Vickers Wellington – Introduction and Development

The Vickers Wellington was the most numerous British bomber of the Second World War. It was also the only British bomber to serve in that role from 1939 until 1945, and remained a front line aircraft with Bomber Command until 1943, a year after its contemporaries, the Handley Page Hampden and Armstrong Whitworth Whitley had been withdrawn.

The Wellington was the brainchild of Barnes Wallis, most famous for the bouncing bomb of dam buster’s fame. After a long period spent working for Vickers on airships, Wallis had moved to the design of aircraft. His main early contribution to the field was the invention of the geodetic method of aircraft production. In this system the aircraft fuselage was made of a light weight grid of relatively simple parts that combined to produce strong, light, flexible aircraft. The “basket weave” structure of the aircraft would then be covered with a layer of cloth.

The first aircraft produced for the RAF using this system was the Vickers Wellesley. This was a single engined bomber, designed to a specification issued in 1931. The first prototype flew in 1935, and the type entered service in early 1937. Tests on the Wellesley had proved the strength of the geodetic construction method.

The Wellington began life as a response to the B.9/32 Bomber specification of 1932. This called for a twin engined day bomber capable of carrying a 1000lb bomb load and with a range of 720 miles. If the Wellington had been designed to this specification, we would probably never have heard of it!

The design of what would become the Wellington evolved rapidly over the next few years, with both Vickers and then the air ministry increasing its performance, until when the first prototype flew it was capable of carrying 4,500 lbs of bombs and a maximum range of 2,800 miles, while the empty weight had almost doubled, from the 6,300lbs of the original specification to 11,508 lbs for the first prototype.

The first prototype flew on 15 June 1936. This aircraft had a rather difference appearance to the eventual Wellington, with a rather more slender fuselage. The new design was a clear success, and in August 1936 an order was placed for 180 Wellingtons. However, the design had been changed again. The Wellington was now to be built as a night-bomber, with three powered gun turrets, including a retractable ventral turret under the bomber. More orders were placed in 1937, with the Gloster Aircraft Company (also owned by Vickers) and with Armstrong Whitworth.

The first Mk I Wellington flew on 23 December 1937. The fuselage had been redesigned since the first prototype, producing a taller fuselage with more interior space. This was the first of 11461 Wellingtons that would serve in Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Far East, and remain a front line bomber until 1945. Once it was equipped with self sealing fuel tanks, the Wellington proved to be a very robust aircraft, capable of absorbing an amazing amount of damage and still returning to its base, thanks to the strength of the geodetic construction. This also provided the aircraft with its famous flexibility. Experienced Wellington crew claimed that the aircraft could never be accurately measured, as it was always changing shape!

The Wellington was the high point of geodetic aircraft design. The Vickers Warwick, intended to be a heavier twin engined bomber, was outdated by the four engined heavies, and never served as a bomber, the four engined Vickers Windsor only reached the prototype stage. 

Wellington in Action, Ron Mackay. A well illustrated guide to the development and service career of this classic British bomber. Mackay looks at the early development of the Wellington and the unusual geodetic frame that gave it great strength, the period when the Wellington was the mainstay of Bomber Command and the many uses found for the aircraft after it was replaced in the main bomber stream.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 June 2007), Vickers Wellington Introduction and Development,

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