Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920-1945

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In the years since the first aircraft landed on the Isle of Wight, two Isle of Wight boat-building companies on the Island had started to make aircraft of their own. The first was J. Samuel White & Company, known as White's, which had so far specialised in seaplanes, and the other was Saunders, which so far had only built flying-boat hulls for other aircraft companies.1

Between The Wars

On the 28th July 1919, J. Samuel White And Company stopped building aircraft, and concentrated on building boats again. White's sold the Somerton airfield to Saunders, who were only just beginning to enter the world of aviation. Saunders from now on concentrated on producing their own designs.

The first one after the war was the Kittiwake amphibian flying boat. It was a twin-engined craft capable of carrying up to seven passengers. In 1921, Vickers Ltd. gained a share in the company, and soon Saunders built the Valentia flying boat, based on Vicker's Vimy landplane bomber. By 1923, three Valentias had been built, and Vickers no longer had a share in the company. Saunders started work on building Felixstowe F5 Flying Boats, and flying boats of their own design, including the Medina and the Valkyrie in 1927. The Valkyrie was the last consuta-built flying boat that Saunders built, after which they concentrated on metal-hulled flying boats, starting with the Severn. In 1928, Samuel Saunders was seventy-one, and so retired. Sir Alliot Verdon-Roe, who had been the first man in Britain to build his own aircraft and responsible for the Avro aircraft company, took over the company, and renamed it to Saunders-Roe. One of the first things that happened after he joined was a contract for the Blackburn Aircraft Company. They built 55 Bluebird IV Aircraft, which were all-metal biplanes. Also contracted was the development of the Meteor, a twin-engined monoplane, for Sir Henry Segrave2. After the prototype was built, Sir Henry Segrave died on Lake Windemere on 14th June 1930, trying to raise the water speed record even further, and so only the prototype and three other aircraft were ever built.

In 1929 Saunders-Roe designed three similar types of Flying Boat, the Cutty Sark, Cloud, and Windhover. All three were monoplane flying boats, and 35 were built. Seventeen Clouds entered service with the RAF, as did a Cutty Sark. One of the Windhovers set a flight endurance record of 54 hours and 13 minutes, flown by Mrs Bruce. The next project was the larger London flying boat, which was immensely successful. 31 were built between 1936 and 1938. It was the London Flying Boat that was chosen to represent the RAF on the 150th Anniversary of the founding of the State of New South
Wales in 1937. Five Londons flew across the Earth to Australia, perfectly demonstrating the London's long range.

One design of flying boat, the A33, was abandoned after tests with the prototype proved unsuccessful, and the next flying boat design was the Lerwick. A monoplane development of the London, 21 were built for the RAF.

Air Services

In 1928, Oliver Simmonds started his own company in Weston, Southampton. He had worked for Southampton's Supermarine company, most famous for building the Spitfire. Oliver Simmonds company was known as Spartan, and built club planes and air taxis. Building the planes had been sub-contracted to Saunders-Roe, and soon Saunders-Roe had a controlling stake in the company, transferring manufacture to East Cowes.

Saunders-Roe continued using the Spartan name, and built 13 Arrows, a small two seat biplane. They then designed the Mailplane, a plane for mail carrying services. Only the prototype was built, as it was developed into the Cruiser, a passenger carrying aircraft. Fifteen were built, and sold as far away as Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Egypt and India, but the majority
were kept by Saunders-Roe, who started an air-travel company, Spartan Airways, from Somerton in 1933. By the end of 1933 it had proved so successful that it became part of Southern Railways and the Railways Air Services network. You could fly to Ryde, Isle of Wight, as well as services to London and Birmingham. Bembridge Airport, Isle of Wight, was also called at. The last Spartan design was the Clipper, but only one of those was built.

In 1935, Spartan Airways merged with United Airways, which in 1936 became Allied British Airways, then British Airways, which in 1939 became part of British Overseas Airways Corporation, which later became the British Airways we know today.

At this time, there were four active airports on the Island, at Somerton (Cowes), Ryde, Sandown and Bembridge. Ryde was the busiest airport, which since 1932 had offered "Sunshine Air Express" services. Bembridge was the Island base for "Channel Air Ferries Limited", which offered services to the Channel Islands and Le Bourget, France. Sandown Airport was smaller than the others, but was used by various air services.

By the end of the 1930s, though, Somerton was used as a private airfield once more, services diverting to Ryde. During the war, the airways were closed and anti-aircraft obstacles placed to prevent Germany from using them as a means of invading. Two of the airports were re-opened, at Sandown and Bembridge. Somerton, though, remained open throughout the war for the use of Saunders-Roe. Three hangars, though, were destroyed in the raids of 1942, including the last Spartan aircraft.

The Second World War

During the Second World war, all private projects of Saunders-Roe ceased so that they could concentrate on the war effort. For this reason, Saunders-Roe spent the war years concentrating on building Supermarine aircraft under contract, namely the Supermarine Walrus3 and the Supermarine Sea Otter, as Supermarine were busy building Spitfires. Even J. Samuel White And Co. started work on aircraft again, building Spitfire, Mosquito and Lancaster parts, although they concentrated on shipbuilding. 461 Supermarine Walruses were built, and
290 Sea Otters by Saunders-Roe, during the war.

The only project that Saunders-Roe had started just before the war was to do with Flying Boats. Before the war, Imperial Airways had flying boats on scheduled flights to America, South Africa, India, Singapore and Australia. The flying boats they started off with were "C" class, and had been upgraded to the larger "G" class. Saunders-Roe anticipated an even larger flying boat, three times the size of the "C" class, weighing 80 tons. Saunders-Roe then built a one-third scale flying boat to act as a research vessel. It was soon nicknamed "Shrimp", but it was larger than both the Sea Otter and Walrus. Sadly, however, it was finished in the same month in which war broke out with Germany.

Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900-1919Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1946-1960Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1960-2000The Isle of Wight Space ProgrammeRailways on the Isle of WightApproved Version
1To learn how they started business, read Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900-1919.2Sir Henry Segrave held both the land and water world speed records.3Known as the "Shagbat"

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