Allan George explores the history behind a curious contraption recently unearthed by building works in Oxfordshire

Bird’s eye view of the excavated Harwell catapult

Descriptions of an experimental catapult designed to launch bombers from British land bases during World War Two may appear to be the bizarre product of steampunk culture or a Heath Robinson cartoon, yet such a device was given serious consideration. Ironically, the innovative contraption has been unearthed at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

The Harwell Bomber Catapult was excavated by archaeologists during a recent major building development at the Oxfordshire-based institute.

Similar in principal to the catapults equipping aircraft carriers, capital ships and cruisers, its primary aim was to help aircraft take off with heavy loads but using shorter runways. It ignored the fact that the aircraft would eventually have to land on a runway – perhaps the designers had in mind an evolution of another naval aviation stalwart, the arrestor wire?

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