Legendary test pilot Alex Henshaw on flying the Lancaster

The Vickers-Armstrongs plant at Castle Bromwich turned out 305 Lancasters during World War Two. In a feature first published in Aeroplane’s September 1983 issue,  test pilot Alex Henshaw recalled flying the first of them — and the machinations leading up to it
A classic Charles E. Brown study of a Castle Bromwich-built Lancaster I airborne on a flight test in March 1945.
A classic Charles E. Brown study of a Castle Bromwich-built Lancaster I airborne on a flight test in March 1945. GETTY

As the target date of 22 October 1943 approached, the advent of the first production Lancaster from the Castle Bromwich works created a swelling atmosphere of excitement and expectancy among the staff. I am sure that it also stirred varying emotions in certain individuals from both Vickers-Armstrongs and the old Nuffield Group.

Nobody who was aware of the trauma existing between Supermarine and Nuffield, which had built up to a climax in the early months of 1940, could fail to appreciate the significance. On the one side, there was a highly successful and skilled aviation team capable of producing the finest aircraft in small numbers on an often limited budget; on the other, a huge factory complex accustomed to churning out motor cars in vast numbers, and the only positive knowledge that most of the workforce had about aircraft was that they did not always keep their wheels on the ground. Backed by politicians, seemingly unlimited finance, and national publicity on an unprecedented scale, the huge industrial complex of Castle Bromwich on the outskirts of Birmingham was designed to achieve a production output of aircraft previously undreamed-of in this country.

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