Aircraft Wings

Towards the end of the year, they put considerable effort into trying to secure work manufacturing aircraft components such as spars, etc., for wings[1], as at the time aircraft were essentially a wooden frame covered with linen or cotton fabric treated with nitrocellulose dope[2]. Superficially this must have appeared as an ideal opportunity to utilise some of their 50 carpenters and one they probably thought well placed to serve.

They initially contacted the Air Board[3], with the idea of making complete aircraft wings without understanding what it involved. Whilst the Air Board appeared somewhat sceptical, the London Manager was more optimistic having bluffed his way through the Board’s informal questions, regarding could they undertake the work? did they have sufficient workers to commit? did they have sufficient large space in which to fabricate the wings, etc.? Before any decision could be made they had to go through a standard formal process, to ensure that they were up to the task; a process that they knew all too well.

Predictably, it appears that the firm had second thoughts because the London Manager revisited the Air Board a few days later seeking a contract to manufacture only parts of the wing, not the whole assembly. He was somewhat rebuffed because the Air Board were only interested in entering contracts for complete wings, not components[4]. However, they did provide them with a list of firms who had contacts to manufacture complete wings, to see if any would be willing to sub-contract out component manufacture. The first on the list was Clayton & Shuttleworth an engineering firm based in Lincoln, who, according to the Air Board, had just won a large order from Handley Page[5], probably for the O/400 biplane bomber. They duly wrote to the firm on 30th November to see if they would subcontract the manufacture of the ribs or spars to them[6]. The next two firms were also Lincoln-based, Rohey & Co., Ltd.[7], to whom they wrote on 30th November and Ruston, Proctor & Co. The latter built more than 1,000 Sopwith Camel aircraft during the war[8]. It appears that none of these firms was interested in subcontracting the work-out.

Lastly, the Air Board suggested contacting Capt. Rogers, who was the production office for the Coventry District, based at the Siddeley-Deasy Motorcar Co., Ltd., works in Coventry. They subsequently wrote to Capt. Rogers on 1st March the following year, presumably having exhausted all other possibilities[9]. By this time, the firm’s London Manager had contacted about twenty aircraft or component manufacturers, including Waring & Gillow, Hampton & Sons, The Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Ltd., Grahame-White Aviation Co., Ltd., Handley Page Ltd., British Caudron Co., Ltd., The Nieuport & General Aircraft Co., Ltd., Central Aircraft Co., Hooper & Co., Adam, Grimaldi & Co. and the National Aircraft Factory – all to no avail.

The firm’s London Manager also returned to the Air Board, who were hinting that they were about to change the rules regarding sub-contractors. They didn’t hold out much hope and indeed advised him that “if we had not already done some of this work not to touch it”, adding that “planes are now being turned out faster than pilots and engines can be obtained[10]. Handley Page’s response was also enlightening; they suggested that unless Messenger’s want to make the complete wing there was no mileage in attempting to obtain component level fabrication work. They even suggested the firm might like to contact The Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Ltd., in Manchester regarding making a schooling machine. The result appears, like of other initiatives, to have ended in disappointment


References:

  1. Ibid.
  2. It was painted onto the fabric to tighten it and to provide protection.
  3. The Air Board was initially set-up on 15th May 1916, to provide coordination between the two air services – the Army’s Royal Flying Corps and the Navy’s Royal Naval Air Service. Poor coordination between the two was causing problems with both aircraft production and the Country’s air defence. In January, 1917 the Air Board was revamped with a new chairman. Also, the responsibility for aircraft design was given to the Ministry of Munitions.
  4. Privately held records.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Engineers, Globe Works, Canwick Road, Lincoln ↑
  8. Ruston Proctor
  9. Privately held records.
  10. Ibid.