In years gone by I used to liken one of my old colleagues to a WWII Lancaster bomber.
You could always rely on her to slowly but surely drone towards the required organisational target; drop her bombs all over it, and chug back over the North Sea – usually with a rueful smile, half a wing blown off and one of her engines misfiring.
In that era I fancied myself more the de Havilland Mosquito: fast, accurate – but lightly armoured; the ideal pathfinder.
Now I realise it’s my turn to be the Lancaster pilot.
Thankless (and at times seemingly pointless) long lonely missions; flying through the dark; constant flak and regular strafing; searchlights hunting you down; uneven inexperienced crews – no sooner back from one mission before back in the cockpit again toward another improbable and impregnable target.
But the penny dropped the other week; this is what my kind of job now is. A big operational job is much more Bomber Command than fast reconnaissance and precision bombing with an expert co-pilot.
Resilience, calm under fire, keeping a crew intact and in the sky; and taking it one day at a time are the thing. The Lancaster wasn’t the prettiest machine, but it got the job done.
This footage I found – from the cockpit radio of a Lancaster on two raids in 1943 – is a sobering listen. There’s plenty of tension at 20,000 feet, but spare a thought for the destruction down below.
Makes my modest troubles seem small beer indeed; it took something special to fly a Lancaster.