Tag Archives: Bristol Aeroplane Company

14 December 1931

Sir Douglas Robert Stewart Bader, 12 May 1970,by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, F.R.Ae.S., D.L.,  photographed by Godfrey Argent, 12 May 1970. (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

“On 14 December 1931, Douglas Bader flew to Woodley airfield near Reading. After lunch someone said, ‘I bet you won’t roll at nought feet.’ Bader did, and the graceful little Bulldog ended up in a shapeless ball of twisted metal. After hovering at death’s door Bader lost both legs. At Cranwell he remembered the Commandant had admonished him, ‘The RAF needs men, not schoolboys.’ Now he was neither, and the RAF would not need him anymore.”

Duel of Eagles by Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF, Castle Books, Edison, New Jersey, 2003. Chapter 6 at Page 82.

Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson during training for the 1932 Hendon Airshow, with a Bristol Bulldog. (RAF Museum)
Left to right, Pilot Officer Douglas R.S. Bader, Flight Lieutenant Harry Day and Flying Officer Geoffrey Stephenson during training for the 1932 Hendon Airshow, with a Bristol Bulldog. (RAF Museum)

Pilot Officer Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, Royal Air Force, caught the wingtip of his Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA, K-1676, and crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, approximately four miles east of Reading, Berkshire, England. The airplane was damaged beyond repair.

Bader suffered major injuries requiring amputation of his right leg, followed by amputation of his left leg several days later. He was fitted with prosthetic legs with which he was soon able to walk without assistance. Pilot Officer Bader was medically retired and received a 100% disability pension.

Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-1676. This is the airplane that Douglas Bader was flying when he crashed at Woodley, 14 December 1931. (Royal Air Force)
Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-1675. This is a sister ship of the airplane that Douglas Bader was flying when he crashed at Woodley Aerodrome, 14 December 1931. (Royal Air Force)

In 1939, feeling that war with Germany was imminent, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement. He was turned down, but was told that if there was a war his request might be reconsidered.

The Air Ministry did reconsider Douglas Bader’s request for reinstatement and after a medical evaluation and other tests, he was sent to refresher flight training where he was evaluated as “Exceptional,” a very rare qualification.

A page from Douglas bader's pilot log book, showing his "exceptional' evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)
A page from Douglas Bader’s pilot log book, showing his “Exceptional” evaluation. (Royal Air Force Museum)

Group Captain Sir Douglas R. S. Bader, Royal Air Force, C.B.E., D.S.O. and Bar, D.F.C. and Bar, F.R.Ae.S., D.L., a legendary fighter pilot of the Royal Air Force during World War II, was born at St. John’s Wood, London, England. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1928 as a cadet at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in July 1930.

Credited with more than 20 aerial victories while flying Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire fighters, Bader was himself shot down while flying his Spitfire Mk Va, serial W3185, marked “D B”. His prosthetic legs caught in the cockpit and made it difficult for him to escape, but he finally broke free and parachuted to safety.

Bader was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was initially held at a hospital in occupied France and it was there that he met and became a life long friend of Adolf Galland, also a legendary fighter pilot—but for the other side! After arrangements were made for replacement legs, Bader escaped. He was recaptured and taken to the notorious Offizierslager IV-C at Colditz Castle where he was held for three years.

Prisoners of War held at Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison during World War II. Squadron Leader Douglas Bader is seated, center.

Douglas Bader is the subject of Reach For The Sky, a biography by Paul Brickhill, and a movie based on that book which starred Kenneth More.

Sir Douglas was invested Knight Bachelor, 12 June 1976, for his service to the disabled. He died suddenly of a heart attack, 5 September 1982.

Douglas Bader with a Hawker Hurricane of No. 242 Squadron.
Douglas Bader with a Hawker Hurricane of No. 242 Squadron, September 1940. Photograph by F/O S. A. Devon, Royal Air Force. © IWM (CH 1406)

The Bristol Type 105 Bulldog was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter which served with the Royal Air Force from 1928 to 1938. It was constructed of a riveted framework of rolled steel strips. The forward fuselage was covered with light weight sheet metal, while the wings and aft fuselage were covered with doped fabric. The Bulldog Mk.IIA was 25 feet, 2 inches (7.671 meters) long with a wingspan of 33 feet, 10 inches (10.312 meters) and height of 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters). It had and empty weight of 2,222 pounds (1,008 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,660 pounds (1,660 kilograms).

The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,752.79-cubic-inch-displacement (28.72 liter) Bristol Jupiter VIIF nine-cylinder radial engine which was rated at 440 horsepower up to 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). This was a left-hand tractor engine which drove a wooden two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a 2:1 gear reduction.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and a service ceiling of 29,300 feet (8,931 meters).

The Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA was armed with two synchronized Vickers .303-caliber machine guns with 600 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-2227, the same type airplane flown by Pilot Officer Bader when he crashed 14 December 1931. K-2227 is in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum. (Unattributed)
Bristol Bulldog Mk.IIA K-2227, the same type airplane flown by Pilot Officer Bader when he crashed 14 December 1931. K-2227 is in the collection of the Royal Air Force Museum. (Royal Air Force)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 September 1949

The prototype Bristol Type 167, G-AGPW, takes off from Filton Aerodrome, 11:30 a.m., 4 September 1949. Hundred of Bristol employees are lining the runway. (Alfred Thompson)
The prototype Bristol Type 167, G-AGPW, takes off from Filton Aerodrome, 11:30 a.m., 4 September 1949. Hundred of Bristol employees are lining the runway. (Alfred Thompson)

4 September 1949: At 11:30 a.m., Sunday morning, the prototype Bristol Brabazon Mk.I, G-AGPW, made its first flight at Filton Aerodrome. Chief Test Pilot Arthur J. “Bill” Pegg was in command with Walter Gibb as co-pilot. An 8-man flight test crew was also aboard. A crowd of spectators, estimated at 10,000 people, were present.

The flight test crew of the Bristol Brabazon. Bill Pegg is at center. (Unattributed)
The flight test crew of the Bristol Brabazon. Bill Pegg is at center. (Unattributed)

Designed as a transatlantic commercial airliner, development of the Type 167 began in 1943. The Mk.I prototype, G-AGPW, had been rolled out in December 1948. On 3 September 1949, the flight test crew performed a series of taxi tests.

The first flight lasted 26 minutes. The Brabazon had reached 3,000 feet (914 meters) and 160 miles per hour (257 kilometers per hour).

Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW runs up its engines. (Unattributed)
Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW runs up its engines. (Unattributed)

The Bristol Aeroplane Company Type 167 Brabazon Mk.I was a very large low-wing monoplane, designed to carry 100 passengers on transatlantic flights. it had been named to honor John Theodore Cuthbert Moore-Brabazon 1st Baron Brabazon of Tara, the first man to fly an airplane in England, and a very important figure in the development of the British aeronautical industry.

The Type 167 was slightly larger than the United States Air Force Convair B-36A intercontinental strategic bomber. It was 177 feet, 0 inches (53.950 meters) long with a wingspan of 230 feet, 0 inches (70.104 meters) and overall height of 50 feet, 0 inches (50.240 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter of 25 feet (7.62 meters).

The leading edge of the inboard section of the Brabazon’s wing was swept 4° 16′ and had no dihedral, while the outer section was swept 14° 56′ with 2° dihedral. The wings had an angle of incidence of +3° 30′. The chord narrowed from 31 feet, 0 inches (9.449 meters) at the root, to 10 feet, 0 inches (3.048 meters) at the tip. The wings’ maximum thickness was 6 feet, 6 inches (1.981 meters). The Mk.I’s wing area was 5,317 square feet (494 square meters).

The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 75 feet, 0 inches (22.860 meters). The angle of incidence was +2° and there was no dihedral. The stabilizer’s area was 692 square feet (64.3 square meters).

The airplane’s empty weight was 169,500 pounds (76,884 kilograms), and its maximum takeoff weight of 290,000 pounds (131,542 kilograms). For the first flight, its gross weight was 200,000 pounds (90,718 kilograms).

Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW.

The prototype was powered by eight air-cooled, supercharged, 3,271.87-cubic-inch-displacement (53.62 liter) Bristol Centaurus 20 eighteen-cylinder radial engines. They had a cruise power rating of 1,640 horsepower at 22,000 feet (6,706 meters); maximum continuous power and maximum climb power rating of 2,190 horsepower at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters); and 2,500 horsepower for takeoff. Each pair of engines drove a set of coaxial counter-rotating three-bladed Rotol constant-speed wooden propellers with a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters).

“Each Bristol Centaurus engine was coupled to a propeller gearbox at a 32-degree angle.” (Airbus, Filton)

Power was transmitted from each engine by an angled drive shaft to separate beveled gears in a dual reduction gear unit. The reduction gear ratio was 0.400:1. For one-engine-out operation, the effected propeller would be feathered, while the other engine of the pair continued to power the other counter-rotating propeller. The propellers were reversible for braking on landing.

Turboprop engines were planned for the Brabazon Mk.II.

Bristol Brabazon Mk.I G-AGPW flying overhead reveals the double sweep of the wings. (BAE Systems)

Estimated performance of the Brabazon Mk.I (before flight testing was completed) was a cruise speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 300 miles per hour (483 kilometers per hour), both at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters), the airplane’s service ceiling.

The maximum fuel capacity of the Mk.I was 13,650 gallons (51,671 liters), giving a maximum range at cruise speed of 5,460 miles (8,787 kilometers). This was sufficient for a flight from London to New York with the required fuel reserve.

Only one Brabazon Mk.I was built. The prototype Mk.II was never completed. The project was cancelled in 1952. The total cost of the Brabazon program was approximately £6,500,000 (estimated at £170,981,807, or $221,489,833 in 2017). G-AGPW was eventually scrapped.

Bristol Brabazon Mk. I G-AGPW landing at Farnborough, September 1950. (BAE Systems)

Thanks to regular “This Day in Aviation” reader, Mr. Lynn Brown, for suggesting this subject.

© 2018 Bryan R. Swopes

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