Canada's last airworthy Lancaster to leave for U.K. tour

Canada's last airworthy Lancaster bomber is set to take off Monday for a U.K. tour with the only other operational aircraft of its kind.

Vintage plane to join only other operational bomber of its kind for six-week trip

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      Canada’s last airworthy Avro Lancaster bomber is set to embark on one of the most eagerly anticipated journeys of its post-service history.

      On Monday morning, the Second World War-era flyer will take off from its home at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ont., for the first leg of its trip to England.

      Once there, it will embark on a six-week tour of the United Kingdom with the only other airworthy bomber of its kind, a Lancaster belonging to Britain’s Royal Air Force.

      Over the 1.5-month jaunt, millions are expected to turn out to see the twin Lancasters in action.

      “We’ve been working really hard on this, but everyone is just thrilled,” Al Mickeloff, marketing manager for the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, told CBC Hamilton.

      Crews at the museum, he said, have fitted the Canadian Lancaster with new tires and propellers and updated the plane’s radio systems to make sure they comply with British standards. They also “double and triple-checked” the airplane’s mechanical systems and took it for a final test flight this week.

      “It’s running fantastic,” Mickeloff said.

      ‘Last chance to salute’

      After debuting in 1941, the Avro Lancaster became one of the most famous aircraft associated with the Second World War. A total of more than 7,000 of the bombers were assembled at facilities in the U.K. and Canada. And tens of thousands of British and Canadian airmen served on Lancasters during the Allies’ European campaign.

      Some of the bombers remained in active service for more than a decade after the war. The Royal Canadian Air Force decommissioned the last of its Lancasters in the early 1960s.

      The strong sentimental connection between the Lancaster and aging veterans was a big reason organizers wanted to bring the tour to fruition, Mickeloff said. 

      “Anyone in the bomber command who’s left, they’re probably in their 90s right now,” he said. “We wanted to give them a last chance to salute.”

      The timing worked well for the Canadians because their Lancaster, Mickeloff added, is in its best shape since the bomber was first restored in 1988. Last year, the plane underwent a $500,000 engine overhaul.

      Four-day transatlantic trip

      The Lancaster is scheduled to take off from the museum, located at Hamilton International Airport, at 10 a.m. ET on Monday, after a short ceremony. The bomber is slated to make stops in Goose Bay, Nfld., and Iceland before flying into the Royal Air Force base at Coningsby, in eastern England, on Friday.

      Each of the Canadian Lancaster's four engines had to be overhauled in 2013 — at a total cost of around $500,000. (Ian Johnson/CBC)

      Eight people, including five crew and two documentary filmmakers, are making the transatlantic trek aboard the 69-year-old bomber.

      Three pilots will take turns manning the controls. One of them — Don Schofield, the museum’s chief Lancaster pilot — has logged more than 750 hours of flight time in bombers of this kind.

      Rounding out the passenger list is Matthew Munson, a 34-year-old British entrepreneur who bid $79,000 on eBay for the opportunity to secure his seat on the trip. The museum held the auction to raise money to put towards the estimated $750,000 cost of taking the Lancaster on tour, Mickeloff said.

      Additional financial support has bubbled up in the form of a sponsorship deal with U.K. brewer Thwaite’s. (“Lancaster Bomber” is the name of one of the company’s signature brews.)

      ‘Great exposure’

      The anticipation of seeing these two together is incredible.—Al Mickeloff, Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

      British media have written extensively about the Lancaster tour. Mickeloff predicts the coverage will yield large crowds at every stop.  

      A successful air show in Canada, he noted, attracts between 30,000 and 40,000 people. Similar events in Britain yield more than one million attendees, he said. 

      “The anticipation of seeing these two together is incredible. All you need to do is go on social media to see the enthusiasm level,” said Mickeloff.

      “It’s great exposure for our museum, for Canada, for Hamilton.”

      Gallery: Hamilton’s Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

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