With half an hour to go before take off, the crews of the first and second waves were driven out to dispersals. They went through the final checks, running the engines and then shutting them down ready for the signal to go. Just after 2100 hours (9pm), Hutchinson, Gibson's wireless operator fired a red light and the 52 Merlin engines on the 13 Lancasters of the first two waves (less McCarthy AJ-Q) roared as they prepared to depart.
American Joe McCarthy in the cockpit
The American Joe McCarthy who should have been the first aircraft away had a last minute problem when he discovered a coolant leak in the starboard (right) outer engine of AJ-Q "Queenie" during the warm up. There was no way "Queenie" would be able to fly, but luckily one spare aircraft had been flown in that afternoon and bombed up in anticipation of a problem somewhere. McCarthy and his crew switched to the spare AJ-T "Tommy" which had not been fitted with the spotlights or VHF radio because there had been no time. McCarthy reasoned that he did not need the spotlights because his target, the Sorpe, did not require the height precision that the other gravity dams did.
Determined that he was not going to be left behind he and his crew unloaded everything they could from "Queenie" but in his rush McCarthy pulled open his parachute. To add to his frustrations, when he reached AJ-T "Tommy" he found that the card giving the compass deviations was missing. Without it he would not be able to navigate correctly. Luckily the missing card was found and a replacement parachute was thrown to him as he climbed on board. McCarthy eventually left Scampton 34 minutes late, after the first wave.
At 2128 hours (9.28pm) a green Aldis light flashed from control and Barlow's AJ-E "Easy" toiled along the grass runway with the rest of the second wave. They opened up their Merlin engines and the 4 Lancasters lifted off over the northern boundary fence and turned towards the North sea. The first wave of nine aircraft soon followed in groups of three lead by Gibson, ten minutes apart.
After seeing the first two waves away at Scampton, Wallis and Cochrane left to join Harris at the operations room in Grantham.
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