One of the most important companies in the history of British engineering and no more so than through its iconic aircraft,
The Vickers name has now been associated with engineering for nearly 200 years, ever since Edward Vickers took control of his father-in-law's business concerns at Naylor & Sanderson, renaming it Naylor Vickers & Co.
Within these pages we chart the history of Vickers within aviation whilst alternative pages record other industries and successes, particularly in shipbuilding, munitions and armaments.
Vickers & Vickers (Aviation Department)
When Edward Vickers bought Barrow Shipbuilding Company in 1897, he acquired its subsidiary The Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company. It was quickly renamed as Vickers, Sons and Maxim, manufacturer of guns, ammunition, ships, submarines and automobiles.
In 1908, and despite their lack of experience, the Admiralty asked the company to build a rigid airship along the lines of the German Zeppelin.
Unofficially known as the Mayfly, construction began in 1909, although it was beset with delays and much wrangling with the Admiralty over funding. The name Mayfly must have surely have attracted ribald comment. In the Press, the ‘Mayfly’ soon became the ‘Neverfly’ because shortly after its completion in 1911, the airship broke its back without ever having flown.
Notwithstanding the initial failure of the airship project and a change of company name, confidence in the aviation industry was so strong that the company formed Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department) in 1911.
It had acquired a licence from Robert Esnault Pelterie, to build the REP monoplane at its base at Joyce Green near Dartford, Kent. Later, they added a Flying School at the new Brooklands Race Track and Flying Grounds at Weybridge, Surrey.
Despite being described by detractors as a ‘large wooden shed next to The Long Reach Tavern’, many key events were held at the Vickers Works at Joyce Green, including the first flight of the Vickers FB.5 Gunbus and a little later, the Vickers Vimy.
In 1915, Vickers Ltd (Aviation Department) relocated manufacturing to Brooklands where it developed a series of pusher aircraft and continued the production of the now thriving Vickers FB.5 Gunbus, Britain’s first practical fighting aircraft which proved so successful in World War I.
So rapid was the growth in aviation engineering expertise and knowledge within Vickers, that they designed and built the prototype Vickers Vimy in just 5 months. The Vickers Vimy went on to achieve worldwide fame by becoming the first aeroplane to be flown non-stop across the Atlantic by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown, in June 1919.
During 1928, Vickers (Aviation Department) Ltd was finally formed into an official aircraft company under the name Vickers Aviation Limited. This was only temporary however, as months later they became involved in a merger with the heavy engineering (i.e. non-aviation) interests of The Armstrong Whitworth Development Company. A new company emerged as Vickers-Armstrong Ltd, the 's' being removed from the name to differentiate it from the groups ship building activities in the North of England.
The make up of the company gets even more confusing from this point because of a major internal re-organisation of the group. It should be noted nevertheless, that it was only the defence and engineering businesses of Armstrong Whitworth that were merged with Vickers organisation, which often leads to a confusing legacy of company designations and product names.
The merger did not include the aircraft manufacturing business, Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Limited and that entity remained until it later became part of the sale of the Armstrong Siddeley Development Company to Hawker Aircraft Limited.
However, Vickers-Armstrong Limited took control of all of Vickers previous aviation interests and began aircraft construction under the Vickers designation at Weybridge, alongside its sister company Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Limited in Southampton.
Vickers R100 moored at St Hubert near Montreal, Canada in 1930
Vickers-Armstrong returned briefly to airship manufacturing between the wars, with the Barnes Wallis designed R.100, which completed a return Atlantic crossing in 1930. The project was later abandoned following the tragedy which befell the Airship R.101.
Barnes Wallis himself, became a significant personality within Vickers-Armstrong during the pre-war years, especially with the introduction of the geodetic design concept in the Vickers Wellesley and Vickers Wellington. Wallis was probably better known however, for his significant work on aerial bombs including the ‘Dam Busters Bomb’, as well as the Tallboy and Grand Slam weapons.
Both companies were finally combined in 1954, to formally become Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Limited and continued manufacturing aircraft under their own brand names.
The Vickers name finally disappeared in aviation terms due to the enforced merger with The Bristol Aircraft Limited, English Electric and Hunting Aircraft to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) in 1960.
The information shown is based on that available at the time of the content creation. If you have any additions or corrections then please contact us via email - All images BAE Systems / Ron Smith copyright unless otherwise shown.