9 January 1941: Test pilot Captain Harry Albert (“Sam”) Brown, O.B.E., (1896–1953) makes the first flight of the Avro Lancaster prototype, BT308, at RAF Ringway, Cheshire, England, south of Manchester.
Throughout World War II, 7,377 of these long range heavy bombers were produced for the Royal Air Force. The majority were powered by Rolls-Royce or Packard Merlin V-12 engines—the same engines that powered the Supermarine Spitfire and North American P-51 Mustang fighters.
The bomber was designed by Roy Chadwick, F.R.S.A., F.R.Ae.S., the Chief Designer and Engineer of A. V. Roe & Company Limited, based on the earlier twin-engine Avro Manchester Mk.I. Because of this, it was originally designated as the Manchester Mk.III, before being re-named Lancaster. Chadwick was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 2 June 1943, for his work.
The first prototype, BT308, was unarmed and had three small vertical fins.
With the second prototype, DG595, the small center vertical fin was deleted and two larger fins were used at the outboard ends of a longer horizontal tailplane. DG595 was also equipped with power gun turrets at the nose, dorsal and ventral positions, and at the tail.
The first production model, Lancaster Mk.I, was operated by a crew of seven: pilot, flight engineer, navigator/bombardier, radio operator and three gunners. It was a large, all-metal, mid-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. It was 68 feet, 11 inches (21.001 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet, 0 inches (31.090) meters and an overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The Mk.I had an empty weight of 36,900 pounds (16,738 kilograms) and its maximum takeoff weight was 68,000 pounds (30,909 kilograms).
BT308 and early production Lancasters were equipped with four liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.96-cubic-inch-displacement (27.01 liter), Roll-Royce Merlin XX single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines, which were rated at 1,480 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. to 6,000 feet (1,829 meters). The Merlins drove three-bladed de Havilland Hydromatic quick-feathering, constant-speed airscrews (propellers), which had a diameter of 13 feet, 0 inches (3.962 meters), through a 0.420:1 gear reduction.
DG595 was used for performance testing at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down. The Mark I had a maximum economic cruise speed of 267 miles per hour (430 kilometers per hour) at 20,800 feet (6,340 meters), and a maximum speed of 286 miles per hour (460 kilometers per hour) at 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) at a gross weight of 45,300 pounds (20,548 kilograms).¹ Its service ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) at 64,500 pounds (29,257 kilograms). It had a range of 2,530 miles (4,072 kilometers) with a 7,000 pound (3,175 kilogram) bomb load.
The Lancaster was designed to carry a 14,000 pound (6,350 kilogram) bomb load, but modified bombers carried the 22,000 pound (9,979 kilogram) Grand Slam bomb. For defense, the standard Lancaster had eight Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns in three power-operated turrets, with a total of 14,000 rounds of ammunition.
According to the Royal Air Force, “Almost half all Lancasters delivered during the war (3,345 of 7,373) were lost on operations with the loss of over 21,000 crew members.”
Only two airworthy Avro Lancasters are in existence.
“On 14 December 1931, Douglas Bader flew to Woodley airfield near Reading. After lunch someone said, ‘I bet you won’t roll at nought feet.’ Bader did, and the graceful little Bulldog ended up in a shapeless ball of twisted metal. After hovering at death’s door Bader lost both legs. At Cranwell he remembered the Commandant had admonished him, ‘The RAF needs men, not schoolboys.’ Now he was neither, and the RAF would not need him anymore.”
—Duel of Eagles by Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003. Chapter 6 at Page 82.
Pilot Officer Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, caught the wingtip of his Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA, K-1676, and crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, approximately four miles east of Reading, Berkshire, England. The airplane was damaged beyond repair.
Bader suffered major injuries requiring amputation of his right leg, followed by amputation of his left leg several days later. He was fitted with prosthetic legs with which he was soon able to walk without assistance. Pilot Officer Bader was medically retired and received a 100% disability pension.
In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.
The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, he was sent to refresher flight training where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.
Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, F.R.Ae.S., D.L., a legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in July 1930.
Credited with more than 20 aerial victories while flying Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “D B”. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.
Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped. He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Colditz Castle where he was held for three years.
Douglas Bader is the subject of Reach For The Sky, a biography by Paul Brickhill, and a movie based on that book which starred Kenneth More.
Sir Douglas was invested Knight Bachelor, 12 June 1976, for his service to the disabled. He died suddenly of a heart attack, 5 September 1982.
The Bristol Type 105 Bulldog was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter which served with the Royal Air Force from 1928 to 1938. It was constructed of a riveted framework of rolled steel strips. The forward fuselage was covered with light weight sheet metal, while the wings and aft fuselage were covered with doped fabric. The Bulldog Mk.IIA was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 10 inches (10.312 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters). It had and empty weight of 2,222 pounds (1,008 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,660 pounds (1,660 kilograms).
The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) Bristol Jupiter VIIF nine-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 440 horsepower up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). This was a left-hand tractor engine which drove a wooden two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction.
The airplane had a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and a service ceiling of 29,300 feet (8,931 meters).
The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was armed with two synchronized Vickers .303-caliber machine guns with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun.
3 December 1945: The first landing and takeoff aboard an aircraft carrier by a jet-powered aircraft were made by Lieutenant-Commander Eric Melrose Brown, M.B.E., D.S.C., R.N.V.R., Chief Naval Test Pilot at RAE Farnborough, while flying a de Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551/G. The ship was the Royal Navy Colossus-class light aircraft carrier, HMS Ocean (R68), under the command of Captain Casper John, R.N.
For his actions in these tests, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was invested an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.), 19 February 1946.
LZ551 was the second of three prototype DH.100 Vampires, which first flew 17 March 1944. The airplane was used for flight testing and then in 1945, was modified for operation for carriers. It was named “Sea Vampire” and reclassified as Mk.10.
The DH.100 was a single-seat, single-engine fighter powered by a turbojet engine. The twin tail boom configuration of the airplane was intended to allow a short exhaust tract for the engine, reducing power loss in the early jet engines available at the time.
LZ551/G was originally powered by a Halford H.1 turbojet which produced 2,300 pounds of thrust (10.231 kilonewtons) at 9,300 r.p.m. This engine was produced by de Havilland and named Goblin.
The Vampire entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1945 and remained a front-line fighter until 1953. 3,268 DH.100s were built. There were two prototype Sea Vampires (including LZ551) followed by 18 production Sea Vampire FB.5 fighter bombers and 73 Sea Vampire T.22 two-place trainers.
LZ551 is in the collection of the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset.
HMS Ocean was built at the Alexander Stephen and Sons yard on the Clyde, Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was launched in 1944 and commissioned 8 August 1945. Classed as a light fleet carrier, HMS Ocean was 630 feet (192 meters) long at the water line, with a beam of 80 feet, 1 inch (24.41 meters) and standard draft of 18 feet, 6 inches (5.64 meters) at 13,190 tons displacement; 23 feet, 3 inches (7.09 meters), at full load displacement (18,000 tons). The aircraft carrier’s flight deck was 695 feet, 6 inches (212.0 meters) long. Ocean was driven by four Parsons geared steam turbines producing 40,000 shaft horsepower, and had a maximum speed of 25 knots (28.8 miles per hour/46.3 kilometers per hour). HMS Ocean had a crew of 1,050 sailors, and could carry 52 aircraft.
HMS Ocean served for twelve years before being placed in reserve. Five years later, she was scrapped at Faslane, Scotland.
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., KCVSA, Ph.D., Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., is one of aviation’s greatest test pilots. He was born at Leith, Scotland, 21 January 1918, the son of Robert John Brown and Euphemia Melrose Brown. His father, a Royal Air Force officer, took him for his first flight at the age of 8. He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland; Fettes College; and at the University of Edinburgh. He received a Master of Arts degree from the university in 1947.
Eric Brown volunteered for the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, 4 December 1939. Having previously learned to fly at the University Air Squadron, Brown was sent to a Flying Refresher Course at RNAS Sydenham, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Brown received a commission as a temporary Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, 26 November 1940. He briefly served with No. 801 Squadron before being transferred to No. 802 Squadron. He flew the Grumman G-36A Martlet Mk.I (the export version of the U.S. Navy F4F-3 Wildcat fighter) from the escort carrier HMS Audacity (D10) on Gibraltar convoys.
Having shot down several enemy aircraft, including two Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor four-engine patrol bombers, Brown was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. HMS Audacity was sunk by enemy submarines in the Atlantic, 21 December 1941. Brown was one of only 24 to escape from the sinking ship, but only he and one other survived long enough in the frigid water to be rescued.
Sub-Lieutenant Brown met Miss Evelyn Jean Margaret Macrory on 7 April 1940. They married in 1942 and would have one son.
Brown was promoted to lieutenant, 1 April 1943. After a number of operational assignments, Lieutenant Brown was assigned to the Naval Test Squadron at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment, Boscombe Down, in December 1943. The following month Brown was named Chief Naval Test Pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough. He held that post until 1949.
In July 1945, Eric Brown was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-commander (temporary), and then, following the war, he was transferred from the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve to the Royal Navy, and appointed a lieutenant with date of rank to 1 April 1943.
Lieutenant Brown was awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in the New Year’s Honours List, 1949. Brown returned to No. 802 Squadron during the Korean War, flying from the aircraft carriers HMS Vengeance (R71) and HMS Indomitable (92). He was promoted to lieutenant-commander, 1 April 1951. In September 1951, Brown resumed flight testing as an exchange officer at the U.S. Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Maryland.
In 1953, Lieutenant-Commander Brown was a ship’s officer aboard HMS Rocket (H92), an anti-submarine frigate. He was promoted to commander, 31 December 1953. After a helicopter refresher course, Brown commanded a Search-and-Rescue (SAR) helicopter flight aboard HMS Illustrious. He next commanded No. 804 Squadron based at RNAS Lossiemouth, then went on to command RNAS Brawdy at Pembrokeshire, Wales.
From 1958 to 1960, Commander Brown was the head of the British Naval Air Mission to Germany. He then held several senior positions in air defense within the Ministry of Defence. He was promoted to captain 31 December 1960.
From 1964 to 1967, Brown was the Naval Attache at Bonn, Germany. He next commanded RNAS Lossiemouth, 1967–1970.
Captain Brown’s final military assignment was as Aide-de-camp to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.
Eric M. Brown was invested a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.), 3 July 1945, for landings of a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito aboard HMS Indefatigable, 2 May 1944. On 1 January 1970, Captain Brown was named a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in the Queen’s New Years Honours List.
Captain Eric Melrose Brown, C.B.E., D.S.C., A.F.C., K.C.V.S.A., Ph.D. Hon. F.R.Ae.S., R.N., retired from active duty 12 March 1970.
At that time, he had accumulated more than 18,000 flight hours, with over 8,000 hours as a test pilot. Captain Brown had flown 487 different aircraft types (not variants), a record which is unlikely to ever be broken. Brown made more landings on aircraft carriers than any other pilot, with 2407 landings, fixed wing, and 212 landings, helicopter. He made 2,721 catapult launches, both at sea and on land.
In 1982 and 1983, Captain Brown served as president of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Eric “Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.
14–18 November 1932: Amy Johnson, CBE, (Mrs. James A Mollison) flew her new de Havilland DH.80A Puss Moth, c/n 2247, registration G-ACAB, from Lympne Aerodrome, London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, a distance of approximately 6,300 miles (10,140 kilometers) in a total elapsed time of 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes. This broke the previous record which had been set by her husband, Jim Mollison, by 10 hours, 28 minutes.
A contemporary news article described the event:
FLIGHT, November 24, 1932
MRS. MOLLISON’S FINE FLIGHT
Beats her Husband’s Cape Record by 10½ Hours
THERE are few, we think, who will not admit that Mrs. J.A. Mollison (Miss Amy Johnson) has accomplished a really remarkable feat in her latest flight—from England to Cape Town in 4 days 6 hr. 54 min., thus beating her husband’s previous record for the same journey of 4 days 17 hr. 22 min. by 10 hr. 28 min.
Not only is the flight a magnificent achievement as far as the time taken is concerned, but as a feat of endurance, pluck, good piloting and navigation, it must be placed foremost in the list of great flights.
Throughout the flight Mrs. Mollison had had only 5 hours’ sleep!
As reported in last week’s issue of FLIGHT, Mrs. Mollison set out from Lympne, in her D.H. “Puss Moth” (“Gipsy Major”), Desert Cloud, at 6.37 a.m. on November 14, and at 7.30 p.m. arrived at Oran, on the North African coast, 1,100 miles distant. She made an hour’s stop to refuel en route at Barcelona, and after a halt of 4 hours at Oran she started off on a night flight across the Sahara Desert towards Gao and Niamey.
At this stage some anxiety was felt owing to the absence of news concerning her progress for over 24 hours. Then came the news that she had landed safely at Gao (some 1,300 miles from Oran) at noon, November 15—having thus successfully accomplished a most difficult flight across the desert, without landmarks, at night. After a short stop for refuelling Mrs. Mollison left for Duala, but after flying for about an hour she noticed that her tanks were almost empty. She at once returned to Gao and found that they had put in only 10 galls. instead of 42 galls.!
After this irritating delay she proceeded once more, arriving safely at Duala in the evening, and continuing, after a short halt, towards Loanda. On this stage, during the night, the oil circulation caused her some trouble, and so she landed the next morning at Benguela (Port. W. Africa) to set matters aright.
Fortunately, the trouble was not serious—probably a portion of the Sahara in the filters—and she was able to proceed after a delay of some 9 hours. A halt to refuel was made at Mossamedes in the evening of November 17 and then came another night flight on the final stage of her journey.
Meanwhile, news of her start on the last hop reached Capetown, and from midnight November 17–18, huge crowds made their way to the Municipal aerodrome—although Mrs. Mollison could not possibly arrive much before midday. There were, therefore, several thousand people on the aerodrome by the time she arrived.
Mrs. Mollison appeared somewhat unexpectedly, from inland, shortly after 3 p.m., and it was not until the machine was about to land that the crowd realised that it was the Desert Cloud. She landed at 3.31 p.m. (1.31 p.m. G.M.T), and immediately the cheering crown broke down the barriers and surrounded the machine. It was some time before she could get out of her machine, but eventually she was got into a car, and before driving away she waved to the crowd and said: “Thank you very much for your great welcome. I said I would come back, and I have done so. It is really too kind of you to give me such a welcome.”
Safely inside the aerodrome building, Mrs. Mollison spoke over the telephone to Mr. Mollison, after which she was taken to some friends, where she could obtain some well-earned sleep.
1st day Lympne–Oran (1,100)
2nd ” Oran–Gao (1,400)
3rd ” Gao–Duala (1,150)
4th ” Duala–Mossamedes (1,350)
5th ” Mossamedes–Cape (1,300)
(Concluded on page 1141)
MRS. MOLLISON’S FINE FLIGHT
(Concluded from page 1133)
Needless to say, Mrs. Mollison has received numerous messages of congratulation, amongst which were the following: —From H.M. the King: “Please convey to Mrs. Mollison hearty congratulations on her splendid achievment. I trust that she is not too exhausted. —George, R.I.”
From Lord Londonderry, Secretary of State for Air: “On behalf of the Air Council I congratulate you most warmly on the successful completion of your magnificent flight.”
Messages were also sent by the Royal Aero Club and Royal Aeronautical Society, Lord Wakefield, etc.
Mr. A.E. Whitelaw, the Australian philanthropist—who gave Mr. Mollison £1,000 in recognition of his Australia flight—is presenting a cheque for £1,000 to Mrs. Mollison in recognition of her achievement.
— FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 1248 (Vol. XXIV, No. 48.), 24 November 1932 at Pages 1133 and 1141.
The de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., DH.80A Puss Moth was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with an enclosed cabin for a pilot and two passengers. It was constructed of a tubular steel frame covered with doped fabric. The airplane was 25 feet (7.620 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 9 inches (11.201 meters) and height of 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters). The Puss Moth had an empty weight of 1,265 pounds (574 kilograms) and gross weight of 2.050 pounds (930 kilograms).
G-ACAB was powered by a 373.71-cubic-inch-displacement (6,124 cubic centimeters) air-cooled de Havilland Gipsy Major I inverted, inline 4-cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 5.25:1. It produced 120 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m and 130 horsepower at 2,350 r.p.m. The engine weighed 306 pounds (138.8 kilograms).
The DH.80A had a cruise speed of 95 miles per hour (153 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 108 miles per hour (174 kilometers per hour). The airplane had a service ceiling of 17,000 feet (5,182 meters). The standard DH.80A had a range of 430 miles (692 kilometers), but The Desert Cloud had additional tanks which increased its range to over 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers).
De Havilland built 284 DH.80A Puss Moths between 1929 and 1933. Only eight are known to exist. G-ACAB, then owned by Utility Airways, Ltd., was destroyed in a hangar fire at Hooton Park, Cheshire, 8 July 1940.