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British Industrial History

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Robert Blackburn

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July 1910.

Robert Blackburn (1885-1955), founder of the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co - later the Blackburn and General Aircraft - aircraft designer and manufacturer

1885 March 26th. Born at Kirkstall near Leeds, the eldest of three sons of George William Blackburn, an engineer, and his wife, Kate Naylor.

Attended Leeds modern school

Gained an honours degree in engineering at Leeds University

1906 Became an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers

Worked at Thomas Green and Son

1908 Commenced the design of an aeroplane in Paris

Set up a workshop in Benson Street, Leeds.

1909 April. Built a monoplane powered by a 35 hp Green engine and had it transported to Marske by the Sea on the Yorkshire coast, where he taxied it along the sands at increasing speeds, eventually becoming airborne before the machine side-slipped into the ground and was wrecked

1911 March 8th. His second monoplane was more successful and was successfully flown by B. C. Hucks from a beach near Filey

1911 Living at 8 Hurlingham Road, Fulham, SW: Robert Blackburn (age 26 born York), Engineer - Construction of Aeroplanes. In the house of his uncle George Dixon, an Army Major.[1]

1911 Built his third aeroplane the Mercury for the 1911 Olympia Air Show. Within three years he had proved himself as designer, builder, and pilot.

1911 Set up a flying school in disused stables in Leeds.

In September 1912 he moved his flying school from Filey Bay in Yorkshire to Hendon. Harold Blackburn was appointed instructor and test pilot.

1913 The school ceased operations some time in early 1913.

Harold Blackburn became a demonstration pilot for Robert Blackburn’s latest aircraft, the Blackburn Type D single-seat monoplane (which survives in flying condition with the Shuttleworth Collection) and its two-seat derivative, the Blackburn Type I. The Type I was demonstrated extensively throughout Yorkshire in the late summer of 1913 by Blackburn and its owner, Dr. M. G. Christie.

By June 1914 Robert had become a manufacturer, founding his own company, the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co and had moved to premises at the Olympia Roller-Skating Rink, Roundhay Road, Leeds, where they remained until 1929

1914 October 31st. Married(1) to Jessica Tryphena Thompson and they had three sons and two daughters. This marriage was dissolved on 23 March 1936.

1918: Produced the Kangaroo two crew biplane used as a bomber. Powered by two 250 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon engines. Developed from the GP and SP seaplanes. Just twenty were built.

1936 April 9th. Married(2) Phyllis Margaret Kirton, and they had two daughters. Both wives survived him.

1955 Died

1955 Obituary [2]

MR. ROBERT BLACKBURN, founder of the firm of aircraft constructors that bears his name, died in his home at Exeter on September l0th.

Born in 1885, he attended Leeds Boys' Modern School and studied engineering at Leeds University with the intention of entering his father's engineering works in Leeds.

He worked with several large firms in Germany, and went to France to work with a consulting civil engineer. While there he saw Wilbur Wright fly, and left Rouen for Paris, frequently visiting Issy, where, during 1908, Bleriot and Santos-Dumont monoplanes took the air.

His own first monoplane was designed in Paris but built in Leeds,, and in October, 1909, was flown from the beach at Saltburn and crashed.

The 1910 Blackburn monoplane was flown successfully by naval officers before World War I, and during that war the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company, Ltd., Olympia, Leeds, produced land-and sea-planes principally for the Admiralty.

Another monoplane design was the sporting "Sidecar" of 1919, intended to sell for £450, but the requirements of the Navy resulted in a succession of braced biplanes such as the "Baffin." In size, the aircraft ranged up to the "Perth" flying boat, with six R. R. Buzzard engines. In the middle 'thirties the Cirrus Hermes aero-engine company was merged into Blackburn Aircraft, Ltd.; the range of "Cirrus" engines culminated with the introduction after World War II of the "Bombardier," distinguished among air-cooled engines by its overhead camshaft and fuel injection system.

This war also saw Blackburn aircraft at sea, the "Skua" being the Navy's first monoplane. The company also built Fairey "Swordfish," which sometimes were referred to as "Blackfish."

A merger with General Aircraft, Ltd., was followed by the construction of a very large four-engined freighter for military and civil purposes; the "Beverley" and the range of "Turbomeca" turbines built by Blackburn and General Aircraft, Ltd., were on show when Blackburn visited Farnborough three days before his death.

Blackburn was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers since 1920, a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He is survived by his second wife, two sons and four daughters.

1956 Obituary [3]

Robert Blackburn, O.B.E., who died on 17th September 1955 at the age of seventy years, was one of the British pioneers of aviation, and the founder of the firm of aircraft constructors that bears his name. He designed, constructed and flew his first monoplane built in Leeds, and in 1911 designed a steel military monoplane which was one of the first successful all-metal aircraft. He received his technical education at Leeds University, and then worked for several large firms in Belgium, France, and Germany.

In 1912 he started a private company for constructing aircraft, which in 1915 became the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., Ltd., Brough, Yorkshire. Later the Cirrus Hermes aero-engine company was merged with it and, in 1936, Mr. Blackburn became Chairman and Managing Director.

After the 1939-45 war his firm merged with General Aircraft, Ltd., when the title became Blackburn and General Aircraft, Ltd., of which he was Chairman. For eighteen months he ran a flying school at Hendon.

At the end of the 1914-18 war he was awarded the O.B.E. and, in 1927, was decorated by the Greek Government.

He was elected an Associate Member of the Institution in 1917 and was transferred to Member in 1920. He was also an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. In 1945-46 he was Vice-President, Society of British Aircraft Constructors, and served on the Society's management committee from 1950-52.

1955 Obituary [4]

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes by Michael Sharpe published in 2006
  • The Encyclopedia of British Military Aircraft by Chaz Bowyer. Published in 1982. ISBN 1-85841-031-2
  • ODNB
  • BAE Systems. A Proud Heritage in Aviation. Published 1995 / 2000