Rare Lancaster bomber returns home to Edmonton

A rare Lancaster bomber, one of the few remaining in the world, will come home to Edmonton after spending 50 years on the other side of the country.

After service in Europe, aircraft was modified to map the Canadian Arctic

This Lancaster bomber, KB-822, is one of the last of its kind in the world and will soon return to Edmonton, where it flew missions to explore northern Canada after the war. (City of Edmundston)

It flew over the dangerous skies of Europe in the Second World War.

It cruised over the Arctic, revealing secrets about the Canadian north.

And it spent decades resting in a place of honour on the other side of the country, admired as one of the last of its kind.

Now, a few pounds lighter and many years older, a vintage Lancaster bomber will be making its final trip home to Edmonton.

“It’s way more than just an aircraft or an artifact. It’s like a time capsule,” said Lech Lebiedowski, curator of the Alberta Aviation Museum.

The crew got out, closed the door and it’s sat there like that ever since.-  Lech Lebiedowski, Alberta Aviation Museum curator

“This hardly ever happens. Usually, we deal with wreckage.”

The massive heavy bomber, built in Ontario, is one of the last surviving Lancasters, often referred to as the bomber  that won the war for the allies. Twenty metres long and able to carry 10,000 kilograms of explosive, it was the largest heavy bomber in the Commonwealth fleet.

Of the 7,000 built during the war, only 17 remain  including KB-882.

One of the few Lancasters built in Canada, KB-882 started its life in an Ontario factory in 1944. It was moved to Britain, where it flew 11 missions during the war.

After the end of the Second World War, the bomber found a new life in Edmonton. It was modified, upgraded with powerful new SHORAN radar and given a new mission: exploring the Canadian north.

KB-882 flew out of Blatchford Field for years, taking photographs and making detailed maps of the Arctic, before being retired in 1964. Soon after, it made its final flight, to the city of  Edmundston​, N.B. which purchased the craft for $1,600 and put it on display outdoors.

There, KB-882 stayed for the next 50 years. Lebiedowski said it avoided the fate of the other Lancasters, many of which were modified, damaged or looted. Instead, it remained in its post-war condition  making it a valuable part of aviation history.

“The crew got out, closed the door and it’s sat there like that ever since,” he said.

"As I can tell, this is the only Lancaster in the world which is practically intact.”

From Edmonton to Edmundston, and back again

Although it was well-cared for in its new home, KB-882 still shows its age. Corrosion has damaged the plane. Supporters in New Brunswick tried to raise money to shelter the beloved plane, but finally decided to find a new home for it. On Wednesday, Edumdston’s city council approved the transfer of KB-882 to the aviation museum in Edmonton.

Lech Lebiedowski, the museum's curator, says KB-822 is a rare historical find, and possibly the only Lancaster in the world in its post-war condition (CBC)
“While it saddens us that she must go, we are pleased to have found a safe home for KB 882. This Lancaster has an impressive story to tell, and we firmly believe the Alberta Aviation Museum will be able to give her a voice,” Mychèle Poitras, chairwoman of the Society for the Preservation of the Edmundston Lancaster, wrote in a release following the decision.

To Stan Randall, the museum is a fitting place for KB-882. As a member of the 408 Squadron, Randall flew in Lancasters after the war. He said if it wasn’t for planes like KB-882, the task of mapping out northern Canada would have been much more difficult.

“It was cold and noisy,” he said.

“They were great planes … It was the only plane that had the range and could hold the equipment.”

The next task is to take the bomber apart so it can be shipped to Edmonton by rail. Once it arrives at the museum, KB-882 will be reassembled and restored to the condition it was in when it flew over the Arctic.

Lebiedowski admits that it will be a time-consuming and expensive restoration to repair the damage done from years exposed to the elements. But once it is finished, it will become the centrepiece of the museum’s collection, where Lebiedowski hopes it will help people in Edmonton connect with aviation history.

“It is an iconic plane. Having it in Edmonton would be very important to the aviation community, and to the public as a whole.”