Of the leading British aircraft companies, Blackburn gets less attention than most others, partly due to its location, tucked away in East Yorkshire, and to the self-effacing modesty of its pioneering founder, Robert Blackburn. It also probably doesn’t help that most Blackburn aircraft were produced for the Admiralty, rather than the RAF, and that much of their work in both World Wars was devoted to building machines designed by other companies. Robert Blackburn (‘RB’), born in Kirkstall on 26 March 1885, was an unusual character; a self-effacing pioneer, a proud Yorkshireman without a Yorkshire accent, and an enlightened employer, a modest, kind and generous man in a tough world where only the hard-nosed were expected to survive. After attending Leeds Modern School, RB attained an engineering degree at the University of Leeds, and was a hands-on craftsman as well as a visionary designer. He was not very businesslike, however; balancing the books was not a high priority, so his loyal employees often had to wait for their wages. RB was not keen on publicity stunts, preferring his aircraft to stand or fall on their merits. This meant that his aircraft were sometimes overshadowed by others which were no better, but which had more publicity, for example the B.2 light plane, which was as good as the better-known DH Moth. Robert Blackburn had wider interests too; Scarcroft Golf Club in Leeds was formed by a consortium which he led, and he later became the club’s first president. ‘Blackies’ was always regarded as a good place to work, many employees contentedly spending their entire working life there. Not only popular with employees; Naval pilots found half a dozen bottles of champagne in every Roc or Skua on delivery. Robert Blackburn OBE, FRAeS died on 10 September 1955. His company later became part of the Hawker Siddeley Group, then was subsumed into British Aerospace, and the Blackburn name was not used on new aircraft after the early 1960s. Here we look at the work of the Blackburn company, and at other aircraft built in Yorkshire by Airspeed, Arrow, Slingsby, Phoenix Dynamo of Thornbury, English Electric, Marsh, Jones & Cribb, Avro, Westland and Europa, as well as airships built in Yorkshire.
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