Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,415 pages of information and 245,908 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Short Brothers

From Graces Guide
1909. Erecting shop.
1909. Short flyer.
1909. Ref AA below
1909. The Short Brothers, the Wright Brothers and others at Shellbeach
October 1909.
1909. Short-Wright Flyer.
July 1910.
1923. Works on The Medway at Rochester.
1929. Aeroplane passenger seat.
April 1952.

Short Brothers was a British aerospace company. Now a division of Bombardier Aerospace, Belfast.

There is separate entry for Short Brothers Aircraft.


1897 What would eventually become Short Brothers had its origins in 1897 when Eustace Short and Oswald Short took their first flight in a coal gas filled balloon. Their father, Samuel (1842-1895) had served his apprenticeship with Robert Stephenson.

In 1902 the two brothers started offering balloons for sale, winning a contract for three for the British Indian Army in 1905. The balloons were manufactured by the brothers in premises above the acoustic laboratory run by a third brother, Horace Short, for Thomas Edison's European agent, Col. Gouraud, in Hove, Sussex.

When Horace left Hove in 1903 to concentrate on steam turbine development elsewhere, Eustace and Oswald moved their workshop to rented accommodation in two railway arches in Battersea in southwest London, conveniently situated next to Battersea gas-works.

Formation of Short Brothers

1908 The 2 brothers were joined by Horace and in November they registered their partnership under the name Short Brothers. The Wright Brothers assigned to the new company the British rights to build the Wright Flyer; an initial order for six aircraft was taken, all of them taken up by members of the Aero Club. Short Brothers became the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world.

1909 In July, Shorts created Shellbeach Aerodrome on unobstructed marshland next to Muswell Manor, (also known, appropriately, as "Mussel Manor") near Leysdown-on-Sea on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary, recently purchased by Frank McClean for the use of the Aero Club.

1910 They moved, along with the Aero Club, to larger quarters at Eastchurch, 3 miles or so away, where the Short-Dunne 5, designed by John William Dunne, was built, the first tailless aircraft to fly.

1911 Short Brothers built the world's first twin-engined aircraft, the S.39 or Triple Twin. At this time seaplanes had to be taken by barge to Queenborough on the Isle of Grain to be launched and tested.

Francis McClean was a keen aviator (there were 16 aircraft in his private fleet 1910-1914) who worked for the Short Brothers as their test pilot, on an honorary basis, until this began to place too many demands upon him.

1913 McClean's place was filled by Gordon Bell, Shorts' first professional test pilot, until 1914, when he was succeeded by Ronald Kemp.

1913 Due to the company's success and to the increasing number of seaplanes being produced, it became clear that larger premises with access to the sea were needed. In 1913 a 8.4 acre (3.4 hectare) plot of land some 14 nautical miles (26 km) away at Borstal, near Rochester, Kent, was purchased from a Mr. Willis (a local councillor) and the planning and construction work started.

By early 1915 the first facility of what was to become known as the Seaplane Works was completed: No.1 Erecting Shop. As this and the No.2 and No.3 shops became available, the workforce moved from the Eastchurch factory, No.3 being completed in 1917. A long concrete slipway was constructed from the centre-line of No.3 Erecting Shop to enable aircraft of up to 20 tons weight to be launched even at low tide

WWI Shorts started to expand when they supplied the Short Admiralty Type 184 (or simply "Short S.184"). The S.184 was the first aircraft to attack a ship with a live torpedo, when on 15 August 1915, one flying from HMS Ben-my-Chree, piloted by Flight Commander Charles Edmonds, hit a Turkish supply ship in the Dardanelles during the Battle of Gallipoli. In terms of number built, the S.184 was Shorts' most successful aircraft up to WWII: over 900 were produced, many under licence by other manufacturers. A land-plane version of the S.184 was also sold to the Royal Flying Corps as the Short Bomber.

During WWI, Shorts was also among the manufacturers of two flying boats, the F3 and F5, designed by Sdn. Cmr. John Porte at the Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe. When the war ended, some 50 of them were being built in Rochester.

By 1916 Ronald Kemp could not handle the volume of flight testing and development alone, and "was having to receive occasional help from other freelance pilots". One of these young men was John Lankester Parker, whose name would become inextricably linked with Shorts for many years. Parker eventually succeeded Kemp as Shorts' Chief Test Pilot in 1918, a post he was to occupy for the next 27 years.

1916 Short Brothers was awarded a contract to build two large dirigible airships, R31 and R32 for the Admiralty. As part of the contract a loan was provided to enable the Company to purchase a site near Cardington, Bedfordshire on which to construct airship construction facilities, so while the company concentrated on the construction of heavier-than-air aeroplanes in the Isle of Sheppey/Rochester area, balloon and dirigibles construction was concentrated in Cardington.

Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford)

1919 The Short Brothers partnership was incorporated as Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Limited with Oswald Short as chairman and joint managing director. Nationalisation of the Airship works ended the Short Brothers' involvement with the Cardington business, which became the Royal Airship Works. The housing estate built by the company in Cardington to house its employees still bears the name Shortstown.

Post WWI and during the Depression of the early 1920s, the economic climate was difficult for the small aircraft industry in the United Kingdom. Shorts managed to survive without reducing the company's headcount by diversifying, e.g. by building lightweight bus and tram bodies for delivery to bus companies throughout the British Isles.

1921 Reported building a new factory to build bodies for automobiles. Also built bus bodies.

1922 Private company Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Ltd

1926 Alan Cobham's de Havilland DH.50 G-EBFO was fitted with Shorts twin metal floats at Rochester. Cobham then started a flight to Australia from the Medway on 30 June 1926.

Throughout the 1920s and '30s, 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, producing a series of three designs known under the Singapore name. The 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.

1928 Two de Havilland Giant Moths were fitted with Shorts' floats at Rochester, and the first was flown in June 1928 and both were delivered to Western Canada Airlines Ltd of Canada.

1928 the Short Calcutta, one of their most famous designs, was 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 The Empire was commissioned off the drawing board by Imperial Airways (later BOAC) to operate the UK's Empire Airmail scheme. A year later they won a British Government defence contract for a military flying boat, the Sunderland. Sharing the same basic design but a modified upper structure, the Sunderland was one of the most effective long-range seaplanes in use. Dreaded by U-Boats, it was nicknamed "The Flying Porcupine" (Fliegendes Stachelschwein in German), perhaps due to its extensive armament and the several prominent dorsal antennae.

1933 Shorts opened a new factory at Rochester Airport, which was becoming increasingly important for the landplanes the company was producing.

1934 they finally closed their Eastchurch premises.

1937 Aircraft constructors. "Scion" Aircraft. [1]

A total of 41 of the aircraft (Empire?) were produced making it Shorts' most successful modern aircraft after the Shorts 360.

Shorts' work on seaplanes eventually culminated in the Short Sandringham and Short Seaford types, both based on the Empire/Sunderland boats. These flying boats had enough range to operate as a transatlantic airliner but largely served the post-war empire (Commonwealth of Nations) market in competition with 4-engined land planes such as modified Avro Lancasters.

Short's work on the Sunderland won them the contract for the Short Stirling, the RAF's first four-engined 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 for the plane, allowing it to double as a troop transport for instance, that eventually doomed it as newer designs outperformed it. A high-speed, long-range, four-engined flying-boat, the Short Shetland was built (with Saunders-Roe providing the wings) in 1944, but the war ended before the second prototype was completed. The project continued postwar but was eventually abandoned.

1938 purchased Pobjoy Airmotors and Aircraft Ltd, engine manufacturers, which had previously moved to Rochester Airport to be near Shorts and with whom they had worked on their latest designs[2]

1938 First flight of the innovative Short-Mayo composite aircraft

20 July: The first "heavier than air" commercial crossing of the North Atlantic took place using the Short-Mayo composite - Imperial Airways's Short S20 floatplane G-ADHJ was launched from the Short S21 flying boat G-ADHK near Foynes and flew non-stop to Montreal, a distance of 2,930 miles in 20 hours 20 minutes. The return flight was via the Azores and Lisbon.

Short and Harland

1936 Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) and Harland and Wolff agreed to form a new company to build aircraft in Belfast; Shorts would own 60 percent of the company; the shares would be distributed to existing shareholders[3]. It was called Short and Harland. The first products of the new factory were 50 Bristol Bombays followed by 150 Handley Page Hereford bombers.

WWII 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. 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 were subjected to German aircraft bombing during Easter week 1942. To meet the increased requirement for its aircraft during the war, satellite factories near Belfast were operated at Aldergrove and Maghaberry, producing 232 Stirlings between them. A temporary Shorts factory was established at White Cross Bay, Lake Windermere, which produced 35 Mark III Sunderlands. Also during the war Austin Motors at Longbridge, Birmingham, produced over 600 Stirlings and Blackburn Aircraft, of Dumbarton, Scotland, produced 240 Sunderlands.

1943 the Government took over the ownership and management of Shorts under Defence Regulation 78: for the second time (after the nationalisation of the Airship Works in Cardington in 1919). Short Brothers was affected by nationalisation. Oswald Short, who had resigned as Chairman in January of that year, remained as Honorary Life President.

Formation of Shorts Brothers and Harland

1947 Short and Harland Ltd changed their name to Short Brothers and Harland and acquired parts of Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) which had decided to concentrate its activities at Belfast. The latter company was then liquidated[4]. Oswald Short became Life President of the new company.

1948 the company offices moved to Belfast; Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety.

In the 1950s, Shorts was involved in much pioneering research, including designing and building the VTOL Short SC1, the Short SB5 and the Short Sherpa. They built the Short Sperrin, a backup jet engine bomber design in case the V-bomber projects failed and the Short Seamew, an anti-submarine reconnaissance and attack aircraft. In the 1950s, Shorts also built the English Electric Canberra, the first of these aircraft making its maiden flight on 30 October 1952. To assist them with the design of increasingly complex aircraft, Shorts became involved as early as 1953 with pioneering the development of electronic (analogue) computers.

In 1954 the Bristol Aeroplane Co became a 15.25% shareholder in Shorts and the company used the injection of funds to set up a production line for the Bristol Britannia turbo-prop airliner, known in the press as The Whispering Giant. Although it was originally intended that 35 Britannias should be built by Shorts, a shortage of work at Bristols led to this number being reduced. In the end 15 Britannias were completed by Shorts; five sets of Britannia components were sent to Filton and used on the continued production of Britannias there.

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 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 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.

1961 Shipbuilders and repairers. 650 employees. [5]

An airfield had been established by Shorts beside the Belfast factory in 1937 as Sydenham Airport. This was Belfast's main civilian airport from 1938 to 1939. The airfield was requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Nutts Corner, a former RAF base, later became Belfast's main airport (and was itself superseded by Aldergrove in 1963). The airfield continued to be used for military purposes until the 1970s, after which it was used by Shorts. In 1983, following interest from airlines and customers, the airfield was opened for commercial flights as Belfast Harbour Airport (later Belfast City Airport (BCA), now George Best Belfast City Airport). Following major capital investment Bombardier sold BCA for £35 million in 2003.

In the 1970s, Shorts entered the feederliner market with their Shorts 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.

Back to Shorts Brothers

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. The company was purchased by Bombardier in October 1989, later becoming Bombardier Aerospace.

1982 Short Brothers made 650 workers redundant at the three Belfast factories because the recession slowed down orders for aircraft. The cuts when added to the 300 redundancies announced last October reduced the workforce to 6,000.[6]

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.

2000 Thomson-CSF bought Bombardier's 50 percent share in Shorts Missile Systems to become the sole owner.

2001 Shorts Missile Systems was renamed Thales Air Defence Limited.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 1937 The Aeroplane Directory of the Aviation and Allied Industries
  2. The Times, Jan 24, 1938
  3. The Times, May 20, 1936
  4. The Times, Nov 06, 1947
  5. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  6. The Engineer 1982/01/21