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Short Brothers

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Short Brothers plc
Type Subsidiary
Founded Battersea 1908
Headquarters [[Belfast]], [[Northern Ireland]]
Revenue£810 million (2006)
Operating income£69 million (2006)
Net income£48 million
ParentBombardier Aerospace
SubsidiariesBombardier Skyjet International Ltd.

Short Brothers plc is a British aerospace company, usually referred to simply as Shorts, that is now based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Founded in 1908, Shorts was the first true aviation company in the world, and was a manufacturer of flying boats during the 1920s and 1930s and throughout the Second World War. In the immediate post-war period it received orders for several military and experimental aircraft; from the 1960s Shorts turned primarily to the production of cargo aircraft. In 1989 the company was bought by Bombardier. Within Bombardier Aerospace, Shorts designs and manufactures nacelles, fuselages and aircraft flight control systems. Shorts is the largest manufacturing concern in Northern Ireland.[1] Today the company's products include aircraft components and engine nacelles for its parent company Bombardier Aerospace, and for Boeing, Rolls-Royce Deutschland, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.[2]


The Early Years

What would eventually become Short Brothers had its origins in 1897 when Eustace (1875–1932)[3] and Oswald (1883–1969)[4] Short took their first flight in a coal gas filled balloon. Their father had served his apprenticeship with Robert Stephenson. In 1902 the two brothers started offering balloons for sale, winning a contract for three for the British Indian Army in 1905. The balloons were manufactured by the brothers in premises above the acoustic laboratory run by a third brother, Horace (1872–1917),[5] for Thomas Edison's European agent, Col. Gouraud, in Hove, Sussex. Horace suffered from a facial cranial deformity most likely related to brachycephaly. Surviving photos of him confirm this.Template:Citation needed When Horace left Hove in 1903 to concentrate on steam turbine development elsewhere, Eustace and Oswald moved their workshop to rented accommodation in two railway arches in Battersea, southwest London, conveniently situated next to Battersea gas-works. In 1908 they were joined by Horace and in November 1908 they registered their partnership under the name Short Brothers. The Wright Brothers contracted with the new company the British rights to build the Wright Flyer; an initial order for six aircraft was taken, all of them taken up by members of the Aero Club. Short Brothers became the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world.

In July 1909, Shorts created Shellbeach Aerodrome on unobstructed marshland next to Muswell Manor,[6] (earlier known as "Mussel Manor") near Leysdown-on-Sea on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary, recently purchased by Frank McClean for the use of the Aero Club (which was granted the "Royal" prefix in the same year).

Muswell Manor – the birthplace and cradle of British aviation

In 1910 they moved, along with the Royal Aero Club, to larger quarters at Eastchurch, 4 km or so away, where the Short-Dunne 5, designed by John W. Dunne, was built, the first tailless aircraft to fly. In 1911 they built the world's first successful twin-engine aircraft,[7] the S.39 or Triple Twin. At this time seaplanes had to be taken by barge to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey to be launched and tested.[8]

Francis 'Frank' McClean was a keen aviator (there were 16 aircraft in his private fleet 1910–1914)[9] who worked for the Short brothers as their test pilot, on an honorary basis, until this began to place too many demands upon him. In 1913 his place was filled by Gordon Bell, Shorts' first professional test pilot, until 1914, when he was succeeded by Ronald Kemp. Kemp could not handle the volume of flight testing and development alone, and "by 1916 was having to receive occasional help from other freelance pilots".[10] One of these young men was John Lankester Parker, whose name would become inextricably linked with Shorts for many years. Parker eventually succeeded Kemp as Shorts' Chief Test Pilot in 1918, a post he was to occupy for the next 27 years.

Operations in Cardington, Bedford

In 1916, Shorts Brothers was awarded a contract to build two large dirigible airships for the Admiralty. As part of the contract a loan was provided to enable the Company to purchase a site near Cardington, Bedfordshire, on which to construct airship construction facilities, so while the company concentrated on the construction of heavier-than-air aeroplanes in the Isle of Sheppey/Rochester area, balloon and dirigibles construction was concentrated in Cardington. The name of the company was changed in 1919 to Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Ltd., but nationalisation the same year ended the Short Brothers' involvement with the company, which became the Royal Airship Works. The housing estate built by the company near Cardington to house its employees still bears the name Shortstown.[11]

Expansion in Rochester

Due to the company's success and to the increasing number of seaplanes being produced, it became clear that larger premises with access to the sea were needed. In 1913 an 8.4 acre (3.4 hectare) plot of land some 14 nautical miles (26 km) away at Borstal,[8] near Rochester, Kent, was purchased from a Mr. Willis (a local councillor) and the planning and construction work started.[12]

By early 1915 the first facility of what was to become known as the Seaplane Works was completed: No.1 Erecting Shop. As this and the No.2 and No.3 shops became available, the workforce moved from the Eastchurch factory, No.3 being completed in 1917. A long concrete slipway was constructed from the centre-line of No.3 Erecting Shop to enable aircraft of up to 20 tons weight to be launched even at low tide.[12]

First World War

Over the next few years Shorts built a variety of aircraft, but started to expand during World War I when they supplied the Short Admiralty Type 184 (or simply "Short S.184"). The S.184 was the first aircraft to attack a ship with a live torpedo, when on 15 August 1915, one flying from HMS Ben-my-Chree, piloted by Flight Commander Charles Edmonds, hit a Turkish supply ship in the Dardanelles during the Battle of Gallipoli.[13] In terms of number built, the S.184 was Shorts' most successful pre-Second World War aircraft: over 900 were produced, many under licence by other manufacturers. A landplane version of the S.184 was also sold to the Royal Flying Corps as the Short Bomber.

During the First World War, Shorts had also been among the manufacturers of two flying boats, the F3 and F5, designed by Sdn. Cmr. John Porte at the Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe. When the war ended, some 50 of them were being built in Rochester.[14]

The 1920s and 1930s

During the post-First World War years and the Depression of the early 1920s, the economic climate was difficult for the small aircraft industry in the United Kingdom. Shorts managed to survive without reducing the company's headcount by diversifying, e.g. by building lightweight bus and tram bodies for delivery to bus companies throughout the British Isles.[15]

Alan Cobham's de Havilland DH.50 G-EBFO was fitted with Shorts twin metal floats at Rochester. Cobham then started a flight to Australia from the Medway on 30 June 1926. Two de Havilland Giant Moths were fitted with Shorts floats at Rochester, and the first was flown in June 1928 and both were delivered to Western Canada Airlines Ltd of Canada.

Throughout the 1920s and '30s, the only viable way to operate long-range civilian flight was by flying boat, as the necessary runway infrastructure was not widespread and would be too expensive to construct for the relatively small number of flights. Shorts took to the flying boat market, producing a series of three designs known under the Singapore name. The Singapore I was made famous in 1927 by Sir Alan Cobham, when he, his wife, and crew made a survey of Africa while flying some 23,000 miles. {This in itself was a trip that would both prove the worth of Flying Boats but also highlight the drawbacks and ease of damage from uncontrollable waters, especially sea tides!}

File:Short Sunderland.jpg
The Short Sunderland, widely operated by the Allied powers during World War II

Shorts then started design work on one of their most famous designs, the Short Calcutta, based on the Singapore layout but larger and more powerful. The Calcutta first flew in 1928 and began active service with Imperial Airways in August. Two more were added to the fleet by April 1929 and flew passenger-preferred coastal routes from Genoa to Alexandria by way of Athens, Corfu, Naples, and Rome. A number of Calcuttas were used on shorter routes, and were instrumental in permitting long-range airline services between outposts of the British Empire. They followed the production of four Calcuttas with the larger Kent, following with a series of still larger aircraft designs such as the Short Empire, the first of which was launched on 2 July 1936 The Empire was commissioned off the drawing board by Imperial Airways (later BOAC) to operate the UK's Empire Airmail scheme. A year later they won a British Government defence contract for a military flying boat, the Sunderland. Sharing the same basic design but a modified upper structure, the Sunderland was one of the most effective long-range seaplanes in use. Dreaded by U-Boats, it was nicknamed "The Flying Porcupine" (Fliegendes Stachelschwein in German), perhaps due to its extensive armament and the several prominent dorsal antennae.

A Short Empire was used by Imperial Airways for the first westbound transatlantic service from Foynes, Ireland to Newfoundland on 5 July 1937.[16]

In 1933, Shorts opened a new factory at Rochester Airport, which was becoming increasing important for the landplanes the company was producing.

In 1934, they finally closed their Eastchurch premises and purchased the Pobjoy engine manufacturers, which had moved to Rochester Airport to be near Shorts and with whom they had worked on their latest designs.

First moves to Belfast

In 1936, the Air Ministry formed a new aircraft factory in Belfast, creating a new company owned 50% each by Harland and Wolff and Shorts, Short & Harland Ltd. The first products of the new factory were 50 Bristol Bombays followed by 150 Handley-Page Hereford bombers.[17]

Their work on seaplanes eventually culminated in the Short Sandringham and Short Seaford types, both based on the Empire/Sunderland boats. These flying boats had enough range to operate as a transatlantic airliner, but largely served the post-war Empire (Commonwealth) market; in competition with 4-engined land planes like the modified Avro Lancasters, the Avro Lancastrian and Avro York.

The Coral Route was operated by TEAL from New Zealand to Fiji, the Cook Islands and Tahiti in the South Pacific with Short Solent flying boats up to 1960.

Second World War

The Sunderland became famous as an anti-submarine patrol bomber during the Second World War where its long range and long flying time allowed it to close the Mid-Atlantic air gap between Iceland and Greenland, helping end the Battle of the Atlantic. It also rescued sea and air crews from the waters surrounding its spheres of operation especially those of Coastal Command. A squadron was ordered by the Australian Air Force but never made it to Australia, instead Australians flew for the Royal Air Force Coastal Command. Australia impressed Qantas-Imperial Empire boats and used these successfully especially on reconnaissance missions in the Timor Sea area.

It was their work on the Sunderland that also won them the contract for the Short Stirling, the RAF's first four-engine bomber. If based on their original submission, essentially a land-based Sunderland with various cleanups, there seems to be no reason to suspect that the Stirling would not have been an excellent heavy bomber. Instead the Air Ministry stipulated a number of other requirements of the plane, that it should be able to function as a troop transport for instance, that eventually doomed it as newer designs outperformed it. A high-speed, long-range, four-engined flying-boat, the Short Shetland was built (with Saunders-Roe providing the wings and a lot of the detail design work) in 1944, but the war ended before the second prototype was completed. The project continued postwar but was eventually abandoned.

During the Battle of Britain, the Rochester factory was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe and several of the early-run Stirlings and other aircraft were destroyed. From this point on, the Belfast factory became increasingly important as it was thought to be well beyond the range of German bombers. However, Belfast and the aircraft factory were subjected to German aircraft bombing during Easter week of 1941. To meet the increased requirement for its aircraft during the war, satellite factories near Belfast were operated at Aldergrove and Maghaberry, producing 232 Stirlings between them.[18] A temporary Shorts factory was established at White Cross Bay, Lake Windermere,[19] which produced 35 Mark III Sunderlands. Also during the war Austin Motors at Longbridge, Birmingham, produced over 600 Stirlings and Blackburn Aircraft, of Dumbarton, Scotland, produced 240 Sunderlands.[20]

In 1943, the Government took over the ownership and management of Shorts under Defence Regulation 78: for the second time (after the nationalisation of the Airplane Works in Cardington in 1919) Short Brothers was affected by nationalisation. Oswald Short, who had resigned as Chairman in January of that year, remained as Honorary Life President.[21]


File:Short Sperrin Gyron engine.jpg
Short Sperrin at Farnborough SBAC Show in 1955
US military version of the Shorts 330, the company's most successful modern aircraft after the Shorts 360.

By 1947 all of their other wartime factories had been closed, and operations concentrated in Belfast. In 1948 the company offices followed and Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety. In the meantime, in 1947, Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Ltd. had merged with Short and Harland Limited to become Short Brothers and Harland Limited, with Oswald Short remaining as Life President.[22]

In the 1950s, Shorts was involved in much pioneering research, including designing and building the VTOL Short SC1, the Short SB5 and the Short SB.4 Sherpa. They built the Short Sperrin, a backup jet engine bomber design in case the V-bomber projects failed and the Short Seamew, a cheap to produce anti-submarine reconnaissance and attack aircraft intended for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve squadrons, but these were closed down before deliveries were made. In the 1950s, Shorts also received sub-contracts to build 150 English Electric Canberras, the first of these aircraft making its maiden flight on 30 October 1952. Of these, Shorts delivered 60 Canberra B.2s, 49 B.6s and 23 P.R.9s, the remaining 18 being cancelled by the Government in 1957.[23] Further Canberra work was involved in the conversion of time-expired B.2s into unmanned radio-controlled missile target aircraft. Two prototypes and 10 production type U.10 aircraft were produced, followed by six improved type U.14s. These aircraft were controlled from the ground by VHF radio and were equipped to provide feedback on their own performance as well as that of the missiles aimed at them.[24] To assist them with the design of increasingly complex aircraft, Shorts became involved as early as 1953 with pioneering the development of electronic (analogue) computers.[25]

In 1954 the Bristol Aeroplane Company became a 15.25% shareholder in Shorts and the company used the injection of funds to set up a production line for the Bristol Britannia turbo-prop airliner, known in the press as The Whispering Giant. Although it was originally intended that 35 Britannias should be built by Shorts, a shortage of work at Bristols led to this number being reduced. In the end 15 Britannias were completed by Shorts; five sets of Britannia components were sent to Filton and used on the continued production of Britannias there.[26]

In the 1960s, Shorts found a niche for a new short-haul freighter aircraft and responded with the Short SC.7 Skyvan. The Skyvan is most remembered for its box-like, slab-sided appearance and rectangular twin tail units, but the plane was well loved for its performance and loading. Serving almost the same performance niche as the famous de Havilland Twin Otter, the Skyvan proved more popular in the freighter market due to the large rear cargo door that allowed it to handle bulky loads with ease. Skyvans can still be found around the world today, notably in the Canadian Arctic.

An airfield had been established by Shorts beside the Belfast factory in 1937 as Sydenham Airport. This was Belfast's main civilian airport from 1938 to 1939. The airfield was requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Nutts Corner, a former RAF base, later became Belfast's main airport (and was itself superseded by Aldergrove in 1963). Aldergrove continues to be used for military purposes as RAF Aldergrove, hosting helicopters and occasional visitors from both the USAF and RAF. Shorts used this airfield until production of complete aircraft ceased. In 1983, following interest from airlines and customers, the airfield was opened for commercial flights as Belfast Harbour Airport (later Belfast City Airport (BCA), now George Best Belfast City Airport). Following major capital investment Bombardier sold BCA for £35 million in 2003.

In the 1970s, Shorts entered the feederliner market with their Shorts 330, a stretched modification of the Skyvan, called the C-23 Sherpa in USAF service, and another stretch resulted in the more streamlined Shorts 360, in which a more conventional central fin superseded the older H-profiled twin fins.

In 1988, loyalists working at the factory attempted to sell parts, information and knowledge of a new missile system to the apartheid government of South Africa. This was linked to a large arms shipment in 1988 which was then divided between the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and Ulster Resistance. In April 1989, three Northern Irish men; Noel Lyttle, Samuel Quinn and James King were arrested in Paris. Also arrested were arms dealer Douglas Bernhardt and a South African diplomat, Daniel Storm.[27]

Bombardier purchase

In 1977, the company changed its name back to Short Brothers, and in 1984 became a public limited company in preparation for privatisation. The government announced the sale of Shorts to Bombardier on 7 June 1989 for £30 million. As part of the sale the government also agreed to write off £390 million of the company's "accumulated losses and inject another £390 million to recapitalise the group and cover current and future losses, capital investment and training."[28] Bombardier beat a bid from The General Electric Company plc and Fokker whilst Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm withdrew before final offers were submitted.[29] The sale was finalised on 4 October 1989.[30]

In 1993, Bombardier Shorts and Thomson-CSF formed a joint venture, Shorts Missile Systems, for the design and development of very short-range, air defence missiles for the UK Ministry of Defence and armed forces worldwide using expertise dating back to the 1950s. In 2000, Thomson-CSF bought Bombardier's 50% share to become the sole owner. Shorts Missile Systems was renamed Thales Air Defence Limited in 2001.


Year of first flight in brackets.








File:Short tucano t1 zf210 flying arp.jpg
Royal Air Force Short 312 Tucano in special colours as the RAF's 2008 display aircraft.



UAVs and drones

  • Short MATS
  • Short Skeet

Chief test pilots

See also

Template:Commons category


  1. Shorts as a "Centre of Excellence" within Bombardier, 2007
  2. Manufacturing profiles
  3. Albert Eustace Short b. 1875, d. 1932
  4. Hugh Oswald Short b. 16 January 1883, d. 1969
  5. Horace Leonard Short, b. 1872, d. 1917
  6. Muswell Manor, "birthplace and cradle of British aviation"
  7. Clément Ader had created a twin-engined aircraft, the Ader Avion III, but this is deemed never to have flown
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hanson, Richard. Borstal: Short Brothers.[1] [2] Access date: 15 January 2007.
  9. Barnes & James, p.521.
  10. Barnes & James, p. 120.
  11. Barnes & James 1989, p.15.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Cassidy, Brian. Flying Empires: Short "C" class Empire flying boats. Queens Parade Press, 2004. [3] Access date: 15 January 2007.
  13. The supply ship had already been hit by a torpedo from the submarine HMS E14 4 days earlier and had run aground. See Short Type 184 for further details
  14. Barnes and James 1989, p.16.
  15. Barnes and James 1989, p.19.
  16. Service from Foynes, Republic of Ireland
  17. Barnes and James 1989, p.28.
  18. Barnes and James 1989, p.388.
  19. Barnes and James 1989, p.368.
  20. Barnes and James 1989, p.541.
  21. Barnes and James 1989, p.30.
  22. Barnes and James 1989, p.32.
  23. Barnes and James 1989, p.508.
  24. Barnes and James 1989, p.509.
  25. Shorts Quarterly Review, Vol. 2 No. 3, Autumn 1953, p.1.
  26. Barnes and James 1989, p.510.
  27. Seanad Éireann - Volume 122 - 10 May, 1989
  28. Harrison, Michael. “Shorts sold to Bombardier”, The Independent, 1989-06-08. Retrieved on 20 November 2008.
  29. “Bombardier of Canada Wins Competition to Buy Short Brothers”, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 1989-06-12, p. 63. Retrieved on 20 November 2008.
  30. “Shorts is private”, Flight International, 1989-10-14. Retrieved on 20 November 2008.
  • Barnes, C.H. with revisions by James, Derek N. Shorts Aircraft since 1900. London: Putnam, 1989 (revised). ISBN 0-85177-819-4.
  • Jackson, A.J. British Civil Aircraft since 1919, Volume 2. London: Putnam, 1973. ISBN 0-370-10107-X.

External links

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It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Short Brothers".