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Saunders-Roe Ltd. (SARO)

Saro Cutty Sark
Saro Lerwick
Saro London
Saro Shrimp
Saro Skeeter
Saro Windhover
Saunders-Roe Princess
Saunders-Roe SR.177
Saunders-Roe SR.53
Saunders-Roe SR.A/1
Saunders-Roe Limited was a British aero and marine engineering company based at Columbine Works, East Cowes, Isle of Wight; commonly abbreviated Saro. Post-WWII products of this company are better known as Saunders-Roe types rather than Saro. Saunders-Roe Ltd was established in 1928 when pioneer pilot/constructor A. V. Roe acquired an interest in S.E. Saunders Ltd. In 1944 the Government gave designing jobs to six firms—Bristol, Handley-Page, A. V. Roe, Shorts, Saunders-Roe and De Havilland for first-class civil aeroplanes. In 1959 the company was acquired by Westland Aircraft.

First of the British rotating-wing companies was that established in 1926 by the Spaniard Juan de la Cierva, who was personally responsible for the design of nearly all British rotorcraft — technically they were not helicopters, but autogiros — up to the end of World War 2. The entry of the Saunders-Roe company into the helicopter field was made in 1928, when the Helicogyre was built and tested at the company's works at Cowes. This machine, designed by V. Isaaco, had a distinctive configuration featuring a Bristol Cherub engine mounted at the tip of each of the four rotor-blades. It was later dismantled and shipped to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, where it was re-assembled and tested in the Balloon Shed.

For years Great Britain had flown flying boats over her Empire routes. After World War II indications were that the British would continue to support future flying boat designs for these operations. A common argument was that above a certain weight category, of about 150,000 pounds, the flying boat's shortcomings as compared with the land plane diminish. 0n the whole, it was held, still heavier flying boats were superior to landplanes as a commercial proposition for long distance operations.

In line with this reasoning the British firm Saunders-Roe Ltd. (Saro) began construction in May 1946 of three 315,000 pound, gross weight long-range civil flying boats. These aircraft were designated SR-45, Princess class, and when completed they seemed poised to be a serious challenge to anything of equal size and power in the landplane class. The Princess was powered by 10 Bristol turboprop engines, rated at 5,750 hp each, in six nacelles. The outboard engines were single units while the two in-board nacelles on each wing contained coupled units driving counter-rotating propellers. Designed cruising speed was estimated to be 350 knots at 40,000 feet over a range of 4,785 nautical miles. The pressurized hull was of figure-eight cross section with accommodations for 85 to 105 passengers on two decks. Measuring 148 feet in length, the hull was said to be the largest metal structure ever built for an aircraft. Saunders-Roe also considered design studies for a six-engined jet propelled long range flying boat. Incorporated in these designs was equipment to take full advantage of flight refueling. As for the Saunders-Roe Princess boats, only two of which were built and which never entered service.

In January 1951 Saunders-Roe took over the facilities and work of the Cierva Autogiro Company at Eastieigh, and formed a Helicopter Division. Their main product, the Skeeter light helicopter, was continued under the new management. Saunders-Roe built 77 Skeeters for the RAF, British and German Armies and German Navy.

The early decades of aviation were characterized by the pursuit of speed, of range, and of extended range at high flight speeds. Further advances in speed required the development of combined-cycle engine technologies. Some exploratory flight experience was gained in the with both airbreathing and rocket elements. Some interesting projects were pursued, for example, the rocket-air breathing powered fighters such as the Republic XF-91 (1949) and Saunders Roe SR53 (1957). The Saunders Roe SR.53, was built in the 1950s to carry out research into the use of rocket engines in future fighters.

The Defence White Paper of 1957 cancelled the Fairey FD.2 (potentially a competitor to the Mirage III), the Avro 730 (a Mach 3 bomber), and the Saunders-Roe SR.177 supersonic interceptor (potentially a competitor to the Lockheed F-104), and many other aircraft. The Saunders Roe P.177 was a mixed power plant aeroplane, jet and rocket, designed to get to high altitude.

A cargo submarine ore carrier, named MOBY DICK, was proposed in 1959 by Mitchell Engineering Ltd. and Saunders-Roe Ltd., England. Having a length of 604 feet with a diameter of 72 feet, it was designed to operate at a depth of 300 feet at a speed of 25 knots. With a displacement of 50,000 tons submerged, it would carry 28,000 tons of ore. Propulsion was to include a boiling water reactor. The shape of the hull included a parallel midbody enclosing the cargo spaces, a feature adopted to reduce cost of construction as well as to reduce draft in the surfaced condition. A double hull construction was proposed for this part of the ship, with a single hull construction elsewhere. The cargo hull was not completely pressurized internally.

The first experimental air cushion vehicle [ACV], the SRNl, was built in England in 1959, according to the design of engineer C. Cockerell of Saunders-Roe. Five years of testing and research on peripheral annular jets, used by Cockerell for creating and maintaining air cushions, was realized. The SRN1 was destined to become the forerunner of a whole series of craft, with the first two letters designating the name of the firm's division. The experience gained in the building and testing of the SRN1 was used by all foreign firms in constructing their ACV's. The Westland firm soon became a large producer of these craft.

Westland entered the helicopter industry by acquiring the license of the Sikorsky S-51S which was produced under the name DRAGONFLY in 1959. Westland Aircraft acquired Saunders-Roe and one year later the Helicopter Division of Bristol Aircraft and Fairey Aviation, thus merging all helicopter production in the UK into one company. In 1966 the helicopter activities of Westland Aircraft were consolidated in the Westland Helicopters Ltd.

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Page last modified: 09-05-2013 17:37:43 ZULU