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Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., Ltd.

Mr. Robert Blackburn, the founder and head of the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., Ltd., was one of the pioneers of British aviation, having built his first aeroplane in 1909. From that date until the 1920s the history of Blackburn aircraft was one of steady progress. During the Great War the firm built at first various types of machines under licence. It was not long, however, before they turned their attention to original design, and a number of different types were produced, both seaplanes and land machines. The site at Brough dates back to 1916 when the Blackburn Aeroplane & Motor Company built a new factory here.

The company flourished through the war years and the proximity of the River Humber meant the factory was ideally situated for the launching of seaplanes. After the war the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co. specialised in torpedoplanes. The company's reputation grew and Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., Ltd changed its name to Blackburn Aircraft Ltd in 1939.

The 1937 annual report by the Aviation Committee of the Scottish Development Council recommended that the Government should encourage aircraft manufacture in Scotland. In 1939 the two firms holding contracts for construction of aircraft in Scotland were Blackburn Aircraft Company, Limited (Dumbarton Works), and J. and G. Weir, Limited. These firms obtained these contracts on 15th December, 1936, and 15th May, 1939, respectively. A factory has been established at Dumbarton by the Blackburn Aeroplane Company and William Denny and Brothers in conjunction. Consideration was given to the possibility of locating in Scotland further factories required for the production of aircraft or component parts.

The torpedo bomber was a decisive weapon, and the Navy showed the way to the world in torpedo bombing. But the development of that type had been allowed to lag behind. In July 1942, the Minister of Aircraft Production said: "We have some torpedo bombers, and we have a new type coming along for the Fleet Air Arm." But by 1943 Blackburn's workers felt that the Fleet Air Arm was very much neglected. They felt they were a Fleet Air Arm factory and it was a matter of great regret in the factory that their war effort seemed to be so very disappointing. There was no criticism of the management or organization at Blackburn's, but a real feeling of frustration at the fact that they had no up-to-date efficient aircraft to manufacture for the Fleet Air Arm.

From 1939 through 1947 the following types of aircraft produced by the Blackburn Aircraft Company for the Navy had been accepted for service:

  • The Firebrand torpedo-strike air craft.
  • The Swordfish torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance aircraft.
  • The Barracuda torpedo-bomber aircraft.
The Swordfish and Barracuda were designed by the Fairey Aviation Company. None of these aircraft was rejected after service; the Firebrand and Barracuda are in use but the Swordfish has been withdrawn on account of obsolescence. But critics, such as MP Sir John Langford-Holt, charged that "not one of these aircraft used by the Fleet Air Arm has been a success, and that the performance of the Swordfish was completely ruined when the manufacture was taken over by this company, and that at least one of the aircraft taken over by this firm was little more than a flying death trap."

The Firebrand was primarily for torpedo attack. This aircraft was originally designed as a single-seater fighter to be fitted with the Sabre engine. The use of this engine by the Navy had, however, to be given up owing to the greater need of the Royal Air Force. The substitution of another type of engine would have involved a major re-design of the aircraft if it were to fulfil its original function, and before this could have been completed, the aircraft would have been out-dated as a fighter. It was, therefore, decided to develop it for torpedo work. The Firebrand, with the modifications incorporated, had been cleared for Service use in 1947, and the type satisfactorily completed deck-landing and other tests. A new squadron of Firebrands was formed in 1947 and these aircraft were retained for front line service until a more modern type is available. This aircraft reached Mark IV before even going into service with one squadron and that even by 1947 the greater part of its time was spent on the ground on account of unserviceability. Had the original plans gone through, this plane would have been in service much sooner. But at that moment the needs of the Royal Air Force were considered paramount and the needs of this particular plane for the Navy were sacrificed for that purpose at the time.

By the mid-1950s the Beverley Blackburn was probably the best large freighter aircraft in the world today. It will take 94 men with their equipment. In addition, it is a most valuable means of evacuating casualties. But by 1957 the orders placed for, and the rate of delivery of, Beverley transport aircraft met Service requirements as stated. They did not fully absorb the Blackburn Aircraft Company's production capacity.

In 1955 the company won the contract to supply a new aircraft to the Fleet Air Arm. The NA39 was a low level fighter bomber, later to be known as the Buccaneer, which went into service with Royal Navy in 1959. The first aircraft of its kind in the world, it was a great success for the company, dominating factory production for 19 years.

Blackburn Aircraft Ltd combined with General Aircraft Ltd in 1949 as Blackburn and General Aircraft Ltd, but the name reverted to Blackburn Aircraft Limited by 1958. By 1960 Blackburn Aircraft Company planned to put its Dumbarton factory on the market. In 1960 the company became the Hawker Blackburns Division of of the giant Hawker Siddeley Aviation Combine as part of the rationalisation of British aircraft manufacturers. The aircraft production operations were absorbed into Hawker Siddeley and its engine operations into Bristol Siddeley, and the Blackburn name was dropped completely in 1963.

One of the Brough site's best known aircraft is the Hawk or T45, seen the world over as part of the RAF aerobatic display team The Red Arrows (pictured left, flying over Cyprus). Another famous aircraft whose origins can be traced here is the Harrier, a VSTOL (vertical/short take off and landing) multi-role fighter.

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Page last modified: 22-05-2013 19:41:14 ZULU