February 1946: the last of the piston-engined bombers

Soon to be superseded by the jet-powered V-bombers, the Lincoln represented the last gasp of WWII technology for the RAF.

The world and technology changed rapidly after the end of the second world war, perhaps nowhere more noticeably than in aerospace. The RAF’s iconic heavy bomber, the Lancaster, had served the country well, but by the mid-1940s it was ageing and needed replacement.

Lincoln bomber
The Lincoln bomber was larger and more capable then the Lancaster, but the last of its kind

Jet engines had already started to make their presence felt in military aircraft, but only in single-seat fighters, and the replacement for the Lancaster was the AVRO Lincoln, which The Engineer covered in 1946. Classed as a Superbomber, it bore a strong resemblance to the Lancaster despite being larger, and indeed used many of the same components: it was another four-engined aircraft, using Rolls-Royce Merlin engines (although a more powerful variant than the Lancaster), with a wingspan of 120ft and a 78ft long fuselage carrying 4.5 tons of equipment and housing a crew of seven.

A notable use of new technology was radar, including a complete unit just for the rear gunner, allowing him to aim his weaponry even if he didn’t have a direct line of sight to the target. The forward guns were aimed and fired by the air bomber (formerly called the bomb aimer).

The Lincoln could reach a speed of 314mph at an altitude of 18000ft, although it was capable of operating at a maximum altitude of 35,000ft (6.5miles) and could fly for 1350 miles while carrying a ten-ton bomb. Its maximum range was 4450 miles. It carried more fuel than the Lancaster and flew higher and further.

It was to be the RAF’s last piston-engined bomber. The need to carry nuclear weapons led to the development of the jet-engined V-bombers, — the Vickers Valliant, Avro Vulcan and Handley-Page Victor —  which could fly faster, higher and further. These were already in development in 1945, the same year that the Lincoln became operational. Although the Lincoln remained in service until 1963, seeing action in Kenya and Malaya, they were mostly phased-out during the 1950s. and the old, characteristic RAF bomber silhouette, with its straight wings and H-shaped tailplane, was gone forever.