Bristol Aeroplane Company

Bristol Aeroplane Company

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = Bristol Aeroplane Company
fate = Split and merged
successor = British Aircraft Corporation, Bristol Siddeley
foundation = 1910 (as British and Colonial Aircraft Company)
defunct = 1959
location = flagicon|UK Filton, England, UK
industry = Aerospace
key_people = Sir George White, Henri Coandă, Frank Barnwell, Roy Fedden
products =
num_employees =
parent =
subsid = Bristol Engine Company
Bristol Helicopters (1945-)
Bristol Cars (1945-1960)
Bristol Aerospace (1957-)
The Bristol Aeroplane Company, originally British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was a major British aviation company. In 1956 its major operations were split into Bristol Aircraft and Bristol Aero Engines. In 1959 Bristol Aircraft merged with several major British aircraft companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), and Bristol Aero Engines merged with Armstrong Siddeley to form Bristol Siddeley.

BAC went on to become a founding component of the nationalised British Aerospace, now BAE Systems. Bristol Siddeley was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1966, who continued to develop and market Bristol-designed engines. The BAC / Bristol works were in Filton, about 4 miles north of Bristol city centre. BAE Systems still operate from Filton.


The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd was founded in 1910 by Sir George White - the owner of Bristol Tramways - to manufacture aircraft, at Filton in Bristol. Unlike most aviation companies at the time, started by enthusiasts with little financial backing or business organization, British and Colonial was from its outset well funded and run by experienced businessmen. The Company's initial venture was a licensed and improved version of the Voisin brothers' Zodiac 'Boxkite' biplane, which was shown at the Aero Show at Olympia in March 1910. Unfortunately the Zodiac was extremely underpowered, and never flew.

Production of Bristol's first successful design, the Bristol Boxkite, started in a former tramway shed at Filton in June 1910. A month later the Company formed a flying school, with premises at Brooklands near London, and Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. This flying school was regarded as one the best in the world between 1910 and 1914. By 1914, 308 of the 664 Royal Aero Club certificates issued had been gained at the Company's schools.

First World War

The Company expanded rapidly, reaching a payroll of 200 by the outbreak of the First World War. The chief designer (styled "chef technique") from January 1912 until October 1914 was the Romanian engineer Henri Coandă. Coandă was succeeded by Frank Barnwell, who was to become one of the world's foremost aeronautical engineers. One of Barnwell's first designs, the Bristol Scout, was one of the first fighter aircraft to enter British service. Later in the war came the mass-produced two-seat Bristol Fighter, which was one of the backbones of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), later the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Inter-war years

By the end of the war, the Company employed over 3000 at its production works at Filton and Brislington. Its products had always been referred to by the name 'Bristol' and this was formalized in 1920, when British and Colonial was liquidated and its assets became the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Ltd. At this time the Company bought the failing Cosmos Engineering Company, also of Bristol, to form the nucleus of its new aero-engine operations, the Bristol Engine Company.

A major product during the interwar years was the Bristol Bulldog fighter, which formed the mainstay of RAF fighters between 1918 and 1935. During this time Bristol was noted for its policy of 'all-steel' airframes, preferring steel to the light alloys generally used in aircraft construction. Bristol airframes were built up from high-tensile strip steel rolled into section, and were powered exclusively by Bristol engines.

On 15 June 1935 the Bristol Aeroplane Company became a public limited company. By this time the Company had a payroll of 4200, mostly in the engine factory, and was well positioned to take advantage of the huge re-armament ordered by the British Government in May of that year. Bristol's most important contribution to the expansion of the RAF at this time was the Blenheim light bomber.

In August 1938 Frank Barnwell was killed in a light plane crash, and was succeeded as Chief Designer by Leslie Frise. By the time war broke out in 1939 the Bristol works at Filton were the largest single aircraft manufacturing unit in the world, with a floor area of nearly 25 hectares (2,691,000 square feet).

Second World War

During the Second World War Bristol's most important aircraft was the Beaufighter heavy two-seat multirole aircraft, a long-range fighter, night fighter, ground attack aircraft and torpedo bomber. It was used extensively by the RAF and Commonwealth air forces and by the USAAF. The Beaufighter was derived from the Beaufort torpedo bomber, a derivative of the Blenheim.

In 1940 a shadow factory had been set up at Weston-super-Mare for the production of Beaufighters.

The company's war-time headquarters were in the Royal West of England Academy.


When the war ended Bristol set up a separate helicopter division in the Weston-super-Mare factory, under helicopter pioneer Raoul Hafner. It was taken over by Westland in 1960.

Other post-war projects included Bristol Cars, which used pre-war BMW designs as the basis for the Bristol 400. The engine developed from this project found its way into many successful motor cars manufactured by other companies, such as Cooper, Frazer Nash and AC, and in 24hLM|1954 and 24hLM|1955 powered the Bristol 450 sports prototype to class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. In 1960 the late Sir George White and Tony Crook rescued the car division from being lost in the BAC merger - Sir George's family were founders of the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company in 1910. Sir George and Crook formed a new company, Bristol Cars Limited, remaining within the Filton complex. Sir George retired in 1973 and Crook purchased his share, becoming sole proprietor and Managing Director. [ [ Bristol Owners Club : History of the Bristol Marque ] ]

Pre-fabricated buildings, marine craft and plastic and composite materials were also early post-war activities, but these were eventually sold off.

Bristol was involved in the post-war renaissance of British civilian aircraft as inspired by the Brabazon Committee report. In 1949, the Bristol Brabazon airliner prototype, at the time one of the largest aircraft in the world, first flew. This project was a step in the wrong direction and was cancelled in 1953. At the same time the Bristol Britannia turboprop-powered airliner proved a huge success, and it and the Bristol Freighter transport aircraft were produced in quantity during the 1950s. Bristol was also involved in helicopter development, with the Bristol Belvedere and Bristol Sycamore going into quantity production.

Another post-war activity was missile development, culminating in the production of the Bristol Bloodhound anti-aircraft missile. Bristol Aero Engines produced a range of rocket motors and ramjets for missile propulsion. The guided weapons division eventually became part of Matra BAe Dynamics Alenia (MBDA).

In the late 1950s the Company undertook supersonic transport (SST) project studies, which were later to contribute to Concorde. A research aircraft, the Bristol 188, was constructed in the 1950s to test the feasibility of stainless steel as a material in a Mach 2.0 airframe. By the time the aircraft flew in 1962 the Company was already part of BAC.

Merger into BAC

In 1959 Bristol was forced by Government policy to merge with English Electric, Hunting Aircraft and Vickers-Armstrongs to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). In 1977, BAC was nationalised along with Scottish Aviation and Hawker Siddeley to form British Aerospace (BAe). BAe later became part of the now-privatised BAE Systems.

Bristol Engine Company

The Bristol Engine Company was originally a separate entity, Cosmos Engineering, formed from the pre-First World War automobile company Brazil-Straker. In 1917 Cosmos was asked to investigate air-cooled radial engines, and produced what became the Bristol Mercury, a 14-cylinder two-row (helical) radial, which they launched in 1918. This engine saw little use, but the simpler 9-cylinder version known as the Bristol Jupiter was clearly a winning design.

With the post-war rapid contraction of military orders Cosmos Engineering went bankrupt, and the Air Ministry let it be known that it would be a good idea if the Bristol Aeroplane Company purchased it. The Jupiter competed with the Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar through the 1920s, but Bristol put more effort into their design and by 1929 the Jupiter was clearly superior. In the 1930s the company developed the new Bristol Perseus new line of radials based on the sleeve valve principle, which developed into some of the most powerful piston engines in the world, and continued to be sold into the 1960s.

In 1956 the division was renamed Bristol Aero Engines, and then merged with Armstrong Siddeley in 1958 to form Bristol Siddeley as a counterpart of the airframe-producing company mergers that formed BAC. In 1966 Bristol Siddeley was purchased by Rolls-Royce, leaving the latter as the only major aero-engine company in Britain. Rolls-Royce continues to produce aircraft engines as Rolls-Royce plc. A number of Bristol Siddeley engines of Bristol heritage continued to be developed by Rolls-Royce, notably the Olympus turbojet and the Pegasus. The classical names favoured by Bristol indicated their heritage in a Rolls-Royce lineup named after British rivers



pre-World War I

*Biplane Type 'T'
*Bristol Prier monoplane
*Bristol-Coanda Monoplanes
*Bristol Gordon England biplane
*Bristol-Coanda Biplanes
**Bristol TB.8

World War I

*Types 1-5, 18 and 21 Scout
*Type 6 T.T.A.
*Types 10, 11, 20 and 77 M.1 Monoplane Scout
*Types 12, 14-17 and 22 F.2 Fighter
*Type 13 M.R.1


*Type 23 Badger
*Types 24 and 25 Braemar
*Type 26 Pullman
*Types 27-29, 47 and 48 Tourer
*Types 30 and 46 Babe
*Type 32 Bullet
*Type 36 Seely
*Type 37 Tramp
*Types 52 and 53 Bullfinch
*Types 62 and 75 Ten-Seater
*Type 72 Racer
*Type 76 Jupiter Fighter
*Type 73 Taxiplane and Type 83/183 Primary Trainer
*Type 84 Bloodhound
*Type 90 Berkeley
*Type 91 Brownie
*Type 92
*Types 93 Boarhound and 93A Beaver
*Type 95 Bagshot
*Type 99 Badminton
*Type 101
*Type 105 Bulldog
*Type 107 Bullpup
*Type 109
*Type 110A
*Type 120
*Types 123 and 133
*Type 130 Bombay
*Type 138
*143 'Britain First'
*Types 146, 147 and 148

World War II

*Types 142M, 149 and 160 Blenheim
*Type 149 Bolingbroke
*Type 152 Beaufort
*Type 156 Beaufighter
*Type 163 Buckingham
*Type 164 Brigand
*Type 166 Buckmaster


*Type 167 Brabazon
*Type 170 Freighter and Wayfarer
*Bristol Superfreighter
*Type 175 Britannia
*Type 188
*Bristol 223


*Type 171 Sycamore
*Type 173 and 192 Belvedere


Bristol Engine designs include:

"original series:"

"sleeve-valve series:"

"turbine-based types:"
*Theseus turboprop with heat exchanger
*Proteus two-shaft turboprop
*Olympus two-spool turbojet
*Bristol Orpheus single-spool turbojet
*Orion two-shaft turboprop
*Pegasus two-spool vectored thrust turbofan

"ramjet types:"


Bristol missile designs include:

*Blue Envoy - project only, never entered production
*Type 182, also known as "Blue Rapier"

See also

*Bristol Aerospace, Canadian subsidiary
*Roy Fedden, engine designer
*Harry Ricardo, engine designer


*cite book
title=Bristol Aircraft Since 1910
isbn=0 370 00015 3


External links

* [ British Aircraft Directory entry for Bristol]
* [ The Bristol Aeroplane Company] , the founder's family's website
* [ Bristol Aircraft and Engines]
* [ Bristol Aircraft Engines]

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