Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

University experts digitally recreate famous Dambusters mission for new Channel 4 series

Published: 4 April 2003

The legendary Dambusters mission of the Second World War has been digitally recreated by aeronautics experts at the University of Southampton for a new Channel 4 documentary series, marking the sixtieth anniversary of the 'bouncing bomb' mission.

Dr Kenji Takeda and Dr Simon Newman tested their skills in developing PC-based flight simulators for teaching and research in the University's School of Engineering Sciences to recreate the flight deck of a Lancaster bomber for the series, which starts on Monday 7 April.

Sixty years ago, on the eve of 16 May 1943, Lancaster bombers of 617 Squadron took off from RAF Scampton to fly a historic raid on the dams of the Ruhr Valley, using the 'bouncing bomb' so famously developed by Barnes Wallis.

For this anniversary documentary, BAFTA award-winning director Gary Johnstone, commissioned by Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel to make the series, wanted to take advantage of the latest computer technology to see whether modern day RAF recruits were up to the task completed by the 1943 crews. Eight graduates from RAF Cranwell were assigned to the programme, with the ultimate aim of reflying the Dambusters mission. However to recreate the mission in detail, they needed a flight simulator that could be adapted to the precise needs of the programme.

"Having heard news of the ongoing work in developing off-the-shelf flight simulators for teaching and research in School of Engineering Sciences here at the University of Southampton, he contacted me and my colleague Dr Simon Newman to see if we could help," explains Dr Takeda.

Luckily for the programme makers, the PC-based flight simulator system at the University was flexible enough to meet the demands for a seven-crew simulator of the Lancaster bomber. The Southampton team relied on software specialists Just Flight to provide a stunningly detailed aircraft model, which took over two years to develop, and forms the core of their Dambusters add-on for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2002.

"After scratching our heads and rounding up a herd of the latest Intel® 3.06GHz Pentium® 4 processor-based PCs, we came up with a monstrous system, comprising five computers driving a total of ten displays - the biggest of which measured 36 feet wide by 10 feet high!" said Dr Takeda. "If that wasn't enough, we had to build all of this to fit a full-size replica Lancaster fuselage in Meridian Television's Studio One, away from the relative calm of our laboratory on campus."

When not being used by RAF crews to recreate historical flying events, the Southampton Flight Simulator is a key component of the Aerospace Engineering degree. It is used to demonstrate flying principles and provides the ultimate test in the fourth year students' Aircraft Design Synthesis course. By working closely with aerospace partners such as BAE SYSTEMS, as well as IT companies Microsoft, Intel, Matrox and Just Flight, the University is able to utilise the latest commodity PC hardware and software to push the limits of flight simulation technology, and apply it in novel ways for both teaching and research.

For more details about the Southampton Flight Simulator see the website at

Notes for editors

  1. Digital images of the series are available from: Tristan Hopkins, +44 (0)20 7306 8157;
  2. The Dambusters will be shown on Channel 4 on Mondays 7 and 14 April at 9pm, and will be shown across Europe on the Discovery Channel in May.
  3. Hardback book to accompany the series:
    The Dambusters, John Sweetman, David Coward, Gary Johnstone, Time Warner Books; ISBN: 0316726184 @ £15
  4. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million. The School of Engineering Sciences runs the largest Aerospace Engineering degree course in the UK and has BAE SYSTEMS Preferred University Course status.
  5. Just Flight is the world's leading flight simulation specialist, publishing a wide range of digital aviation products. Their range spans over 50 titles, including standalone flight simulation games, add-ons for the multi-million selling Microsoft Flight Simulator and Combat Flight series and even books, videos and DVDs. Website:
  6. Contact (press only): Mungo Amyatt-Leir, Managing Director -
    General consumer enquiries: or telephone +44 (0)1480 462748
  7. The programme is produced by Tigress Productions - Executive Producers are Jeremy Bradshaw and David McNab.
Privacy Settings