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Jets across the Atlantic?: Britain and its civil aviation industry, 1945–63

Abstract

Britain emerged from the Second World War with a huge aviation industry dedicated primarily to military production. During the war, in agreement with the USA, Britain used US transport aircraft, thereby giving the USA a huge potential advantage in post-war civil aviation. Nevertheless, during the war Britain charted a course of aircraft development that would allow new, competitive civil aircraft to be in place by 1950. Under the Labour government of 1945–51, Britain imposed a “Fly British” policy to encourage production of civil aircraft and required the national airlines to buy British aircraft. However, American competition, the demands of rearmament and the tightly controlled ordering process for civil and military aircraft made the production of British civil aircraft costly and uncompetitive. Faced with changing technology, rising costs and the development of US jet aircraft, the British aviation industry was forced into a radical consolidation by the Macmillan government.

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Notes

  1. There is a vast literature on British industry and technology during the Second World War. A good overview of the subject and its historiography is Edgerton (2011) and his England and the Aeroplane cited subsequently.

  2. Edgerton (2013), 45.

  3. Edgerton, England, 59.

  4. Edgerton, England, 113.

  5. Staniland (2003), 33–34.; also Higham (2013), 5–6.

  6. Staniland, Government, 34.

  7. See Daley (2010).

  8. Engel (2007), 19–20.

  9. Engel, Cold War, 28–29.

  10. The DC-3, also known by its military designations C-47 and C-53 in the USA, and the Dakota in the RAF service, was perhaps the most successful aircraft of all time, over 16,000 being produced in various versions.

  11. Engel, Cold War, 30.

  12. See Dobson (1985) and Devereux (1991).

  13. Higham, Speedbird, 25.

  14. AIR 8/745, 9 February 1943, Report of the Committee to Advise on Design and Production of Transport Aircraft (Brabazon Committee), British National Archives, Kew (hereafter NA).

  15. CAB 65/33, W.M. (43), 35th conclusions, 25 Feb. 1943, NA.

  16. Engel, Cold War, 37.

  17. Staniland, Government, 74.

  18. Edgerton, England, 136.

  19. Devereux (1995).

  20. Devereux, ‘British Planning’, 44.

  21. Hayward (1989): 52–53. US airlines were operating more advanced designs such as the Douglas DC-3, DC-4 and DC-6, the latter two four-engine high capacity airliners, the Lockheed Constellation (also four engined) and eventually the Boeing Stratocruiser developed from the B-29 bomber. US airliners benefitted from the close alignment of government and industry during the war years.

  22. Hayward, British Aircraft, 54.

  23. Hayward, British Aircraft, 56.

  24. Engel, Cold War,130.

  25. Edgerton, England, 143; Devereux, ‘State’ Versus Private Ownership: 74.

  26. CAB 134/844, E.A.(52) 69, Expansion of Aircraft exports, E.A.(52) 23rd meeting, 23 July 1952, NA.

  27. Each of these could carry up to 100 passengers.

  28. CAB 128/24, CC(52) 30th conclusions, 13 March 1952, NA.

  29. One US magazine commented “whether we like it or not, the British are giving the US a drubbing in jet transport”, quoted in Devereux, ‘State’, 75.

  30. Engel, Cold War, 131.

  31. Engel,Cold War, 139.

  32. Verhovek (2010), 158–159.

  33. Quoted in Engel, Cold War, 174.

  34. T225/985, Memorandum on the Comet, 12 October 1954, NA.

  35. T225/286, NA.

  36. Devereux, ‘State’: 78.

  37. T225/989, Memo on Comet IV, 13 June 1957, NA.

  38. Verhovek, Jet Age, 202.

  39. See especially Rochester (1976) and Kent (1980).

  40. The third national airline, British South American Airways (BSAA) was folded into BOAC in 1949 in the aftermath of the Avro Tudor crashes on its routes.

  41. T225/215, HA(52)37, 26 February 1952, NA.

  42. Devereux, State, 71.

  43. CAB 134/1204, cabinet committee on civil aviation policy, 28 March 1956, NA.

  44. Engel, Cold War,188.

  45. Watkinson (1976): 44.

  46. BOAC Annual Reports, BA archives, Bath Road.

  47. Hayward, British Aircraft, 58.

  48. Gardner (1981): 17.

  49. T 225/1071, WP 34, 25 March 1958, Air Industry Working Party (Padmore Committee, Draft report), NA.

  50. Hayward British Aircaft, 64.

  51. Gardner, British Aircraft, 19.

  52. Hayward, British Aircraft, 65.

  53. CAB129/88 C. (57) 154 and 159. July 1957 and CAB 128/31, CC 50 (57), 9 July 1957, NA.

  54. Hayward, British Aircraft, 71.

  55. CAB 129/92 C(58)94, 2 March 1958, NA.

  56. Gardner, British Aircraft, 23.

  57. CAB 128/32, CC 38(58), 6 May 1958, NA.

  58. CAB 128/32, CC87(58), 23 Dec. 1958. NA.

  59. CAB 134/1446, CA (59) 1st meeting, 2 Feb. 1959, NA.

  60. Kelly (2005), 52.

  61. Hayward, British Aircraft, 75, CAB 129/99 C.(59) 185, 16 Dec. 1959, NA.

  62. Gardner, British Aircraft, 44.

  63. CAB 129/100 C.(60) 21, 9 February 1960, NA.

  64. CAB 129/106 C.(61)150, 6 October 1961, NA.

  65. CAB 128/35 CC.57(61), 19 October 1961, NA.

  66. Gardner, British Aircraft, 61.

  67. Nahum (2002), 256.

  68. Edgerton, England, 151.

  69. Peter J. Lyth, ‘Chosen Instruments: The Evolution of British Airways’ in Dienel and Lyth (1998), 60.

  70. Hans-Liudger Dienel and Peter J. Lyth, eds., Flying the Flag, 5.

  71. Gardner, British Aircraft, 176–82.

  72. Edgerton, England, 192–193.

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Devereux, D.R. Jets across the Atlantic?: Britain and its civil aviation industry, 1945–63. J Transatl Stud 19, 99–113 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s42738-020-00065-8

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Keywords

  • Civil aviation
  • Comet
  • Labour government
  • Macmillan government
  • British Aircraft Corporation
  • Sandys white paper