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Short Brothers / Shorts Aviation Company

Felixstowe F.31917
Felixstowe F.51917
Admiralty Type 74
Mayo Composite1938
S.22 Scion Senior1935
S.8 Calcutta1928
Type 1841915
Shorts 330
SC.7 Skyvan
The Shorts Aviation Company is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and is one of the oldest aircraft builders in the world. Founded in 1908, is regarded as being the first true aviation company in the world. It was the first in the world to manufacture an aircraft designed by Wilbur and Orville Wright. It has since produced many fine aircraft, too numerous to name. To give an idea of the expertise which this company possesses, in 1920 it produced the first all-metal aircraft when the experts said that it could not be done. In 1924, it produced the little Cockle seaplane, carried out intensive research and produced many fine seaplanes which were sold to both the Armed Forces and civil airlines. Empire flying boats carried the name of Britain throughout the world and established B.O.A.C., particularly on the Far Eastern route.

Short Brothers, almost universally referred to simply as Shorts, is a British aerospace company now based in Belfast. Shorts was the first true aviation company in the world, and was a manufacturer of flying boats during World War II. After the war they turned primarily to the production of cargo aircraft. In 1989, Bombardier obtained Northern Ireland-based Short Brothers (Shorts) from the British Government. With investment of just under 1.8 billion by Bombardier, the became an integral part of the world's third largest civil aircraft manufacturer. Shorts, a manufacturer of aircraft as well as aerostructures, is a supplier to Boeing.

From design through manufacture to after-market support, Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast specialises in major aircraft structures including fuselages, wings, engine nacelles and flight control surfaces in metal and advanced composites. With first-class capabilities and some 5,000 highly-skilled employees, the operation plays a pivotal role in all of Bombardier's families of commercial and business aircraft. It also produce nacelle components for Rolls-Royce, Airbus and General Electric. Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland and produce a considerable proportion of Northern Ireland's total manufacturing exports. It also has an extensive supply chain in the UK, Ireland and beyond.

The American and European aviation industries began to develop within a few years of each other, but Europe took the first formal steps to establish dedicated aircraft companies in the early decades of the 20th century. During this time, there was a shift from aircraft designers, builders, and pilots all being the same people to having entrepreneurs who ran the business and built the planes and others who flew them.

Several of the firms who devoted themselves to the needs of naval aviation did excellent service as pioneers. The most distinguished of these was the firm of the Short brothers - that is, of Messrs. Oswald, Eustace, and Horace Short. The impulse of their work was scientific, not commercial. What would eventually become Shorts was formed in 1897 when Albert Eustace Short, and his younger brother Hugh Oswald Short, at the age of fifteen, took their first flight in a coal gas filled balloon. Their father had served his apprenticeship with Robert Stevenson. In a public library they came across that celebrated record of balloon voyages, Travels in the Air, by James Glaisher, and made up their minds to construct a balloon of their own. Success led them on step by step. In 1902 the two brothers started offering balloons for sale, winning a contract for three captive war balloons for the Government of India, and in 1906 they became the club engineers of the newly formed Royal Aero Club.

The reported successes of the Wright brothers in America shifted the interest of the club, and of the club engineers, from balloons to flying machines; in 1908 they built their first glider - a complete miniature Wright machine, without the power plant - for the Hon. C. S. Rolls. At about this time they were joined by the eldest of the three brothers, Mr. Horace Leonard Short, an accomplished man of science and a lover of adventure ; from this time onward the firm of the Short brothers never looked back. In 1908 they incorporated. After two unsuccessful planes, Albert obtained a license from Wilbur Wright in February 1909 to manufacture six licensed copies of the Wright Flyer aircraft that they built at Battersea in southwest London. This order made the Short company the first to produce a series of planes, rather than one of a model. Horace designed their first successful airplane, the Short biplane No. 2. In July 1909 they created Shellbeach Aerodrome on unobstructed marshland near Leysdown-on-Sea on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary, home of Lord Brabazon's Royal Aero Club, which had originally formed for ballooning. They sold six Flyers to this Club over the next two years.

They constructed, in 1909, the aeroplane on which Mr. J. T. C. Moore-Brabazon won the prize offered by the Daily Mail for the first all-British machine which should fly a circular mile. In 1910 they moved along with the Aero Club to larger quarters at Eastchurch 4km or so away, and built the Short-Dunne 5, the first tailless aircraft to fly. In 1911 they built the world's first twin-engine aircraft, the S-39 or Triple Twin. In 1913, they produced a seaplane with folding wings that allowed the plane to be parked on a ship.

They made the outer cover, gas-bags, valves, pressure-gauges, and controlling rudders for the first rigid airship constructed to the order of the Admiralty. Their early work was done at Shellness, the flying center for members of the Royal Aero Club, but in 1909 they moved their sheds to Eastchurch in the Isle of Sheppey, which thereafter became the flying centre of the navy. It was here that the first four naval aviators were taught to fly. The tale of the successes of the various Short machines would make something not unlike a complete history of early naval aviation. The first landing on the water by an aeroplane fitted with airbags, the first flight from the deck of a ship, the first flight up the Thames, not to mention many other incidents in the progress of record-making, must all be credited to the Short factory. The brothers held that the right way to advance aviation was to strengthen the resources of the aeroplane-designing firms, so that they might carry out their ideas without being dependent on Government demands, and the extraordinary success of the Short designs for aeroplanes and seaplanes did much to promote that creed.

The tale of the successes of the various Short machines would make something not unlike a complete history of early naval aviation. The first landing on the water by an aeroplane fitted with airbags, the first flight from the deck of a ship, the first flight up the Thames, not to mention many other incidents in the progress of record-making, must all be credited to the Short factory. The brothers held that the right way to advance aviation was to strengthen the resources of the aeroplane-designing firms, so that they might carry out their ideas without being dependent on Government demands, and the extraordinary success of the Short designs for aeroplanes and seaplanes did much to promote that creed.

Shorts built a variety of aircraft, and started to expand during World War I when they supplied the Short Admiralty Type 184 (or simply Short S.184). The S.184 became the first aircraft to sink a ship, when one flying from HMS Ben-my-Chree, hit a Turkish cargo ship in the Dardanelles during the Battle of Gallipoli. The S.184 was also sold to the Royal Flying Corps as the Short Bomber. The Seaplane 184 saw service until better heavy bombers came along and the Short was reassigned to reconnaissance duties. They also built a small number of land-based bombers.

After the Great War, Shorts began making other items such as boats, barges, car bodies, buses and trams. This meant that they were able to keep their large workforce. They continued to test aircraft on the Medway and Eustace learned to fly, and died of a heart attack in one of their aeroplanes (after making a perfect landing) in 1932. When orders for passenger-carrying flying boats were placed in the 1920s and 1930s, Shorts made some of the biggest aircraft in the world.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the only viable way to operate long-range civilian flight was by flying boat, as the necessary runway infrastructure was not widespread and would be too expensive to construct for the relatively small number of flights. Shorts took to the flying boat market and produced a series of three designs known as the Singapore. A Singapore I was made famous in 1927 by Sir Alan Cobham, when he, his wife, and crew made a survey of Africa while flying some 23,000 miles.

Shorts then started design work on one of their most famous designs, the Short Calcutta, based on the Singapore layout but larger and more powerful. The Calcutta first flew in 1928 and began active service with Imperial Airways in August. Two more were added to the fleet by April 1929 and flew passenger-preferred coastal routes from Genoa to Alexandria by way of Athens, Corfu, Naples, and Rome. A number of Calcuttas were used on shorter routes, and were instrumental in permitting long-range airline services between outposts of the British Empire. They followed the production of four Calcuttas with the larger Kent, following with a series of still larger aircraft designs such as the Short Empire, the first of which was launched on 2 July 1936 and the type was used by BOAC to operate the first transatlantic westbound service from Foynes, Ireland to Newfoundland on 5 July 1937.

They soon outgrew their factory at Eastchurch, and in late 1933 they opened an additional much larger factory at Rochester, about 15km to the west. In 1934 they closed their Eastchurch premises and purchased the Pobjoy engine manufacturers, with whom they had worked on their latest designs. In 1936 the Air Ministry formed a new aircraft factory in Belfast, forming a merger owned 50% each by Harland and Wolff and Shorts to become Short & Harland Ltd. The first product of the new factory was 189 Handley-Page Hereford bombers.

During the Second World War, Shorts produced some of their best-known aeroplanes, including the Sunderland, a flying boat, and the Stirling, which was constructed at Rochester airport. Many of these types were also built in Belfast, in a new factory, part-owned by Shorts, opened in 1936.

During the war the company produced the Sunderland flying boat, the main aircraft of Coastal Command and a plane which was responsible for many U-boat sinkings. The Stirling bomber served throughout the war and was also produced by this company. Their work on seaplanes eventually culminated in the Short Sunderland, a massive flying boat with enough range to operate as a transatlantic airliner. However the Sunderland was considerably more famous as an anti-submarine patrol bomber during World War II, where its long range and long flying time allowed it to close the air gap between Iceland and Greenland, helping end the Battle of the Atlantic.

It was their work on the Sunderland that also won them the contract for their ill-fated Short Stirling, the RAF's first four-engine bomber. If based on their original submission, essentially a land-based Sunderland with various cleanups, there seems to be no reason to suspect that the Stirling would not have been an excellent heavy bomber. Instead the Air Ministry stipulated a number of bizarre requirements of the plane, allowing it to double as a troop transport for instance, that eventually doomed it as newer designs outperformed it.

During the Battle of Britain the Rochester factory was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe and several of the early-run Stirlings and other aircraft were destroyed. In addition the Supermarine factory only a mile away was also almost completely destroyed. From this point on the Belfast factory became increasingly important as it was thought to be well beyond the range of German bombers. However, Belfast and the aircraft factory was subjected to German aircraft bombing during Easter week 1942. In 1943 the Government took over management of the Belfast factory, and merged Short Brothers with Short and Harland to form Short Brothers and Harland Ltd.

By 1947 all of their other wartime factories were shut, and operations concentrated in Belfast. In 1948 the company offices followed and Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety. By this time Oswald had retired, but he was made an Honorary Life President until his death in 1969. Since the war and since Shorts was established in Belfast the company has carried on its research and development. It produced the first variable sweep aircraft, the SB5, in 1952. We have heard much about the F111, which is a variable sweep plane. Dr. Barnes Wallis' ideas of variable sweep were developed in this country 12 or 14 years ago, and given to the United States for nothing.

The company produced the Seamew in 1953 and, a year later, the PD16, which was later used by Transport Command and adopted in the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy freighter. Perhaps the most important of developments by Shorts in that period was the vertical multi-jet SC1, which first flew in 1958 and which was displayed at Farnborough, transforming successfully from vertical take-off to forward flight and back again to vertical landing.

In the 1960s Shorts found a niche for a new short-haul freighter aircraft, and responded with the Short Skyvan. The Skyvan is most remembered for its box-like, slab-sided appearance and equally rectangular twin tail units, but the plane was well loved for its performance and loading. Serving almost the same performance niche as the famous de Havilland Twin Otter, the Skyvan proved much more popular in the freighter market due to the large rear cargo door that allowed it to handle bulky loads with ease. Skyvans can still be found around the world today, notably in the Canadian arctic.

In the 1970s Shorts entered the feederliner market with their 330, a stretched modification of the Skyvan, called the C-23 Sherpa in USAF service, and another stretch resulted in the more streamlined Shorts 360, in which a more conventional central fin superseded the older H-profiled twin fins.

In 1977 the company changed its name back to Short Brothers, and in 1984 became a public limited company when the British government sold off its remaining shares. In 1988, loyalists working at the factory sold plans for a new missile system to the Apartheid government of South Africa in exchange for a large arms shipment which was then divided between the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and Ulster Resistance.

Employment at Shorts totaled approximately 7,300 persons in 1980. The number of workers declined to almost 6,000 in 1981 in response to a decrease in subcontracting work by the aerostructures division. Company employment remained fairly constant during 1981-82, and then increased to 6,265 in 1983. In 1984, the number of workers employed at the Belfast facility was 6,127. Employment increased to approximately 7,000 in 1985 in response to increased civil and military aircraft orders. The labor force at Shorts was fully unionized. There are 16 unions in total, but two unions represent the largest portion of the production workers. These two unions are the Amalgamated Engineers Union and the Transport & General Workers Union. Wages paid to Short's employees totaled 78.2 million pounds ($62.6 million) in 1983 and 54.2 million pounds ($49.9 million) in 1984.

Shorts consisted of three operational divisions (aircraft, aerostructures, and missiles). The aircraft division designs, develops, and manufactures its own aircraft. The aerospace structures division performs as a subcontractor producing parts for a number of aerospace manufacturers. The missile division produces and develops man-portable guided weapons systems, as well as anti-aircraft missiles.

The firm, however, was primarily a manufacturer of short-haul commuter aircraft. The company produced the Skyvan, Shorts 330, and Shorts 360. The Skyvan is a short takeoff and landing (ST0L), twin-engine turboprop, high wing, square-boxed aircraft widely used as a military transport or freighter. The Shorts 330, a derivative of the Skyvan, which entered service in 1976, is used as a commuter regional airliner, capable of seating up to 30 passengers. The Shorts 360, a derivative of the 330, is a high-wing, widebody regional airliner. This short-haul aircraft, powered by twin turboprop engines, is capable of seating up to 35 passengers. The 360, first introduced in late 1982, was produced to perform both as a civil and military aircraft.

The firm's main manufacturing complex at Belfast consists of over 2 million square feet of production area. Company officials note that the basic plant has been the same since the 1930's. However, capital investments have been made in the last 3 years in computer-aided design machinery. Also, equipment for composite production work in the aerostructures division has been installed, as well as robotic testing equipment for the composite parts.

Shorts reported losses in each year during the 5-year period. The loss totaled 8.3 million pounds ($4.0 million) in 1980 compared with 2.4 million pounds ($2.2 million) in 1984. Sales losses reported in 1980 and 1981 were due to heavy investment in the aerostructure division. Interest costs also contributed significantly to the company's lack of profitability. Interest costs totaled 26.4 million pounds during 1980-84. Losses are covered, however, by overdrafts from commercial banks and by direct support from the British Exchequer.

Starting in July 1988 the Government began working with the management of Shorts to seek a successful transfer of the company to the private sector. On 3 March 1989 the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King) advised the House that he had selected two out of the six preliminary proposals for the purchase of the company, and had invited those two to submit final proposals by 30 April 1989. They were the Canadian company Bombardier, and a partnership of GEC and Fokker. After final proposals had now been fully reviewed, and Mr. King can advised the House on 07 June 1989 that he had approved heads of agreement for the sale of Short Brothers plc to Bombardier.

Under the heads of agreement, Bombardier will pay 30 million for the share capital of Shorts. On behalf of the Government, Mr. King offered Shorts, under its new ownership, grants of 79 million for new capital investment in the next four years and of 18 million for other costs, mainly for training. As regards the company's existing liabilities, the 390 million loan advanced by the Government in early 1989 to repay commercial debts for past losses was to be written off. Mr. King also agreed to advance a further 275 million to recapitalise the company, to repay the remaining borrowings and to meet anticipated losses on existing contracts.

Of this sum at least 60 million will be in the form of an interest-free loan. That loan will be progressively cancelled as specified targets are met, but would be immediately repayable in the event of a material breach by Bombardier of the commitments it has given in relation to the future of the company. The Government will of course continue to fund the company until the completion of sale but as Mr. King announced on 10 January 1989, Government undertakings in respect of Short's liabilities will be withdrawn at privatisation as far as new obligations are concerned.

The total sum that the Government put into the Short's-Bombardier takeover was 750 million, and Bombardier put forward an additional 30 million. Bombardier, together with Short's, now represents perhaps the best hope for the aerospace industry in Northern Ireland and in Europe in the 1990s. Bombardier has brought a considerable amount of work to Short's with its new regional jet and will continue to bring more work to Northern Ireland. Short Brothers had been undercapitalised historically and the welcome merger with Bombardier will provide its highly skilled work force with the tools to get on with the job of making the world's finest aerospace products. An enormous debt has been hanging over Short's and has led to enormous interest problems for a long time. The fact that the Government were prepared to invest such a vast sum illustrates their confidence in the future of Bombardier-Short's.

In 1993 Bombardier Shorts and Thomson-CSF formed a joint venture, Shorts Missile Systems, for the design and development of very short-range air defence missiles for the UK Ministry of Defence and armed forces worldwide using expertise dating back to the 1950s. In 2000 Thomson-CSF bought Bombardier's 50% share to become the sole owner. Shorts Missile Systems was renamed Thales Air Defence Limited in 2001.

By the turn of the century Shorts had a workforce of 6,500 at its height. In September 2002 Shorts shed 240 workers, taking the total number of redundancies in the pipeline at Northern Ireland's biggest employer to 700. The job cuts at Shorts were in addition to the 460 jobs which the east Belfast firm said earlier this month would be axed before the end of 2002. Those cuts resulted from the downturn in the aerospace industry following the 11 September attacks last year, the company said.

In June 2003 Bombardier Aerospace announced the loss of more than 1,000 jobs at Shorts planemakers in Belfast as part of a course of action which the company said it had been forced to take because of workers refusal to accept a cost cutting pay package. Bombardier, the Canadian parent company of Shorts, said it was axing 1,050 jobs and "exiting'' from a number of "under performing" aircraft programs in which Shorts was involved. These included the Challenger 604, CRJ 200 and Learjet 45.

Under the agreement, the Short Brothers name was to be retained and the company was to be kept intact for the foreseeable future. The company eventually lost its separate identity. In 1993 Bombardier Shorts and Thomson-CSF formed a joint venture, Shorts Missile Systems, for the design and development of very short-range air defence missiles for the UK Ministry of Defence and armed forces worldwide using expertise dating back to the 1950s. In 2000 Thomson-CSF bought Bombardier's 50% share to become the sole owner. Shorts Missile Systems was renamed Thales Air Defence Limited in 2001.

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Page last modified: 09-05-2013 17:37:42 ZULU