fair game. Which is why the video up to the cockpit looks so bouncy. But don’t think I’m being negative about the experience, I loved every second of it and it was over much too soon (though my stomach probably felt different about that than my brain).
I have a whole new appreciation for what my Grandfather’s did. The one who kept them flying and the one who never made it home (Solomon Seward, KIA 1943). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to the tail gun position during the flight. I’m willing to bet my Grandfather was a fair bit lighter than me (probably smaller too) but it was enough to see just how far back in the fuselage that turret sits. The nose is also off limits but more because of the requirement for a copilot. Unless you got in there at the start of the flight, you’re not getting in their at all, though I bet it’s a heck of a view.
The Lancaster is a lot more nimble than I’d have thought. Our pilot did a fair bit of chucking it around the sky and I’m pretty sure we buzzed every small airport in our flight path, one of which you can see in the video. I guess to some it might seem extravagant to do something like this but as my wife put it, I’d never even think of buying something like this for myself which is why she did it and as Ted, one of the great volunteers at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton put it. All of us on the flight have a link to the past which propelled us to do it.
So if you have the scratch and the inclination, I’d highly recommend it.