Ambrose Barber remembers a very special experience….

    I would never describe myself as a Lancaster pilot but the sight of two Lancs again flying together prompted me to let slip to your Editor that years ago I’d logged nearly five hours as co-pilot on a couple of Lancs. “Tell us more”, he said.
    Well, as we Hawker people know, the pinnacle of aircraft design involves a single engine and usually a single seat. However, as a wartime twelve-year-old allowed to stand in a Halifax cockpit while all four engines were fired up, I did find something rather majestic about a big bomber. So, when ten years later I got the chance actually to fly in one I jumped at it.
    The opportunity came at the end of my two years in the Royal Air Force training to fly early jet fighters. I was posted into Fighter Command (good news) but as a mere National Serviceman was then given a desk to fly (not such good news).


Toptop top

However, my boss’s boss, B.A. Templeman-Rooke, also desk-bound, was a distinguished former bomber Wing Commander. With the clout of a DSO, two DFCs and an AFC he had an arrangement to keep his hand in at RAF St Mawgan, a nearby Coastal Command Operational Conversion Unit and the last RAF station still to be equipped with Lancasters. This good-natured hero took pity on me and the early hours of 29th March 1954 saw me climbing into Lancaster III SW294 alongside him and a crew which was preparing for maritime reconnaissance postings on Shackletons. This role involved long periods of navigating over featureless water.

    Just taxiing and taking off were thrilling even if at the time ‘my’ seat was occupied by the flight engineer. Once safely airborne he retired to his cruising station and we headed out over the sea. However, in less than half an hour the old Lanc emphasised her seniority when all electrical generation quit and we had to turn back for home. With the airfield in sight I watched T-R intently as he lined up for final approach and performed the feat of bringing in this impressive mass of machinery to alight safely on the runway.
    In those days we were able to take a replacement ‘off the shelf’ so I soon found myself in Lancaster SW295, beginning to feel more at home in these unaccustomed surroundings as we headed out at relatively low altitude for the Bay of Biscay. I was privileged to have a long stint at the controls of this historic type. She seemed very stable after the more agile types I’d flown and I was quite surprised at the physical effort required just to change course when I was given new headings to steer. As hour succeeded hour I felt a growing respect for those who had ‘done it this way’ and glad when the long trip was enlivened by our air gunner shooting up the open sea. Fortunately I was not expected to take evasive action from imaginary enemy fighters.
    Eventually it was all over before the novelty had quite worn off and I’ve remained most grateful for that unrepeatable experience. It seems a pity that modern long-haul airline crews don’t have the opportunity for a little gun firing to help them pass the time away!