Friday, 13 June 2008

So What Is This Curvy Beauty Of The Solent?

with thanks to Bomberguy


William Gruff said...

I wouldn't call her beautiful but the she was certainly majestic. I have a book, sadly in store, in Berwick-upon-Tweed, with all my other books, in which there is a double page cut-away drawing of the Saunders Roe Princess, and some photographs of her under construction.

Like the Brabazon she was, in some ways, the product of outmoded ideas about air travel (double berth cabins, a promenade deck, restaurant, ladies' dressing room, purser's office etc) but with ten Bristol Proteus (as I recall) turbo-props, eight of them twin coupled and driving contra-rotating props she embodied a good deal of up to date technology. It's salutary to recall that these huge aircraft were built by relatively small concerns.

I often wish I'd followed modern, rather than early mediaeval, history as the politics and economics of the post-war decline of the Br*tish aircraft industry would make a fascinating PhD subject.

Gallimaufry said...

No one anticipated the massive growth of airline travel by ordinary people or cattle as they are called by the travel industry. The postwar projects like Brabazon and Comet were intended for the same types who had used Imperial Airways, ie senior Army officers, civil servants, company directors and the very rich.
The British aircraft industry was brimming with talent and experience but was undercapitalised. Its main buyers, the RAF and BOAC/BEA offered small launch orders compared with the USA and their specifications were too Britocentric to be export successes with the exception of the Viscount and 125.
Re the Proteus: the propellers on the Britannia were driven electrically from the mechanically unconnected engines - a scary first. And the contraprops and gearbox of this aircraft were displayed at the 1951 Festival of Britain as a working exhibit. That was when we had pride - what was the equivalent in the millenium dome?
Have you considered posting about the decline on your blog? I'd be very interested to read your thesis: my special gripe is the closure of Armstrong Whitworth as a division within the Hawker Siddeley Group.

William Gruff said...

The only one of your remarks that I would take issue with is that describing 'Br*tish' aircraft design as 'Britocentric'. It was not: Br*tish designs have been successful worldwide: The Americans have happily used Br*tish engines and aircraft such as the Canberra and the Harrier, and use them still. The notoriously Anglophobic Howard Hughes was reportedly very impressed by the Bristol Britannia. The problem, to which you allude, was that the overwhelmingly significant customer for Br*tish aircraft, after the war, was the Br*tish government, which was, and had been throughout the war, effective master of the Br*tish aircraft industry and was concerned only with fulfilling its contemporary political aims (and its international treaty obligations), without really understanding, or perhaps caring, that the basis of the 'economy' it believed it could re-orientate was overwhelmingly technological, and thus subject to free market forces beyond its comprehension.

It's stretching credibility to describe BEA, BOAC and (earlier) BSAA requirements as 'Britocentric': No nation has ever been afraid of exporting its national values with its airlines (Pan Am, TWA, Aeroflot, El-AL, Air France etc. etc. etc.) or aeroplanes (like you I detest the word 'airplane') and no national airline seems to have been bothered about importing the values of other nations by buying aeroplanes constructed in other countries. Br*tish aircraft manufacturers were simply producing what Br*tish politicians and civil servants told them they must produce (the current action in the United States against Br*tish Aerospace staff who are guilty of nothing more than doing in Saudi Arabia what US aircraft salesmen have done, throughout the world, for the past seventy years or more, is blackly ironic, to say the least).

Over forty years I have read much but I am a visual learner and have a visual memory so whilst I recall images of the AW52, for instance, I tend to forget that it was listed as the AW52. Consequently I retain only impressions of what I have read and heard. The impressions are not thereby rendered invalid but, in the absence of my books (most of them sold, of necessity, to second-hand bookshops or given away, the remainder in store), and those borrowed from public libraries, they are rendered insupportable.

I am insufficiently informed to have developed a thesis, hence the appeal of doctoral research, but the outline of that research would certainly not preclude, in crude terms, an examination of wartime agreements between the allies for national aviation priorities and intelligence sharing and the need of the post-war Attlee government, and its successors, to fund the welfare state.

As you point out, and as I said, the Br*tish aircraft industry was characterised in the post-war period by numerous small and under-capitalised constructors, which made them easy prey for those with bigger plans. I don't know what happened and I'm too old to find out but I would like to know how much truth can be credited to the hearsay, rumours and reports of my boyhood.