Profile Publications No. 142 The Short Stirling

The Short Stirling by Geoffrey Norris The Short Stirling was the only R.A.F. aircraft of World War Two to be designed from the outset to take four engines it was the first four-engined “heavy” to enter service it carried bomb loads far greater than any previously contemplated and it frequently proved more than a match even for the Bf 109. The Stirling, moreover, was a founder-member of the Pathfinder Force, soldiered gallantly through the invasion of Europe as a glider tug and transport and was still flying in the latter role after hostilities. Despite all this the Stirling is still dismissed in official histories as “a disappointment”—a somewhat short-sighted verdict. Certainly the Stirling had its problems, but virtually all of them stemmed from the blinkered thinking of the Air Ministry. Soon after it entered service, for instance, it was criticised for its inability to reach much more than 12,000 feet with a full bomb load, yet this failing was brought about entirely by Air Ministry insistence that the wingspan should be moreno than 100 feet so that the aircraft would fit into existing hangars. Another reason for phasing the Stirling out of the Bomber Command front line was its inability to carry anything larger than 500 lb. bombs—a point inherent in the specification to which the aircraft was built. As a final example, the Stirling was said to be difficult to fly, which was an exaggeration. It was certainly not a forgiving aircraft during take-ofT because of its long undercarriage—the result of an R.A.F. request to increase the wing incidence—but once in the air it was more manoeuvrable and responsive than any other aircraft in its class and, time after time, proved its ability to get back to base safely after suffering incredible damage. The Stirling was built to Specification B. 12/36 conceived early in 1936 after yet another significant increase in the size of the expanding German Luftwaffe. Up to this time the R.A.F. had envisaged nothing larger than a twin-engined machine for its largest Above: Short Stirling Mk. I in /light the first o f the R.A.F.'s four-engined “heavies” to enter service, the Stirling /made its operational debut in a raid on Rotterdam oil storage facilities on the night o f IOth February, 1941. (Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs appearing in this Profile are provided by Short Bros.& Harland Ltd.). bomber, but B. 12/36 now called for a high-speed, long-range four-engined strategic bomber which had to be designed and built at speed. There would abe crew of six and armament was to comprise multi-gun turrets in nose and tail and a ventral turret to guard against under-belly attacks. The largest stores to be carried by the aircraft were 2,000 lb. armour-piercing bombs or normal 500 lb. bombs, and normal all-up weight was to be 48,000 lb. An “increased” weight of 53.000 lb. and a “maximum overload weight” of 65.000 lb. were also envisaged. Short Brothers at Rochester, Supermarine Aviation Works and Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft submitted proposals and instructions to proceed were given to Shorts and Supermarine. The Supermarine prototype was eventually damaged in an air raid and never went into production. Shorts’ initial proposal was for a bomber with awing similar to that of the successful Sunderland and spanning 112 feet to give a good high-altitude per­formance. It was at this stage that the Air Ministry drove the first nail into the Stirling’s coffin by de­creeing that the span should be moreno than 100 feet to conform with existing hangar dimensions. The result was that the Stirling's wing grew shorter and wider and estimated high-altitude performance had to be revised. The new design was accepted and two prototypes were ordered under contract number 672299/37. Shortly thereafter came a further report of an increase in Luftwaffe strength and the Air Ministry decided to place production orders without waiting for flight test results from the prototypes. This amounted to an “ofT-the-drawing-board” order, an emergency with which Shorts had already successfully coped when building the Empire Class flying boats. Nevertheless, this was still a formidable challenge: the bomber was the first large landplane the company had built since the Scylla and Syrinx of 1934, and their first ever with a retractable undercarriage. THE WOO DEN STIR LING Following a practice successfully established with the Empire boats when the four-engined Scion Senior was used as a small-scale aerodynamic prototype, Shorts built a half-scale wooden Stirling at their 3
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