Climb onboard two iconic aircraft and discover how bombers evolved from the Second World War to the Cold War.
Both designed by the legendary Avro chief designer Roy Chadwick, the Avro Lancaster and Avro Vulcan in IWM's collection represent two distinct eras in aircraft evolution.
Through a 90 minute tour, limited to four participants and led by an IWM expert, you'll learn about the political and military reasons for the development of each aircraft, the circumstances behind their inceptions and their remarkable respective service histories.
You'll also gain a deeper understanding of the huge strides made in aircraft engineering from the 1940s through to the 1960s.
As an added bonus, you'll also have the chance to go onboard Duxford's Avro York, owned by Duxford Aviation Society, a direct descendent of the Lancaster designed to transport cargo, and a veteran of the Berlin Airlift.
Duxford's Avro Lancaster: KB889
Graham Rodgers: “In the early parts of the Second World War from 1939 to 1941 some statistics say that only one in 10 RAF bombers in Bomber Command was getting to within five miles of its target. Those early aeroplanes - twin-engined aeroplanes, such as the Wellington, the Blenheim, the Hanley Page Hamden and the Whitley - very brave guys going around in quite antiquated airplanes. An Avro Manchester with a full crew of seven guys usually were struggling to get up to ten thousand feet and 200 miles an hour and also struggling to get off the ground with a full bomb load sometimes. Avro, the company that made the Manchester, went back to the drawing board with a designer, a gentleman called Roy Chadwick and ended up with this: the Lancaster."
Reporter: "The greatest and most powerful of the RAF's mighty fleet of bombers, Lancaster's electrified the world with their spectacular debut in the epic daylight raid on Augsburg. Here was the machine that should bring to fruition Winston Churchill's promise that Germany would be subjected to an ordeal the like of which has never been experienced by any country."
Graham Rodgers: "Now Mr Chadwick basically went back to his drawing board with the Manchester and decided he could do a lot better. So, he altered the wing spa, altered the tail slightly, and replaced the two inboard engines which were made by Rolls Royce but they were neither that reliable nor that powerful - they were called the Vulture. Mr Chadwick got rid of the Rolls-Royce Vulture engines, replaced them with four, tried tested; very reliable 27 litre v12s called the Merlin."
Reporter: "Liquid cooled Rolls-Royce Merlins - as good an aircraft engine as the world can produce."
Graham Rodgers: "With an extended wingspan of 102 feet, a wing spa to take the weight of the bomb load and four very powerful engines, Mr Chadwick ended up with an airplane within excess of five and a half thousand horsepower, capable of carrying the heaviest bomb load in the European theatre of operation, up to 20 plus thousand feet and 240 miles an hour."
Interviewer: "What did you think of the Lancaster to fly after the Wellington?"
Peter Huggins: "Oh beautiful, beautiful, it’s almost faultless I think. It's just like an overgrown tiger moth almost, you know, lovely little thing. More comfortable, warmer, more room in the cockpit, much better equipment, faster of course."
Graham Rodgers: "We are now inside the Imperial War Museum's Canadian built Lancaster KB889.So positions: you would have had stereotypically seven men, eight if there's an intelligence man on board. So, from the top you would have had on the right hand side the flight engineer in charge of looking after the engines. To his left would have been the pilot. No co-pilot on the Lancaster in the wartime not like a B-17 you just had the pilot on the left and his flight engineer on the right. Down below and further forward there would have been the bomb aimer laid on his tummy and also doubling up as a front gunner two 303 machine guns in the front turret. Coming further back now behind the pilot on the left you would have had the navigator, next to the navigator, the wireless operator for communications. Coming further back now and over the main wing spa which is very difficult to get up and over you have three: the first one covering the controls; the secondary spa; and then the third one that you have to climb up over and through to get over there. So, coming back, the mid-turret gunner. On this particular turret there are two 50 calibre machine guns. The turret is made by Martin in the United States as opposed to the earlier Fraser Nash ones with 303 British guns. Here and behind the pilot's head are the only pieces of armour plating on the entire airplane. That for crew protection is just about it. Down all the way at the bottom there: the tail turret gunner. The loneliest and most vulnerable position of a Lancaster's crew. He didn't have anything to protect him except a little piece of Perspex and towards the end of the war the piece of Perspex in front of his turret was taken out to help his field of view. But four 303 machine guns down there. He could have been the eyes and the ears and the difference between life and death for his crew."
Len Manning: "So, you had to get up in and slide down the other side into the turret. It was actually a slide, and you had two handles on the top to help you get your feet in, get you get your bottom set, on a little tiny narrow seat, and then shut the door into the turret so you completely enclosed, and that was it, you were stuck there until you you got back."
Interviewer: "Did that make it quite lonely?"
Len Manning: "Oh yeah you were really lonely stuck out the back there that's right. We just had to keep watch out watching out to make sure that you weren't attacked by fighters, but at night that was quite difficult because when it's dark it is dark you can't see a lot anyway. I know that my attitude was that being that it would be very difficult in the dark to recognise a plane then you'd shoot first and ask questions afterwards."
Graham Rodgers: "The fuselage, the skin of the Lancaster that is .7 of a millimetre thick it would not stop a bullet of any calibre. The heavy machine guns from a Messerschmitt 109G; or a Fockerwolf 190 would go straight through here, straight through me and straight through the other side of the airplane and continue on their way. And both of those aeroplanes I just mentioned were also armed with cannons, which would rip a Lancaster to pieces. The lights that you see in here are just here you can see me and inside our Lancaster. Can't have on at 20,000 feet over Berlin at midnight; it'd bring every night fighter for miles. Just one other thing: you have four 27 litre supercharged V-12 engines, five and a half thousand horsepower and we're basically in a big tin can. So you have a dark, deafening, freezing and lethal environment."
Hugh Parrott: "The wireless operator was in the middle of the wing and that's where the heat came in, so was nice and hot, in fact too hot, and everybody else was very cold. I don't remember the op but we were hit by a flack, which made a very nice hole in the floor of the aircraft, not a particularly big hole but the slipstream came through, and it's the first time I've been there with my feet frozen - literally ice because the sweat in the flying boots froze up - and the rest of me was hot from the heating coming in from the aircraft, and my knees were sort of in between the two."
Graham Rodgers: "So here we are underneath the cavernous bomb bay of a Lancaster. This behind me here is a standard average of what a Lancaster would carry into battle every night. So, we have a 4,000lb bomb called a Cookie, which is 4,000lb on its own. Two one thousand pounders, two five hundred pounders, two 250 pounders over here, and the horrible things in these wooden boxes here are called incendiaries: a stick about that long, about that wide and they are horrible. The Germans dropped a couple of hundred thousand of them on us and we returned the offer with a couple of million on them. But a Lancaster because of its design and its huge, cavernous bomb bay could be adapted to carry specific bombs to destroy a specific target. Mentioning Barnes Wallis, an extremely clever engineer at Vickers, now he designed three specific bombs: Tall Boy, Upkeep and Grand Slam. A Tall Boy bomb: one bomb, the nose of it would be pressed up against the bulkhead here and the tail of it would be two-thirds of the way down the fuselage there down the bomb bay. Now a Tall Boy bomb could get through 10 feet of reinforced concrete.
A Grand Slam bomb - like a Tall Boy only bigger - a grand slam bomb's nose would be up here. The B special Lancaster designed to carry it wouldn't have bomb doors like this one because the tail of the bomb would be hanging out the other end of the bomb bay, about 30 feet down there. Now that bomb dropped from height would spiral on the way down because it had altered fins at the tail hitting supersonic speeds that thing could get through 18 feet of steel reinforced concrete. The third weapon that Mr Wallis invented was very special indeed that was code named Upkeep. Upkeep was the famous bouncing bomb. Germany was using hydroelectricity to power their steel mills in the wartime. Hydro. Water. Millions and millions of gallons of it all held in the Ruhr Valley in Germany. All that water was held back by three huge hydroelectric dams. The Mohne Dam holds back three times the amount of water as the great Hoover Dam in America. Now Wallis realised that if you break the dams not only will you cause widespread flooding in Nazi Germany but if you take away the water, they can't make hydroelectricity; if they can't make hydroelectricity they can't power the steel mills that make tanks, bullets, bombs and guns. But - how do you break the dams in 1943?
Mr Wallis came up with this idea: an idea of a four and a half tonne back-spinning mine full of Torpex explosives, thrown low and fast at the dam. To throw something that big at the dam, the only thing available that could carry and throw that thing was the Lancaster, with its 5,500 horsepower and its huge carrying ability. But of course when you're flying very low and fast you need a very special squadron. Bomber Harris in charge of Bomber Command picked a young go-getting wing commander called Guy Gibson to form a secret squadron called Squadron X at the time.
Hand-picked pilots from all over Bomber Command: Mickey Martin, John Hopgood, Les Monroe, Dinghy Young, all gathered at Scampton in Lincolnshire, and practice and practice and practice, down low, down to 60 feet. The raid itself came and the intelligence report said that the Mohne Dam was only lightly defended. That report was incorrect, the Mohne Dam was very heavily defended. Gibson, leading by example, went in first into the Mohne Dam. The flak was arcing towards Gibson's head, but he kept going faster and faster up to 230 miles an hour at 60 feet eventually bomb gone. It worked. Skipping over the water at 230 miles an hour but it fell short slightly of the dam."
Joseph Sumpter: "You left your intercom on so the everybody in the plane could hear what was being said. You heard Gibson say "I'm going in now", and you saw him dive down and run over the dam and all the flack and the gun started firing at him and he dropped his bomb I don't know, well, nothing happened anyway he just saw the big spout of water. When he got back, he said “come in number two you can go in now”, and that was Mickey Martin and while Martin was doing his run Gibson flew alongside him to try and draw the flack."
Graham Rodgers: "The Mohne Dam eventually fell, as did the Eder Dam, but that raid cost the lives of 53 young lads. But between 1939 and 1945 Bomber Command lost 55,573 fine young men.
Our Lancaster, registration KB889, came to Duxford in the early ‘80s I believe. KB889 was part of a training squadron in late 1944, early 1945. A new crew got together and went on one training flight. KB889 was flying along, and the pilot managed to fly it into a cumulonimbus cloud and the Lancaster was turned on its back. Obviously Lancasters aren't made to do a barrel roll and the middle turret gunner, he was so scared he bailed out. But the pilot managed to get the airplane righted again and landed it safely. But of course, it had to be stress tested and by the time all the rivets were stress tested in the airframe, the war was over. So back it went to Canada, and it took part in quite a bit of coastal patrol over there and saved quite a few lives. So instead of killing lots of people, it saved quite a few.
Thank you for watching this Imperial War Museums video, please like and subscribe to our channel."
The Avro Lancaster was the most famous British bomber of the Second World War and the iconic aircraft behind the famous Dambusters raid.
Take a look around Duxford's Lancaster KB889 in this video.
- Access to the inside of the Lancaster is limited due to the nature of the aircraft.
- Access to the aircraft is via a flight of steps and a small door with a ledge.
- A small viewing platform is in place to allow customers to view inside the rear section of the aircraft.
- Customers who have a concern regarding their ability to access the aircraft should contact us in advance to discuss their needs.
Duxford's Avro Vulcan: XJ824
Liam Shaw: "If you talk to someone about the Vulcan today they'll often associate its history with that of its use in the Falklands conflict of 1982, when it undertook the longest bombing raid of any RAF aircraft flying from Ascension Island.
The Vulcan however wasn't designed for that particular role. It was designed in the early stages of the Cold War as a nuclear high level bomber.
In Britain following the end of the Second World War thoughts turned to future conflict and the decision was made to tender the aircraft companies of the day to produce a bomber that would be able to fly fairly long range and to drop a nuclear weapon. What's particularly interesting is that that decision was made before the decision was made to proceed with Britain's independent nuclear weapon. The Vulcan was one of a number of designs, initially six aircraft companies tended for the idea; four of which went forward to prototype stage.
The first one is one that's not particularly well known the Short Sperrin. A fairly conventional looking aeroplane, albeit with four engines, with a pair mounted above each other in each wing. Two were made but it didn't go into production.
The first production bomber that came from that was the Vickers Valiant. Again, a fairly conventional aircraft and unfortunately it didn't progress very far due to a change in tactics and fatigue life.
The next aircraft to fly was the Vulcan; the second to carry the V name. By this point the air ministry had decided that their previous idea of naming bombers after famous towns and cities in the UK needed a little bit of a change as the aircraft became more dynamic so the Vulcan became the second of the V bombers. It was followed into service by the Hadley Page Victor: able to actually carry slightly more bombs than the Vulcan, it never went on to gain the same fame.
So, we're now in the pilot seat of Avro Vulcan. It's a very cramped area to be in but probably for the pilot and the co-pilot on my right they have at least got a fairly decent view outside - at least they can see outside unlike the three crew members sitting behind.
In this position we'll notice quite a few interesting features of the Vulcan, one of which is the control column in front unlike most bombers, it's not of the spectacle handle type but this is very much a fighter pilot style joystick, partly because of the handling of the aircraft and the modern technology that had gone into it, but it certainly gave the pilot and co-pilot when they were sitting in here a very different feel to most of the other bombers of the era.
In the centre we have four throttles, one each for each engine and that's represented by quadruple instruments in front of us for engine pressures, oil pressures and otherwise.
The Vulcan itself was able to be started in a conventional way with individual engines running but in the event of a scramble they could actually fast start which would involve firing all four engines simultaneously and that would allow a squadron to get into the air in less than four minutes.
A proportion of the crews that fly the V bombers is always on hand.
The Vulcan itself from the Avro aircraft company is an aircraft not too dissimilar in some respects to the aircraft that preceded it the Rolls-Royce merlin engine Avro Lancaster. I imagine a Lancaster pilot sitting in the cockpit of the Vulcan other than having to deal with a number of extra features caused by having jet engines probably would have noticed something very similar in the instrument panel here. When this aircraft first flew in the 1950s it really wasn't that far ahead in terms of what we're looking at from the Lancaster. Indeed through to the end of its service by the mid-80s things hadn't changed at all either, the system still worked, the dials still did what they needed to and they didn't really modernise it, so someone who flew a Vulcan at the early part of its service would have noticed very few changes by the end of its service life. One thing with the Vulcan was that it was a very electrical aircraft; it didn't have a lot of systems in it that were unnecessary and the electric function meant that if the electrical power to the aircraft was lost things like control on the control column would become very difficult, if not impossible. As a result just up in front of us on the instrument panel is a release for the ram air turbine. Underneath the wing is a small airflow generator that will drop and that will provide enough power for the pilot to gain control of the aircraft in the event of electrical system failure. The Vulcan control column will allow the aircraft to move to control the elevons on the rear surface of the wing but because of the forces required to move it they are inputted electronically and a real feel had to be put in to stop pilots over stressing the aircraft."
Interviewer: "What were your initial impressions of the Vulcan?"
Eric Denham: "Very impressed yes, with the power and the performance of it, the way it handled. It wasn't heavy, I mean it was very light on the controls because the feel was artificial. In fact there was no real feel of the aircraft - that had to be fed in to give the pilot the feeling that he was flying the airplane when it was electrics. It wasn't supersonic but it was very close to that and I suppose the swept wing of the delta made it possible to achieve these speeds."
Liam Shaw: "The Vulcan has a crew of five. Up front both the pilot and co-pilot are sitting on ejector seats underneath a jettisonable canopy. In the event of an emergency it's often the case that the co-pilot would have ejected that would have allowed the canopy to depart, the co-pilot would have followed but it would have allowed the aircraft itself to depressurise - very important because the three guys in the back all facing backwards - the air electronics officer, the navigator plotter and the navigator radar - weren't equipped with ejection seats. They would have had to open the crew access door, rotate their seats and physically move out of those seats aided by an inflating bag in the chair to push them towards the door and hopefully to safety.
Conditions in the cockpit of the Vulcan are very cramped. In terms of crew comforts they didn't have a huge amount. They were equipped with a pair of food heaters one of which is behind the pilot seat the other behind the co-pilot seat, neither of which were to be relied upon for actually warming up the can of soup that you may have put in there."
Eric Macey: "The original Vulcan design catered for just one pilot but Avro was asked to standardise by fitting two ejection seats side by side in the extremely small cockpit compared with the Valiant and the Victor which had a very tightly curved roof, and that is why many of us who flew the Vulcan for for many, many years have a virtual permanent crick in the neck. The head was either that way to the left or that way to the right to to cater for the combing."
Liam Shaw: "Flight time in the Vulcan: the crew in here could have been inside for eight or more hours in the case of the Falkland's mission that was possibly doubled to around 16 hours or so. The Vulcan was designed to carry conventional bombs but also nuclear weapons in the event of the cold war becoming hot. The Vulcan has four engines buried deep within the wing root of that massive delta wing. When the Vulcan was designed, the delta was a new concept, so new in fact that Avro actually built a number of one-third scale prototypes we could call them to test out the theory of the delta wing. It was certainly the first production aircraft in the RAF to adopt this shape and really the first combat aircraft anywhere in the world to do so. During the later stages of the Second World War the Germans had experimented with the delta shape but it was still a very new concept. It was the Vulcan's delta wing as well that enabled it to have longevity of service life. Preceding it into service was the Valiant but when the V Force was requested to fly at low level, the wings on the Valiant began to show signs of stress and they were withdrawn from service, but the Vulcan's big thick wing protected it when it reverted to that low level role.
But originally it was designed to go in at high level to drop nuclear weapons on Russian towns and cities in the event of that becoming a necessity. They would have been painted overall bright white, anti-flash white but when they reverted to the low-level role by which point they would probably have been carrying more tactical nuclear weapons in the case of something like the blue steel standoff weapon, they gained this camouflage surface to protect them in that environment."
Eric Macey: "With the switch to low level a dark green camouflage paint was introduced. But of course the boffins had quite failed to appreciate that to a fighter loitering above we now stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. Nor at low level could we use the the blackout curtains to protect against flash. Against nuclear flash, that's absolutely right. So we couldn't use these at low level we needed to look out to make sure we weren't going to fly into anything. And so we were issued with and were required to wear on operations a standard black medical eye patch and in the event of being blinded we were to lift it up switch it over and put it on the other eye. Not very scientific was it, certainly not very comforting, but that was the primary aid to protect against nuclear flash at that time."
Video footage reporter: "And so they slide past, the giants of the US strategic air command, following them the huge white shapes of Britain's long range heavies, their vast bulks making their speed appear deceptively slow."
James Harrison: "That wing alone about two wing that itself put 2000 feet on the cruise climb ceiling even without the bigger more powerful Olympus engines were fitted to the mark II so that you know with four times 20,000 pounds of thrust and for demonstration purposes you could get the weight down to about a hundred, hundred and ten thousand pounds. The thrust weight ratio was absolutely astronomical. The highest I ever had a Vulcan was sixty two and a half thousand feet. Not much fuel left I must admit. Critical Mach number, well of course in those days one was never absolutely certain of position errors, but I dare say the fastest we ever went was a in the region of nine six or nine seven."
Liam Shaw: "Our Vulcan x-ray Juliet 824 is a Vulcan B2. It's the second variant of the Vulcan, the second main production variant, and this particular one was used all of its life as a bomber. It flew with numerous squadrons all over the country and indeed around the world and was delivered to Duxford in March 1982. Very significantly it was delivered by a pilot by the name of Martin Withers who just a few weeks or months later when the Falkland's conflict began he undertakes the first of the Black Buck raids flying a Vulcan from Ascension island to the Falkland's where he drops bombs that crater the main runway. This particular mission was the longest bombing raid undertaken by the RAF and indeed by any country up to that point."
John Curtiss: "And so, very expensively, and with a great deal of effort we were able to mount some six attacks on the Falkland islands by Vulcans operating out of Ascensions. I say very expensively because in order to get one Vulcan over the Falkland islands we needed team tankers they had to actually refurbish the flight in-flight refuelling system to the Vulcan. There was a shortage of probes and the director of the Imperial War Museum was telling me that the RAF even borrowed a probe off a Vulcan bomber which they had in the museum. I'm told that they did return it after the war. They were extremely long and extremely difficult sorties for the crews involved. Flight refuelling is not perhaps it's quite as easy as it looks, the Vulcan speed and the tanker speed have to be coordinated they have a very small basket to aim for with their probe and of course only a small window in which they could do this refuelling."
Liam Shaw: "The Avro Vulcan is a truly amazing aircraft. It has a real affinity with the British public and being able to see one here at Duxford allows you to look at its immense size, it's immense presence that it must have had in the sky and to compare it to an aircraft that flew just 11 years before it in the shape of the piston-engined Avro Lancaster. The Vulcan of the three V bombers has gone down probably as the most famous partly because of its role in the Falkland's campaign, partly also because after that conflict it was retired as a bomber within the same year by December 1982. But the legacy of the Vulcan was such that the RAF themselves kept one airframe on as a display aircraft for a number of years allowing the public to continue seeing this aircraft long after it had gone out of service.
Thank you for taking the time to watch our video on the Avro Vulcan, we hope you've enjoyed it. Please take a moment to take a look at our YouTube channel and don't forget to like and subscribe."
The most famous of the "V bombers", the Vulcan was the cornerstone of Britain's airborne nuclear deterrent during the Cold War.
Take a look around Duxford's Vulcan XJ824 in this video.
- Access to the inside of the Vulcan is limited due to the nature of the aircraft.
- To access the Vulcan’s cockpit, you must be physically fit to and able to climb two ladders.
- Customers who have a concern regarding their ability to access the aircraft should contact us in advance to discuss their needs.
- If your Guide feels it is not safe or possible for you to access the cockpit of the Vulcan, then we reserve the right to refuse access.
- This cockpit experience is suitable for adults only. Unfortunately we are unable to offer this experience to children of 15 and under due to the accessibility of the cockpit.
- Tickets must be purchased in advance, they are not available to purchase on the day.