The Bomb

It’ll be hard to top this one, folks.

I’ve only been in Ontario for three days and I’m already shell-shocked by its sheer magnificence. The weather’s been great, so is the food, wish you were here, blah, blah . . . oh, and I just flew on a World War II bomber. (For real.)

Yesterday I visited the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario. Their collection of historic military aircraft is admirable and seeing airplanes like the Helldiver and Fairey Firefly brought back fond memories of making model airplanes as a boy. In a way, this well-thought museum is a bunch of boys (and girls!) who just like model airplanes–the difference is that they are building the real thing. Canadian Warplane Heritage is dedicated to restoring and preserving old military aircraft to as close as possible to their original state. Their ultimate prize: the world’s ONLY remaining Westland Lysander, which (after 30 years of painstaking work), they hope to put up in the air sometime this decade.

How do they manage the mechanical upkeep for planes that stopped being built over 60 years ago?

“We use flight mechanic manuals from the 1950s,” answered Wes, a volunteer at the museum and someone who knows just about every plane here inside and out. The museum survives on volunteer help–the majority of the folks working here are in fact, volunteers. I was impressed not only by their genuine passion for planes but also the importance of preserving each of these technological “creatures” for generations to come.

Of the museum’s many prize fighters, the Avro Lancaster is the most universally revered. Only two flying Lancasters remain in the world, and this is the only one in North America. As the quintessential British bomber from the Second World War, the Lancaster is remembered for its significant role in large-scale raids all across Europe. The Lancaster was also the plane used for the notorious Operation Chastise attack on German dams, romanticized in the book “Dambusters“.

As a night bomber, the Lancaster was painted black underneath, different from the daytime camouflage used by so many American bombers (the VR on the side of the plane stands for “Victoria Regiment”–The “A” is for aircraft).

Stepping inside such a historic plane did in fact feel like stepping back in time. I belong to the generation raised on blockbuster war movies with Hollywood sets made to look like war planes. The real thing is less open–one must crawl from the back of the plane to the front, contorting oneself to climb over various rises and divides. I was also surprised that the plane’s fuselage was covered with such thin metal–if I was being shot at up in the air, I think I’d want to be behind something more substantial than tissue-thin aluminum.

I was seated at the navigator’s table in the middle of the plane, with only little slits on the sides for windows, but a circular glass window above me. Each gunner’s station offered unique views, however, and after take-off, I kept myself busy crawling up and down the plane and sticking my head into glass bubbles for a look below.

Flying on the actual plane flown by so many heroic men was both remarkable and sobering. Of the 19,000 Canadian airmen lost in World War II, 10,000 of them were killed on bombing raids, including missions flown on the Lancaster.

Of all the wonderful modes of transportation I’ve been privileged to ride in my life, none of them compare to going up in a real-live, authentic, Canadian World War II bomber.

 

 

Comments

  1. Ken Greig
    Toronto
    June 18, 2011, 4:02 pm

    Thank you Andrew for an excellent and momentous travel story that most of us will never experience. Thanks also for your tribute to the Canadian servicemen who lost their lives while on bombing raids in world War II in the Lancaster, as part of Canada’s significant war effort.

  2. Eva
    June 18, 2011, 5:23 pm

    Wow, Andrew. What an opportunity. My grandfather flew in a Lancaster, and if I remember right he was a navigator. Funny to think you were sitting right in his seat.

  3. Julie H. Ferguson
    Vancouver (TBEX11 last week)
    June 18, 2011, 6:14 pm

    Fantastic! Both the article and the video. I’m envious — I’ve crawled about inside a Lancaster but never flown in one, which isn’t surprising given that’s the only one air-worthy in N America. Great experience. Lucky duck!

  4. Natalie T.
    Canada
    June 18, 2011, 10:16 pm

    What an amazing experience. I live in Toronto and I didn’t know this existed in Hamilton. Thanks for opening my eyes to an experience like this and glad you got to see the landscape of beautiful Toronto.

  5. John
    Katy, Texas
    June 19, 2011, 10:49 am

    For someone who has read and re-read Dam Busterrs, seeing such wonderful videos of actually flying in a Lancaster Bomber is a special experience. Thank you!

  6. Rob
    Hamilton, ON, Canada
    June 23, 2011, 10:04 am

    This and all of the other museum planes fly over my house on a regular basis. The sound of one Lanc cruising overhead is impressive. I can only imagine the experience of 1,000 bombers flying over you on a mission to enemy lands. The pride that the allieds must have felt was likely surpassed only by the terror experienced by the bomber’s targets. Great article Andrew. You have a new fan.

    I’ve driven past the airport hundreds of times, but only visited the museum once. That will soon change.

  7. [...] The next morning Andrew got to do something most of us only dream of. On the eve of the Father’s Day weekend Hamilton International Air Show, Andrew took a flight in an Avro Lancaster WWII bomber, one of only two such bombers still flying in the world. It was a dream come true for the history buff who used to build model airplanes as a boy. He described the Lanc and the rest of the flying artefacts at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum as “Hamilton’s treasures.” Watch a video of Andrew’s breathtaking flight here. [...]

  8. carol
    Wyoming
    June 27, 2011, 12:03 pm

    The video and written material about the Lancaster was just magnificent. My father piloted a Lancaster and flew more bombing missions than most. He was from N.Y. but joined the Canadian Air Force because the U.S. wasn’t “in” yet. Thank you from a daughter who is finally beginning to appreciate what her father did during WWII.

  9. Steve Edgar
    Oakville Ontario
    January 19, 2012, 5:20 pm

    I took a ride in the Lanc for my 50th Birthday! Couldn’t get over how loud it was as well as the pillow-soft landing you get on those big puffy tires!