Neville Barnes Wallis, the son of a doctor, was born in Ripley, Derbyshire, on 26th October, 1887. After leaving school at sixteen he started work in a shipyard on the Thames. In 1908 he transferred to a shipyard in Cowed and began designing ships.
In 1919 Wallis was recruited by Vickers to design airships. Together with his longtime friend, H. B. Pratt, he designed the R.9, the R23 and the R.26. He was also chief engineer on the R.80. Unlike the traditional Zeppelin, this airship had a streamlined look. However, in 1921, the Chief of Air Staff decided to bring an end to building airships.
Vickers continued to feel that airships had commercial potential and in 1924 Wallis was commissioned to produce the R.100. It was larger than any other airship built and did not make its maiden flight to Canada until 1930. Later that year the R.101 crashed killing 48 members of its crew. Airships were now considered too dangerous and the project came to an end.
Wallis was now given the task of designing planes. This included the Wellesley that went on to set a non-stop distance record of 7,158 miles in 1938.
With the threat of war Wallis began work on the Wellington Bomber. One novel feature of the Wellington was a vast coil that could be used to detonate magnetic mines safely from the air.
Wallis designed the bouncing bombs that were used by Guy Gibson and the 617 Squadron to successfully breach the Mohne and Eder dams in the Ruhr during the Dambusters Raid on 16th May 1943. The rotating bouncing bomb skipped over the water and exploded while sinking to the base of the retaining wall of the dam. It produced heavy floods and badly damaged German production in the Ruhr.
When the decision was taken to concentrate on area bombing Wallis began looking at the design of bombers that could drop heavy bombs. The adapted Avro Lancaster was able to drop two bombs developed by Wallis, Tallboy (1944) and Grand Slam (1945).
After the war Barnes was chief of aeronautical research and development at the British Aircraft Corporation at Weybridge (1945-71). However, several of his projects, including a cargo submarine, were not built.
Neville Barnes Wallis died at Leatherhead on 30th October, 1979.