There is no doubt that the vibrant warbird scene in the UK has seen some impressive – and often unique – formations and events over recent years, but even one year ago a meeting of two flying Lancasters and the sole flying Vulcan would have been dismissed as a pipe dream. Yet on 21st August 2014, this pipe dream was realised at RAF Waddington – the previous home of both Avro bombers. Ben Montgomery and Kevin Paterson were present for AeroResource.
Whilst a formation of single Lancaster and Vulcan has been conducted before – once, at the RAF Waddington airshow in 2008 after the return to flight of Vulcan XH558, it goes without saying that the catalyst to perform this historic event was the visit of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum Lancaster B.X C-GVRA, today marked as KB726 (although it was built as FM213). AeroResource’s Jamie Ewan covered the arrival and history of “Vera” in a previous article which can be found By Clicking Here, and further reports are intended covering the tour in general – and as such we will focus on the events at Waddington here.
The link between the Vulcan and Lancaster is stronger than just the fact that they are both creations of the formidable Avro aircraft design house – they were both designed under the oversight of the same man, the great Roy Chadwick. Roy Chadwick was one of a generation of British aerospace Giants, and was responsible for – amongst many others – the designs of the Avro Lancaster. Many often assume that Chadwick was also responsible for the entirety of the Vulcan design – which he may well have intended to do – but an unfortunate accident in the prototype Avro Tudor 2 in August 1947 took his life. His year of involvement in the conceptual generation was taken on by Sir William Farren, under whose guidance saw the design of the Vulcan evolve into the final product that has since become a symbol of aerospace power in the United Kingdom – and was shown to be such during the historic Black Buck raid on Port Stanley airfield during the Falklands Conflict.
For many, the day started with the arrival of the Avro Lancasters – PA474 “Thumper Mk.III” of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, and C-GVRA “Vera” of the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, as Avro Vulcan XH558 had arrived at RAF Waddington the previous day, transiting from its home at Doncaster Airport ready for the event. Both Lancasters departed from RAF Coningsby on time at 09:45 and arrived overhead Waddington at approximately 10AM, for a leisurely run and break into the circuit. After parking in front of the crowd (both of spectators in the PAVE and RAF personnel in front of 8 Squadron), the Lancasters shut down and were greeted by a spontaneous round of applause.
Although the aircraft arrived at 10AM, the public spectators were there well before then, with huge queues of cars waiting for the opening of the Park and View Enclosure (PAVE) despite the warnings of not parking on the verges. The Waddington Aircraft Viewing Enclosure (WAVE) over on the A15 also filled quickly, with over 2000 people estimated to have been through during the course of the day. Indeed, the PAVE filled so fast that overflow fields had to be opened, and eventually the signage leading to these facilities had to be amended with “Event Closed” markings due to the sheer volume of spectators. This did not stop people attending, and at one point there were reports of 4 mile standing traffic queues on the A15 caused by the number of cars and pedestrians in the local area. Despite the (entirely expected) carnage, it was gratifying to see that the majority of visitors were not just after “that” picture of the three aircraft, but in fact wanted to experience something unique – both Veterans and the next generation alike.
Unfortunately the actual time available to see and photograph the formation on the ground was less than had been expected. The two Lancasters upon arrival had taxied up from the far end of Runway 20 along the western taxiway and then parked on the intersection of the taxiway to Alpha Dispersal (the home of the E-3 and RC-135). This did cause some problems manoeuvring the Vulcan into position, which had been secured in Alpha Dispersal overnight and required some skilled repositioning of both Thumper and Vera. The formation was only completed – Vulcan XH558 flanked by Vera and Thumper – around 11:30, and with the aircrew having been in briefing from shortly after their arrival, it wasn’t too long before the aircraft were again being prepared for departure.
Vulcan and Lancaster Formation
After departing Waddington on Runway 20 at approximately 1:50pm, the Lancasters and Vulcan (alongside an 100 Squadron Hawk T.1 photoship from RAF Leeming) swung to the west to form up. The formation was led by the Vulcan, with both Lancasters aft and outboard of the wingtips. Prior to the flight, there was discussion as to the best way in which to formate – concerns had been raised about the high intensity wake turbulence and vortices produced by the large delta wing of the Vulcan at high angles of attack (which were required to maintain the formation airspeed).
Once the Vulcan caught up to and formed on the Lancaster pair, the formation headed over Lincoln. The first planned flypast was over the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial’s turf cutting ceremony to mark the start of work there. The memorial is being constructed to remember the 25,611 personnel of RAF Bomber Command who gave their lives during the Second World War, and 280 guests (including the last surviving Dambuster – Squadron Leader George ‘Johnny’ Johnson, and Trustee of the Memorial Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach) gathered to watch the ceremony and flypast.
Whilst no formation pass had been planned over RAF Waddington itself (due in part to the difficulties of turning the Lancaster whilst in formation – the outboard position dictated by the Vulcan turbulence and the maximum power setting in the Lancaster required to hold formation made this a delicate affair), the proximity of the airfield to Lincoln meant that those visitors who had remained after the aircraft departed were treated to the view of the bombers passing north of the field. It is testament to the collective memory of the nation that in the many videos that have been captured and shared online, most people present fell silent as the aircraft came into view.
After passing the Lincolnshire Bomber Command Memorial, the formation went on to the former RAF Metheringham, a 5 Group Bomber Command airfield during the Second World War. Over the course of hostilities, four Lancaster squadrons were based here (Numbers 106, 110, 189 and 467 Squadron). Only 106 Squadron were involved in offensive operations from the field, and today a Memorial Garden to 106 Squadron is maintained at the site, along with a Visitor Centre.
From Metheringham, the formation passed over RAF Coningsby – the current home of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, as well as the home of the CWHM Lancaster during its tour – and another of the plethora of Second World War bomber stations. 61, 97, 106 and 617 Squadrons all called Coningsby home at various parts of World War Two.
The formation finally ended at RAF Marham, current home of the RAF Bomber force, in the form of the Tornado GR.4. Marham was another Bomber Command field during the war, but unlike Coningsby and Metheringham continued its Bomber role through the Cold War, when the Valiant and Victor were stationed as part of Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent. Fittingly the station was holding its annual Families Day celebration, and once the Vulcan had departed the formation, “Thumper” and “Vera” proceeded to give a display to the gathered service personnel, friends and family. After departing from Marham, the Vulcan went on to display at Clacton, whilst the Lancaster pair also displayed (separately to the Vulcan) at Clacton before arriving at Southend for other shows over the weekend.
It’s almost certain that this will be the last time – ever – that three Avro bombers are airborne together, and as such the RAF, CWHM, BBMF and the Vulcan to the Sky Trust (VTST) should be praised for providing as much access to the public as possible. There were certain qualms about the aircraft arrangement certainly – including the fact the public were shooting towards the sun, and the lack of clear angles of the aircraft because of personnel on base (which is an understandable frustration), but overall the interaction shown between the public and the RAF here at Waddington was greater than it has been at Coningsby, where viewers had been advised to find alternate locations to see the aircraft and road closures put in place.
Wherever it was viewed from, and however people chose to watch or record it, there is little doubt that those who saw it will not quickly forget. The question now is how to top what will be for many, one of the defining aviation moments of the last decade.
AeroResource would like to thank the staff and media team at RAF Waddington, as well as the representatives, media and aircrew from the Vulcan To the Sky Trust, Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum for their assistance with this article.