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1st Composite Aircraft — maybe not what you thought?

20 November 2013

1st Composite Aircraft Pair — maybe not what you thought?

When thinking of composite aircraft (one aircraft initially mounted atop another much larger aircraft) most think of either the Short Mayo Composite (Short S.21 Maia flying boat which lofted a Short S.20 Mercury to altitude for air mail delivery purposes) in 1938 or the Luftwaffe Mistel pairings (fighter atop a drone bomber). Actually, just barely a decade after the historic Wright Brothers flight in 1903 Great Britain flew the first aircraft composite. Tested in Felixstowe (that historic base for seaplane development) a Felixstowe Porte Baby flying boat acted as mothership to a Bristol Scout fighter — the purpose was to intercept Zeppelin airships at sea when on their bombing raids to Great Britain. Testing halted after the maiden trail as the flying off of the Scout was too dangerous to repeat.

Bristol Scout on Felixstowe Porte Baby first composite aircraft 1916 — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo

Bristol Scout on Felixstowe Porte Baby first composite aircraft 1916 — San Diego Air & Space Museum archive photo

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 24 November 2013 22:15

    It’s an interesting side-note to early aviation development in the UK (and to a lesser extent in other European nations) that the driving force was getting mail from the motherland to the colonies. Passengers were regarded as a damned nuisance!

    Your comments about the Mercury/Mayo composite airplane project exemplifies the importance given to transporting of mail. The four-engined seaplane on top of the big flying boat had no provisions for passengers, and just a crew of four (pilot. co-pilot, flight engineer and navigator).

    It was US operators who thought hauling passengers could be a profitable business. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that BOAC and BEA were dislodged from their “government agency” status, combined into “British Airways” and sent out into the commercial airline world and told to make a profit.

    They had some really strange airplanes, many of them specified by the Ministry of Aviation without any consultation with the airline to see if that was what they really needed. That system produced such turkeys as the Vickers VC-10, the deHavilland Trident and even a 4-engined airplane (R-R Merlin engines) that was transatlantic range had a crew of six, and carried 12 passengers. Talk about overhead costs! Admittedly, that was immediate post WW2, when the mail was the primary reason for the service.

    Maybe this is why the UK aerospace industry is such a minor player these days. Having gone through it as an engineering apprentice (the military airplane part), I have heartburn seeing how it has become so marginalized.

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