Fly past of PA474 Avro Lancaster at Henley
In July 2022, the Phyllis Court Photography Group had a request from the Thames Traditional Boat Rally organisers to take photos of the arranged fly past of Spitfire and Lancaster aircraft during the boat rally and a number of members of the Group were placed around the rally to witness these aircraft fly past. A specific request was for an image of the aircraft over the Rally. I volunteered to take photos from the top of the church tower and with the kind assistance of the rector, Father Jeremy Tayler, I was able to do this. Having taken advice from one of my fellow members experienced in photographing aircraft, that I should use a shutter speed of less than 1/250 sec so as not to 'freeze the props', on the Saturday I took photos of the Hurricane fly past (the Spitfire being out of service) using this shutter speed and of course at this close distance, all of the photos had excessive movement blur, bearing in mind that I was using my 500mm lens hand held. The following day, I set my shutter speed at 1/2500 sec and took this series of photos of the Lancaster fly past. The aircraft appeared from the south, circled and flew down the length of the Thames before circling around over Hambleden, returning up river and circling again for a third fly past before disappearing off to the north-west. The props are of course 'frozen' at this shutter speed, which some feel gives an unnatural look to the image. I tried to add a little motion blur in Photoshop but that did not look right either. Had I planned the shoot properly (Which of course assumes that I would actually know where the aircraft would come from, where it would fly and how many times it would pass), I might have tested a number of different shutter speeds for the best compromise result but it was all a little bit too exciting and short of time to think too straight.
This aircraft is known as PA474 and is a four-engined, Second World War era, Avro Lancaster heavy bomber operated by the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It is one of only two Lancasters in flying condition in the world, the other being owned and flown by the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. It was built by Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd at its Broughton factory near Chester in 1945 and was to be part of the British Tiger Force for strategic bombing in the Far East. Following the end of the war with Japan, the aircraft was not needed and PA474 entered storage. With gun turrets removed it was assigned to Photographic Reconnaissance duties with 82 Squadron in East and South Africa. On return from squadron service, PA474 was loaned to Flight Refuelling Limited and was planned to be used as a pilotless drone but then instead was transferred to the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, Bedfordshire to be used for trials on the Handley Page laminar flow wing. The test wings were mounted vertically above the rear fuselage. In 1964 it came under the control of the Air Historical Branch for possible display in the proposed RAF Museum. During this time the aircraft appeared in two films: Operation Crossbow and The Guns of Navarone. It was stored first at Wroughton and then at Henlow then, after a request in 1965 from 44 Squadron, the Lancaster moved to RAF Waddington for restoration back to wartime standard including refitting the front and rear turrets.
In 1973 it was transferred to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. In 1975 a mid-upper turret was found in Argentina and fitted. During the winter of 1995 the Lancaster was fitted with a new main spar to extend the flying life.
On 7 May 2015, the aircraft suffered a fire in its starboard outer engine. A safe landing was made at RAF Coningsby. It flew again on 12 October 2015 after extensive work to fix the damage caused by the fire to number four engine. It was later announced that with the ongoing maintenance, PA474 should still be airworthy until 2065.