Fairey Aviation Company

Fairey Aviation Company

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = Fairey Aviation Company Limited
slogan =
fate = ceased aircraft manufacture
successor = WFEL Limited, Spectris
foundation = 1915
defunct = 1960 (aircraft manufacturing)
location = Hayes, Heaton Chapel, Ringway
industry = aviation, engineering
key_people = Charles Richard Fairey Marc Lobelle
products = Swordfish,
Delta 2,
Medium Girder Bridge
num_employees =
parent =
subsid =

The Fairey Aviation Company Limited was a British aircraft manufacturer of the first half of the 20th century based in Hayes in Greater London and Heaton Chapel and Ringway in Greater Manchester. Notable for the design of a number of important aircraft, including the Fairey III family, the Swordfish, Firefly, and Gannet, it had a strong presence in the supply of naval aircraft, and also built bombers for the RAF.

After the Second World War the company diversified into mechanical engineering and boat-building. The Aircraft manufacturing arm was merged with Westland Aircraft in 1960. Following a series of mergers and takeovers, the company now trades as WFEL Ltd (formerly Williams Fairey Engineering Limited) manufacturing portable bridges, Spectris plc and as FBM Babcock Marine Ltd


Founded in 1915 by Charles Richard Fairey (later Sir Richard Fairey) on his departure from Short Brothers, the company first built under licence or as subcontractor aircraft designed by other manufacturers [E.g. in 1915 Fairey built 12 Short Admiralty Type 827 seaplanes under subcontract from Short Brothers (see Barnes and James, p.104)] . The first aircraft designed and built by the Fairey Aviation was the Fairey CampaniaFact|date=August 2007, a patrol seaplane that first flew in February 1917. Fairey subsequently designed many aircraft types and, after World War 2, missiles.

Fairey was initially based at Hayes (Middlesex), and for some years at Hamble (Hampshire). Their most famous Hayes-built aircraft during the late 1930s and World War 2 was the Swordfish. The protoype Fairey Rotodyne vertical takeoff airliner was built at Hayes and assembled at White Waltham in 1957. [ [http://www.helicoptermuseum.co.uk/fairey.htm Helicopter Museum] ] After merger, helicopters such as the Westland Wasp were built at Hayes in the 1960s. [ [http://www.fleetairarmmuseum.com/exhibits/planes.asp?plane=127 Fleet Air Arm Museum] ]

Receipt of large UK military contracts in the mid 1930s necessitated acquisition of a large factory in Heaton Chapel in 1935 and flight test facilities were erected at Manchester's Ringway Airport opening in June 1937. A few Hendon monoplane bombers built at Stockport were flown from Manchester's Barton Aerodrome in 1936. Quantity production of Battle light bombers at Stockport/Ringway commenced in mid 1937. Large numbers of Fulmar fighters and Barracuda dive-bombers followed during WWII. Fairey's also built 498 Bristol Beaufighter aircraft and over 660 Handley Page Halifax bombers in their northern facilities. Postwar, Firefly and Gannet naval aircraft were supplemented by sub-contracts from de Havilland for Vampire and Venom jet fighters. Aircraft production and modification at Stockport and Ringway ceased in 1960.

The government in the late 1950s was determined to see the UK's aero industry "rationalised". The UK Ministry of Defence saw the future of helicopters as being best met by a single manufacturer. [Which was not the sole factor for a merger; there are other factors that brevity requires not be discussed here. See cite book | title = Westland and the British Helicopter Industry, 1945-1960: Licensed Production vs. Indigenous Innovation | last = Uttley | first = Matthew R. H. | isbn = 0-714-651-94X | publisher = Routledge | year = 2001 | pages = p. 183] The merger of Fairey's aviation interests with Westland Aircraft took place in early 1960 shortly after Westland had acquired the helicopter divisions of both Saunders-Roe and the Bristol Aeroplane Company. [Uttley (2001), p. 183, has the merger dates as 14th July 1959 (Saunders-Roe), 23rd March 1960 (Bristol), and 2nd May 1960 (Fairey).]

Avions Fairey

Fairey aircraft had impressed the Belgian authorities and a subsidiary, Avions Fairey was established to produce Fairey aircraft in Belgium [ [http://www.baha.be/Webpages/Navigator/Belgian_Aviation_History/Industry/Sonaca.htm Avions Fairey Gosselies ] ] The company staff left Belgium ahead of the and returned after the war to build aircraft under license for the Belgian Air Force. With Fairey's financial troubles in the later 1970s, the Belgian government bought Avions Fairey to preserve its involvement in the Belgian F-16 project.

The collapse of the Fairey Group

In 1977 the Fairey Group went into receivership and was effectively nationalised by the Government. Fairey went into liquidation when it introduced a Britten-Norman Islander production line into its subsidiary company, Avions Fairey and overproduced the plane and was faced with redundancy payments of about £16 million in Belgium. The companies involved were as follows:-
*Fairey Hydraulics Ltd, Heston, Hydraulic power controls and filters for aircraft;
*Fairey Engineering Ltd, Stockport, General and nuclear engineering;
*Fairey Nuclear Ltd, Heston, Nuclear components and light engineering;
*Fairey Industrial Products Ltd, Heston, Management company;
*Fairey Filtration Ltd, Heston, Industrial filters;
*Fairey Winches Ltd, Tavistock, Vehicle overdrives, winches and hubs;
*Jerguson Tress Gauge and Valve Co Ltd, Newcastle, Liquid Level indicators;
*The Tress Engineering Co Ltd, Newcastle, Petrochemical valves;
*Fairey Marine Holdings Ltd, Hamble, Management company;
*Fairey Marine (East Cowes) Ltd, East Cowes, Ship and boat building;
*Fairey Exhibitions Ltd, Hamble, Exhibition stand contractors;
*Fairey Marine Ltd, Hamble, Boat building and repair;
*Fairey Yacht Harbours Ltd, Hamble, Boat handling, berthing and storage;
*Fairey Surveys Ltd, Maidenhead, Aerial and geophysical survey and mapping;
*Fairey Surveys (Scotland) Ltd, Livingston, Aerial and geophysical survey and mapping;
*Fairey Developments Ltd, Heston, Management company:

The Fairey Britten Norman Aircraft Company was taken over by Pilatus then a subsidiary of the Oerlikon group in Switzerland.

The rescue action was taken by the Government under section 8 of the Industry Act 1972 acquiring from the official receiver of the Fairey Company Ltd the entire share capital for £201,163,000. The companies were managed by the National Enterprise Board (NEB). In 1980 The Fairey Group was purchased by Doulton & Company Limited part of S Pearson & Son from the NEB. At time, Pearson's interests in manufacturing were concentrated in the Doulton fine china business. The engineering interests were strengthened in 1980 by the acquisition of the high technology businesses of Fairey, and their merging with Pearson's other engineering interests in 1982. However, these businesses were disposed of in 1986 as part of Pearson wishing to concentrate on core activities by Williams Holdings and became Williams Fairey Engineering Ltd. Other parts of the combined Fairey - Doulton group saw a management buy-out from Pearson, listing on the London Stock Exchange in 1988. During the 1990s this company concentrated on expanding its electronics business, acquiring a number of companies and disposing of the electrical insulator and hydraulic actuator businesses. In 1997, the company acquired Burnfield, of which Malvern Instruments was the most significant company. Servomex plc was acquired in 1999. In July 2000, the acquisition of the four instrumentation and controls businesses of Spectris AG of Germany for £171m was the largest ever made by the company and marked an important strategic addition to the company’s instrumentation and controls business. The reshaping of the group was marked with the change of name from Fairey Group to Spectris plc in May 2001.


Land Rover hubs and overdrives

In the post-war period, from the late 1950s onwards, Fairey acquired Mayflower Automotive Products, including their factory in Tavistock, Devon and with it the designs of its products, including winch and free-wheeling front hubs for Land Rover vehicles. By the 1970s Fairey was manufacturing a wide range of winches covering mechanical,hydraulic and electric drive and capstan/drum configurations. Fairey winches formed the bulk of the manufacturer-approved winch options for Land Rover throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1975 Fairey designed and manufactured a mechanical overdrive unit for Land Rovers. Vehicles fitted with the unit carried a badge on the rear saying 'Overdrive by Fairey', with the Fairey logo (see above).

This branch of products effectively ceased in the early 1980s when new product development at Land Rover and a trend for manufacturers to build accessories in-house forced Fairey to drop out of the sector. The American company Superwinch bought the Tavistock works and continued making Fairey-designed winches for a few years. The site is now Superwinch's European base and manufacturing facility. Fairey-designed hydraulic winches are still in production, but the large majority of manufacture is of Superwinch-designed electric drum winches. The Fairey Overdrive is still in production in America.

Fairey Engineering

After the end of aircraft production, The Fairey Aviation factory in Heaton Chapel became Fairey Engineering, involved in medium and heavy engineering including
*portable bridges for military and emergency services use, notably Medium Girder Bridge. Its bridges are in service with the British Army,U.S. Army and many other NATO forces. (WFEL continues to build MGB and other bridges)
*Nuclear Reactor cores and Fuelling machines, for Dungeness B, Trawsfynydd

The company became Williams Fairey Engineering in 1986, then taken over by Kidde in 2000, and is now known as WFEL. Still based in Stockport


Fairey aircraft

Year of first flight in brackets

* Fairey Hamble Baby - 1917
* Fairey F.2 - 1917
* Fairey Campania - 1917
* Fairey III - large biplane family, starting late 1917
* Fairey Pintail - 1920
* Fairey Flycatcher - biplane fighter, 1922
* Fairey Fawn - 1923
* Fairey Firefly I - 1925
* Fairey Fremantle - long range seaplane 1925
* Fairey Fox - biplane bomber, 1925
* Fairey Long-range Monoplane - 1928
* Fairey Firefly II - 1929
* Fairey Fleetwing - 1929
* Fairey Seal - biplane torpedo bomber, reconnaissance floatplane, 1930
* Fairey Gordon - 1931
* Fairey Swordfish - biplane torpedo bomber, 1934
* Fairey Fantôme - single seat fighter 1935
* Fairey Hendon - monoplane night bomber 1935
* Fairey Battle - light bomber, 1936
* Fairey Seafox - reconnaissance floatplane, 1936
* Fairey P.4/34 - 1937
* Fairey Fulmar - carrier-borne fighter, 1940
* Fairey Albacore - carrier-borne biplane torpedo bomber, 1938
* Fairey Barracuda - carrier-borne divebomber/torpedo bomber, 1940
* Fairey Firefly - carrier-borne fighter, 1941
* Fairey Spearfish - divebomber, 1945
* Fairey FB-1 Gyrodyne - gyrodyne (autogyro/compound helicopter) 1947
* Fairey Jet Gyrodyne - gyrodyne 1954
* Fairey Primer - trainer 1948
* Fairey Gannet - carrier-borne ASW (later AEW) aircraft, 1949
* Fairey F.D.1 - experimental delta wing 1950
* Fairey F.D.2 - record-setting delta-wing, 1954
* Fairey Ultra-light Helicopter (1955)
* Fairey Rotodyne - autogyro/compound helicopter 1957

Fairey FC1

In the 1930’s aviation researchers realised that flying at high altitude above the weather would pay dividends in passenger comfort, higher speed, and longer range. Progress had been made to fly safely at high altitude: reliable oxygen masks, electrically heated flying suits, a practical pressure suit, and a successful experimental pressurized airplane that flew in May 1937. During this period, airlines, the military, and individuals conducted high altitude flight tests, which resulted in several U.S. and a British airline, Imperial Airways issued a proposal for a pressurised airliner. Boeing, Curtiss, and Douglas responded with designs, all of which reached the flying hardware stage by 1940. Fairey responded to the Imperial Airways proposal. Just prior to World War II, the company was designing the FC1 trans-atlantic airliner. This four engined triangle undercarriage, triple-tail airliner was cancelled on the outbreak of war. A mockup and wind tunnel tests were begun before the project was cancelled in 1939. The engines for this aircraft were to be four 1000 hp Fairey Princess engines that the company had begun to develop. Fairey had been experimenting with a twin-engine installation driving contra-rotating propellors since 1935 in the face of official disinterest. Charles Fairey is said to have spent at least 1 million pounds (at today’s prices) out of his own pocket on the project. The then Secretary of State for Air when asked in the Commons, questions regarding the journey from London to Singapore made by Imperial Airways, if there were any modern aircraft being constructed for Imperial Airways by which might reduce the journey time replied; It is intended to speed up progressively the time-table of the Empire Service by an extension of night flying and also, in due course, by the construction of aircraft, prototype production orders for which have already been placed for 14 aircraft being constructed by Fairey's, for completion in 1941 or 1942, to be used on this and other routes.

Aircraft built as subcontractor or under licence

Number built in brackets

* Short Admiralty Type 827 (12)
* Sopwith 1½ Strutter (100) [ [http://www.sil.si.edu/smithsoniancontributions/AirSpace/text/SSAS-0004.txt Description of the early years of Fairey Aviation (Smithsonian)] ]

Aircraft engines

*Fairey V P12
*Fairey Princess 1,000 hp
*Fairey H-16 Prince - 16 cylinder 1,500 hp
*Fairey P-24 Monarch - 2 x 12 cylinders (two engines with one propshaft passing through the other) 2,250 hp.


* Fairey Fireflash
* Green cheese missile
* Fairey Stooge - ship surface-to-air missile project from the 1940s.
* Swingfire


Fairey Marine Ltd was begun in the late 1940's by Sir Richard Fairey and Fairey Aviation's Managing Director, Mr. Chichester-Smith. Both were avid sailing enthusiasts. Utilising techniques developed in the aircraft industry during WWII both men decided that they should produce sailing dinghies and so recruited Charles Currey to help run the company when he came out of the Navy. In the following years, thousands of dinghies were produced by Fairey Marine including the Firefly, Albacore, Falcon, Swordfish, Jollyboat, Flying Fifteen, 505 and International 14's along with the much smaller Dinky and Duckling. Later on in the 1950's they produced the larger sailing cruisers, the Atalanta (named after Sir Richard's wife), Titania, Fulmar and the 27' Fisherman motor sailer (based on the Fairey Lifeboat hull) along with the 15 Cinderella (outboard runabout) and the 16'6" Faun (outboard powered family cruiser.In the 1960s Fairey designed and built a range of wooden-hulled speedboats and motor launches designed by Alan Burnand. These became well-known in boating circles for their speed, stability and good rough-water handling. Types such as the Dagger and Spearfish were used as police launches and as pinnaces by the Royal Navy. In the early 1970s Fairey switched to GRP hulls of the same design. The range was expanded to include cabin cruiser types (such as the Swordfish) which could still put in an impressive turn of speed and won several cruiser-class long distances races, such as the London-Monte Carlo race. Early in 1946 Uffa Fox was asked by Chichester-Smith, in conjunction with Stewart Morris, to design a one-off twelve foot dinghy. About this time Charles Curry former Olympic yachtsman, joined Fairey to develop the marine section at Hamble. It was easy named after the famous Fairy aircraft.Today, Swordsman Marine builds motorboats based on Fairey designs. These include 30-foot speedboats based on the Spearfish, using the same hull with a modified cabin and modern engine and controls, and larger cabin cruisers based on a modified version of the Dagger design. Fairey Marine was already in trouble when the main Fairey company went into receivership. The work force and the management did not want to be taken over by Trafalgar House or Rank International because they expected that those companies would shut the firm and adapt the site for use as a marina. The workforce wanted to stay in boat building and were keen that the NEB should take them over. FBM Babcock Marine was developed from Fairey Marine. Since then the company has developed and expanded its range of products as well as acquiring a number of other companies including Cheverton Workboats, Brooke Marine and Fairey Marinteknik, before emerging as FBM Marine in 1988. In March 2000, FBM Marine was acquired by Babcock International Group PLC, a major UK based support services, facilities management and engineering company specialising in the support of defence forces world-wide, and renamed FBM Babcock Marine Ltd.

Factory brass band

In 1937, workers at the Fairey aviation plant formed a brass band. For some sixty years the band was associated with the company and its successors, although the Fairey Band has now had to turn to external sources for financial backing. Throughout its history though the band has retained its identity with the company under guises as the "Fairey Aviation Works Band", "Williams Fairey Band" and later "Fairey (FP Music) Band". The band has recently returned to roots, rebranding as just "The Fairey Band". The Fairey Band has won many national and international titles throughout its proud history.


External references

* cite book
last = Barnes C.H. & James D.N
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Shorts Aircraft since 1900
publisher =Putnam
date =
location =London (1989)
pages =560
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-85177-819-4

* Scholefield, R.A, "Manchester Airport", Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1998, ISBN 0-7509-1954-X
* Taylor, H.A, "Fairey Aircraft since 1915". London: Putnam & Company Ltd., 1974. ISBN 0-370-00065-X.

ee also


External links

* [http://www.wfel.co.uk WFEL]

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