The Saunders-Roe Limited (SARO) Bluebird was a two-seat side-by-side biplane originating from the Blackburn Aircraft Company entry in various competitions for two-seat light aeroplanes during 1924 and 1926.
The prototype Blackburn L1 Bluebird I (G-EBKD) was followed by thirteen wooden Blackburn L1A Bluebird II and six Blackburn L1 Bluebird I-III described separately on this website.
The appearance of the De Havilland Moth had demonstrated the market demand for two-seat light aircraft and the decision was taken to completely redesign the Blackburn Bluebird. It subsequently featured an all-metal structure, fitted with either a 90 hp Cirrus III, or 100 hp Gipsy I engine, as in the Blackburn L1C Bluebird IV. The type also featured a large rectangular, aerodynamically-balance rudder, with no fixed fin.
A range of engines could be fitted however, and small numbers of aircraft were sold powered by the Cirrus Hermes I or II, Genet Major I, and DH Gipsy II or III engines, ranging from 105 hp to 135 hp. The aircraft was also offered as a floatplane and at least four aircraft were operated as such for part of their flying careers.
The prototype Blackburn Bluebird IV (G-AABV) was flown on 23rd February 1929.
This aircraft had been purchased, before its first flight by Sqn Ldr LH Slatter, with a view to using it to fly home to Durban, South Africa, when on leave. He duly departed on the 8th March, barely two weeks after the aircraft’s first flight and arrived safely in Durban on 15th April, having experienced very few problems en route.
Fifty-eight aircraft were built, of which fifty-five were constructed by Saunders-Roe Limited, mainly due to Blackburn Aircraft Company being fully occupied with military production of the Blackburn Baffin.
A significant order was received from National Flying Services (NFS) based at Hanworth, for a fleet of 25 Cirrus III-powered Blackburn Bluebird IVs, required for training and charter operations. Sadly, only ten aircraft had been delivered by the time NFS was closed down.
In May 1930, Blackburn Aircraft Company were competing hard with the De Havilland Moth and did not disguise their opinions of their more successful competitor in their May 1930 advertising: ‘Fly as you drive: side-by-side. .... It had to come, of course. I mean, take this plane with its all-metal construction, side-by-side seating, baggage locker, self-starter and compare it with the old bus where you shouted into telephones and one of you looked at the other’s back all the time’.
Long distance flights and air racing all helped to promote the Blackburn Bluebird IV, with no less than fourteen examples being entered in the 1930 King’s Cup Air Race. Ten aircraft started the race with seven finishing, the best being placed third.
In 1931, one aircraft (G-AACC) was fitted with a new 115 hp Hermes II engine and won the King’s Cup race achieving an average speed of 117.8 mph.
Most famously, the type was used for long-distance flying as the mount of The Hon. Mrs Victor Bruce, who used a long-range Blackburn Bluebird IV (G-ABDS) for a solo flight around the world. Starting from Heston on 25th September 1930, she returned to her point of departure on 20th February 1931. Because at the start of her flight she had only 40 hours of solo flying in her logbook, portions of the journey (Tokyo to Seattle and New York to Plymouth) were completed by sea.
Miss Delphine Richards then flew a Gipsy III Bluebird IV (G-ABGF) to West Africa, leaving Hanworth on 1st March 1931.
On arrival in The Gambia, the machine was fitted with floats to enable local survey flying. The aircraft eventually reached Freetown, Sierra Leone but acid water found in the mangrove swamps caused severe airframe corrosion and the aircraft had to be written off.
On 29th March 1931, HF Broadbent set off for Australia in an aircraft named 'City of Sydney' (G-ABJA) but he had to abandon the attempt after a forced landing.
One successful Blackburn Bluebird IV flight to Australia was made however, by Australian Navy pilot GA Hall, flying Hermes II-powered aircraft (G-AAVG). Leaving Croydon on 8th August 1932, he flew via Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Koepang, reaching Wyndham on 1st September and Melbourne on 18th September.
The Bluebird series were Blackburn’s only significant light aircraft venture although by the time the aircraft had reached its fully developed state, the De Havilland Moth was too firmly established to be displaced.
Variants & Number Built
|Blackburn-built||Three aircraft, plus completion of around the last twenty SARO-built airframes as orders were received|
|SARO-built||Fifty-five aircraft at East Cowes|
|Total production||58 aircraft|
|Powerplant||One 90 hp ADC Cirrus III||One 100 hp DH Gipsy I|
|Span||30 ft 0 in|
|Normal Weight||1,595 lb||1,593 lb|
|Aerobatic weight||1,500 lb|
|Maximum weight||1,643 lb||1,750 lb|
|Capacity||Pilot and passenger|
|Maximum Speed||100 mph||103 mph|
|Cruise speed||85 mph||86 mph|
|Range||480 miles||470 miles|