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Barnes Neville Wallis was a British inventor and aircraft designer. He is most famous for his work during WWII – designing the “bouncing bomb” that was used in the famous “dam buster” raids.

Barnes Wallis was born in 1887 of middle class parents in Derbyshire, Britain. The second son of Charles Wallis and Edith Ashby, he was educated at a public school, and while he received a scholarship, he achieved little in the way of qualifications. Barnes left school in 1904, and was apprenticed to Thames Engineering Works, then moved to a shipyard on the Isle of Wight. In 1913, Wallis gained the post of Chief Assistant in the Vickers Airship Department.

Wallis invented two new types of airship – the R80 and the R100 – the latter used geodetic principles (think of buckyballs) in an innovative step that strengthened the airship considerably. Wallis applied this method of design to aeroplanes – creating the Wellesley and the Wellington bomber. The Wellington was able to carry far heavier bombs over greater distances than had been called for – obviously a distinct advantage for a bomber. The Wellesley broke the world non-stop distance record, and the Wellington was the main British bomber type for the first three years of the second world war.

With the outbreak of WWII, Wallis was anxious to turn his talents to shortening the war. At work, he was kept busy with aircraft design, and so devoted his spare time to his other innovations. Over some time, he developed the bouncing bomb that was used in the famous dam buster raids. It took some time for his ideas to be accepted by the military, but his theories gained more credibility after the spectacular successes attained by the bouncing bomb. Wallis then designed the “Tallboy” – an “earthquake” bomb designed to destroy concrete structures by embedding itself in the earth near them before exploding, and the “Grand Slam” – a massive 10 ton bomb built on similar lines. Wallis’ bombs and the skills of 617 squadron (the Dam Busters) were responsible for the destruction of several German dams, tunnel systems, bunkers, and factories.

After the war, Wallis continued designing aircraft, including the “swing-wing” aircraft which was turned down by the British, but later developed by France and America. He was knighted in 1969, and received the C.B.E. after the dams raid. He was made an honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and received a £10,000 award from the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors, which he put into a fund to educate the children of R.A.F. casualties.

Barnes Wallis died in 1979 at the age of 92.

“The Dam Busters” by Paul Brickhill, Evan Bros Ltd, 1951.

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