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The wealth of technical aircraft sites on the Internet, and the many and varied publications on the subject, will hopefully satisfy those 'techie's' with a need for such information as wing spar construction, electrical wiring diagrams, and how the Elsan chemical toilet worked (if you really need to know that), but for the rest of us I hope this provides a brief glimpse (on an easy to follow, none 'techie' basis) of the basics of the Short Stirling. Where possible I've tried to use pictures below to illustrate various points raised.

The Stirling was born because of a need by the RAF to introduce a long range heavy bomber, capable of carrying up to 14,000lb bomb loads, and being able to strike deep into enemy territory. No other aircraft before it was capable of satisfying this requirement, and left the country exposed as war seemed inevitable in the second half of the 1930's. Of the companies invited to tender specification for such an aircraft, Short Brothers submitted a design (based around their successful Sunderland flying boat) that was to become the Stirling.

The Stirling would enter service in 1940 and was based on a four-engined layout of just over 99ft wing span, with a length of 87ft for the fuselage. 

Originally the design specification had included a larger wing, but that had been overruled by the Air Ministry (and would seriously alter its flying performance from what had been intended). Even empty the aircraft would weigh over 20 tons, but with its bomb load and 2250 gallons of fuel, this would be a major factor in its maximum ceiling height of just about 17,000ft, especially with its 'clipped' wings producing less lift than the original design.

The Stirling was powered by four Bristol Hercules engines, each capable of producing 1600hp. These gave the Stirling a top flying speed of around 270mph depending on weather conditions and bomb load. Each engine was supercharged, and cooling was by natural airflow over the engines. 

One of the problems encountered with the engines was in the servicing by ground crews. With the tail down the Stirling's nose was nearly 23ft from the ground, so care was needed to avoid falling from the wings during routine maintenance!

The Stirling carried Browning .303 machine guns in three turrets, one turret below the cockpit for the front gunner, a turret in the top of the fuselage just behind the wings for the mid-upper gunner, and of course the usual tail turret for the 'tail-end Charlie' or rear gunner. The Stirlings normal compliment of seven crew was made up of the pilot and co-pilot, wireless operator/mid-upper gunner, navigator/bomb aimer, flight engineer/mid-upper gunner, and front and rear gunners.

The pilot and co-pilot sat high up in the cockpit and this is their control panel....

........with the front gunner's turret below them, and the bomb aimers window below that for maximum visibility.

Behind the cockpit was the navigator's table....

.......and behind him a strengthened bulkhead where the wings joined the fuselage. 

Behind the bulkhead to port was the wireless operator's table and instruments.

......and to his right on the starboard side was the flight engineer's panel. 

The tail gunner was, as usual, way out on his own at the back.

I hope this has provided some useful background to this amazing aircraft.

If you now click on this link you will be able to read about the two Stirlings that bore the famous name of MacRobert's Reply.