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Why Engineers Built Winston Churchill a Strange Flying Egg

Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis Historical / Getty Images / Cropped and Colorized
Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis Historical / Getty Images / Cropped and Colorized

During the Second World War, scientists created many incredible pieces of technology as well as some truly strange things. One of the odder inventions was the “Churchill Egg,” a massive metal pod that could fit one grown man lying down. Discover why a team of engineers dedicated their time to making this strange contraption for the British Prime Minister.

Declining health

Winston Churchill was not particularly healthy, as might be expected of someone who smoked eight to 10 cigars daily and had a doctor’s note permitting him to consume “indefinite” amounts of alcohol when visiting the United States. He endured at least one bout of pneumonia during the Second World War, and it’s believed that he had a heart attack while at the White House in 1941.

Winston Churchill making a peace sign at the top of stairs leading into a plane.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill as he boards a plane for a meeting with President Truman in Washington, 1952. (Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images)

These health problems were of great concern to Lord Moran, Churchill’s personal doctor, and made travel difficult. This was quite problematic since the Prime Minister needed to fly around the world regularly, especially as he often refused to take meetings with other world leaders over the phone. Between 1940 and 1945, he went on at least 25 trips outside Britain.

The ‘Churchill Egg’

Moran knew that every time he flew, Churchill was subjected to lower levels of oxygen that could harm his already weak heart. This may seem like a strange thing to worry about now, but at the time, pressurization in aircraft was still very rudimentary. None of the planes that Churchill flew in early on were even pressurized. This meant they typically flew below 8,000 feet but occasionally had to go higher to avoid certain obstacles.

Man lying in a metal pod.
Mr. A.C. Whitecross takes a rest in the “Churchill Egg,” built for Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 1943. (Photo Credit: Hulton-Deutsch Collection / Corbis Historical / Getty Images)

In order for Churchill to fly without compromising his health, a team of engineers at the Institute of Aviation Medicine came up with a solution. They created a pressurized container, a “Churchill Egg,” that could be carried on a plane. It could fit just one person.

Never got off the ground

When the aircraft started traveling higher, the Prime Minister could get inside and wait it out with no detriment to his health. In fact, he would still have all the luxuries he was accustomed to: newspapers, smoking, and even an intercom to communicate with his staff who remained outside. It was made of aluminum with plastic windows along the sides so he could see out.

Man lying inside a metal pod.
One-man pressure chamber built for British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. (Photo Credit: kitchener.lord / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

While the engineers created a fully functioning pod, it was never put into use. It was supposed to be used on the Avro York transport Ascalon, the plane that Churchill usually used, but it was much too small to carry the pod. Instead, they tried fitting it on an American C-54.

More from us: Inventions That Inventors Regret Introducing To The World

This was more successful as they could actually get it inside, but it was still too heavy for the plane to carry. Despite the engineers’ best intentions, the pod never left the ground.

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.