In February 2014, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum announced that they were to send their prized Avro Lancaster B.X aircraft C-GVRA “Vera” to the UK to join the only other airworthy example owned by the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight for a six week tour during August and September.
The Canadian aircraft is named after Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski, who was stationed at RAF Middleton St. George (now Durham Tees Valley Airport) and who died trying to save a fellow crew-member (who ironically went on to survive) during a crash in his Lancaster on a mission originating from RAF MsG.
Given the historical significance of the aircraft to the airport, several parties including ourselves and airport owners Peel, campaigned hard to have DTVA included in the tour, and the Canadians were only too happy to oblige.
The aircraft arrived early evening on Wednesday 27th August to large crowds at either end of the runway as well as at the fence-line next to the terminal building. Although our services weren’t required a few of our members were there to greet her as spectators and hung around to help host a number of veterans who were invited to look in and around the aircraft.
Thursday 28th was the big day, the airport had organised a public open day and the Lancaster was joined by several other aircraft in a static display as well as other aviation and non-aviation exhibits and FoDTVA were responsible for marshalling the 3,000+ visitors that attended. At 3pm, the Lancaster was moved out of the static display and performed a breath-taking fly-past over the Mynarski statue outside of the St. George Hotel. Once it landed again, it was greeted by thunderous applause before being returned to the static display.
At around 6pm, the aircraft returned to Hangar 1 and FoDTVA volunteers jumped inside for the short ride from stand to hangar, hoping in the process we had broken a record for most people inside a Lancaster bomber since WWII, but sadly we’d only equalled it at 28 people. One of our members did however achieve a ‘world first’ – Secretary Chris Smith completed an “Ice Bucket Challenge” for charity with the help of the Lancaster and its crew!!
On the Friday morning, the aircraft departed on a short 30-minute VIP flight but during landing developed an engine problem, which necessitated a full engine change. FoDTVA were called in to help once again and over the Saturday and Sunday, we helped remove the sick engine and strip down it’s components to be fitted to the new engine, before the Canadian engineers hung the new engine back on to the aircraft over the Monday and Tuesday. Everyone became disheartened on Tuesday evening however when the new engine failed to start, luckily though it turned out to be only a minor problem and on the Wednesday, she started up perfectly and after a short test flight, departed back to RAF Coningsby to continue her UK tour.
As a thank you, the Canadian crew gave up four seats on the test flight and put them in to a prize draw, and one of our members – Paul Tasker – was lucky enough to be one of the four winning names picked out! Well done Paul!!
Although the grounding of the Lancaster was very unfortunate, we had a great time helping fix her, we made some great new Canadian friends and we would like to wish them the very best of luck for the remainder of the tour and beyond. They have said we are welcome to visit their museum in Canada any time, and although financially it’s probably not practical, we will certainly look in to it!
The engine repairs caused a large unexpected expense for the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, anyone who would like to donate towards the repairs can do so via their website www.warplane.com