The Bluebird two-seat side-by-side biplane originated from Blackburn’s entry in competitions for the two-seat light aeroplane competitions during 1924 and 1926.
The prototype L1 Bluebird I (G-EBKD) was followed by thirteen wooden L1A Bluebird II and six L1B Bluebird III (described separately).
The appearance of the De Havilland Moth demonstrated the market demand for two-seat light aircraft and the decision was taken to completely redesign the Bluebird with an all-metal structure and either a 90 hp Cirrus III, or 100 hp Gipsy I engine as the L1C Bluebird IV. The type also featured a large rectangular aerodynamically-balance rudder with no fixed fin.
A range of engines could be fitted 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 which ranged 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 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 as Blackburn being fully occupied with military production of the Baffin.
A significant order was received from National Flying Services based at Hanworth, for a fleet of 25 Cirrus III-powered Bluebird IVs for training and charter operations. Sadly, only ten aircraft had been delivered by the time NFS was closed down.
In May 1930, Blackburn were competing hard with the 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 helped to promote the Bluebird IV with no less than fourteen examples being entered in the 1930 King’s Cup Air Race. Ten 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 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 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 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 but by the time the aircraft had reached this fully developed state the De Havilland Moth was too firmly established to be displaced.
Variants & Numbers 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|
No Blackburn L1C Bluebird IV aircraft survive.