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By 1941 the RAF had discovered how effective four-engined bombers could be, and invited British aircraft manufacturers to tender designs for a long range aeroplane that could carry a five ton bomb-load deep into Germany. They didn’t bother telling the Bristol Aeroplane Company till a year later, by which time the really big bomber factories had all the work they could cope with. How about Bristol’s doing a fifty-ton bomber with maybe six engines?

The range and speed that the Ministry were asking for, Bristol decided, were so outrageous that something very specially light and streamlined was required. So they designed a truly radical monster, clean as a sailplane, with V-Tail like a Bonanza, a slender fuselage but a great thick wing with eight of Bristol’s own radial engines entirely buried within and geared in pairs to drive four huge pusher propellers mounted on stalks behind the wing. This was not a fifty, but a hundred-ton bomber, with a range of almost halfway round the earth. Interesting, said the Air Staff, but maybe we’d better just order more Lancasters!