Britten-Norman evolved from the ambition of two young
men, John Britten and Desmond Norman, who had met as de Havilland apprentices at Hatfield in 1947. Deciding to build their own light aircraft after they had finished
their apprenticeships at the de Havilland Technical School in 1949, the Britten-Norman partnership came into being. Their
first project was the construction of an ultra-light monoplane, the BN1-F Finibee, built in a garage at Britten’s home,
St. Denis, Bembridge, in the Isle of Wight. At this time, building aircraft was still very much a side project for the two
young engineers, with John employed in the family theatre business while Desmond was working as an export assistant at the
SBAC, while continuing to fly de Havilland Vampires with 601 Count of London Squadron of the Auxiliary Air Force.
Britten-Norman Limited was formed in 1953 and during the early 1950s specialised in converting surplus training aircraft,
mainly Tiger Moths, for agricultural use. However by 1954 the demand for these conversions was beginning to decline and attention
was turned to improving crop spraying techniques, leading to the development of the Micronair Rotary Atomiser for crop spraying
in 1955. The design successfully replaced the clumsy boom-and-nozzle style equipment of the era, and by 1958 over 500 Micronair
Rotary Atomiser units had been sold worldwide. In order to operate aircraft fitted with the Atomiser, a company known as Crop
Culture (Aerial) Ltd was formed in 1956 when Britten and Norman joined up with Frank Mann and Jim McMahon to pursue crop spraying
In 1959 B-N and Crop Culture began to study air-cushion vehicles or hovercraft. Their first craft,
the CC1, was the world's second hovercraft and design and construction of the Cushioncraft series successfully proceeded through
various stages up to the Cushioncraft CC-7, when B-N’s Cushioncraft interests were sold off to the British Hovercraft
In 1963, B-N turned its attention back to aircraft design. John Britten began designing the BN-2, looking
for a low-cost “Dragon Rapide” replacement. The BN-2 series had its genesis in the operations of Cameroons Air
Transport, a small company set up by B-N in 1960. A scheduled domestic air service was operated by the company between Tiko
and Douala, initially with a Piper Apache and later with an Aztec and Dornier Do28. Neither the Apache nor Aztec aircraft
was particularly well suited to the work due to restricted load space in the cabin, so B-N decided to produce their own design
to meet these requirements. The concept was schemed out by John Britten, initial Chief designer on the project being John
Allen, later replaced by Denis Albert Berryman C.Eng. FRAeS (b. 21 Dec 1928 in Hampshire, d. 21 May 1994
in Bembridge, Isle of Wight).
Until the end of 1965, the whole of the cost of design, prototype building and early
development flying, as well as initial production tooling and component building, to the extent of some £170,000, had
been met by Britten-Norman alone. On the advice of the Transport Aircraft Requirements Committee, the Ministry of Aviation
had recommended to the Treasury that the project, on its achievements and forward prospects, should be supported. On November
1, 1966, the announcement was made that the Ministry of Aviation was prepared to meet up to half the launching costs and that
the Government would participate in the proceeds from Islander sales. With this timely support in the form of a £190,000
loan the project went ahead with increasing impetus. A new factory, with an area of 56,000 sq ft to expand the existing facilities
at Bembridge, was put in hand and brought into use at the end of 1966. Convincing evidence of the truly dynamic quality of
the project became evident in February 1967, when the Minister of Aviation announced additional support in the form of an
interest-bearing loan of £250,000, as a result of the greatly increased interest and orders that were being attracted
by the Islander. The loan was later increased to £550,000 by the Ministry of Technology.
On 13 June 1965 the
BN-2 Prototype made its first flight. The aircraft was an immediate success and by 1968 sales of the Islander far outstripped
the available production capacity at Bembridge and a major production sub-contract was let to Westland Aircraft’s Saunders
Roe Division at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Over 300 sets of Islander airframe components were delivered to Bembridge
where final assembly and flight testing was undertaken by B-N at their new factory. From February 1968, production of bare
Islander and later on Defender aircraft was transferred to Romania as a result of a technology transfer agreement associated
with setting up production of the BAC.111 airliner in Romania. Bembridge remained the centre for final fitting out of the
aircraft to customer requirements, flight testing, delivery and support.
Britten-Norman then designed a four-seater
touring aircraft to compete with established types such as the Cessna 172 and Piper Cherokee. A single prototype of the BN-3
Nymph, to be offered with a choice of engine—115 h.p., 130 h.p. or 160 h.p., was built and flown in 1969. A feature
of the Nymph was a plan involving final assembly by suitably qualified local organisations from kits of fully finished, interchangeable
parts supplied by the manufacturer. At one point Shorts were considered to build and supply the kits. Britten-Norman seemed
to make a good start to sales of the Nymph with an order for 100 kits from their Australian distributor, H. P. Hunt. The plans
were to have the aircraft assembled by Aero Engine Services in New Zealand. Unfortunately lack of cash flow prevented this
plan from being implemented and the Nymph remained a prototype only.
Following the failure of the Nymph, Britten-Norman
continued to develop and improve the Islander design. This culminated in 1970 with the BN-2A MkIII, a trimotor version with
greater range and capacity, the first Trislander, as it became named, flying on 11 September 1970. In 1975 Britten-Norman
won the Queen's Award to Industry for technological innovation for the Trislander.
Though the Trislander was an immediate
success, it also led, in October 1971, to the collapse of the Britten-Norman company. The aircraft's design and development
had been encouraged by a director, appointed by Lloyd's Bank, who subsequently called in the bank's loan. One month later,
Britten-Norman (Bembridge) Limited was formed. In August 1972, the company was bought by Fairey Engineering, with Britten and Norman remaining as directors until February 1976, when they left “to pursue other interests”.
Fairey steadily moved Islander and Trislander production from Bembridge to their Gosselies, Belgium, subsidiary, aircraft
only going to Bembridge for UK certification. During 1972 the company conducted a feasibility study for a short-haul, three-Dart-powered
passenger/cargo transport, the Mainlander, aimed as a replacement for such types as the Fairchild C-119 and the Bristol Freighter,
production of which would have been based at the Gosselies plant of Fairey, and would be first Britten-Norman design to have
the Fairey Britten-Norman prefix. BAF management studied the Britten-Norman Mainlander as a replacement for
the Carvair, but the project remained on paper only.
On 3 August 1977, Britten-Norman (Bembridge) Limited went into
receivership and was sold to Oerlikon-Bührle, owner of Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland in 1978, creating Pilatus
Britten-Norman. Considerable development of the Defender series continued in the following years, particularly in
the field of AEW. Trslander production ceased in 1981, but in 1982 Pilatus Britten Norman sold a manufacturing license to
the International Aviation Corporation (See Audrey, Integrity and the Trislander). This eventually came to nothing, but during the early 1990's Pilatus Britten-Norman considered reviving production in China
as a joint-venture deal with the Shenzhen General Aircraft Company. Eventually to date, the only "new" Trislander
production that has ocurred is when Guernsey, Channel Islands-based Anglo Normandy Aeroengineering, a specialist in the maintenance
of PBN Islanders and Trislanders, received two Trislander kits late in 1995 origininally supplied to International Aviation
Corporation in the USA, where they had been kept in store, thereby putting the Trislander back into limited production. Anglo
Normandy intended further kits to be assembled if it could gain any firm orders, but it remained at just the two.
mid 1998 Oerlikon-Bührle sold Britten-Norman to Litchfield Continental Limited, a British Virgin Islands entity located
in London, a diversified holding company with holdings in chemical, real property, maritime, mining, research and development
and financial management companies, with the company once again named Britten-Norman Aircraft. On 19 October
that year, Biofarm Inc., a US based company from Linfield, Pennsylvania, who 12 days earlier had been renamed from Global
Spill Management, Inc., announced its acquisition of 100% of the capital stock of Britten-Norman Limited from Litchfield.
In January 1999, Britten Norman signed a contract for the acquisition of a 72.9% stake in Romaero, who had a 35-year relationship
building airframes for B-N. Following the Romanian Government’s suspension of tax and customs exemptions for foreign
investors during 1999, Britten Norman refused to pay the purchase price, amounted to 80.5 million USD. Consequently, State
Ownership Fund (the major shareholder at that time) cancelled the contract and resumed Romaero’s privatization process.
In return, Britten-Norman filed suit against the Romanian Government in the International Arbitration Court claiming breach
of contract as Romania had cancelled the tax breaks stipulated in the contract by enforcing the State Budget Law for 1999.
The litigation was finalized and Romaero was re-offered for sale during 2003. Non of this injected much needed capital into
Britten-Norman, and the company once again went into receivership on 3 April 2000. However, on 4 May 2000, Alawi Zawawi Enterprises,
a consortium which includes members of the Al Zawawi family from the Sultanate of Oman, formed B-N Group,
in order to acquire the assets of Britten-Norman Limited, the latter going into final liquidation on 19 May 2000. The company
was headed by Alawi Al Zawawi as chairman, aided by his brother Munim, with William Anthony Hynett as CEO, but both Al Zawawi
brothers resigned their directorships on 28 June 2008.
On 8 May 2002, a subsidiary company, Fly BN Limited, was formed
to specialise in product support and MRO, while on the 10th, the corresponding design and manufacturing subsidiary, Britten-Norman
Aircraft Limited, was formed. Various new support companies have since been formed:
BN Resources Limited,
an HR & Training company, on 1 October 2003. BN Aircraft Sales Inc. in USA on 1 August 2004, to handle US aircraft
sales. Britten-Norman Pty Ltd in Australia on 1 November 2004. Aero Composites Limited, a Fly BN subsidiary,
in August 2005. BN Logistics Limited in June 2006, based at new premises near London Heathrow, but dissolved on 5 August
2014. BN Helicopters Limited in September 2006, based at premises at Thruxton Airfield, but dissolved on 11 August 2015. BN Defence Limited in February 2007, originally based at MOD St Athan Airfield, but now at Daedalus Airfield. BN
Aerosystems in June 2009, specialising in avionics and systems integration, installation, maintenance, modification and repairs.
14 December 2005 Cirrus Aircraft announced that Britten-Norman would provide final re-assembly of Cirrus’s SR20 and
SR22, via its Aero Composites subsidiary, for aircraft to be delivered to European customers.
In 2010, facilities for aircraft
manufacture in the UK were moved from Britten-Normans traditional home of Bembridge to the newly created Lee-on-the-Solent
manufacturing facility at Solent Airport, the former Royal Naval Air Station Daedalus. Spare parts production continues at
the Bembridge site with sub-assemblies also being supplied from the Romanian facility.
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.