Two pictures from Johnny Johnson’s flight over Scampton and the Derwent Dams this morning. (1) Sqn Ldr GL Johnson, MBE DFM, dressed in a flying suit preparing to board PA474. © R Bartlam
(2) PA474 approaching RAF Scampton © H Ellsworth
Twenty-four hours later than planned, George ‘Johnny’ Johnson was a passenger in the BBMF Lancaster this morning when it flew from Coningsby at about 0800. The Lancaster’s route took them over Scampton and the Derwent Dam before landing again at Scampton about an hour later. Johnny flew in the bomb aimer’s position, just as he did when he took off from Scampton 75 years ago yesterday on the Dams Raid.
The flight was postponed from yesterday by weather conditions. The fact that Johnny was always scheduled to be a passenger was a very well-kept secret, as it was feared that if it became known he was going to be on board the traffic problems would have been even worse.
More to follow
Tomorrow’s flight down Derbyshire’s Derwent valley by the BBMF Lancaster is likely to be called off, official BBMF sources say. However, Dambusters Blog understands that there is a possibility that the flight is simply being postponed, and may take place on Thursday 17 May – but only if weather conditions allow.
More information to follow.
The BBMF Lancaster flying over the Ladybower Dam in 2008. [Pic: MoD/Wikimedia]
The worst-kept secret of the events to commemorate the 75th anniversary off the Dams Raid is out! It has been officially confirmed today that the BBMF Lancaster will perform a flyover at the Ladybower Dam in the Peak District’s Derwent valley on Wednesday 16 May at approximately 12.05pm. In April and May 1943, the reservoir and dam were one of the training locations used by 617 Squadron in the run up to the Dams Raid.
The Lancaster will fly over RAF Scampton and then move on to the Derwent valley. It will perform two passes over the dam before going on to fly over Chatsworth House, the Rolls Royce plant in Derby and the Eyebrook reservoir in Leicestershire.
The authorities are keen to inform you that this event is of course weather-dependent, and in the event of cancellation due to inclement conditions there will not be another date.
Traffic congestion is expected to be very high, and members of the public are urged to use public transport if possible as private car parking will be very restricted. Previous events at the dam have resulted in traffic jams lasting up to six hours. Note that the nearest rail station is at Bamford, 2 miles from the dam (wear walking boots).
There is more information on the BBMF Facebook page. This does not say which base the Lancaster will be using on the day, but it is likely to be its home station of RAF Coningsby.
A little later this morning the Mynarski Lancaster, affectionately known as VeRA, will take off from RAF Coningsby and begin the long journey home to Hamilton, Ontario. Its stay in the UK is over, but it has left an indelible memory with its many appearances alongside its cousin from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The last six weeks have seen the world’s only two flying Avro Lancasters make stately progress through the skies at airshows and other events up and down the land. The public has responded by turning out in their thousands at each event, thrilled to see the pair and experience at first hand the roar of eight Merlin engines.
Where better to make a final appearance together than flying down the Derwent valley in Derbyshire? In the spring and early summer of 1943, the Ladybower Dam was one of those used by the newly formed 617 Squadron as it practised low flying over water for the Dams Raid. It has become a traditional place for salutes to those who took part in the Dams Raid and the other aircrew of Bomber Command, 55,000 of whom were to die during the Second World War. They hailed from all parts of the UK, and from many other countries both inside and out of the Commonwealth. Chief amongst these were the Canadians, who provided 30 of the 133 aircrew who flew on the Dams Raid.
Last Sunday afternoon, the pair flew down the valley together and made three passes over the dam. Flying as a passenger in VeRA was 90 year old Sydney Marshall, a wartime member of 103 Squadron, who is a volunteer guide at the BBMF. A report about his experience is on the BBC website, here. There was also good coverage in the Telegraph and the Mail.
Most remarkable of all, is this video, shot from inside the BBMF Lancaster by Tim Dunlop (one of the flight’s Lancaster pilots), and also available on Youtube:
Have a safe journey home, VeRA, and many thanks for taking the trouble to visit and provide so many people with so many memories this wonderful late summer season.
Yesterday morning dawned bright and clear across most of Britain and Ireland, but apparently not in deepest darkest Lincolnshire. This must have caused great despondency amongst the planners at the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby because yesterday, Saturday 6 September, was the first day in a weekend which had been scheduled for months to be the one of the busiest for the world’s last two flying Lancaster bombers. One of these (nicknamed Thumper) belongs to the BBMF and lives at Coningsby, the other (Vera) is owned by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, and has been over in Britain for the last month visiting its cousin and participating in a number of joint displays. Crowds up and down the country have oohed and aahed as the pair have swooped low over wartime airfields. Black tie dinners have been held under their wings. Grown men have been seen in tears.
But yesterday, all flying had to be cancelled as it was far too foggy and wet for the pair to be allowed to take off. Much consternation up and down the land. Twitter was abuzz. Facebook was full of queries.
Fortunately, there is nothing that our chaps in the services like more than a challenge. Could they shoehorn most of the BBMF’s scheduled appearances over two days into one busier-than-ever Sunday? Well, of course they could. Here is a map showing just how much of northern England, southern Scotland and northern Ireland the elderly pair covered just this afternoon. Bear in mind they had done a similar loop between 0900 and 1300 this morning.
From my point of view, I was particularly pleased that the hour taken to fly the two Lancasters and their Spitfire escorts across the Irish Sea to display to a huge crowd on Portrush Strand had remained in the schedule. This was the only chance that anyone living on the island of Ireland would have to see them – and their appearance this side of the water was a fitting tribute to the hundreds of aircrew from north and south who had served in the RAF during the Second World War. One of these was a native of Derry, rear gunner Richard Bolitho, who took part in the Dams Raid and was killed when his aircraft, piloted by Bill Astell, collided with a pylon near Marbeck in Germany, en route to the Möhne Dam.
Richard Bolitho on the left, pictured with colleagues during his gunnery training. [Pic: Bate family]
Was it worth the 300 mile round trip to spend 15 minutes on a beachfront staring into the sky at two aircraft built some 70 years ago? Like hell it was. It was a chance to connect with my family’s history as well as that of the nation, and to reflect on both. The Lancaster bomber has rightly become a symbol of the triumph of freedom over tyranny in a war whose shared memory is now fading from view, as those who fought in it – or even recall it – pass on. Long may this elderly pair soar in the skies – above our islands, and also above the vast Canadian plains and mountains. It was a privilege to see them both on this day, 7 September 2014, and many thanks are due to all those who made it possible.
More pictures from today at Airwaves Portrush from the organisers, Coleraine Borough Council.
There was a report on BBC East news last night on the first flight together by both Lancasters. They took off from Coningsby on two occasions and flew several practice manoeuvres. The first scheduled public appearance is at Eastbourne Air Show at 1500, later today and on other days this week. Also at the Combined Ops Show, Flying Proms (Shuttleworth), Herne Bay Air Display and Sywell Great War Airshow later this week.
Slowly and sedately, as befits its mature years, the Canadian “Mynarski” Lancaster, VR-A, is making its way to Britain. It left its home base in Hamilton, Ontario, on Tuesday, a day later than intended after some engine problems. But after a night on the far edge of Canada, in Goose Bay, Labrador, it has skipped past Greenland and landed in Iceland. It is expected to arrive at RAF Coningsby, the home of the BBMF and its Lancaster, at 1.30pm on Friday. Over 100 Bomber Command Veterans are expected to be in attendance as special guests for the arrival.
The Lancaster belongs to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum and is a Mk X model built in July 1945. It is dedicated to the memory of Plt Off Andrew Mynarski and is referred to as the “Mynarski Memorial Lancaster”. It is painted in the colours of his aircraft KB726, coded VR-A, which flew with RCAF No. 419 (Moose) Squadron. Andrew Mynarski won the Victoria Cross on 13 June 1944, when his Lancaster was shot down in flames, by a German night fighter. As the bomber fell, he attempted to free the tail gunner trapped in the rear turret of the blazing and out of control aircraft. The tail gunner miraculously survived the crash and lived to tell the story, but sadly Andrew Mynarski died from his severe burns.
Shortly after arriving, the Lancaster will undergo a scheduled maintenance inspection and then the Canadian crews will complete a short training programme with the BBMF. The two Lancasters will participate in several air displays together starting on 14 August.
VR-A will leave the UK on 22 September.
The full schedule can be found here.
Lancaster fans in Britain are in for a treat this summer as the Canadian ‘Mynarski’ Lancaster heads over to the UK in August. The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario revealed today that it plans to fly its vintage Avro Lancaster to England in August. Together with the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, it will be involved in a month-long flying tour in the UK before returning home in September.
The Lancaster is scheduled to leave Canada on 4 August. The five-day transatlantic trip to England is being done in four to five-hour hops, with refuelling and rest stops in Goose Bay, Labrador; Narsarsuaq, Greenland; and Keflavik, Iceland. It will land in Coningsby, home of the BBMF, on 8 August and start a schedule of display flights in the UK on 14 August, flying out of Humberside Airport. According to the Canadian broadcaster, CBC:
The last time Lancasters flew together was 50 years ago over Toronto, at RCAF Station Downsview. The RCAF flew a special formation of three of the bombers in April 1964 to mark their retirement from service. The sight of two Lancasters flying in formation once more is a “once in a lifetime opportunity, something that will never happen again,” said Al Mickeloff, spokesman for the museum in Hamilton, which owns the Canadian Lancaster. “We don’t expect to ever do another trip like this.”
Hamilton’s WWII bomber, known as the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster, is an Avro Mk X built in 1945 at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ont. Used to train air crews and later for coastal patrols and search-and-rescue work, it was retired in 1963. The museum bought it in 1977 for about $10,000 and a team of volunteers restored it and returned the plane to the air on Sept. 24, 1988.
Museum president and CEO David Rohrer said he and the RAF have talked about the possibility of bringing the planes together for more than a decade, but serious discussions started just a few months ago – partly because both groups wanted to do something to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI and 70th anniversary of D-Day this year. The RAF wanted to arrange a formation flight before its own Lancaster is grounded next year for a planned overhaul. The Hamilton Lancaster was at a perfect point in its maintenance cycle to take on a trip like this, so the museum sent a planning team to the U.K. in January. “A window of opportunity was identified to bring the last two flying Lancasters in the world together in tribute to the crews who flew it, the people at Victory Aircraft who built it, and all the veterans of the war,” Rohrer told CBC News. “We always would have regretted it if we hadn’t tried our best to make this happen when the window presented itself.”
Mickeloff said big audiences are expected at appearances in the U.K., pointing out that the BBMF is a military plane and off-limits to the public, whereas the museum’s Lancaster is a flying exhibit that people can get up close to and even book a flight on. “We are going to give the general public that same access in the U.K. – access that they’ve never had to a Lancaster before. They’ll be able to get right up to it.” “It’s a real honour to be invited to fly with the Royal Air Force,” Rohrer added. “It’s a recognition of the confidence they have in the museum, and in the talent and dedication of the staff and volunteers, that they’re willing to be our host.”
The exact UK schedule will not be released for sometime, but you can bet the crowds will be enormous whenever the two aircraft make a joint appearance. Great news! [Hat tip: Paul Morley]
The BBMF has at last announced that there will be a Lancaster flyover at Derwent Reservoir (the Ladybower Dam) on Thursday 16 May between 1300 and 1315. However, access will be severely restricted – no tickets are being issued, parking is severely limited, and the roads will be closed if they become overly busy. See here for full details. The Lancaster flyover will be followed by modern day Tornadoes from 617 Squadron.
The aircraft, which are expected to comprise the Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane (although this is not specified), will then fly on to Chatsworth at 1320 where, the RAF is keen to tell you, there is plenty of parking (costing £3 per vehicle) and opportunity to take pictures. This may well be the better option unless you are willing to spend a lot of time either hiking cross country to the dam or waiting in very long traffic queues.
More details about other Dambusters 70th anniversary events will be posted here tomorrow.