The Avro Lancaster as A-Bomb Carrier

Written by Ryan Crierie on Friday, January 21, 2011 at 10:54 pm

For a brief time, paper studies were done concerning the use of reverse-lend-leased Avro Lancasters to carry the Atomic Bomb.

On paper it was theoretically possible from what I understand, due to the huge size of the Lancaster’s bomb bay. But when it was looked into in detail, it was not to be for several reasons.

1.) The flight crew could not access the bomb bay in flight on the Lancaster. This was required as a regular evolution both in training and the actual flight to arm the device via either inserting the powder charges and last half of the fissile material (Little Boy) or pulling the Arming Plugs (Fat Man).

2.) The Lancaster flew too slow and low to be survivable as a delivery platform for a non-parachute retarded atomic bomb. The B-29 was able to just barely get by due to the fact it flew much higher and faster than the Lancaster, and even then they had to do a violent corkscrew manouver to escape most of the blast wave’s force.

Why was parachute retardation not used?

There was very serious concern that the enemy would shoot at the bomb as it drifted to detonation altitude and dud it.

To guard against this, Fat Man had a 3/8″ thick steel case weighing 2,830 pounds.

Post-war when the nuclear inventory was not as sparse as it was during the early years, the armored casings went away, and parachute retardation became an acceptable tactic.

Categories: Aircraft, Nuclear Weapons

2 Comments on “The Avro Lancaster as A-Bomb Carrier”

  1. Have long been intrigued by this idea, even more so after reading Leo Mckinstry’s ‘Lancaster’

    On issue 1; in Paul Brickhill’s Dambusters, after a hangup of a bomb, I believe a 4000lb (and I believe the a/c piloted by Micky Martin), the Navigator managed to poke a ruler through the floor and ensure the bomb was released. Suggests that there was some form of limited access that could perhaps be extended? If it were to pull arming plugs is it not possible that in a situation (admittedly an odd one; A bomb available and its use vital, Superfort unavailable) that required it, could a jury rig system not be set up? In my mind, this issue is the ‘not insurmountable’ one if required.

    2. I’m sure you have more information than I on the Lancasters inability to avoid the blast (and indeed, the size of the blast); but what sort of distance is required here? How far away does the Lancaster need to be to survive the device initiation? How does this compare with the Grand Slam blast? This issue does seem to be the insurmountable one.

    Though again, for sake of argument, if delivery was essential and delivery by Lancaster the only way, could Griffons rather than Merlin’s, and dramatically lightened aircraft not make a ‘Silverplate’ Lancaster?

  2. The Lancaster Mk VI featured high altitude rated Merlin 85 engines and could achieve a service ceiling well above 30,000ft while carrying a 10,000lb bomb load, and 1/2 fuel. The Mk VI had a maximum speed of 317 mph with a 14000lb bomb load and a nearly full load of fuel. Max speed with 1/2 fuel and no bomb load was around 345 mph. The Mk VI would have had no problem carrying the bomb from a forward base at Okinawa or Iwo Jima, and surviving the resulting detonation. It might have been able to fly a shuttle mission from the Mariannas to Iwo Jima or Okinawa.

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