Supersonic & Hypersonic Flight

Barnes Wallis

After the war, Barnes Wallis used the old clubhouse at Brooklands racetrack as his office at Weybridge. His newly established Research and Development Department probed the problems of supersonic aircraft. Once again Wallis became preoccupied with one of the greatest obsessions of his life – the necessity for this country to create and set herself at the centre of a widespread system of world communications.

“Our central position in the World of Trade upon which our superiority at sea depends, should confer upon us a similar superiority in the air. England’s position might well be described as that of the ‘Clapham Junction’ of the air world, for from China to Peru, from Viadivostok to Buenos Aires, from Vancouver to Cape Town, from Sydney to New York, all routes pass over or close to England”

In practical terms this meant long range and long range meant speed. Barnes Wallis turned his attention to the challenges of achieving supersonic flight with the greatest economy, and concluded early on that wing controlled aerodynes were the best way to accommodate the changes in the centre of gravity moving between the subsonic and supersonic regimes.

Wild Goose

Wild Goose Supersonic Aircraft

In 1946 Wallis wrote an engineering paper entitled “The Application of the Aerodynamic Properties to the Stabilisation and Control of Aerodynes” in which he combined his ideas on swing wings with laminar flow studies. Starting out with small hand launched models, Wallis gradually moved up to larger prototypes that were launched from a catapult at 100mph. His models had slender, ovoid fuselages with swing wings mounted far to the aft and a single highly swept fin. By the end of the war, the British government was eager to regain research ground lost to the Americans and Vickers was awarded a contract of a half-million pounds to study supersonic flight. With the cancellation of the Miles M.52 supersonic research aircraft, some of Vickers’ money was reallocated to Wallis’ project which was codenamed Wild Goose.

The Wild Goose project ran to 1954 and it used progressively larger radio controlled models based on Wallis’ designs. The later models had provisions for rocket engines in the fuselage and the RAF took notice, considering the Wild Goose design as the basis of a long range surface-to-air missile to intercept Soviet bombers before they reached UK airspace.

Despite being terminated, Wild Goose research data went over to a classified project known as Green Lizard. This project called for a compact missile fired from a storable tube with flip out wings for which Wallis’ supersonic design work was applicable. Green Lizard was envisioned as both a surface-to-surface missile that could dispense sub-munitions or a surface-to-air missile powered by turbojet engines for the long range interception of Soviet bombers.


On the cancellation of the Wild Goose project, Barnes Wallis then moved into manned aircraft applications of his swing-wing designs. Small aircraft builder Heston Aircraft was a subcontractor on the Wild Goose project and Wallis worked with Heston to build a small flying demonstrator designated JC9. With a single seat, retractable tricycle undercarriage and measuring 46 feet in length, the JC9 was planned to fly first as a glider, then utilise a turbojet engine for powered trials. The JC9 was shipped in sections to the Vickers Weybridge facility for final assembly, but for reasons unknown, it remained disassembled until later scrapped.


In 1954 Wallis began thinking even bigger; adapting his unique swing-wing design to a supersonic intercontinental range aircraft. The RAF had issued Operational Requirement 330 that called for high flying supersonic bomber/reconnaissance aircraft. Although not responsible for Vickers’ submission for OR.330, Wallis adapted his design to meet the stringent requirements, coming up with a sleek arrowhead shaped tailless aircraft with slender swing-wings pivoted at the aft end of the fuselage. Pod-mounted engines pivoted on the tips of the swing-wings provided some directional control. Under the codename Swallow, small scale models of the revolutionary design were tested in Vickers’ wind tunnels with encouraging results. Scale flying models of the Swallow powered by rocket engines easily attained Mach 2.5 in flight tests.

While the Swallow wasn’t selected for OR.330, the RAF was sufficiently interested to continue funding Wallis’ work towards a scaled-down flying demonstrator called the Research Swallow that could be readily adapted for military roles. Versions of the Research Swallow were submitted to the RAF and Royal Navy as a supersonic strike fighter. Development work on the bomber and transport versions of the Swallow was estimated at 10 years, but the infamous 1957 Defence White Paper of Duncan Sandys that stated the era of manned military aircraft was being eclipsed by missiles ended funding for the Swallow and the project was cancelled.

F-111 Aardvark

Wallis met with the American Mutual Weapons Development Program to see if the US was interested in his extensive work. Exchange visits were conducted between Wallis’ facility at Vickers, and Wallis himself led several teams to the United States to meet with NASA’s Langley research facility. A six month joint UK-US development program was conducted at NASA Langley to further refine Wallis’ work.

“And so five of my team and I flew out to Langley Field but unfortunately we overdid it. We convinced the Americans too sincerely that this was a great idea and so they decided to take it up for themselves instead of paying us a grant to do it in England”

By June 1959, NASA’s extensive testing uncovered pitch up problems in certain flight regimes as well as higher than expected drag. These findings ended the Swallow as an aircraft design, but NASA found the body of work still applicable to a more conventional tailed swing design. This design would eventually evolve into the world’s first production swing-wing combat aircraft, the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark.