Building and deploying Blue Danube: Britain’s first atomic weapon

Posted: July 18th, 2017
When:
March 15, 2018 @ 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
2018-03-15T19:30:00+00:00
2018-03-15T21:30:00+00:00
Where:
BRISTOL, BAWA
589 Southmead Rd
Filton, Bristol BS34 7RG
UK
Cost:
Free
Contact:
Secretary

A lecture by Jonathan Aylen, Building and deploying Blue Danube; Britain’s first atomic weapon (Joint meeting with the Bristol branch of the Royal Aeronautical Society).

Jonathan Aylen of the University of Manchester pieces together the remarkable technical development of “Blue Danube” – Britain’s first atom bomb.  Its technology relied on pragmatic solutions to solve new technical problems. Some of the biggest difficulties arose not from the fissile nuclear components, but from everyday practical concerns such as fuze design, the trigger mechanism, shaping conventional high explosives and getting the free-fall bomb to actually leave the bomb bay of the aircraft. At one stage Britain’s nuclear posture was threatened by a shortage of clockwork components!  The Government turned to a maker of tank engines in Leeds for key components. Vital parts of the bomb depended on a firm making hot water bottles in Barnsley. When first deployed, the atom bomb was a craft built prototype which was continually modified in service in a search for greater reliability.    Britain’s first atomic bomb was a truly awesome weapon, but developed after it had been pressed into service as a front-line deterrent on Britain’s V-bomber force.  Britain’s post-war nuclear deterrent was the product of a “suck it and see” evolution. There are clear lessons for modern innovation.  Technology seems simple – you spend on R&D and new products appear.  But, in practice, innovation is a messy, gritty and chance process improvised using resources to hand.  Mis-steps often involve the simple parts of a new design. In practice innovation is often a process of problem solving. New designs emerge by a process of trial-and-error. Jonathan Aylen is senior lecturer at Manchester Institute of Innovation Research at Manchester Business School, Vice-Pesident of the Newcomen Society and author of earlier papers in the Newcomen journal on the construction of the Shotton steelworks strip mill and on the development of the Ferranti Argus computer used by both ICI and the Bloodhound 2 guided missile.  Jonathan’s paper will also show how the atomic bomb reached the West Country!

 

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