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Short Brothers

Short Brothers, almost universally referred to simply as Shorts, is a British aerospace company currently located in Belfast. Shorts was the first true aviation company in the world, and were a major World War II manufacturer of flying boats. After they war they turned primarily to cargo aircraft, and were purchased by Bombardier in 1989.

Oswald, Horace and Eustace Short
What would eventually become Shorts was formed in 1897 when Eustace and Oswald Short took their first flight in a coal gas filled balloon. In 1902 they started offering balloons for sale, winning a contract for three for the Indian Army in 1905. In 1908 they were joined by a third brother, Horace, and incorporated in order to sell licensed copies of the Wright Flyer. They set up shop in Leysdown-on-Sea on the Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary, home of Lord Brabazon's Royal Aero Club, which had originally formed for ballooning. They sold six Fliers to the Club over the next two years.

In 1910 they moved along with the Aero Club to larger quarters at Eastchurch 4km or so away, and built the Short-Dunne 5, the first tailless aircraft to fly. In 1911 they built the world's first twin-engine aircraft, the S-39 or Triple Twin. Over the next few years Shorts built a variety of aircraft, but started to expand during World War I when they supplied the Short Admiralty Type 184 (or simply Shorts S.184) which went on to become the first aircraft to sink a ship, when one hit a Turkish cargo ship in the Dardanelles during the Battle of Gallipoli. The S.184 was also sold to the Royal Flying Corps as the Short Bomber.

Throughout the 1920s and 30s the only way to conduct long-range civilian flight was by flying boat, as the needed runway infrastructure didn't exist in most locations and would be too expensive to construct for the small number of flights. Shorts took to the flying boat market and produced a series of three designs known as the Singapore. A Singapore I was made famous in 1927 by Sir Alan Cobham, when he, his wife, and crew made a survey of the African continent while flying some 23,000 miles.

Shorts then started design work on one of their most famous designs, the Shorts Calcutta, based on the Singapore layout but larger and equipped with more power. The Calcutta first flew in 1928 and began active service for Imperial Airways in August. Two more were added to the fleet by April 1929 and flew passenger-preferred coastal routes from Genoa to Alexandria by way of Athens, Corfu, Naples, and Rome. A number of Calcutta's were used on smaller routes around the world, and were instrumental in setting up long-range aviation routes around the British Empire. They followed the production of four Calcuttas with the larger Kent, following with a series of ever-larger designs.

They soon outgrew their factory at Eastchurch, and in late 1933 they opened an additional much larger factory at Rochester, England, about 15km to the west of their former location, while maintaining their presense at Eastchurch as well. In 1934 they closed their Eastchurch location and purchased the Pobjoy engine manufacturers, who they had worked with on their latest designs. In 1936 the Air Ministry formed a new aircraft factory in Belfast, forming a merger owned 50% by both Harland and Wolff and Shorts to become Short & Harland Ltd. The first product of the new factory was 189 Handley-Page Hereford bombers.

Their work on seaplanes eventually culminated in the Shorts Sunderland, a massive flying boat with enough range to operate as a transatlantic airliner. However the Sunderland was considerably more famous as an anti-submarine patrol bomber during World War II, where its long range and long flying time allowed it to close the air gap between Iceland and Greenland, helping end the Battle of the Atlantic (1940).

It was their work on the Sunderland that also won them the contract for their ill-fated Shorts Stirling, the RAF's first four-engine bomber. If based on their original submission, essentially a land-based Sunderland with various cleanups, there seems to be no reason to suspect that the Stirling would have been an excellent heavy bomber. Instead the Air Ministry demanded a number of bizzare requirements of the plane, allowing it to double as a troop transport for instance, that eventually doomed it as newer designed ourperformed it.

During the Battle of Britain the Rochester factory was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe and several of the early-run Stirlings and other aircraft were destroyed. In addition the Supermarine factory only a mile away was also almost completely destroyed. From this point on the Belfast factory became increasingly important as it was out of range of the German bombers. In 1943 the Government took over management of the Belfast factory, and merged Short Brothers with Short and Harland to form Short Brothers and Harland Ltd. By 1947 all of their other wartime factories were closed, and operations concentrated in Belfast. In 1948 the company offices followed and Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety.

In the 1960s Shorts found a niche for a new short-haul freighter aircraft, and responded with the Shorts Skyvan. The Skyvan is most remembered for it's blocky slab-sided appearance and equally rectangular twin tail units, but the plane was well loved for it's performance and loading. Serving almost the same performance niche as the famous deHavilland Twin Otter, the Skyvan proved much more popular in the freighter market due to the large rear cargo door that allowed it to handle bulky loads with ease. Skyvans can still be found around the world today, notably in the Canadian arctic.

In the 1970s Shorts entered the feederliner market with their Shorts 330 design, a stretched modification of the Skyvan, and another stretch resulted in the Shorts 360, although it lost the twin tail in this version.

In 1977 they renamed back to Short Brothers, and in 1984 became a plc when the govornment sold off it's remaning shares. The company was purchased by Bombardier in 1989, eventually losing its separate identity.