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Barnoldswick Phantom Bomber

Does a phantom Avro Lancaster bomber haunt the skies over Barnoldswick? In 2004 a flurry of sightings were reported which led to a series of newspaper reports in The Craven Herald. 

The Avro Lancaster was the Royal Air Force’s most famous bomber during World War II. Probably best known now for its role in Operation Chastise (the Dambusters raid on the Rhur Valley dams), Lancaster’s flew 156,000 sorties throughout the war and dropped over 600,000 tons of bombs.

An article in the The Craven Herald, January 23, 2004 reported: A visitor to Barnoldswick was astounded to see a large grey aeroplane appear out of the mist near the Rolls- Royce factory - and then vanish. The plane looked as though it was going to hit both her car she and her partner were travelling in, as well as nearby houses, but a second later it had disappeared without trace. Moira Thwaites, a retired policewoman from Nelson, explained that she and her partner Malcolm Spensley, of Gargrave, were travelling towards Barnoldswick along Skipton Road at around 11.20am last Tuesday. As they approached Rolls-Royce's Bankfield factory both said they saw a huge, grey coloured plane - possibly a Lancaster bomber-type with four propellers - emerging silently from the mist to their right. A split second later they were past it, but saw nothing more.

"It was so low I fully expected it to hit us, or at least hit the houses near the Bankfield site," she said. "We both fully expected to at least hear the impact of a crash, but there was nothing. And when we both looked back there was nothing. Whatever it was had vanished."

Mrs Thwaites added: "There wasn't a sound from the engine at all. It was really weird, but we both know what we saw and I just wondered if anyone else had reported seeing anything."

To try and explain her experience, Mrs Thwaites contacted aerial phenomena expert Donald Cooper, president of the Skipton research society SERIUS. He is now eager to hear from anyone else who has seen the same image, or witnessed something similar at another time.

"I spoke at length to Mrs Thwaites," said Mr Cooper. "She is a very sensible and intelligent person who, possibly because of her being an ex-policewoman, is not easily fazed.

"We know from research that `phantom' aircraft have been seen around Yorkshire.

"It is difficult to come up with a reasonable explanation that people can understand. There is a lot of electrical energy and physics that we are not even aware of surrounding the earth and a site like Rolls-Royce itself generates a great deal of electrical energy. Mrs Thwaites is adamant what she saw was a plane, but whether it was something breaking through another dimension or paranormal activity I cannot tell her," he added.

The article was followed up one week later:

The Craven Herald, 30 January 2004 : The mystery surrounding the sighting of an historic low-flying aeroplane near Barnoldswick has deepened. Following last week's story in which a couple told how they saw a Lancaster bomber-type plane on collision course with houses near the Rolls-Royce site at Bankfield, Skipton aerial phenomena expert Donald Cooper was inundated with phone calls from people all over Craven who reported similar sightings. Most told of what they described as a low flying Lancaster-type plane and several said they had seen it the same day as the couple in the story, but in different locations. Others were unsure of the day, but most were uniform in their description of the aircraft in that it was dark grey, with no markings and, although the propellers were rotating, was making no sound. "I must have taken 30 or more calls since Friday from a variety of people ranging from professionals to members of the public, councillors to pub landlords," said Mr Cooper. "Some have even come forward saying they saw something of that description several years ago. In particular one elderly gentleman rang to say he had seen the plane the article referred to. "He also said there used to be an old airfield at Greenberfield Lane (in Barnoldswick) which I didn't know about."Coincidentally, Mr Cooper pointed out that an article had also appeared in a national newspaper last Friday about "time slips", which said there had been many reports of people claiming to have seen World War Two aircraft as if re-running missions, often silently, from 60 years before.

The story did not end there and in 2006 the bomber was back.

The Craven Herald & Pioneer, Friday 24 February 2006: Two years after it vanished off the local radar, the phantom bomber of Barnoldswick has returned. In January 2004, a retired policewoman and her husband reported seeing what looked like a Lancaster bomber flying impossibly low over the Rolls-Royce site at Bankfield.

Eerily, the craft made no noise and the two witnesses were so shocked by what they saw that they almost crashed their car.

Soon after, a Skipton aerial phenomena expert was inundated with phone calls from people all over Craven who reported similar sightings.

Most described what they saw as a low-flying Second World War bomber, grey in color and with no markings. Several said they had seen it on the same day.

And this week, another man called the Craven Herald to say he had seen exactly the same thing flying towards the site of a small airstrip in Barnoldswick – which is rumoured to have been used for an emergency landing during World War II.

The resident of Sackville Street, Skipton, who asked for his name to be withheld, said: "I didn't think anything about it at the time - it wasn't until I remembered the reports in the papers from two years ago that it clicked.

"I was standing on the canal bank near Gargrave on Saturday and I saw what looked exactly like a Lancaster at around 400 feet. It didn't seem to be making a sound and it was heading north towards Gargrave and the Greenberfield strip where they sometimes fly microlights from."

At the time of the original sightings, it was suggested that RAF training flights involving large propeller-powered aircraft such as Hercules transporters could be to blame.

However, the 70-year-old man said: "I saw them duringthe war so I know what they look like - this wasn't a modern plane."

It was also suggested the reports could actually be flights of historical aircraft or commemorative events organized by Rolls-Royce, but there is just one flight worthy
Lancaster left in Europe - based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

A Rolls-Royce source confirmed the company does own and fly a Spitfire, but it is much smaller than a Lancaster and its last flight in the Barnoldswick area was on October 1 2004. However, she added that RAF training and memorial flights in the area were quite common and could well fly over or "salute" the Bankfield site because of its aviation connections.

Aviation enthusiast Donald Cooper said the reports followed a familiar pattern and could tie in with theories of "time slips" - supposed replays or images of events which have taken place in the past - and could be connected with energy fields around industrial plants.

After an appeal in the Craven Herald in 2004, one man came forward to say he remembered a Lancaster making an emergency landing near Greenberfield Lane in Barnoldswick, adding that the Army and police quickly sealed the area
off to prevent curious locals getting a better look.

Another caller believed a landing strip had been reinforced with cork to make it a suitable site for heavy wartime aircraft to use in an emergency.

Mr Cooper said: "Lancaster bombers make a hell of a racket, but all of these people say they are silent. Was there a Lancaster that landed there during the war or did one try and didn't make it?

"I've shown all the witnesses I've spoken to pictures of modern RAF Hercules aeroplanes and they say it wasn't what they saw.

"They are quite different aircraft - the Hercules' wings are much higher in the fuselage and it only has a single tail-fin, whereas Lancasters have two. Besides, the RAF can't go below a certain altitude due to aviation regulations - especially not over a town of 10,000 people."

He added: "I'm keeping an open mind, but I have to believe the witnesses who all seem to be balanced, professional people and not people coming out of the pub after one too many."

Mr Cooper also has a cutting from a 1956 edition of the Craven Herald which shows a plane landing in Barnoldswick to deliver engineering components to Rolls-Royce.

Ian Topham

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Curious case...

There are a number of issues about this case I discussed with my brother, who is somewhat of an engineering enthusiast, knows lot about old vehicles and visits aviation museums frequently.
First of all were the witnesses able to identify the aircraft as an AVRO Lancaster? Or did it simply look somewhat similar to the famous bomber? AVRO built a number of aircrafts based on this successful design, I'll name just a few: AVRO Lancastrian a civilian airliner and freighter converted from low-hours surplus Lancasters, AVRO York a military transport using as many Lancaster components as possible, AVRO Lincoln a heavy bomber which arrived too late to be used in WWII and AVRO Shackleton, a famous maritime patrol aircraft which was withdrawn from RAF service only in 1991.
Second in 2004 there were only three Lancaster-based airplanes in flying condition around the world: one Lancaster in Britain (owned by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight), one Lancaster in Canada and one Shackleton in South Africa. All have been carrying out much restricted operations since the '90s to save precious airframe hours and because of stricter noise regulations.
Third: paint. Although the vast majority of Lancasters were painted in the classic British night-bomber scheme (gloss black under and reddish brown/dark green over) there were a very few notable exceptions: for examples aircrafts from the famous No 617 Squadron  were repainted with a different scheme for special daylight missions, light gray under and olive green/sand over. The York was usually painted in the classic late-war camouflage (of which dark grey was a main component), the Lincoln was usually painted in light gray while the Shackleton was usually painted in a bluish hue of gray with white trim. Lancastrians were usually painted in their owners' livery.
The temptation of a South African identity is strong but it must be remembered that any activity from these precious aircrafts is well advertised and draws huge crowds of enthusiasts. I haven't been able to find anything about a Shackleton visiting Britain after a SAAF plane crashed on its way to a British airshow in 1994.

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Ian Topham
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Excellent points Mauro, as

Excellent points Mauro, as always I am amazed by the things you know (and your brother of course).  I was just reminded of a second case of a Avro Lancsater ghost, this one at Lady Bower where they practiced for Operation Chastise.

In his book The Ghosthunters Guide to England, Rupert Matthews mentions the ghostly ghost Lancaster haunting Barnoldswick and the Ribble Valley area.  "When a man who was something of a specialist in military history saw and heard the aircraft, he identified it as a Lancaster"

So if this is correct, someone appears to have heard the throb of the Rolls Royce Merlin engines and not just seen a silent ghost.  Obviously I dare say the Avro variants would have used theh same engines so it doesn't rule out mis-indentification.

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Thanks Ian, you are too

Thanks Ian, you are too kind.
The lack of noise is also a conspicous fact, especially considering these venerbale large piston engines, but I had another idea.
A few years ago I saw a brand new C130J Hercules cargo aircraft over my house. I say "saw" because, despite the low altitude it was unnaturally quiet. But it was no phantom... This new variant is equipped with state of the art Rolls Royce turbine engines and high tech propellers that reduce noise in an almost unearthly way. As I have already said in previous posts modern day military vehicles are unbelievably quiet, both to comply with noise reduction regulations and to make them harder to spot.
Of course I am not ruling out a ghostly apparition but what if the witnesses misidentified a low-flying Hercules for a WWII vintage airplane?



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