Of the many tasks the Avro Lancaster carried out during its career, nuclear bomber was not one of them. In 1943, however, the Lancaster’s name appeared on a list of aircraft that could potentially carry the United States’ first atomic bomb. Was it ever a truly practical proposition?
At the end of July 1943, former US naval officer Capt William S. ‘ Deak’ Parsons was appointed associate director of the Project Y team at Los Alamos, New Mexico, the secret laboratory facility developing nuclear weapons led by physicist Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer as part of the Manhattan Project. Parsons’ role was to design the mechanism used for triggering the bomb, known as the plutonium gun. It was a device that activated its fissile material — the material that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction — by firing it at high velocity at a segment of this sub-critical element to create a super-critical mass, which triggers the chain reaction necessary for a nuclear detonation.