Rebuilding history: Bomber's flight deck one of war buff's reconstructed treasures

Adam Feibel, Ottawa Citizen

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geoff landon browne is rebuilding the flight deck of a lancaster

Geoff Landon-Browne is rebuilding the flight deck of a Lancaster heavy bomber plane.

Geoff Landon-Browne’s property in Carp is a stockpile of historical machinery.

In his household garage rests a fully rebuilt and refurbished Land Rover from 1958, a stripped-down Volkswagen Iltis in the midst of reconstruction and — perhaps the most impressive of the countless pieces of 20th century mechanics strewn about from wall to wall and floor to ceiling — the flight deck of a Lancaster heavy bomber plane.

Lancasters were some of the most famous and successful heavy bombers used by the Royal Air Force in the Second World War. Of the roughly 7,400 built, Landon-Browne says there are just 17 left, most of them residing in Canada.

He’s been working on his reconstruction project, here and there, for seven years.

“I had the money at the time and I wanted to keep as much of her in one place as I could,” he says. “At its time, it was the ultimate war machine. It was a new generation. Everything that’s being tossed around in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan at the moment had its birth in the Second World War: Radar, automatic gunnery systems, identification systems, electronics for aircraft — most of them were tried out on the likes of the bomber first. It was the epitome of engineering at its time.”

The English-born millwright moved to the area from London seven years ago and filled his garage and work shed with metalworking equipment and mechanical parts, many of them fragments of British and Canadian efforts in the Second World War. The 58-year-old has been collecting military items for 50 years and building them for the past eight.

He sees his knowledge of mid-1900s machinery as another relic of a past era.

“It’s knowledge and information that is just passing out. The vets themselves, they’re a handful,” he says. “It’s knowledge that’s no longer needed in this world. But that’s not a good excuse for losing it.”

The Lancaster flight deck sits deep in the back of his garage, rebuilt using the original seat, switches, throttles and other parts. Only some of the structural components have been re-fabricated based on the many originals to bring it all together. Next to the flight deck lies the aircraft’s engine, a Rolls-Royce Merlin that was pulled from the English Channel.

Mounted on the ceiling is the flooring of a Lancaster in which six men died in a postwar collision, says Landon-Browne, who, as he talks about his work, demonstrates both a passion for the aircraft’s history and an appreciation of war’s human sacrifice.

In the main chamber of the garage is a 1958 Land Rover, a British off-road vehicle originally developed in the aftermath of the Second World War. In his work shed is the Iltis, a German military vehicle produced in the late 1970s through to the late ’80s, which he has been slowly taking apart and rebuilding. Next to it there’s an old turret that he has restored over the past five years.

Landon-Browne is constantly swapping parts with other hobbyists all over the world with the help of eBay and other online networks, and even some Canadian military museums. His reconstructions are just for his own enjoyment, though, until they’re completed and it’s time for them to go.

“My wife’s going to have a hell of an auction sale,” he quips.

Rudi Aksim says his neighbour’s passion and knowledge is obvious, and that others with similar interests can learn a lot from Landon-Browne.

“He could talk about it forever. He’s a Second World War buff, and he’s a machine buff, and so on. He’s constantly reading about it,” says Aksim, a retired English professor who taught at Algonquin College for nearly four decades. “I find it fascinating, this material history approach to how things work and what they do … It’s a real part of history and it’s not the way we always approach it.”

Landon-Browne says it all comes down to knowing what you love to do, and doing it.

“I’ve got the knowledge, I’ve got the tools, I’ve got the time,” he says. “Why do (I) do it? Bottom line is because I can.”

By the Numbers:

7,400 Lancaster bombers were built.

17 remain, Geoff Landon-Browne says

7 years, in all, he’s spent rebuilding this flight deck

150 pieces are in the reconstructed deck

$66,000 is the roughly estimated cost of those pieces.