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08 August 2014

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Meeting of the last two airworthy Lancasters- ‘Thumper’ meets ‘Vera’

Although 7,377 Lancaster aircraft were produced between 1941 and 1946, only two remain airworthy. One (a Mk 1 nicknamed ‘Thumper’) is maintained by the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), and the other by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM).

Today, these two iconic aircraft met for the first time as CWHM’s ‘Vera’ (named for its identification markings V-RA), a Mk X Lancaster, arrived in England after a transatlantic flight from its home in Ontario, Canada to Lincolnshire’s RAF Coningsby for the start of a tour which will see the two Lancasters flying together to please crowds at 60 venuesacross the UK.

The RAF Lancaster Thumper with the Canadian Lancaster Vera

In a year that sees the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) celebrating its 90th anniversary, the two Lancasters’ tour commemorates the shared experience of UK and Canadian pilots during WWII in which 50,000 RCAF aircrew served with Bomber Command. Of the nearly 56,000 Bomber Command aircrew who died during WWII, some 10,000 were Canadians serving either in RAF or RCAF squadrons. Canadians served all four RAF Commands- Bomber, Fighter, Coastal and Transport Command, and 16% of all gallantry awards to air force personnel were made to RCAF personnel, including two VCs.

The relationship between the RAF and RCAF endures to the present day, with 10 RCAF personnel currently on exchange with the RAF, and shared operational taskings including Libya, Afghanistan and the Baltic.

veterans in front of Vera

This enduring tie was celebrated at a ceremony today at Lincolnshire’s RAF Coningsby, which was to have included a flypast by both Lancasters in formation with the BBMF Spitfire, Hurricane and the Red Arrows. But the British weather intervened with thunderstorms, heavy showers and localised flooding making it ‘touch and go’ as to whether ‘Vera’ would even be able to land. But the large waiting crowd cheered and applauded as ‘Vera’ appeared out of the gloom and landed gracefully on the wet runway.

Speaking at the ceremony following Vera’s arrival, and framed by the two Lancasters parked in front of the hanger, Air Officer Commanding 1 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Stuart Atha paid tribute to pilot Don Schofield and her crew who had “flown her across rather a lot of water, dodging quite a few thunderstorms. They might not have been Messerschmitts, but the challenge was significant nonetheless.”

RAF Coningsby is a fitting venue for the ceremony, linking its heritage as a wartime Lancaster base with its present day role as home to Typhoons from 3, 11, 29 and 41 Squadrons.

Canadian Air Attaché Brigadier General Matthew Overton paid tribute to this shared heritage, saying that “keeping these aircraft flying is a labour of love, helping us recall the difficult and dangerous work undertaken on a daily- and nightly- basis by the airmen and groundcrews of the RAF and RCAF.”

The climax of the ceremony was the presentation of Bomber Command medal clasps to some 20 of the 120 Bomber Command veterans present by RAF Coningsby Station Commander Group Captain Johnny Stringer, and the opportunity for them to get re-acquainted at close quarters with an aircraft with which they were once so familiar.

Editor: Flight Lieutenant Tony Newton

Images: Sqn Ldr Wayne Palmer, Sgt Loz Platfoot and Cpl Dylan Browne

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