Boulton & Paul Ltd - History - Aircraft Manufacture

Aircraft Manufacture

In 1915, Boulton & Paul began to construct aircraft under contract including 550 of the Royal Aircraft Factory FE.2b. Fe.2 construction was passed over to another East Anglian company so Boulton Paul could concentrate on production of more advanced designs. Their extensive use of jigs and the manufacture of the smaller fittings required meant that they could maintain fast production. A new production site was built and an assembly and proving ground developed on Mousehold Heath in Norwich rather than transport the aircraft to the Army at Thetford. During the war the company built more Sopwith Camels than any other manufacturer. Success as a builder of aircraft led to the company forming a design department but none of its resulting aircraft made a significant impact while the war lasted. The P.3 Bobolink fighter was overshadowed by the Sopwith Snipe and the Armistice beat the P.7 Bourges fighter-bomber into production.

After World War I, Boulton & Paul made their mark with the introduction of powered and enclosed defensive machine gun turrets for bombers. Their Sidestrand twin-engined biplane bomber, which could fly at 140 mph, had an exposed nose turret which was clearly inadequate. The subsequent Overstrand bomber featured the world's first enclosed, power-operated turret, mounting a single Lewis gun and propelled by compressed air. The company licensed a French design of an electro-hydraulic four-gun turret which became a major feature of their future production. In addition to fitting turrets to bombers, Boulton & Paul was to install them in fighters.

Boulton & Paul provided most of the structure for the R101 airship; the completed sections being transported to Cardington for assembly there. The R101 subsequently flew over Norwich in return.

In 1934 with a depressed market, the aircraft division being the weakest, Boulton & Paul sold it off from the main construction business to create Boulton Paul Aircraft Ltd. This moved to Wolverhampton in 1936 as the area had a surplus of skilled labour and the council was able to provide an incentive in the form of a greenfield site and flying rights. In 1961 Boulton Paul Aircraft, by now a producer of aircraft equipment rather than aircraft merged with Dowty Group to form first Dowty Boulton Paul Ltd and then Dowty Aerospace.

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