Blackburn Aircraft Company

Yorkshireman Robert Blackburn, one of Britain’s aviation pioneers, built his first aircraft in 1909

Blackburn Aircraft Company were one of the UK's pioneering aircraft designers and manufacturers. Their former facility on the banks of the Humber at Brough, Yorkshire is one of the oldest aircraft factories in the world.


Robert Blackburn
Born in Kirkstall, Leeds in 1885, Robert Blackburn designed and built his first aircraft, a monoplane, in rented workshops in Balm Road, Hunslett during 1910.
Having established himself as one of the earliest innovators of flight in the UK, Blackburn formed The Blackburn Aeroplane Company in 1911. 
 
Blackburn's monoplane flew for the first time at Saltburn, on the North Yorkshire coast and like most pioneering flights of the day, it quickly ended with the inevitable crash-landing.
 
After marrying heiress Jessica Tryphena Thompson in 1914, Blackburn then set up shop in  workshops at the former Olympia Roller-Skating rink on Roundhay Road, Leeds. It is reported by some that during their wedding reception, a telegram arrived from Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, awarding Blackburn his first military contract.
 
And so, with joint-funding from his new wife and his father George, Robert Blackburn had become an aircraft manufacturer. Jessica was a real driving force in the new venture and such was the strength of her character that she later became one of the first female aviators in the United Kingdom.
 
Blackburn concentrated on his designs in-between giving flying demonstrations to paying spectators at the nearby Soldiers Field in Roundhay Park and Aerodrome. He also introduced what are thought to be the 'first scheduled flights' in the UK with a regular, ½ hour passenger service, between Leeds and Bradford. Although these were essentially pleasure flights, he later expanded the idea to include flights between Leeds and Hounslow in West London.
 
In addition to all of the flying activities of its founder, Blackburn Aircraft Company employed a number of skilled craftsman at The Olympia Works, where they produced over a hundred BE2C aircraft for the army, as well as versions of Sopwith Baby, Blackburn RT1 Kangaroo and T1 Swift.
 
Blackburn RT1 Kangaroo prototype B9970 The prototype Blackburn RT1 Kangaroo with unsprung undercarriage.
 
By 1916, Blackburn had created a new 'factory' on the northern bank of the River Humber, at Brough in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
 
The Roundhay facility was closed in the late 1920s and the adjacent parkland airstrip was relinquished back to the local authorities. The aerodrome was however, briefly re-opened for aircraft manufacturing in 1934 although today, it is the site of a very large supermarket on which hangs a 'Blue Plaque', denoting its illustrious and important past.
 
Throughout World War I, Blackburn experimented with many designs, predominantly torpedo bombers and anti-Zeppelin attack aircraft. Most only saw minor success whilst none achieved any degree of production. Some designs, like the strikingly ugly Blackburn Sidecar Project, never even took to the air let alone went into manufacture.
 
Blackburn Sidecar Project One of Blackburn's more strange designs was the Side Car Project of 1919
 
In 1919, Blackburn set up the North Sea Aerial Navigation Company, using surplus World War 1 aeroplanes with which they operated a regular passenger service between Leeds and Hounslow, West London. In addition, they also introduced cargo flights between cities, including Leeds and Amsterdam.
 
During the inter-war years, the company concentrated on designs to meet the requirements for the Fleet Air Arm, producing numerous torpedo bombers and marine reconnaissance aircraft. Surprisingly and in these times of austerity, they saw immediate success with the T1 Swift  and T2 Dart, of which over 100 of each were produced for both UK agencies as well as overseas military customers.
 
These were then followed by the Blackburn B.1 Fleet Spotter, a reconnaissance aircraft which also developed into a fairly successful training platform. 
 
In addition to these, the company entered into the private owner and flying school market with the L.1 Bluebird which, although it was sold in reasonable numbers, suffered numerous write-offs as its construction materials could not sustain the constant punishment metered out by novice aviators.
 
In the mid-1920s, and in addition to production at Brough, Blackburn built a small factory in Greece where they by produced the Blackburn T.3 Velos, a two-seat coastal defence seaplane. The factory was operated for 5 years by Blackburn 'under-licence' before it was taken into government ownership as the Greek National Aircraft Factory.
 
By far the most successful Blackburn design of the period was the Blackburn T.5 Ripon, a single-seat torpedo bomber for both the Fleet Air Arm, and for the Finnish Air Force. Some 92 examples were built with a huge number (68) being later converted to become the Blackburn B.5 Baffin.
 
A number of large flying boats were also produced during the second half of the decade such as the Blackburn RB.1 Iris, Blackburn RB.2 Sydney and the Blackburn CB.2 Nile. The latter pairing however were less successful and they did not progress past the prototype stage. The RB.3 Perth faired a little better during 1933 although production still only reached the level of 4 aircraft.
 
By far the greatest success between the two world wars was the Blackburn B-24 Skua, a carrier based dive-bomber and fighter, of which 190 were built at Brough.  In fact, the Skua was so successful that it continued in service into World War II.
 
The Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company changed its name back to Blackburn Aircraft Limited in 1936.
 
It also joined forces that year with Maurice Denny, a Dumbarton shipbuilder in order to establish a new Blackburn Factory at Barge Park, Dumbarton, for the production of the enormously successful Blackburn B.26 Botha. The Botha was a 4-seat reconnaissance aircraft which, despite being ordered and built in large numbers (580 at Brough and 200 at Dumbarton), suffered with stability issues and was grossly under-powered.
 
Before and during WWII, Blackburn Aircraft (Dumbarton) also produced 250 Shorts Sunderland Flying Boats as well as preparing and converting many American aircraft for use by the Fleet Air Arm.

Blackburn Aircraft Company merged with General Aircraft Limited (GAL) in 1949 and was renamed Blackburn and General Aircraft Limited.  Despite seeing a reasonable success with their Blackburn Beverley (based on the GAL.60 Universal Freighter), by 1958 the company reverted back to being simply Blackburn Aircraft Limited.

The bulk of the aircraft manufacturing was still concentrated at the factory at Brough and it was here that they made a number of different Blackburn designs. These ranged from aforementioned propeller-driven General Aircraft GAL.60/65 Beverley heavy-lift transport to the Blackburn B.103 Buccaneer sub-sonic jet strike aircraft. 
 
Blackburn Buccaneer MkII Head On Blackburn Buccaneer S.2 head on
 
The Buccaneer is often thought to be Blackburn Aircraft Company's greatest design and it is still much-loved around the world.  Over 200 variants were produced for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy as well as the Air Force of South Africa. It saw UK service up until 1974 whilst South Africa still utilised their aircraft in the Gulf War in 1991.
 
The Buccaneer was the last Blackburn design and with the exception of a handful of project designs which were never built, it was the last aircraft to bear the proud name of Blackburn. 

Finally in 1960, the company was absorbed into Hawker Siddeley Aviation as part of the nationalisation of the industry and with it the Blackburn name finally disappeared in 1963.
 

Genealogy


1910 Blackburn Aeroplanes of Leeds
1913 Blackburn Aeroplane Company
1914 Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company                       
1936 Blackburn Aircraft Limited
1949 Blackburn and General Aircraft Limited
1958 Blackburn Aircraft Limited
1963 Hawker Siddeley Aviation
1977 British Aerospace
1999 BAE Systems

 

Aircraft


1910 First Monoplane  1928 F.1 Turcock
 1910 Second Monoplane  1928 F.2 Lincock
 1911 Mercury  1  1929 F.1 Nautilus
 1912 Type D - Single Seat Monoplane  1929 T.7B (Or 3MR4)
 1912 Type E - All Steel Monoplane  1930 C.B.2 Nile (Hull Only)                         
 1913 Type I - Land & Sea Monoplane  1930 R.B.2 Sydney
 1914 Type L - Seaplane  1931 B.1 Segrave
 1915 Twin Seaplane Trainer  1932 B.2
 1916 General Purpose  1932 B.3 M.1/30
 1916 Tri-plane (Flying Scout)  1932 B.5 Baffin
 1916 White Falcon Monoplane  1932 C.A.15C
 1918 Blackburd  1932 T.8 Baffin
 1918 N.1B (Not completed)  1933 R.B.3 Perth
 1918 R.T.1 Kangaroo  1933 T.9 Shark
 1920 T.1 Swift  1934 B.7
 1921 T.2 Dart  1935 B.6 Shark II
 1922 R.1 Blackburn  1937 B.24 Skua
1923 Pellet 1938 B.25 Roc
1924 Bluebird 1 1938 B.26 Botha
1924 T.4 Cubaroo 1940 B.20
1925 R.2 Airedale 1942 B-37 Firebrand F
1925 T.3 Velos 1947 B.48 Firecrest 
1926 R.B.1 Iris 1949 B.54/ B88 (Y.B.1)
1926 Sprat 1949 B.54 (YA5)
1926 T.5 Ripon 1950 B.101 Beverley
1928 Beagle 1958 B.103 Buccaneer