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British Industrial History

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Frank Sowter Barnwell

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Frank Sowter Barnwell (1880-1938), chief designer to the Bristol Aeroplane Co


1938 Obituary [1]

The chief aircraft designer of the Bristol Aeroplane Company, Captain Frank Sowter Barnwell, was killed on Tuesday night when his single-engined monoplane crashed outside the Bristol Airport, Whitchurch, shortly after taking off.

He had designed and built this single-seater machine himself for his own private use. He had made a partial circuit of the aerodrome, and then, for some unknown reason, the monoplane appeared to lose flying speed and dived to the ground. It was wrecked and Capt. Barnwell, who was still in the cockpit when airport officials rushed to the monoplane, was found to have such serious injuries that his death must have been almost instantaneous.

Capt. Barnwell, who was 58 years of age, lived at Alveston House, Alveston, Gloucestershire. He was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a member of the Royal Aero Club. He was holder of the O.B.E.


1938 Obituary [2]

IT is with regret that we have to record the death of one of the pioneers of British aviation. Captain F. Sowter Barnwell, who was killed in a flying accident at Bristol Airport, on Tuesday, August 2nd. At the time of his death he was chief designer to the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

Captain Barnwell was apprenticed to a shipbuilding firm in Govan, and later went to the United States to work for a shipbuilding firm near Boston.

After returning to this country he became interested in aircraft construction, and with his brother conducted a number of experiments. He was appointed chief draughtsman to the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company - later the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1911.

During the war he served in the Royal Flying Corps, but was recalled to become designer to the Bristol Aeroplane Company, and in that capacity achieved great distinction as the designer of the "Bristol Fighter" aircraft. The machine was adopted as the standard two-seater fighter by a number of countries.

Captain Barnwell accepted a temporary commission in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1921, but returned to Bristol two years later.

In addition to being a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, he was one of the original members of the Bristol and Wessex Light Aeroplane Club and a member of the Royal Aero Club.



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Sources of Information

  1. Gloucestershire Echo - Wednesday 03 August 1938
  2. The Engineer 1938 Jul-Dec: Index