Thunder and triumph: Vintage Wings welcomes the Mynarski Lancaster

News Article / October 17, 2014

By Dave O’Malley

This past summer, something happened in the warbird world that has not happened in more than fifty years, something so creative, so daring and so anticipated, it eclipsed all other warbird activity on the planet.

Someone – and I am not sure who – at Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (CWHM) in Hamilton, Ontario, had the daring and electric idea to prepare the museum’s much-loved Andrew Mynarski Avro Lancaster and fly it by the old wartime route (Toronto-Gander-Greenland-Iceland-Scotland) to Great Britain and there to join the only other flyable Lancaster in the world to delight and thrill Brits of every age. 

It took incredible planning and coordination with the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF), the operator of the other Lancaster, to execute a nearly flawless yet hectic schedule of appearances. Led by CWHM’s president, Dave Rohrer, the volunteers at the big museum in Hamilton put together a program that brought the British to their knees with emotion and gratitude.

It’s not that the citizens of Great Britain haven’t seen or heard a Lancaster in all these years since the Lancs were still operational. The BBMF annually thrills the population across Great Britain with powerfully emotional flypasts at air shows and Royal anniversaries.

But 70 years ago, the people of Great Britain saw, or rather heard, hundreds of Lancasters and Halifaxes rising above dozens of airfields, forming up and heading to the “bomber stream”, that sometimes 100-mile-long and five-mile-wide river of layered four-engined bombers, heading to Germany and other targets in occupied Europe to unleash a cataclysm.

Those thundering, throaty, roaring, angry yet hopeful sounds combined in the night sky to become the fury of the gods. Those sounds were, on many nights, the last vestigial traces of young lives extinguished. For the people of Britain, those sounds became memories of profound depth, sonic symbols of abject sadness, thundering banners of triumph and victory.

For the people of Great Britain, this would doubtlessly be the last opportunity to see and hear more than one of these magnificent aircraft in the sky. To see two flying together (and another on the ground taxiing), two winging toward victory once again, fanned long dimmed embers of national pride and sorrow.

The two together, with their mighty engines pounding with pride, ghosted across England and Scotland, to visit the old places, the old memories, the old friends, from Beachy Head to the Derwent Dam. Everywhere the two went, the roads were jammed with traffic, the spectators crowded the flight line, tears streaming. Many came to see the second Lanc, one they had never seen before, but the true beauty of the experience was the sight of two together, the sound of eight engines, and the smell of victory. 

On September 27, 2014, Vintage Wings of Canada (VWC) had the honour of escorting the CWHM Lancaster around the nation’s capital at the end of the long penultimate leg of a months’ long journey.

Vintage Wings Mike Potter wanted to welcome them home in a powerful way. So he took the VWC P-51 Mustang, dedicated to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) fighter pilots Larry and Rocky Robillard, along with the Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk, dedicated to Wing Commander Stocky Edwards, into the sky and headed east to meet the Lancaster as she steamed westward into the fast-dropping late afternoon sun of a perfect fall day.

Each of the two aircraft carried a photographer in the back seat to record the event. After rendezvous, the Lancaster led the formation on two circuits of the city and landed to the applause of hundreds at the Vintage Wings hangar in Gatineau, Quebec. 

Vintage Wings of Canada congratulates the volunteers of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum for their daring, their creativity and – yes – their courage for a feat of airmanship not witnessed in the warbird world for many a year. They took Great Britain by storm, and made us proud to be their friends and colleagues.

The team at the CWHM comprises volunteers – not paid pilots – who have thousands upon thousands of hours of experience. It is highly unlikely that the trip will be reciprocated by the BBMF, as the visceral emotions fuelled by the sight of a Lancaster are more powerful and more concentrated in Great Britain, a much smaller country, upon which wartime Lancasters operated and often went to their doom. They feel it there like no other country on the face of the Earth.

Also, the Royal Air Force is encumbered by budgetary restraints. That being said, both operators have gained much by this summer’s flying activity and we are all proud on both sides of the big pond.

Here, for your enjoyment, is a photo record of the honour we at Vintage Wings were granted to welcome our friends back home. Thanks to photographers Peter Handley and Pierre Lapprand.

This article was originally published, with additional photos, on the Vintage Wings of Canada website. It is translated and reproduced with permission.


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