September 1946: Post-war take-off

How The Engineer covered the Radlett aircraft exhibition, the forerunner of the Farnborough Airshow 

The Avro Lancastrian, which had outboard gas turbines, was on display at Radlett, heralding the beginnings of jet power

By anyone’s standards, the 2018 edition of the Farnborough International Airshow was a resounding success, with UK industry set to reap £28bn from over 1,400 aircraft orders and commitments made during the event.

The biennial aerospace showcase is organised by Farnborough International Ltd, which is a subsidiary of ADS Group, the trade organisation that represents Britain’s aerospace, defence, security and space sectors.

ADS Group is itself formed from the merger of the Association of Police and Public Security Suppliers (APPSS), the Defence Manufacturers Association (DMA) and the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), which leads us to September 1946 and the forerunner of the Farnborough Airshow.

The seventh Flying Display and Exhibition of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors was held at the Handley Page aerodrome in Radlett, Herts and while the venue may have moved south, the aim of the show is as relevant now as it was 72 years ago.

The exhibition was the first since 1937 and held to show the world the products of the British aircraft industry to foster export trade. “Some 200 firms exhibited manufactures of aircraft, engines and components, and about 50 different types of civil and military aircraft were on view on the first day of the exhibition and were flown during the second day,” wrote our correspondent.

The Radlett exhibition was closed to the public, due in part to a lack of suitable approach roads for heavy traffic, but that didn’t deter the several thousand visitors, including many from overseas, who came to see what The Engineer described as the finest and biggest ever exhibition and display organised by the industry.

And while Farnborough’s most recent efforts produced favourable financial outcomes, Mr WR Verdon Smith, then President of SBAC, provided visitors with some interesting figures of his own.

He stated that during the war the industry had built 125,000 aircraft, made spares equivalent to another 87,500 aircraft, and had repaired and restored to service a further 80,000.

“Since the war the industry had naturally shrunken in size,” The Engineer noted. “We were now concentrating on the solution of new technical problems, and [Verdon Smith] believed that we stood well equipped for the development of all types of aircraft. Engine development was playing a remarkable part in our progress and we were fortunate in the lead we had in the production of pure jet and propeller jet equipment.

“Mr Verdon Smith stressed the urgent pressure of development which now characterised the aircraft industry, leading to much improvement in recent years in research and development equipment.”

The technology showcased at Farnborough 2018 included Juno, the first aircraft with skin made from graphene, a material under a great deal of scrutiny due to numerous properties that include flexibility and strength.

At 3.5m wide, the Juno Graphene Research Aircraft – developed by engineers at the University of Central Lancashire and the National Graphene Institute in partnership with AMRC and Haydale Graphene Industries – is one that could help disrupt the aviation industry in the same way that the jet engine did. In 1946, the equally experimental Avro Lancastrian was on show. In its normal configuration the aircraft would be fitted with four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines, but the one on display had Nene gas turbines substituted for the outboard Merlin units.

The experiment was part of a programme of development of Rolls-Royce engines in flight, under contract with the Ministry of Supply.

“The objects of the experiment are stated to be to assess the efficiency of such jet engines in flight and investigate the performance with jet engines in a heavy aircraft,” said The Engineer’s correspondent. “A comprehensive range of instruments is provided, with camera recording gear. The speed of the machine is said to be considerably improved with the piston-jet engine combination, and it has been flown using one Nene engine only, maintaining cruising speed in level flight.”

In the same edition of The Engineer a description was provided of the Bristol Theseus, a jet and propeller gas turbine combination that marked the Bristol Company’s first contribution to the field of gas turbines.

A preserved example of Bristol Theseus jet and propeller gas turbine combination engine

“It is evident that development in this field is going forward extremely rapidly, with keen competition existing not only between our own manufacturers but also between our products and those of the United States,” wrote The Engineer.