Stubborn engine delays Vera’s departure

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Aug 05, 2014

Hamilton Spectator
By Susan Clairmont

Keep calm and carry on, indeed.

It was a no go for Hamilton’s beloved Lancaster bomber Monday, which was supposed to take off on a historic journey to England, but wound up grounded.

With more than 2,000 well-wishers gathered to see her off, Vera — as her pilots affectionately call her — turned temperamental and refused to fire up one of her four engines. Pesky number two wouldn’t engage for the grand farewell at 10 a.m. and then, even after almost five hours of TLC and maintenance, stubbornly refused again just before 3 p.m.

The Lanc needed to be in the air by 3 to make it before dark to Goose Bay, Labrador where it is to rest after the first leg of its historic four-day journey.

The crowd, which dwindled to less than 1,000 by the second attempt, cheered for the mechanics and crew anyway, taking the philosophical view that it is better to be on the ground wishing you were up than to be up, wishing you were on the ground.

The bomber is heading across the pond to the RAF Coningsby Airport to meet up with the world’s only other sky-worthy Lancaster to fly together at several air shows. A third Lanc will join them at one show, but she will remain on the ground.

To the men and women who love Vera, the disappointing setback was proof of what they already knew — she has her own personality.

Chief pilot Don Schofield, 72, knows Vera better than anybody. He’s logged more hours with her than any other pilot.

“I thank my wife for her tolerance,” he says. “Vera is my big girlfriend and it’s very rare that you can have your wife and your mistress in the same place and all ends well.”

For Lynn Beaton, the day was partly about Vera, but mostly about Jack.

“He was the wonderful man I married.”

Her eyes filling with tears, the 90-year-old war bride recalls all those times in England when she would see the sky filled with Lancasters coming back home and hoping her husband was on one of them. Jack, who passed away 20 years ago, was a navigator and the spotter who dropped flares to guide the bombers to their targets.

“We never fastened our windows because of the vibrations from the Lancasters,” Beaton says.

After the war they moved to Hamilton and Jack became a member of the CWHM.

“Whenever the Lanc flew over our house, we’d be running through the door to see it, pushing each other out of the way,” Beaton says with a laugh.

Many of those in attendance had personal stories about the Lanc.

Matthew Munson, the 34-year-old Brit who paid $79,100 on eBay for a seat on Vera, doesn’t know what a sky full of Lancs sounds like, but his reverence for the aircraft runs deep.

A Dundas production team called Suddenly Seemore Inc., which is sending two members on the flight, is making a 90-minute documentary on the whole adventure because, as filmmaker Morgan Elliott says, “It’s a story that deserves to be told. And there’s no take two.”

Except for the departure, that is.


Morgan August 6, 2014 Buzz