Pioneer of British Military Aviation

Bristol Aeroplane Company

The Bristol Aeroplane Company, originally the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was both one of the first and one of the most important British aviation companies, designing and manufacturing both airframes and aircraft engines.

Bristol Boxkite Centenary Flight at Centenary of Military Aviation 2014 (Photo: Hpeterswald)

Bristol Aeroplane Company

Bristol Aeroplane CompanyNotable aircraft produced by the company include the 'Boxkite', the Bristol Fighter, the Bulldog, the Blenheim, the Beaufighter, and the Britannia, and much of the preliminary work which led to the Concorde was carried out by the 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 works were in Filton, about 4 miles (6 km) north of Bristol city centre. BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce, MBDA and GKN still have a presence at the Filton site where the Bristol Aeroplane Company was located.

Foundation

The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd was founded in February 1910 by Sir George White, 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. Sir George had been inspired to embark on this venture following a chance meeting between himself and American aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright in France during 1909, after which he recognised aviation as holding significant business potential.

Unlike the majority of aviation companies of the era, which were typically 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 had decided to establish the business as a separate company from the Bristol Tramway Company, having 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. The affairs of the two companies were closely connected, and the company's first premises were a pair of former tram sheds suitable for aircraft manufacture at Filton, leased from the Bristol Tramway Company. Additionally, key personnel for the new business were recruited from the employees of the Tramway Company, such as George Challenger, who served as the company's chief engineer and works manager.

Flying schools were established at Brooklands, Surrey, which was then the centre of activity for British aviation, where Bristol rented a hangar; and at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain where, in June 1910, a school was established on 2,248 acres (9.10 km2) of land leased from the War Office. These flying schools came to be regarded as some of the best in the world, and by 1914, 308 of the 664 Royal Aero Club certificates which had been issued had been gained at the company's schools.