The UK’s Icing Tanker Aircraft (Canberra WV787) was the perfect example of a dual use programme. On the surface an apparently harmless, extremely
useful research aircraft, dedicated to helping scientists understand and eradicate the problem of aircraft icing, thus preventing air crashes and
But the Icing Tanker Aircraft had another more sinister role. It was also a Biological Warfare research aircraft that was, according to Prof
Spratt’s 1999 Independent Review, capable of disseminating nearly 10 times as much live bacteria as the ETV ICEWHALE managed to do during the
infamous Lyme Bay Trials, and was therefore capable of contaminating an area 10 times as much as that achieved during the Lyme Bay Trials. (MRE
Porton Down are on record that the ICEWHALE could contaminate an area greater than 1,000 square miles during each Lyme Bay Trial).
This means that the Icing Tanker Aircraft was capable, during a single sortie, of contaminating an area greater than 10,000 square miles with live
bacteria. A 1958 Porton document estimates that if an aircraft contaminated an area of that size with live pathogens, there could be between 17million
- 28 million casualties!
[source - 41st Meeting of the Biological Research Advisory Board 18 July 1958]
The remarkable, and little known, story of the Icing Tanker Aircraft started back in the late Fifties. Porton scientists had been conducting
large-scale Biological Warfare experiments in public areas of the UK, while investigating the feasibility of their Large Area Coverage (LAC) concept.
This was a new and novel method of conducting a massive clandestine Biological Warfare attack on an enemy country. In short, these experiments, which
involved the dissemination of a cadmium compound from an aircraft flying over populated areas of the UK, proved that a single aircraft, ship,
submarine or guided missile could, in a single sortie
, contaminate an area of over 10,000 square miles with an appreciable dose of viable
By the late Fifties Porton Down scientists were in a position to move away from using a cadmium compound in their experiments and instead were
starting to use aerosols of live and killed bacteria (initially killed Klebsiella aerogenes, later live E.coli MRE 162 and live Bacillus subtilis -
aka Bacillus globigii or BG).
After conducting a number of experiments at RAF Cardington, RAF Odiham and the Porton Range, during which a Canberra aircraft WH657 (borrowed from the
National Gas Turbine Establishment) sprayed large aerosols of bacteria, Porton’s attention moved towards conducting larger field trials, but this
time using a ship (ETV ICEWHALE) as the spray source. As is now known, during each experiment ETV ICEWHALE sprayed a massive cloud of two types of
live bacteria - E.coli MRE162 and BG as it sailed a straight-line track off the south coast of the UK. These huge bacterial clouds were carried
onshore by the wind, and were sampled by mobile teams of Porton scientists up to 50 miles inland.
What isn’t so well known is the fact that at the same time that the Lyme Bay Trials were in progress, a project was approved which might have
ultimately led to the whole of the UK being sprayed with live bacteria!
In 1963, Napiers (later English Electric Co Ltd) put forward a design study for an icing tanker research aircraft based on the Canberra bomber. It was
obvious that such an aircraft could also serve as a spray aircraft for research into defence against Biological Warfare. As a result, discussions took
place in 1964 between the Ministry of Aviation and the Army Department and it was agreed that the project should go ahead as a joint venture between
the two departments with Flight Refuelling as the principal contractor.
The Army Department specification called for an aircraft capable of spraying bacterial slurry at a rate of 40 gallons per minute while flying at a
speed of 400 knots along a track 100 miles long.
Because bacterial suspensions are corrosive towards most light alloys, great care had to be taken. A large 600 gallon capacity stainless steel tank
was constructed in the bomb bay. Extra spray capacity was provided by connection to the normal No. 2 fuel tank, which was disconnected from the fuel
system. The bacterial suspension from the No. 2 tank was fed into the main tank by gravity.
to be continued...