Born on 26th of September 1887
Died in Leatherhead, Surrey
Died on 30th of October 1979
Barnes Neville Wallis had a long career, and once he found his niche in the aeronautical field he demonstrated his inventive mind time and again. He is most remembered for his bouncing bomb concept, but his design credits take in many more ground-breaking projects than that.
The son of a Doctor, Wallis was born in Ripley, Derbyshire, on September 26 1887. He left the Bluecoats School in Horsham at 17 to begin an engineering apprenticeship in Blackheath, then shifted to a shipbuilder in Cowes until again changing direction in 1913 when he moved to Vickers in Barrow to work on airships and then aircraft. He remained with Vickers until well into his 80s.
With Vickers he worked on the R100 airship at Howden in Yorkshire, work which was abandoned after the R101 (designed and built elsewhere) crashed; he also developed geodesic structures used in various Vickers ‘planes: the Warwick, Wellesley, and Wellington.
In 1943 Wallis, after many tribulations, saw his bouncing bomb damage the Mohne and Eder dams in Operation Chastise, the Dambusters Raid, though with great loss of aircrew. The intended industrial disruption did not happen, but the raid became a major morale booster for the Allies. This was not his only bomb innovation: in 1944 the Tallboy, a 6 tonne giant, and in 1945 the Grand Slam, at 10 tonnes, proved effective against giant concrete structures built deep underground by the Nazis to protect submarines and V1 equipment, and the Tirpitz was sunk by Tallboy bombs.
Wallis’s expertise was used after WWII in developing swing-wing aircraft designs, though political manoeuvrings meant the Americans were given the engineering know-how and the British ordered the planes subsequently incorporating the idea (though again politics meant the order was cancelled!). Even late in life he was still working on revolutionary ideas such as cargo submarines (not at the mercy of the weather, and more energy efficient than ships), and aircraft able to fly efficiently from low speeds to hypersonic.
From 1930 onwards he lived in Effingham in Surrey, where he died on October 30 1979, by that time honoured with a knighthood (1968), and perhaps more significantly made a Fellow of the Royal Society (1954). His wife of more than 50 years, Molly, whom he married when she was 20 and he was 38, survived him.
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