The desire by private individuals, often amateur gentlemen, to fly as a hobby provided the initial stimulus to the UK aviation industry. By October 1913 there were over 80 private airworthy aeroplanes, more than the airworthy planes in the recently formed Royal Flying Corps. Before the First World War there were no regular air services and commercial aviation only really started in 1919 after the development of suitably sized aircraft during the First World War.
Whilst it was the military market that really was the source of aviation development, in the years leading up to 1914 it was, in the UK, rather sporadic. In 1909 development on behalf of the Government was stopped as being too costly. In April 1911 Britain had only 6 military aeroplanes, 2 of which were obsolete. The French War Department owned 208. However, by the start of WW1 the Naval Wing of the R.F.C. had 93 and the Military Wing had 179.
Structure of the industry
As a new technology, there was a great deal of interest from a variety of sources but often it was individuals just enthused by aviation. Between 1909 and 1914 there were about 200 active constructors, although many of them only made one or two planes. But even the production of the larger firms was not very substantial, British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, one of the largest produced just over 200 planes between 1910 and 1914.
Along with these companies there was the early development of seaplanes, particularly near Southampton, by companies such as S. E. Saunders (originally boat builders) and Pemberton-Billing (later Supermarine). Finally, there were several French subsidiary companies who built aero-engines.
Unsurprisingly the run up to and onset of the First World War led to a massive increase in the number of companies engaged in aircraft production. Between 1912 and 1916 aircraft production was moved on to a mass production basis. But it was only by 1917 that production problems and procedures were sorted out such that there was a steady flow of aircraft, engines and spares.
By October 1918 there were 1,529 companies involved in the manufacture of aircraft. As well as aviation companies making aeroplanes there were other engineering companies also involved in making aircraft and engines (usually under licence). Companies such as shipbuilders Harland and Wolff in Belfast, engineering manufacturer, G & J Weir in Glasgow. The motor industry obviously had a capability to manufacture aeroplanes and, in particular, engines. Austin Motor Company, Daimler Company, D. Napier & Son, Sunbeam Motor Car Company and ABC Motors were all part of the wartime aviation industry. In addition there were also a large number of sub-contractors, making such things as propellers, electrical equipment, instrumentation and canvas.
However, once the War was over, the vast majority returned to their pre-war activities. The aircraft being produced in 1918 were essentially enhanced versions of the 1914 aircraft. The development of the aviation industry between 1914 and 1918 was more one of production and logistics than scientific or technical.
On 2 January 1918 the Air Ministry was founded and on 1 April 1918 the Royal Air Force was established, independent of the Army and Royal Navy. Both organisations were to fashion the nature of the aviation industry in the UK.
As soon as the war was finished and the government demand for aircraft ceased some of the remaining aircraft companies tried to diversify into other activities but with limited success or simply closed down. For instance, Airco looked at car manufacture and was bought by the Daimler Company parent company Birmingham Small Arms whilst Martinsyde and Sopwith briefly tried motor cycles. By 1920 the British aerospace industry consisted of 28 aeroplane constructors and a dozen aero engine designers. However, much of their work was of a trivial nature and engine orders were so low that Rolls Royce nearly left the aviation sector.
The aviation industry was left with the core of pre-war producers and a few companies whose interest in aviation had been aroused. This latter category included companies such as the Norwich engineering firm Boulton & Paul, Westland Aircraft, the wartime offshoot of engine manufacturers Petters Ltd and Gloucestershire, later, Gloster Aircraft Company formed from Cheltenham-based luxury liner outfitters H. H. Martyn.
The Government established a Civil Aerial Transport Committee (that included H.G. Wells and Tommy Sopwith) that reported in December 1918. Their key recommendation was that steps should be taken to foster civil aviation in order, in part, to maintain a manufacturing base that could supply the country's military needs. However, Government policy for civil aviation was, initially, according to the then Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, on 11 March 1920 in the House of Commons to let it "fly by itself……any attempt to support it artificially by floods of State money will not ever produce a really sound commercial aviation service which the public will use, and will impose a burden of an almost indefinite amount upon the Exchequer".
Air transport companies were established in 1919–20, several of which were subsidiaries of aircraft manufacturers, such as Handley-Page, Airco and Blackburn Aircraft. A number of the companies failed or found themselves in difficulty, due to high operating cost, low demand that was also seasonal, high fares and heavily subsidised French competition and so it was decided in April 1922 to offer support and by October subsidies were given to individual airlines operating set routes.
Matters were improved when aircraft specifically designed for commercial operation were introduced. The DH.34 and Handley Page W.8 lowered the operating costs for airlines, making them more economically viable.
Eventually, however, the state did involve itself in civil aviation and on the advice of the Hambling Committee, creating Imperial Airways in 1924 from the four main air transport companies. However, the Air Ministry did not actively engage with the development of commercial aircraft, despite the recommendation of the 1918 Civil Aerial Transport Committee and was later criticised by the 1938 Cadman Report for this.
The Air Ministry worked in the early years on the basis that there would be no war in Europe in the immediate future and that the main requirement for aircraft would be policing the colonies. Such activity would not require sophisticated aeroplanes to be developed.
Nonetheless, the Government needed to ensure that the aircraft industry did not shrink to a size dangerous for national defence and that there would be sufficient aircraft and aero engine companies to sustain the United Kingdom's military requirements for the variety of types of aircraft and engines.
Consequently, there came into being an arrangement with Society of British Aircraft Constructors that contracts could be shared around a limited number of companies, this became known as The Ring.
The Air Ministry would draw up a specification which would be given to ‘approved firms’ who would then submit tenders for prototypes. The Air Ministry would select several prototypes and finally a choice for production would be made.
The work was spread out over about 18 aviation companies. The winning company for a tender would not necessarily be given the complete construction work, which on occasions would be spread out to other companies to ensure that they, the other companies, were able to stay in business.
There was a particular success in this period in the growth of privately owned light aircraft. In 1924 the Air Ministry initiated a policy of financial assistance to light aeroplane clubs. Despite Air Ministry support what really made the difference was the launch of the De Havilland Gipsy Moth in 1924. An immensely popular aircraft ideally suited to flying clubs and popularised by famous aviators such as Amy Johnson, Jean Batten, and Sir Francis Chichester
However, for airliners in this period the UK lagged behind European countries. In 1931 Belgium operator Sabena was the only other European airline company using British aircraft. The aeroplanes of German manufacturer Junkers and Dutch company Fokker were dominant and after 1930 American passenger aircraft took a leading part. In 1938 Neville Chamberlain flew a British Airways LtdLockheed 10 Electra for his meeting with Adolf Hitler.
The reasons for this were not difficult to find. Imperial Airways largely ignored European routes preferring to focus on imperial markets in Africa and India. Imperial Airways's Handley Page aircraft were comfortable and safe but slow. There was no competition on these routes, so there was little incentive to spend money on developing new, faster and more efficient aircraft.
However, the lack of suitable landing airfields in many Empire counties in the inter War period did lead to Imperial Airways commissioning Short Brothers in 1935 to build 28 flying boat aircraft for passengers and freight (particularly airmail). The Second World War effectively stopped the further development of the flying boat as after the War there were plenty of suitable land aircraft, notably the Douglas DC-3, and airfields for flying boats to be redundant.
Much work was also done at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, Hampshire, the research and development organisation under the auspices of the Air Ministry. Research work was, for instance, carried out in wind tunnels, and other projects such as research on electrical heating systems for guns, reliable navigation lamps, better engine magnetos and ignition systems.
Airbus A380, A350 XWB, A340, A330 and the Airbus A320 family have their wings and fuel systems built in the UK. The A380 is the world's largest civil passenger plane in production. Rolls-Royce offers its Trent 900 for the A380 and has so far secured 61% of the market based on operator decisions. Iain Gray, former Airbus UK Managing Director, has claimed that an Airbus A380, fitted with Rolls-Royce engines, has a UK content of about 40–50%. The A350 XWB has so far achieved 564 firm orders and has its wings developed in Filton and assembled in Broughton. Rolls-Royce is currently the only engine supplier to the A350 XWB with the Trent XWB.
Hawker 800XP, the Airbus plant in Broughton builds the fuselage and wings for the Hawker 800XP variant. This work employs about 450 people at the plant in North Wales.
Bombardier Aerospace facilities in Northern Ireland play an important role in nearly every Bombardier aircraft programme. The most notable are the production of the fuselage for the Learjet 40 and Learjet 45, the production of the centre fuselage for the Challenger 300 and other programmes. For the newly proposed C-Series, Belfast is planned to design and produce the wings, rear fuselage and nacelles.
SonicStar is a proposed supersonic passenger airliner designed by HyperMach. Its first flight is planned for 2021.
Manned military aircraft
Eurofighter Typhoon, the British aerospace industry has a 37.5% share in the production of the Eurofighter Typhoon and a 33% share in the development of the aircraft. The main participants are BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. The UK had 40,000 jobs involved in the construction of the Eurofighter Typhoon, across 400 suppliers. Comparatively, the next largest contributor to the Eurofighter Typhoon, Germany, had 25,000 jobs involved and 400 suppliers.
BAE Hawk is one of the best-selling advanced jet trainers in the world and has generated billions of pounds in exports for the British aerospace industry. BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are the two main participants and, so far, over 900 Hawks have been sold worldwide. The latest variant is the "AJT" version, or "Advanced Jet Trainer".
F-35 Lightning II, the UK aerospace industry has a workshare of about 20% in the aircraft and has two companies in "Team JSF", BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. BAE Systems designed and produces the aft fuselage, fuel system, horizontal and vertical stabilizers among other things. Rolls-Royce has a 40% workshare in the F136 alternative F35 Lightning II engine and provides the Liftfan for all F35Bs.
Airbus A400M has a workshare roughly equivalent to its share of procurement, which equates to about 14%. Due to traditional Airbus roles, Airbus UK developed the wings for the A400M and outsourced some of the manufacturing; however, the final assembly takes place in Filton.
Saab JAS 39 Gripen, over 30% of the content within Gripen is manufactured in the UK, according to Saab. The carrier-based concept, the "Sea Gripen", was also designed in the UK.
TAI TFX, BAE Systems was chosen to provide technical assistance on the design of the Turkish fifth-generation fighter. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was also signed between EuroJet (of which Rolls-Royce is the largest shareholder) and Turkey's ASELSAN on the development of the aircraft's propulsion.
BAE HERTI, developed by BAE Systems. It first flew in 2004 and was successfully deployed to Afghanistan on trials in 2007. An armed version, named BAE Fury, was revealed in 2008.
BAE Mantis, a MALE UAV technology demonstrator, developed by BAE Systems, which first flew in 2009. It was hailed as the world's first fully autonomous drone by BAE Systems. Technology from it was to be used in an Anglo-French MALE UAV named Telemos, however, France effectively abandoned Telemos in 2012 after it joined a collaboration with Germany and Italy instead. The Royal Air Force has since selected the Certifiable Predator B from the U.S.-based General Atomics to fulfill its future MALE UAV requirements.
BAE Taranis, a UCAV technology demonstrator developed by BAE Systems in partnership with Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation Systems. Technology derived from it is to be used in the development of an Anglo-French Future Combat Air System that will equip the air forces of the UK and France by 2030.
QinetiQ Zephyr, a HALE UAV developed by QinetiQ. In July 2010, it made the world's longest recorded flight of an unrefuelled unmanned aerial vehicle with a flight that lasted 336 hours, 22 minutes and 8 seconds.
Selex ES has developed a range of small battlefield UAVs, such as the Falco and ASIO. Most of these have been developed in collaboration with Italian companies.
Thales Watchkeeper WK450, an ISTAR UAV developed by Thales UK in partnership with Elbit Systems of Israel. It is based on the Hermes 450. The British Army plans to operate a fleet of 54 Watchkeeper UAVs. France has expressed interest in buying the system and an armed version has also been pitched to Poland.
AgustaWestland AW101, a medium-lift helicopter developed for both military and civil applications. It was designed by Westland Helicopters in collaboration with Italy's Agusta. It made its first flight in 1987. It is manufactured in Yeovil, England by AgustaWestland, a joint company formed by GKN of the UK and Finmecannica of Italy in 2000. However, GKN sold its 50% share of AgustaWestland to Finmecannica in 2004, giving Finmecannica total ownership of the company. As of August 2016, the AW101 has been exported to 11 countries.
AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, a significantly improved version of the Super Lynx. It is manufactured by AgustaWestland in Yeovil, England. It first flew in 2009 and entered operational service in 2014 with the British Army. It has been exported to South Korea and the Philippines.
AgustaWestland Apache, a licence-built version of the American AH-64D Apache Longbow featuring several modifications, including Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engines, a new electronic defensive aids suite and a folding rotor blade mechanism. 59 of the 67 WAH-64 Apaches were built by Westland Helicopters (now AgustaWestland) in Yeovil, England.
Eurojet EJ200, the powerplant of the Eurofighter Typhoon. Rolls-Royce has a 33% share in development and a 34.5% share of production. The EJ200 is based on the XG.40 engine research programme carried out by Rolls-Royce and the UK Ministry of Defence in the 1980s.
General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136, the alternative engine for the F-35 Lightning II. Rolls-Royce had a 40% workshare in the engine. Development was cancelled in December 2011 after failing to obtain Pentagon support for further development.
Rolls-Royce TurbomecaAdour MK951, an Anglo-French co-development for the SEPECAT Jaguar and later adopted for the Hawk trainer jet. It was also recently used in the BAE Taranis UCAV technology demonstrator. Rolls-Royce has a 50% workshare in the Adour and the final assembly line is in Bristol, United Kingdom.
Europrop InternationalTP400-D6, the powerplant of the Airbus A400M. Rolls-Royce has a 25% workshare, which includes final assembly, the high-pressure compressor, the low-pressure shaft, the intermediate case, and the bearing support structure. However, much of this work is carried out in Germany, such as the final assembly, because Rolls-Royce has a larger workshare in relation to the UK aircraft purchase. The solution is that Rolls-Royce Deutschland does some of the work and thus can claim a part of the German workshare in the aircraft.
Rolls-Royce LiftSystem, the STOVL component for the F35B. It is entirely developed and produced by Rolls-Royce. As with the Rolls-Royce share in the F136, the liftfan development is led by the company's Bristol facility with considerable input from its Indianapolis offices.
Trent 500 is the only engine offered for the Airbus A340-500 and A340-600.
Trent 800 is offered for the Boeing 777 and the Trent 700 is offered for the Airbus A330, where it has achieved large success.
Trent 900 is Rolls-Royce's offering for the Airbus A380 and it has achieved a workshare of more than 50% against the Engine Alliance GP7200.
Trent 1000 is the launch engine for all variants of the Boeing 787 and, by November 2007, over 600 Trent 1000s had been ordered by 19 airlines. This gives the Trent 1000 a market share of slightly more than 40%.
Trent XWB is the newest Rolls-Royce engine of the Trent series. It will power the Airbus A350 XWB and has currently achieved 800 orders. In November 2007, Rolls-Royce declared that it will build a new factory in Singapore to final assemble some of the Trent XWBs and Trent 1000s.
RB282, an engine developed by Rolls-Royce to power the new Dassault super midsize business jet. In November 2007, Rolls-Royce announced that the RB282 would be developed and tested in newly completed facilities in Bristol. Its production however would take place in Virginia.
International Aero Engines V2500, Rolls-Royce is a supplier for the IAE V2500, having previously also being a major shareholder of the company. Whilst the Rolls-Royce final assembly for this engine has been shifted from Derby to Germany, the British part of Rolls-Royce still manufactures a large degree of the engine.
EFE – Environmentally Friendly Aero Engine is a 95 million pound programme, carried out by Rolls-Royce and a first engine run is planned for 2008. Its aim is to prepare the UK industry for future engine programmes and from a technical perspective, its aims are a 10% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and a 60% reduction in NOx emissions.
UAV Engines Limited (UEL), a British company owned by Elbit of Israel, is one of the largest suppliers of UAV engines in the world. Their engines, ranging from 20 hp (15 kW) to 120 hp (89 kW), are installed on 25 different UAV systems. It will provide the engine for the British Army's Watchkeeper UAV.
Reaction Engines SABRE, a hypersonic precooled hybrid air-breathing rocket engine currently in the early stages of research and development. It is being developed by the British-based company Reaction Engines and is expected to power their Skylon spaceplane with a planned first flight by 2025.
Euroradar CAPTOR-E, the AESA variant of the CAPTOR radar which will equip later tranches of the Eurofighter Typhoon. A CAPTOR-E technology demonstrator, called CAESAR, first flew in early 2006 on a BAC 1-11 and has since then also flown on a Eurofighter development aircraft. According to reports, it has about 1400 T/R modules.
Seaspray 5000E, Seaspray 7000E and Seaspray 7500E, developed by Selex ES, have found widespread use in various applications. The Seapray 7000E has been selected for the AW159 Wildcat and the Seaspray 7500E has been selected by the United States Coast Guard for its C-130s. The range for these radars is given as more than 100 nautical miles (190 km) for the Seaspray 5000E, 200 nautical miles (370 km) for the Seaspray 7000E and 320 nautical miles (590 km) for the Seaspray 7500E.
Vixen 500E, a small AESA radar developed by Selex ES for small lightweight fighter aircraft. It is currently under development and has so far no customers. It has approximately 500 T/R modules. There is also a variant with 750 T/R modules under development. The range of the Vixen 500E is given as 35 nautical miles (65 km).
Picosar radar, a very small AESA radar also developed by Selex ES with a range of about 20 kilometres and a weight of around 10 kg. Its market is mainly seen as a cheap, small radar for UAVs.
Galileo satellite navigation system, intended to rival the American GPS system, is supported by the United Kingdom and its industry has a significant workshare in the development of the system.
Disaster Monitoring Constellation, a five satellite constellation with the first satellite being launched in 2002, to monitor disasters around the globe. Every satellite has been funded by a different country and SSTL has built and operates them. Currently, there are another three satellites under construction, one for Nigeria, one for the UK and one for Spain.
The Company Bristol Spaceplanes has undertaken design and prototyping of three potential spaceplanes since its founding by David Ashford in 1991. The European Space Agency has endorsed these designs on several occasions.
An Airbus A380, the wings and engines of which are produced in the UK.
Airbus (a subsidiary of Airbus) directly employs around 13,000 people at its UK division Airbus UK, with estimates that it supports another 140,000 jobs in the wider UK economy. The traditional UK workshare in Airbus aircraft is around 20%. Airbus has major sites at Filton in the city of Bristol and at Broughton in north Wales. Filton is the main research and development and support centre for all Airbus wings, fuel systems and landing gear integration. Broughton, which employs over 5,000 people, is the main wing manufacturing centre for all Airbus aircraft and also builds the fuselage and wings of the Hawker 800. Since 2006 Airbus has also had a small development centre in the Midlands.
The UK-headquartered BAE Systems is the world's fourth-largest defence contractor and it employs around 36,400 people in the UK. The largest aerospace related locations of BAE Systems are Warton, Samlesbury and Brough. The final assembly line for the British Eurofighter Typhoons, a collaborative European programme, is located at Warton. All flight test activity for manned aircraft is undertaken from Warton, which is also the development centre within BAE Systems, for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), UCAVs and the Saudi Tornado upgrade programme. Samlesbury is the production hub of the Military Air Solutions division of BAE Systems. Here, components for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F35 Lightning II, the Hawk, UAVs, UCAVs and Airbus aircraft get built. At Brough, the BAE Hawk gets produced and final assembled, flight tests are done at Warton. Overall, Military Air Solution has 14,000 employees spread across eight sites in the United Kingdom.
The Britten-Norman Group is the last remaining independent aircraft manufacturer in the United Kingdom, with about 100 employees. It is best known for its design of rugged transport aircraft, such as the Islander, Trislander and Defender 4000. To reduce costs, the company (resident on the Isle of Wight) did not perform manufacture of the airframes, but instead outsourced this to Romania. However, it has now moved production of all aircraft back to Daedalus Airfield and also performs in the European hub for the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 final assembly and delivery.
The Canadian company, Bombardier, employs about 5,000 people in its aerospace division in the UK. It can trace its roots back to Shorts Brothers in Northern Ireland. The company has significant workshares in most Bombardier aircraft with its specialities being fuselages and nacelles.
Cobham plc employs more than 12,000 people in the UK and elsewhere. Its products include refuelling equipment and communication systems.
GKN Aerospace is a division of the British company GKN, which employs approximately 5,000 people, mainly in the UK and the USA. In the UK, its most important facility is on the Isle of Wight, where it has a carbon composite centre of excellence. There it designed, and used to produce, the composite wing spar for the Airbus A400M now produced at GKN's New purpose built Western Approach, Bristol site. The company is also known for producing the cell[clarification needed] of the Super Lynx and Future Lynx helicopters. It is the former owner of Westland Helicopters.
QinetiQ was formed from parts of the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). It has close to 12,000 employees and is one of the major players in the British aerospace industry. QinetiQ's main aerospace business relates to satellites, UAVs and reconnaissance systems.
The UK-headquartered Rolls-Royce Group is the world's second-largest maker of aircraft engines (behind General Electric). It has over 50,000 employees, of whom about 23,000 are based in the United Kingdom. In 2014, Rolls-Royce purchased from Daimler the 50% Daimler had in the R-R engine business, paying 2'430 million € for it. The company's main UK factories are at Derby and Bristol. In Derby, the three shaft Trent engines get developed and produced. The current line up includes the Trent 700 for the Airbus A330, the Trent 900 for the Airbus A380, the Trent 1000 for the Boeing 787 and the Trent XWB for the Airbus A350 XWB, among others. In Bristol, the company has concentrated its military aerospace business with the British final assembly line for the EJ200 engine for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the only final assembly line for the British-French Adour engine and other programmes, such as significant parts of the workshare, in the international TP400 turboprop engine for the Airbus A400M and the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine for the F-35 Lightning II. Recently, Bristol has also been confirmed as the centre for the development and testing of the civil RB282 engine, which will, however, be produced in Virginia.
The company has a workforce of approximately 17,000 and total revenues in excess of €3.5 billion. Alongside core operations in Italy and the UK, the company trades in the United States, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India.
Surrey Satellite Technology is a small satellite development and production company. It currently has c.600 employees and is the world leader in small satellites. In its 22-year history, it has developed satellites for 27 missions. The two Galileo satellite navigation proofing satellites, GIOVE-A and GIOVE-A2, are two of their better-known satellites. Originally a spin-out company from the University of Surrey, Surrey Satellite Technology is now 99% owned by the Airbus Defence and Space division of Airbus.
Thales Group UK has capabilities including avionics, UAVs, simulation.