Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920 - 1945 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920 - 1945

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Aircraft of the Isle of Wight
1900 - 1919 | 1920 - 1945 | 1946 - 1960 | 1960 - 2000

A sea plane flying over a map of the UK with the Isle of Wight highlighted

In the years since the first aircraft landed on the Isle of Wight, two Isle of Wight boat-building companies on the island had started to make aircraft of their own. The first was J Samuel White & Company, known as White's, which had so far specialised in seaplanes, and the other was Saunders1, which previously had only built flying boat hulls for other aircraft companies.

Between the Wars

On the 28 July, 1919, J Samuel White & Company stopped building aircraft and concentrated on building boats once more. White's sold the Somerton airfield to Saunders, who were only just beginning to enter the world of aviation. Saunders from then on concentrated on producing its own designs.

The first design for a plane after the war was for the Kittiwake, an amphibian flying boat. It was a twin-engined craft capable of carrying up to seven passengers. In 1921, Vickers Ltd gained a share in the company, and soon Saunders built the Valentia flying boat, based on Vicker's Vimy landplane bomber. By 1923, three Valentias had been built, but Vickers no longer had a share in the company. Saunders started work on building Felixstowe F5 flying boats, and flying boats of their own design, including the Medina and the Valkyrie in 1927. The Valkyrie was the last consuta-built2 flying boat that Saunders built, after which they concentrated on metal-hulled flying boats, starting with the Severn.

The New Age of Saunders-Roe

In 1928, at the age of 71, Samuel Saunders retired. Sir Alliot Verdon-Roe, who had been the first man in Britain to build his own aircraft and was responsible for the Avro aircraft company, took over Saunders and renamed it Saunders-Roe. After this happened, one of the first contracts that came up was one for the Blackburn Aircraft Company. They built 55 Bluebird IV Aircraft, which were all-metal biplanes. Also contracted was the development of the Meteor, a twin-engined monoplane, for Sir Henry Segrave3. After the prototype was built, Sir Henry Segrave died on Lake Windemere on 14 June, 1930, trying to raise the water speed record even further, and so only the prototype and three Meteors were ever built.

In 1929, Saunders-Roe designed three similar types of flying boat, the Cutty Sark, Cloud, and Windhover. All three were monoplane flying boats, and 35 were built. Seventeen Clouds entered service with the RAF, as did a Cutty Sark. One of the Windhovers set a flight endurance record of 54 hours and 13 minutes, flown by a Mrs Bruce. The next project was the larger London Flying Boat, which was immensely successful: 31 were built between 1936 and 1938. It was the London Flying Boat that was chosen to represent the RAF on the 150th anniversary of the founding of the State of New South Wales in 1937. Five Londons flew across the world to Australia, perfectly demonstrating the London's long range ability.

One design of flying boat, the A33, was abandoned after tests with the prototype proved unsuccessful. The next flying boat design was the Lerwick. The Lerwick was a monoplane development of the London, 21 were built for the RAF.

Air Services

In 1928, Oliver Simmonds started his own company in Weston, Southampton. He had worked for Southampton's Supermarine company, most famous for building the Spitfire. Oliver Simmond's company was known as Spartan, and it built club planes and air taxis. Building the planes had been sub-contracted to Saunders-Roe and soon, Saunders-Roe had a controlling stake in the company, transferring manufacture to East Cowes.

Saunders-Roe continued using the Spartan name and built 13 Arrows, a small two-seat biplane. They then designed the Mailplane, a plane for mail carrying services. Only the prototype was built, as it was developed into the Cruiser, a passenger-carrying aircraft. 15 of these were built and were sold as far away as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt and India. The majority of the planes, however, were kept by Saunders-Roe and were used to start an air-travel company, Spartan Airways, in 19334. By the end of 1933 it had proved so successful that it became part of Southern Railways and the Railways Air Services network. You could fly to Ryde, Isle of Wight, as well as to London and Birmingham. Bembridge Airport, Isle of Wight, was also a regular stop. The last design under the Spartan name was the Clipper, but only one of those was built.

Isle of Wight Airports

At this time, there were four active airports on the island, at Somerton (Cowes), Ryde, Sandown and Bembridge. Ryde was the busiest airport, which since 1932 had offered Sunshine Air Express services. Bembridge was the island base for Channel Air Ferries Limited, which offered services to the Channel Islands and Le Bourget, France. Sandown Airport was smaller than the others, but was used by various air services.

By the end of the 1930s, Somerton was used as a private airfield once more, with public services diverting to Ryde. During the Second World War, the airways were closed and anti-aircraft obstacles were placed on it to prevent Germany from using them as landing points for invasion. Two of the airports were re-opened, at Sandown and Bembridge. Somerton, however, remained open throughout the war for the use of Saunders-Roe. Three hangars were, unfortunately, destroyed in the raids of 1942, along with the last Spartan aircraft.

Shortly before the war began, Saunders-Roe had started a flying boat project. Imperial Airways had flying boats on scheduled flights to America, South Africa, India, Singapore and Australia. The flying boats they started off with were C class, later upgraded to the larger G class. Saunders-Roe anticipated an even larger flying boat, three times the size of the C class, weighing 80 tons. Saunders-Roe then built a one-third scale flying boat to act as a research vessel. It was soon nicknamed Shrimp, but it was larger than both the Sea Otter and Walrus. The research model was finished in the same month in which war broke out with Germany and the project had to be put on hold.

The Second World War

During the Second World War, all private projects of Saunders-Roe ceased so that the company could concentrate on the war effort. As a result, Saunders-Roe spent the war years concentrating on building Supermarine aircraft under contract, namely the Supermarine Walrus5 and the Supermarine Sea Otter, as Supermarine were busy building Spitfires. During the war, 461 Supermarine Walruses were built and 290 Sea Otters by Saunders-Roe. Even J Samuel White & Co began to work on aircraft again, building Spitfire, Mosquito and Lancaster parts, although they still concentrated mainly on shipbuilding.

1To learn how Saunders began check out Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900 - 1919.2Consuta is a material made by sewing together laminated sheets of plywood and interlayering waterproofed calico.3Sir Henry Segrave held both the land and water world speed records.4In 1935, Spartan Airways merged with United Airways, which in 1936 became Allied British Airways, then British Airways, which in 1939 became part of British Overseas Airways Corporation, which later became the British Airways we know today.5The Supermarine Walrus was also known as the Shagbat.

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