Supermarine Aviation Works, Limited

The Supermarine Aviation Works had the distinction of being the only firm in Great Britain to devote their energies entirely to the production of flying-boats, and the firm always kept as its motto "Not an aeroplane that will float, but a seaworthy boat which will fly," and seaworthiness was always a feature of all Supermarine flying-boats. It may be mentioned that Supermarine flying-boats were to be found in all parts of the world, and that everywhere they are giving a good account of themselves.

The Supermarine Aviation works were founded by Mr. N. Pemberton Billing in 1912. Mr. Pemberton Billing haf long since severed his connection with the firm, which has for several years been carried on by Mr. Hubert Scott-Paine and Commander J. Bird. It may be mentioned that Mr. Scott Paine severed his connection with the firm in order to devote himself to the development of the British Air Navigation Co., Ltd., also of Southampton, which was one of the four firms absorbed into the new Imperial Air Transport Company.

The British 1914 Pemberton-Billing PBl, otherwise known as the Supermarine PBl, was aesthetically very appealing. It was powered by a 50-HP Gnome rotary engine that was able to propel it through the air at 40-mph (80.5 Km/h). The Schneider Cup, properly recorded as La Coupe D'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider, was to become the major incentive for the development of float-type hydroplanes. The 1922 race was held in Naples, Italy, with another Italian victory a very real possibility. This time, however, it turned out to be a British victory won by H. C. Baird piloting the Supermarine Sea Lion II, at an average speed of 145.7-mph (234,5-Km/h). This was the last time the race was won by a flying boat. The 1929 Schneider race results were: Supermarine S6 at 328.65 mph (529-Km/h); Macchi M52R at 284.2 mph (457-Km/h) and the Supermarine S5 at 282.11 mph (454-km/h). The British team had won, ensuring that the 1931 race would also be held in British waters.

In 1928 Vickers (Aviation) Limited acquired Supermarine Aviation Works Limited. A further re-organisation occurred in 1938 and this saw the company being renamed again as Vickers-Armstrong’s (Aircraft) Limited.

Melbourne Studio in Great Britain made a black-and-white movie starring Leslie Howard and David Niven called "The First of the Few," released in the US as "Spitfire." Leslie Howard played R J Mitchell, the designer of the famous Supermarine Spitfire fighter. Niven played Supermarine's test pilot, who flew their amazing float planes to three successive Schneider Trophy wins, giving Great Britain permanent ownership of the prize.

The Supermarine Stranraer, which entered service in 1936, was the fastest of the biplane flying boats of the RAF. They were also the best protected in a structural sense, taking advantage of the preserving characteristics of the anodizing process then being introduced. It was particularly advantageous to marine aircraft which were always subject to corrosion from sea water. The Supermarine type 309 Sea Otter, was designed as a replacement for the war-weary Walrus which had been carrying the load and was badly in need of improvement. The Otter became available in 1944 and was designed to operate from carriers and served primarily as an air-sea rescue aircraft but was also fitted to carry bombs or depth charges on universal racks under the lower wings.

Having the operator define the requirements for technological paradigm shifts is a recipe for failure. The Royal Air Force went through a similar process in the early 1930s in defining the requirements for a new fighter aircraft. What they specified was an evolution from where they currently were (biplane aircraft, carrying two machine guns, with a top speed of 290mph and a fixed undercarriage), and what they got was the Gloster Gladiator. Two aircraft companies who had a better understanding of the technical paradigm shifts in the aviation industry produced the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane as private developments (monoplane aircraft, carrying 8 machine guns, top speed of 360mph with retractable undercarriages).

Needless to say it was the Spitfire and Hurricane that won the Battle of Britain in 1940, not the Gladiator. Although the Luftwaffe was spread thin by a large war theater and constant battles, it still possessed almost 2,000 airplanes, many more than Britain’s 675. The German aerial fleet included the Messerschmitt Bf.109, at that time the most feared airplane in the world. But the British boasted the Submarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane, two previously little-known airplanes that came into their own as the fighting over England got underway.

When the Battle of Britain began on August 12, 1940, nineteen Spitfire Mk 11 squadrons and thirty -- two Hawker Hurricane squadrons stood to face the German onslaught. For the next 80 days, 3,500 German bombers and fighters fought against fewer than 1,000 Spitfires and Hurricanes as the most important battle of World War Two raged. The faster, more maneuverable Spitfires were used against fighters while the Hurricanes fought the German bombers. When the fighting ended on October 31st the Spitfires and Hurricanes had downed 1,733 German aircraft.

The Supermarine Swift aircraft, on its record speed flight on 9th July 1952, between London and Brussels has caused disturbance to the residents near London Airport. Takeoff from London Airport was allowed as this airport was the most suitable within the area demanded by the F.A.I. sporting rules for the timing of capital to capital speed records. Under the F.A.I. rules the aircraft has to pass low over the official observers at a height of less than 100 metres, to permit positive identification and to enable the timing apparatus to be started by the observers. After this the aircraft climbed rapidly; it crossed the eastern boundary of the airport at 1,500 ft. and continued to climb to 15,000 ft. By December 1954 the Super-marine Swift Mark 1 and Mark 2 Swift had been cleared for introduction into service subject to certain limitations. Development of the later Marks of Swift was continuing, but the position generally was under review.

The naval version of the Spitfire, the Seafire, saw action in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic against German battleships and with the British Pacific Fleet. They were also in the Pacific, arriving in-theater in mid-1942 during operations against Japanese forces from Malaya and Australia up to India. The RAF used the Spitfire for photo reconnaissance as early as 1939. Retirement did not mark the end of its career, however, since a number of Spitfires and Seafires continued to fly with the air forces and naval air arms of European, Middle Eastern, African, and Southeast Asian nations until 1960.

The Supermarine Spitfire was the only Allied fighter in continuous production throughout the war.

By December 1954 the Mark 1 and Mark 2 Swift had been cleared for introduction into service subject to certain limitations. Development of the later Marks of Swift is continuing, but the position generally was under review. The Supermarine 545 was cancelled in 1955 when almost ready to fly.

The last of the Supermarine aircraft was the Supermarine Scimitar. After that, in the shakeup of British aircraft manufacturing, Vickers-Armstrongs (Aircraft) became a part of the British Aircraft Corporation and the individual manufacturing heritage names were lost. Northshore Marine builds a range of motorboats under the Supermarine name in Chichester.

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