Avro Lancaster BI PA474 is one of only two Lancasters that remain airworthy out of the 7,377 built. The other is in Canada. Built at the Vickers-Armstrong Broughton factory at Hawarden, in mid-1945, she was assigned to reconnaissance duties after appearing too late to take part in the bombing of Japan.
The Lancaster bomber is a “four-engine heavy”, as they used to call it. It had a crew of seven consisting of the pilot, flight engineer, wireless operator, navigator, mid-upper gunner, and the tail gunner (tail-end Charlie). From September 1948 to February 1952, after conversion for photo reconnaissance duties, she was used to conduct aerial survey mapping work in East and South Africa with 82 Squadron, accumulating 2,000 airframe hours, before returning to the UK.
It was then decided to loan PA474 to Flight Refuelling Ltd at Tarrant Rushden to convert it into a pilotless target drone. Thankfully, the drone conversion was cancelled. The Lancaster was saved from a fate that would almost certainly have prevented her from being here today.
Instead, she was allocated to the Cranfield College of Aeronautics in 1954, where she was modified as a platform for testing experimental aerofoil sections. She served in this role at Cranfield for ten years, which kept her airworthy. During her time at Cranfield, she only flew 100 hours.
After various duties, she was adopted by the Air Historical Branch in April 1964 for display work. Another BBMF flight aircraft that is not afraid of the camera appears in two films, Operation Crossbow and The Guns of Navarone, and in several television documentaries. The latest was a television documentary staring Sir David Jason in 2020.
In 1965 the CO of No 44 Sqn, the first Unit ever to be equipped with the Avro Lancaster and was then flying Avro Vulcans at Waddington, sought and gained permission for PA474 to be transferred into the care of the Sqn. An inspection found that she was structurally sound, and permission was granted for her to make a single flight from Henlow to Waddington on 18th August 1965.
Between 1966 and 1967, restoration work began on PA474; work was progressing well, and the front and rear turrets were in place. Permission to fly her regularly was granted in 1967, although restoration continued. The aircraft eventually joined the Battle of Britain Flight in November 1973, prompting the change of the Unit’s name to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.