Lancaster Cold War Memories

During the 1950’s, No. 407 Squadron Lancasters based at Comox, British Columbia
flew operations to search for airborne radiation from Russian atomic weapons blasts.
Occasionally the Lancs would return with a “hot filter.”
This information was combined with that from American patrols
likely flown from bases in Japan and Alaska and used to plot the fallout track.
Fred Burton is a No. 407 Squadron veteran who, amongst other things,
flew the museum’s Lancaster (FM159) from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
to serve with the squadron in Comox in June, Fred Burton

This particular flight took place on March 21, 1956 in Lancaster KB894. Takeoff was at 15:50 PST (rather late in the day) and consisted of a climb to 30,000 feet. Skipper on this flight was F/O Chown. I was the “lucky” guy who had to do the filter work in the rear rest.

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This consisted of changing an air filter about every 15 or 20 minutes by opening the rear rest window, swinging the filter holder in and changing the filter. Needless to say about a 160 knot wind then blew in through the window. After changing the filter you had a chance to “warm up.” Ho Ho Ho!! Heating in the aircraft at 30,000 feet was meager at best and in the rear rest was all but non-existent.

Being the short fat little guy, I used to get the filter-changing job. I donned my winter underwear, winter flying suit, a parka around me, another around my feet and fleece line boots as well. Ice from using oxygen coated you from your chin to your knees.

On this particular trip the outside air temp was -122 C. Beside me on the fuselage just under the window was a plug labelled “heated flying suit” but none were to be had as they had mostly rotted from long-term storage. There were two small tubes with a wee bit of warm air coming out of them that could be used to defrost the rear rest windows. Both of these were stuffed in the side of my flying suit for the only true warmth available.

In contrast, the pilots and navs were roasting up in the “greenhouse” in the bright sunshine. Maybe some other RO’s from the 50’s remember these trips. This was a short one, only 4:05 but some could go on for 6+ hours if we had 2554 gallons including the belly tank. The Lanc’s normal fuel consumption was about 200 gph and went up about 50 gph for every 5000 feet over 10,000 feet so theoretically we were burning about 400 gph. It was probably higher as the first half of the flight was all climbing. At that altitude you had to do a flat turn or you could drop 100’s of feet in an instant.

We were always briefed to fly at 30,000 feet (if we could get there) and one skipper always asked if that was the minimum. We did get a Lanc to 30,600 feet on one of those trips with him.