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WWI In the middle of 1917, the sudden expansion of the aircraft programme led to a change from the previous policy of distributing work among a large number of small producers, to concentrate instead on large production centres.
Sir William Weir (the Director of Munitions in Scotland) originally proposed transferring the responsibility for supplying aircraft to the Ministry of Munitions in May 1916. The scheme was accepted by Lloyd George’s War Cabinet in January 1917. Weir was then appointed as Controller of Aeronautical Supplies, with the task of re-organising the existing Army and Navy supply sections into a single Supply Department. Weir was given a seat on the Air Board and an office in the Hotel Cecil, where the Board had its headquarters. Percy Martin became Controller of Petrol Engine Supply. On 21 February 1917, Weir’s achievement as Controller of Aeronautical Supplies was recognised by the award of a knighthood.
Weir curtailed the designing of aircraft and aero-engines by the State at the Royal Aircraft Factory in order to get more new aircraft into the air while producing fewer aircraft types in larger factories. On the 1 March 1917, there were 55 types of aircraft in production and 33 types of engine. One year later, the number of aircraft types in production had come down to 30 and of engines, to 25. At the same time the Department had been trying to develop large production facilities rather than to spread the work among a large number of contractors.
Three new factories were set up at Government expense at Croydon, Liverpool and Kingston, to be operated under the control of the Department of Aircraft Production. Management was to be by Holland, Hannen and Cubitt (Croydon), the Cunard Steamship Co (Liverpool) and the Sopwith Aviation Co. It was eventually decided that the Sopwith Aviation Company should adapt the new building at Kingston (built by Dick Kerr) as an assembly shop for their adjacent factory and not as a national factory. A factory under construction in the autumn of 1917 belonging to Crossley Motors Ltd , was selected instead to be another National Aircraft Factory.
A further site at Richmond was ultimately not nationalised.