Folland Aircraft Limited

Manufacturer of the Gnat, the first aircraft utilised by the RAF Red Arrows.

 Folland Aircraft

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The origins of Folland Aircraft lie with British Marine Aircraft Limited, formed in 1936 to produce Sikorsky Flying Boats under licence in the UK.
 
Based on the Hamble Peninsula with a slipway into Southampton Water, British Marine Aircraft became financially unviable during the mid-1930’s and despite failed attempts to merge with companies such as Westland, the liquidators appointed a new Board of Directors in 1937. They renamed the company Folland Aircraft Company after Henry P. Folland, the new owner and Managing Director.  
 
Aircraft designer Folland had started at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough in 1912, alongside the likes of Geoffrey de Havilland. Whilst at Farnborough, Folland designed the SE5a biplane fighter for the Royal Flying Corps before joining Nieuport & General Aircraft in 1917.

 

When Nieuport failed in 1920, he moved to the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company where he was responsible for many type designs including the Grebe, Gamecock, Gauntlet and Gladiator. However, Folland decided to leave Gloster in 1937 after it was taken over by Hawker as he was convinced that his designs would never take precedence over the designs of the new owners.  

With the capital he had accumulated during his time at Glosters, Folland took over the failing British Marine Aircraft Limited who were in difficulties after difficulties constructing a Sikorski Helicopter, and a failed deal with Westland Aircraft. 

Initially Folland Aircraft were involved in manufacturing aircraft components on the banks of the Solent Estuary at The Hamble which included 35,000 major and sub-assemblies for a wide range of British military aircraft.  Sub-contract work also involved the manufacture of ailerons for the Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire as well as components for the De Havilland Mosquito and Vickers Wellington bomber. Folland are recorded as supplying around 16,000 tail portions for the Spitfire.

The first true Folland Type to fly was the FO108 although it was ultimately designed as a flying test bed which earned the nickname the ‘Folland Frightful’ due to its unusual appearance.  Further designs were then tendered to meet research requirements of investigating the issues of landing aircraft on sea-borne carriers.

Henry Folland left the company through ill-health in 1951 and he handed control of the company to W.E.W. ‘Teddy’ Petter, who was later to become the Chief Designer for the English Electric Lightning and Canberra. Petter immediately set about the design and production of the Folland Midge, a lightweight 'proof-of-concept' jet fighter which first flew in 1954 at the former RAF airfield at Chilbolton.   

The Midge was followed just a year later by what was to become Follands most famous and successful aircraft, the Folland Gnat. Nearly 450 of the primary trainer were sold in India and Finland although by far it is mainly synonymous with the RAF Display Team the Red Arrows.

Folland Aircraft diversified during the 1950's with ventures into 'cushioned air' products such as the Germ hovercraft and inventions such as a hover-barrow for construction sites and even a hover-trolley for the movement of injured soldiers on rough battlefield areas.

Folland Gnat Prototype G-39-2 on take off run in 1955 Folland Gnat Prototype (G-39-2) on take off run in 1955

In 1959, Folland was absorbed into the Hawker Siddeley Group who eventually dropped the Folland name by 1963.  

Latterley, the facilities on The Hamble became part of British Aerospace (Aerostructures) concentrating on fuselage design and construction.  

Today, the airfield has closed and whilst the former Folland facility is now part of General Electric.

Genealogy

  British Marine Aircraft Limited
1937 Folland Aircraft Limited                                                                  
1963 Hawker Siddeley Aviation
1977 British Aerospace
1999 BAE Systems

Aircraft

1940 Folland FO 108 (F43/37) 1955 Folland Gnat                    
1954 Folland Midge