What was to become the Bristol Aeroplane Company was
founded in Bristol, Somerset, on 19 February 1910, by Sir George White (b. Kingsdown, Bristol, 28 March 1854 – d. Stoke
Bishop, Bristol, 22 November 1916), chairman of the Bristol Tramway and Carriage Company, along with his son Stanley and his
brother Samuel, to commercially exploit the fast-growing aviation sector. In 1904, the year White was knighted, he read an
article in the Bristol Daily Mercury about the Wright brothers’ recent flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. He kept
tabs on the developments in heavier-than-air flight and, in 1909, had the opportunity of seeing Wilbur Wright flying in the
South of France. In 16 February 1910 he announced to a meeting of the Bristol Tramways shareholders that he proposed, at his
own financial risk, to invest in aviation. On that same day the companies of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, the Bristol Aviation
Company, the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, and the British and Colonial Aviation Company were registered by him.
White started trading as the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company. Unlike most aviation companies at the
time, which were started by enthusiasts with little financial backing or business ability, British and Colonial was from its
outset well-funded and run by experienced businessmen. Sir George established the business as a separate company from the
Bristol Tramway Company because he considered that such a venture would be seen as too risky by many shareholders, and the
new company's working capital of £25,000 was subscribed entirely by Sir George, his brother, and his son. Nevertheless,
as might be expected, the affairs of the two companies were closely connected, and the company's first premises were two former
tram sheds at Filton deemed suitable for aircraft manufacture, leased from the Bristol Tramway Company. Additionally, key
personnel for the new business were recruited from the employees of the Tramway Company, including George Challenger as chief engineer and works manager. A flying school was also established, with premises at Brooklands, managed by Archibald R. Low, and also at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain. These flying schools came to be regarded as some of the best in the world
by 1914, when 308 of the 664 Royal Aero Club certificates issued to date had been gained at the Company's schools. Also in
February 1911 Deutsche Bristol-Werke was established at Halberstadt, Germany, to operate a flying school and build Bristol
airplanes. This arrangement canceled on June 23, 1914, the company having been renamed Halberstädter Flugzeugwerke GmbH
in September 1913. This company went on to produce Halberstadt aircraft under the design leadership of Burkhardt and Voigt.
The Company's initial manufacturing venture was to be a licensed and improved version of an aircraft manufactured
in France by the Société Zodiac, a biplane designed by Gabriel Voisin. One example was bought and shipped to
England to be shown at the Aero Show at Olympia in March 1910, and construction of five more was started at Filton. It was
then taken to Brooklands for flight trials, where it immediately became apparent that it had an unsatisfactory wing-section
and insufficient power, and even though Bristol fitted it with a new set of wings it could only manage a single brief hop
on 28 May, after which it was abandoned. Work then began on designing a successor and drawings were prepared by George Challenger
for an aircraft based on a successful design by Henri Farman. Construction was authorized for twenty examples and the first
made its initial flight on 30 July at Larkhill, piloted by Maurice Edmonds. The first batch equipped the two training schools
as well as demonstration aircraft, and the aircraft, nicknamed the Bristol Boxkite went on to become a commercial success,
76 being built in all. Many served in the Company's flying schools and examples were sold to the War Office as well as a number
of foreign governments.
Although satisfactory by the standards of the day, the Boxkite was not capable of much
further development and work was started on two new designs, a small tractor configuration biplane, and a monoplane. Both
of these were exhibited at the 1911 Aero Show at Olympia but neither was flown successfully. At this time both Challenger
and Low left the company to join the newly established aircraft division of the armament firm Vickers. Their place was taken
in June 1911 by Pierre Prier, the former chief instructor at the Bleriot flying school at Hendon, later joined by Eric Gordon England. In January 1912 the Romanian engineer Henri Marie Coandă arrived from France and was appointed as chief designer,
Gordon England leaving later that same year. Also at this time a seperate and highly secret design office, the "X-Department",
was set up to work on the ideas of Dennistoun Burney for naval aircraft. Frank Barnwell was taken on as the design engineer for this project, taking over as Bristol's chief designer when both Coandă and Prier
left the company in October 1914 to return to France. Meanwhile, the company expanded rapidly, opening a second factory at
the Brislington tramway works, employing 200 people by the outbreak of the First World War.
The outbreak of
war in August 1914 led to orders being placed for the Barnwell designed Scout. Partly as a result, Barnwell returned from
service in France in August 1915, his skills as pilot being of considerably less value than his ability as a designer. One
of his first decisions was to recruit a technical assistant to work with him on new projects. He interviewed Leslie G. Frise, who had just graduated from Bristol University, and persuaded him to resign his R.N.A.S. commission to join the Company;
together in September 1915 they laid out the preliminary design of a twin-engined local defence two-seater to a War Office
requirement. This, the T.T.A., promised to fulfil all the requirements, and was smaller than the F.E.4 designed at Farnborough
to do the same job. The first T.T.A. was flown to Upavon on 11 May for trials by A.LD. pilots and was better than the F.E.4's
performance in spite of the reduced power available, but the design was adversely criticised on other grounds and not recommended
for squadron service. Despite this setback, in 1916 work was started the Bristol F.2A, eventually developed into the highly
successful F.2B Bristol Fighter, one of the outstanding aircraft of the 1914-18 war and a mainstay of the R.A.F during the
1920s: it remained in service until 1931. Another aircraft designed at this time was the Bristol Monoplane Scout. Although
popular with pilots, the success of this aircraft was limited by the War Office prejudice against monoplanes and only 130
were built. It was considered that its relatively high landing speed of 50 mph made it unsuitable for use under the field
conditions of the Western Front, and the type's active service was limited to the Near East.
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 transferred
to the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Ltd. At this time the Company, acting under a certain amount of pressure
from the Air Ministry, bought the aero-engine division of the bankrupt Cosmos Engineering Company, based in the Bristol suburb
of Fishponds, to form the nucleus of a new aero-engine operations. There was already a good working relationship between Bristol
Aircraft and Cosmos, the Cosmos Jupiter having been first flown in a prototype Bristol Badger in May 1919. The Jupiter engine
eventually proved enormously successful. During the inter-war period the aero-engine division was more successful than the
parent company and Bristol came to dominate the market for air-cooled radial engines. Apart from providing engine for almost
all Bristol's aircraft designs, the Jupiter and its successors powered an enormous number of aircraft built by other manufacturers.
The most successful product during this period from the airframe side of the company was the Bristol Bulldog fighter, which
formed the mainstay of Royal Air Force fighter force between 1930 and 1937, when it was retired from front line service. Also
during this time Bristol developed a preference for steel airframes, using members built up from high-tensile steel strip
rolled into flanged sections rather than the light alloys more generally used in aircraft construction.
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. In August 1938 Frank Barnwell was killed flying a light aircraft of his own design, and was succeeded
as Chief Designer by Leslie Frise, aided by Archibold Russell, who had joined the stress office of the Bristol Aeroplane Company in May 1925 as a 21-year-old Bristol University graduate.
By the time war broke out in 1939 the Bristol works at Filton were the largest single aircraft manufacturing unit in the world.
Bristol's most important contributions to the RAF during World War II were the Blenheim and the Beaufighter. In
1940 two shadow factories was set up in the Weston-super-Mare area for the production of Beauforts and Beaufighters, one at
Oldmixon on the western boundary of the airport and one at Banwell. Also an underground factory was built by Alfred McAlpine
at Hawthorn in 1940 to accommodate the company's experimental department.
At the end of WW2, Bristol, like other
aero engineering and manufacturing industries, possessed a huge surplus of skilled labour and were faced with the need to
find some alternative products until a new aeroplane market emerged. A move into the quality car market was agreed, and to
this end the rights had been acquired in respect of the BMW pre-war car models and engines as war reparation. 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 1954 and 1955 powered the Bristol 450 sports prototype to class victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
Pre-fabricated buildings, marine craft, and plastic and composite materials were also early post-war activities, but these
were eventually sold off. More significantly when the war ended was the setting up of a separate helicopter division.
The Bristol Aeroplane Company's Helicopter Division had its roots in 1944, when the pioneering helicopter designer Raoul Hafner, released from the Airborne Forces Experimental Establishment (AFEE), came to Bristol along with some members of his team.
The Helicopter Division started out at the main Bristol Aeroplane Company site in Filton, but from 1955 it was moved to the
Oldmixon factory in Weston-Super-Mare.
The Helicopter Division produced two successful designs that were sold
in quantity. The first, designated the Type 171, was sold to air forces around the world. This was followed by the tandem
rotor civil helicopter, the 13-seat Type 173, five examples of which being built for evaluation purposes. Although no airlines
ordered the Type 173, it led to a family of military designs, of which the Type 192 went into service with the RAF as the
The attempted post-war renaissance of British civilian aircraft as defined by the Brabazon Committee
report led, in 1949, to the Brabazon, at the time one of the largest aircraft in the world. Ill-conceived, it was cancelled
in 1953. Hardly had the design begun when Frise resigned to become Technical Director of Hunting Aviation, leaving Russell to succeed him as Bristol's Chief Engineer. Under his leadership, the turboprop-powered Britannia airliner
proved a huge success, and it and the Freighter were produced in quantity during the 1950s.
activity was missile development, culminating in the production of the Bloodhound anti-aircraft missile. Bristol Aero Engines
also produced a range of rocket motors and ramjets for missile propulsion. In 1952, Bristol reviewed their facilities and
determined that its growing rocket motor business would benefit from relocation and by 1953 work had moved to the old shadow
factory at Banwell.
In 1954, MacDonald Brothers Aircraft of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, was purchased by the
Bristol, becoming their Canadian division. The company was an important supplier of accessories for jet engines, building
the exhaust pipes for the Avro CF-100 Canuck and later becoming the primary maintenance depot for the aircraft. During the
1950s and 60s Bristol built on their experience in precision sheet metal work to become a major supplier of hot section components
for various engine manufacturers.
In the late 1950s the Company undertook supersonic transport (SST) project
studies as the Type 223, which were later to contribute to Concorde. Also in the 1950s a research aircraft, the Type 188,
was constructed to test the feasibility of stainless steel as a material in a Mach 2.0 airframe, but many problems led to
its delay and by the time the aircraft flew in 1962, the Company was already part of BAC.
In January 1956 the
Bristol divisions were reorganised into three separate companies: Bristol Aircraft Ltd., Bristol Aero Engines
Ltd and Bristol Cars Ltd., each being wholly owned by the Bristol Aeroplane Company Ltd.
In June 1960, Bristol
Aircraft merged with Vickers and English Electric to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) , with Hunting acquired soon after. At the same time, Bristol Aero Engines merged with Armstrong Siddeley to form Bristol Siddeley. In a
final step of rationalisation, on January 1, 1964, the four constituent operating companies were merged into a single unit,
and Bristol Aircraft Ltd. became the Filton Division of BAC.
Like the parent company, the Bristol Helicopter
Division was merged with the helicopter interests of Westland, Fairey and Saunders-Roe to form Westland Helicopters in 1960.
Bristol Aero Engines was merged with Armstrong Siddeley in 1958 to form
Bristol Siddeley. In 1966 Bristol Siddeley was purchased by Rolls-Royce, this purchase also including the Canadian subsidiary,
now renamed Bristol Aerospace. In June 1997 Rolls-Royce sold Bristol Aerospace to Magellan Aerospace of Canada, and it is
today the last remaining use of the original Bristol name.
Since 1910, C.H. Barnes (Putnam, 1964)
Bristol An Aircraft Album, James O. Doughton (Ian
The Bristol Aeroplane Company, Derek N. James (Tempus, 2001)
John Pudney (Putnam, 1960)
The Book of Bristol Aircraft, D.A. Russell (Harborough, 1946)
became BAC (Filton Division) when BAC formally came into existence on 1 June 1960.
Type numbers for Bristol
aircraft were not introduced until 1923-4, when Capt. Barnwell allotted numbers retrospectively to all designs from the Bristol
Scout onwards. This explains why no type numbers were given to the Coanda monoplanes and biplanes, the Gordon England machines
and other pre-war types. The first Bristol machine to appear with its type number properly allotted was the Type 90 Berkeley.
It is therefore absolutely correct to speak of the Type 96 F.2B Mk III, but rather less correct to speak of, for example,
the Type 14 F.2B. (J.M. Bruce, via Flight, 19 December 1952)
The Zodiac was a French design built under licence
from Société Zodiac of Paris.
Project References To show project references
in a floating window
1 Bristol Aircraft
Since 1910, C.H. Barnes (Putnam, 1964)
2 Bristol An Aircraft
Album, James O. Doughton (Ian Allan, 1973)
3 The Bristol
Aeroplane Company, Derek N. James (Tempus, 2001)
4 British Secret
Projects - Jet Fighters Since 1950, Tony Buttler (1st Edn, Midland Publishing, 2000 - 2nd Edn, Crecy, 2017))
5 British Secret
Projects - Jet Bombers Since 1949,, ony Buttler (Midland Publishing, 2003)
6 British Secret
Projects - Fighters & Bombers 1935-1950, Tony Buttler (Midland Publishing, 2004)
7 British Experimental
Combat Aircraft of World War II, Tony Buttler, (Hikoki Publications, 2012)
8 British Secret
Projects - Hypersonics, Ramjets and Missiles, Tony Buttler (Midland Publishing, 2007)
9 Vulcans Hammer
- V-force Projects and Weapons Since 1945, Chris Gibson (Hikoki Publications, 2011)
10 Nimrods Genesis - RAF Maritime
Patrol Projects and Weapons since 1945, Chris Gibson (Hikoki Publications, 2015)
11 On Atlas' Shoulders - RAF
Transport Projects Since 1945, Chris Gibson (Hikoki Publications, 2016)
12 Project Tech Profile 04
- The Air Staff and AEW, Chris Gibson (Blue Envoy Press, 2013)
13 Project Tech Profile 06
- The Air Staff and the Helicopter, Chris Gibson (Blue Envoy Press, 2017)
14 British Light Aeroplanes
1920-1940, Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume (GMS Enterprises, 2000)
15 British Commercial Aircraft
1920-1940, Arthur W.J.G. Ord-Hume (GMS Enterprises, 2003)
16 British Aircraft Before
The Great War, Michael H. Goodall and Albert E. Tagg (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001)
17 British Aeroplanes 1914-18, J.M.
Bruce (Putnam, 1957)
18 British Aircraft 1809-1914, Peter
Lewis (Putnam, 1962)
19 Th Aeroplanes of the Royal
Flying Corps, J.M. Bruce (Putnam, 1982)
20 False Dawn - The Beagle
Aircraft Story, Tom Wenham (Air Britain Publishing, 2015)
21 The Beaufort File, Roger
Hayward (Air Britain Publications, 1990)
22 The Bristol 170, Derek
A. King (Air Britain Historians, 2011)
23 The Turret Fighters, Alec
Brew (The Crowood Press, 2002)
24 BAC TSR2 - Britain's Lost
Bomber, Damien Burke (The Crowood Press, 2011)
25 Bristol Brittania, Charles
Woodley (The Crowood Press, 2002)
26 Bristol Beaufighter, Victor
Bingham (Airlife, 1994)
Select the button to go to the appropriate listings page.
Note: In the Production Summary, conversions are only listed where
they result in a change from one Type to another. Changes to sub-type or Mark Number are not shown in the summary. For details
of these, see the individual listings.
Bristol Sequence Numbers
used Sequence Numbers to identify individual airframes. For consistency across this site, the term 'C/n' is used in the following
linked production details.