Avro Lancaster "Aries" Comes to the Yukon
Whitehorse, Yukon has been a stopover point for many historic flights. The first newspaper article copied in its entirety below discusses "Aries", a modified Avro Lancaster bomber that arrived on May 24, 1945 during a polar air navigation research flight. That article prompted ExploreNorth's editor to undertake some research to discover more about the very interesting aircraft.
Aries was built as a Royal Air Force Lancaster I (serial number PD328), but soon after the war was converted to a Lancastrian, basically a Lancaster without armour or armament and with the gun turrets replaced by streamlined metal fairings, including a new nose section. She would later serve with QANTAS and Flota Aérea Mercante Argentina.
The Whitehorse Star
June 1, 1945
An historic event took place last Thursday when the first British Lancaster aircraft "Aries" arrived at the local airport from London, England and left the following morning on its non-stop 4000 miles flight to London which was accomplished in twenty hours, 45 seconds behind her scheduled time. It took 17 tons of gasoline (over 4000 gallons) on board to make the trip. The crew of 11 left London on May 10 and enroute to Canada made two long trips into the polar regions. One was from Iceland over the geographic north pole, and the other from Goose Bay over the magnetic pole. Wing Commander D. C. McKinley is captain of the aircraft. On their arrival back home the party had covered approximately 28,000 miles. He stated that he and his crew were on the strength of the Empire Air Navigation School at Shawbury, Shropshire, England, and engaged in air navigation research work. Although the flight had been a most interesting one it was not the longest. The longest flight was made by the Soviet flyers shortly before the war . The average height at which it was flown was 1500 and 1600 feet. As a precautionary measure she carried on board two years food supply most of which presumably was in concentrated form.
Lancaster 'Aries' at Whitehorse, Yukon, in 1945 (Yukon Archives, Glen Stinson fonds)
May 31st, 1945
With the arrival back at its Shropshire base at 2.43 p.m. last Saturday, the R.A.F. Lancaster, Aries, completed a unique mission for the Empire Air Navigation School of the Flying Training Command in a series of flights over the geographical and magnetic North Poles.
An important discovery was the locating of the Magnetic North Pole in the Sverdrup Islands, between 200 and 300 miles N.N.W. of its previously supposed position and within about 75 miles of the Astronomer Royal's estimate. It is 1,500 miles from the Geographical North Pole, and was located at 1 a.m. G.M.T. during the homeward flight from White Horse, Yukon, a 4,170 miles "hop" covered in 18 hr. 27 min. Altogether Aries covered 17,720 miles on the expedition and landed back at base within 1 min. of her E.T.A.
As reported in last week's issue (May 24th) of Flight, the Aries began its mission by a flight from Shawbury to Iceland, where final preparations for the actual polar trips were completed . Then, at 5.23 p.m. (D.B.S.T.) on Wednesday, May 16th, her pilot, Wing Cdr. D.C. McKinley, D.F.C., A.F.C., took Aries off from her Icelandic airfield, flew over the Geographical North Pole, and returned to the same airfield, landing at six minutes after noon the following day. It is calculated that they were over the Pole at approximately 3 a.m.
On Friday, May 18th, Aries again set out from Iceland for the Magnetic North Pole, it being the intention of McKinley to fly on from the Pole to Dorval, Montreal. But electrical difficulties arose, and he decided to land at Goose Bay.
By afternoon the next day, however, the Lancaster was able to take off again from Goose Bay airfield and fly to Dorval, where she landed at ten minutes past noon on Sunday, May 20th. From there she flew to White Horse.
Senior navigator of the crew of the Aries was Wing Cdr. W. E. Anderson, O.B.E., D.F.C., and he was assisted by Flt. Lt. S. T. Underwood.
Polar Crew: The crew of the Aries, with Wing Cdr. McKinley, hand on hip, in the centre, snapped with their specially equipped Lancaster at Shawbury (Salop) just before the start of the expedition.
January 30th, 1947
The Avro Lancaster Aries of the Empire Air Navigation School, one of the most famous aircraft of the R.A.F., has been retired. Her place is being taken by a specially modified Lincoln Mk. II, named Aries II.
Lancaster PD 328 arrived at E.A.N.S. in 1944 to satisfy a request for an aircraft suitable for long-range navigation liaison flights. Her squadron letter was A, and as the School's practice was to name their aircraft after stars, planets and constellations, the choice was an obvious one and she was christened Aries. Her first job was to circumnavigate the globe.
She flew on forty days of the fifty-three day tour which took her through every type of climate in 202 flying hours, and she covered a distance of some 41,000 nautical miles. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the tour was not that any record was broken but that the aircraft was a normal "Lanc."
Early in 1945 Aries made two liaison flights, one to U.S.A. and Canada and one to South Africa, which were followed in May by some of the most spectacular flights ever made - to the North Poles (geographic and magnetic). For these polar flights special modifications were made, including the removal of gun turrets and camouflage. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the bomb bays and a Lincoln-type undercarriage was fitted. To replace the nose and tail turrets fairings were built on and from now onwards Aries could be considered as a Lancastrian rather than a Lancaster. After considerable preparation, Aries, in her peacetime guise, took off from Shawbury two days after VE Day and when she returned sixteen days later, after flying a total of 25,000 nautical miles (17,000 of these in the Arctic Circle) she arrived back at her base three minutes ahead of schedule.
In the following July a trip to Canada was made and then in September a tour of the Mediterranean, all of which put another 17,300-odd miles in the log book. The next "big" flight was to South Africa in January, 1946, when during a normal liaison flight Aries made a non-stop flight from Cairo to Cape Town and broke all England-Cape records.
The last really long flight was in August last year. True, in May Aries made a trip to Newfoundland, but this was considered a "local" flight by the E.A.N.S. On the last long flight to Australasia three F.A.I. records were established - London to Karachi (19 hours 21 minutes), London to Darwin ( (45 hours 35 minutes) and London to Wellington (59 hours 51 min).
Finally, in October, 1946, this historic Lancaster made her last liaison tour through Canada and the United States.
These articles give very brief information - for much more information about the intentions and the considerable challenges of the 1945 flights of Aries, see the excellent article by Hugh A. Halliday in Legion Magazine, January 1, 2004 (although the title says "Part 1", there never was a Part 2).
1. The longest flight referred to in the first article occurred on July 12-14, 1937, when Russians Mikhail Gromov and crew flew a Tupolev ANT-25 10,148.5 km from Moscow to San Jacinto, California.
2. The airfield used in Iceland was Meeks Field at Reykjavik.
The photograph below shows Aries in flight. By Flight Lieutenant A. Goodchild, Royal Air Force official photographer, from the Air Ministry Second World War Official Collection.