Wallis, Barnes Neville 1887 - 1979

1887-1979, Knight Aeronautical Designer and Engineer

Wallis is best known to the general public for his development of the bouncing bomb during World War II, made famous in the Dambusters film. He was born on 26 September 1887 at Ripley in Derbyshire. He was a pupil at Christ's Hospital School and then served as an apprentice, first at the Thames Ironworks, Shipbuilding and Engineering Company Limited, from 1905-1907, then as an apprentice fitter (later draughtsman in the Marine Engine Department) at John Samuel White and Company, Limited, at Cowes on the Isle of Wight from 1907-1913.

Wallis' lifelong involvement with aeronautics and association with Vickers began when he was invited to join the Chief Draughtsman - Airships at Vickers as Chief Assistant in the designing of the R9 airship from 1913-1915. Wallis was intermittently engaged on war service and airship design. Towards the end of the First World War, Wallis became engrossed in the design of the R80 airship, but the Royal Air Force discontinued the project in 1921. In 1922 Barnes Wallis took a degree by correspondence in engineering from London University. He served as Chief Engineer, for the Airship Guarantee Company, Vickers Limited, London and Howden, Yorkshire, from 1922-1929. In 1924 the British Government initiated a programme for the construction of two experimental airships, one of which, the R100, was designed and constructed by the Airship Guarantee Company, as subsidiary of Vickers. Barnes Wallis designed this airship individually. The loss of the R101 in 1930 brought an abrupt end to all airship development in Great Britain. Wallis' attention was diverted to aircraft.

Wallis was invited to join the Aviation Department of Vickers as Chief Designer (Structures) and was almost entirely associated with the Weybridge Design Office, which post he filled from 1930-1937. He was appointed Special Director in 1936, where he worked on the use of geodetic design and construction for Wellesley and Wellington aircraft. In aircraft design, Wallis is best known for his use of geodetic construction. He had the opportunity of applying this method when Vickers constructed a single engine low wing monoplane that came to be known as the Wellesley. The next aircraft with which Wallis was associated was the Wellington twin-engined bomber, which first flew in 1936. For much of the time during the Second World War, Wallis was heavily engaged in supervising improvements to the Wellingtons and adaptations for special purposes. At the same time, he developed his ideas on strategic bombing of German industrial targets, including the dams in the Ruhr district. For this purpose Wallis devised the bouncing bombs. The authorities gave Wallis permission to put into practice his long held idea of a ten-ton bomb, nicknamed Tallboy to destroy targets conventional bombs would hardly dent. Towards the end of the Second World War, Wallis' ten ton bomb, Grand Slam was first dropped in March 1945. Wallis served as Assistant Chief Designer (Aviation Section) for Vickers-Armstrong at Weybridge from 1938-1944. He was awarded the CBE in 1943.

After the Second World War, Wallis served as Chief of Aeronautical Research and Development at Vickers-Armstrong from 1945-1971 and was appointed Special Director and Head of Independent Research in 1946, with freedom to develop at will. Wallis turned his attention to variable geometry or swing-wing aircraft. Over the next thirteen years, with first the Wild Goose, then Swallow models, Wallis developed this revolutionary concept, overcoming technical problems as he worked towards the prototype stage. Various potential applications of the principle were cancelled in the light of changing operational requirements and increasing costs. Wallis continued to work on designs for high speed aeroplanes, eventually proposing the adoption of a rectangular fuselage as the most efficient form for hypersonic aircraft, as well as on a new form of submarine.

He was knighted in 1968 and retired from Vickers in May 1971, by now the British Aircraft Corporation. He died on 30 October 1979 in Leatherhead Hospital.