The Bristol Aeroplane Company, originally the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, was both one of the first and one of the most important British aviation companies, designing and manufacturing both airframes and aero engines. Notable aircraft produced by the company include the 'Boxkite', the Bristol Fighter, the Bulldog, the Blenheim, the Beaufighter, and the Britannia, and much of the preliminary work which led to the Concorde was carried out by the company. In 1956 its major operations were split into Bristol Aircraft and Bristol Aero Engines. In 1959, Bristol Aircraft merged with several major British aircraft companies to form the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and Bristol Aero Engines merged with Armstrong Siddeley to form Bristol Siddeley.
BAC went on to become a founding component of the nationalised British Aerospace, now BAE Systems. Bristol Siddeley was purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1966, who continued to develop and market Bristol-designed engines. The BAC works were in Filton, about 4 miles (6 km) north of Bristol city centre. BAE Systems, Airbus, Rolls Royce, MBDA and GKN still have a presence at the Filton site where the Bristol Aeroplane Company was located.
The British and Colonial Aeroplane Company, Ltd was founded in February 1910 by Sir George White, chairman of the Bristol Tramway and Carriage Company, along with his son Stanley and his brother Samuel, to commercially exploit the fast-growing aviation sector. Unlike most aviation companies at the time, which were started by enthusiasts with little financial backing or business ability, British and Colonial was from its outset well funded and run by experienced businessmen. Sir George established the business as a separate company from the Bristol Tramway Company because he considered that such a venture would be seen as too risky by many shareholders, and the new company's working capital of £25,000 was subscribed entirely by Sir George, his brother, and his son. Nevertheless, as might be expected, the affairs of the two companies were closely connected, and the company's first premises were two former tram sheds suitable for aircraft manufacture at Filton leased from the Bristol Tramway Company. Additionally, key personnel for the new business were recruited from the employees of the Tramway Company, including George Challenger as chief engineer and works manager. A flying school was also established with premises at Brooklands, then the centre of activity for British aviation where Bristol rented a hangar and at Larkhill on Salisbury Plain where, in June 1910, a school was established on 2,248 acres (9.10 km2) of land leased from the War Office. These flying schools came to be regarded as some of the best in the world by 1914 when 308 of the 664 Royal Aero Club certificates issued to date had been gained at the Company's schools.
The Bristol BoxkiteEdit
The Company's initial manufacturing venture was to be a licensed and improved version of an aircraft manufactured in France by the Societe Zodiac, a biplane designed by Gabriel Voisin. This aircraft had been exhibited at the Paris Aero Salon in 1909 and had impressed Sir George by the quality of its construction. One example was bought and shipped to England to be shown at the Aero Show at Olympia in March 1910, and construction of five more was started at Filton. It was then taken to Brooklands for flight trials, where it immediately became apparent that it had an unsatisfactory wing-section and insufficient power, and even though Bristol fitted it with a new set of wings it could only manage a single brief hop on 28 May, after which it was abandoned. Since the machine had been sold with a 'guarantee to fly' Sir George succeeded in getting 15,000 francs compensation from Zodiac. Work was then begun on designing a successor. Drawings were prepared by George Challenger for an aircraft based on a successful design by Henri Farman whose dimensions had been published in the aeronautical press. The drawings were done in little over a week, and Sir George authorised the construction of twenty examples. The first to completed was taken to Larkhill for flight trials, where it made its first flight on 30 July piloted by Maurice Edmonds, proving entirely satisfactory. The first batch equipped the two training schools as well as demonstration aircraft, and the aircraft, nicknamed the Bristol Boxkite went on to become a commercial success, 76 being built in all. Many served in the Company's flying schools and examples were sold to the War Office as well as a number of foreign governments.