Gloster Aircraft Company

Gloster Aircraft Company, Limited
Industry Aviation
Fate Merged with Armstrong Whitworth (1961) and Avro (1963)
Successor Hawker Siddeley Aviation
Founded 1917 (as Gloucestershire Aircraft Company)
Defunct 1963
Headquarters Hucclecote
Parent Hawker Aircraft (1934)

The Gloster Aircraft Company was a British aircraft manufacturer from 1917 to 1963.

Founded as The Gloucestershire Aircraft Company Limited during the First World War, with the aircraft construction activities of H H Martyn & Co Ltd of Cheltenham it produced fighters during the war. It was renamed as foreigners found 'Gloucestershire' difficult to pronounce. It later became part of the Hawker Siddeley group and the Gloster name disappeared in 1963.

Gloster designed and built several fighters that equipped the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the interwar years including the Gladiator, the RAF's last biplane fighter. The company built Hawker Hurricanes and Hawker Typhoons for their parent company Hawker Siddeley while its design office was working the first British jet aircraft, the E.28/39 experimental aircraft. This was followed by the Meteor, the RAF's first jet-powered fighter and the only Allied jet fighter to be put into service during the Second World War.


The Gloster Aircraft Company Limited was formed in 1917 with the name The Gloucestershire Aircraft Company Limited. Its owners were Hugh Burroughes (1884-1985) and H H Martyn & Co Limited with a 50% share, and Airco the other 50%. On the board were A W Martyn, Burroughes, and George Holt Thomas of Airco. It acquired the aircraft component construction activities that were being carried out by H H Martyn & Co Limited for the war effort in order to build subcontracted work from Airco. H H Martyn were architectural engineers and had produced items such as propellers before moving to whole fuselages for Airco[note 1] They rented their Sunningend works in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. By the spring of 1918 they were putting out 45 new Bristol Fighter aircraft a week.[1][2] As orders for aircraft increased, other companies in the Gloucester and Cheltenham district were contracted with work. Where any flying was involved the aircraft were moved to an Air Board aircraft acceptance park at Brockworth seven miles (11 km) away by motor transport. Although Brockworth aerodrome was used by the company it had no hangars until 1921 when it rented part of a hangar from the Air Board.

When the British aircraft manufacturer Nieuport & General closed down in 1920, the services of its chief designer, Henry Folland were hired by the company, which also acquired the rights for the Nieuport Nighthawk fighter and unbuilt aircraft components.

In 1926, the name of the company was switched to a simplified form—the Gloster Aircraft Company—because customers outside of the United Kingdom found it easier to pronounce and to spell.

With the move to metal construction the Sunningend factory was no longer suitable and in 1928 the company bought the aerodrome at Brockworth with all the hangars and office accommodation.

1934 – amalgamation

In 1934 the company was taken over by Hawker Aircraft, though it continued to produce aircraft under its own name. In that same year the company produced the famous Gladiator biplane. The 1935 merger of Hawker Aircraft and the interests of J. D. Siddeley (Armstrong Siddeley and Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft) saw Gloster become a part of Hawker Siddeley Aircraft, Ltd.

1939 – World War II

Having no modern designs of its own in production, Gloster undertook manufacture for the parent company Hawker. In 1939, the company built 1,000 Hawker Hurricanes in the first 12 months of World War II and delivered the last of its 2,750 Hurricanes in 1942. Production was then switched to the Hawker Typhoons for the Royal Air Force, 3,300 being built in total.

1941 – turbojet

Frank Whittle's memorial showing a full-scale model of the Gloster E28/39

Frank Whittle had first met Gloster's designer and test pilots in April 1939 and an official approach from the Air Ministry followed. As no existing aircraft was suitable for adaptation to take the new jet engine, and Gloster did not have much workload in its design department, Gloster received a contract in early 1940 - to design and build Britain's first jet aircraft. Two airframes were built in secrecy. Due to the risk of bombing, one of the aircraft was built offsite from Brockworth at Regent Motors Cheltenham.[3]

On 15 May 1941, the first test flight of the Gloster E.28/39 W 4041/G with a turbo-jet engine, invented by Sir Frank Whittle took off from RAF Cranwell (earlier taxying trials, in which the E.28/39 briefly became airborne, were carried out at the company's airfield at Brockworth).[4]

Although the E.28.39 could in theory be used as a fighter, a specific fighter design was required and Gloster began work on a twin engine jet design. Once the E.28/39 had flown, the Air Staff told Gloster to stop work on their F.18/40 nightfighter (other aircraft could be adapted to replace it) to concentrate on the jet fighter.[5] The jet design became the Gloster Meteor, the only jet to be used in combat by the Allied Forces during World War II.

First flying with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1943, the Meteor commenced operations in mid-1944, only some weeks later than the world's first operational jet, the German Messerschmitt Me 262.

1945 – world record

In 1945 a Meteor F Mk.4 prototype, stripped of armament, gained a World Airspeed Record of 606 mph (975 km/h) with Group Captain H. Wilson at the controls. In early 1946, another F Mk.4 prototype was used to set a world air speed record of 616 mph (991 km/h) true airspeed with Group Captain "Teddy" Donaldson flying the highly modified Meteor, nicknamed "Yellow Peril." The second pilot in the High Speed Flight, Bill Waterton achieved 614 mph. During the record attempt Donaldson became the first man to break the 1,000 km/h barrier, winning the Britannia Trophy and a Bar to his AFC. Meteors remained in service with several air forces for many years and saw action in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Eventually, Gloster Meteors in fighter, trainer and night fighter versions were in operational use by 12 nations.

1947 – Gloster's heyday

During Gloster's heyday, in 1947, S/L Janusz Zurakowski was employed as an experimental pilot. In the following years, he became one of the world's most famous experimental and aerobatics pilots. He developed a new aerobatic manoeuvre, the "Zurabatic Cartwheel", which held the audience captivated as he suspended the Gloster Meteor G-7-1 prototype he was flying, in a vertical cartwheel at the 1951 Farnborough Air Show, a manoeuvre the announcer declared to be "Impossible!" Serving for a brief period as the chief test pilot, he tested the many experimental versions of the Gloster Meteor, Javelin and E.1/44 fighters. During the Gloster years, "Zura" as he came to be known, set an international speed record: London-Copenhagen-London, 4–5 April 1950 at Gloster's instruction to sell the aircraft to the Danish Air Force.

In 1952, the two seat, delta winged Gloster Javelin was developed as an all weather fighter that could fly above 50,000 feet (15,000 m) at almost the speed of sound. This modern aircraft proved to be too heavy to take off from the short airfield in Brockworth, and was instead fitted out to the bare minimum and given a very small fuel load. It was then flown in a short hop to RAF Moreton Valence seven miles (5 km) to the south west, where the aircraft would be completed. It was this shortcoming of facilities, along with the rationalisation of the British aircraft industry, that would lead to the demise of Gloster.

1960s – demise

In 1961, the company was merged with Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Limited to form Whitworth Gloster Aircraft Limited. Following another re-organisation, the firm became part of the Avro Whitworth Division of Hawker Siddeley Aviation in 1963, and the name Gloster disappeared as Hawker Siddeley rebranded its product line under its own name.

The site at Brockworth was sold in 1964. In recent years the runway and old buildings have been demolished and replaced by standard modern estate and office buildings.


Chief Test Pilots

See also


  1. Until 1914 a firm of specialist 108, Michael Stratton, Barrie Stuart Trinder, Twentieth Century Industrial ArchaeologyObituary, Mr Hugh Burroughes. The Times, Thursday, Oct 31, 1985; pg. 16; Issue 62283
    H. H. Martyn & Co., founded by Martyn in 1888, as monumental masons working in stone, marble and wood had extended to joinery, wrought iron work and castings and by 1914 included pressed steel. Their 5 acres of workshops outfitted ships such as the SS Queen Elizabeth. Gloucestershire archives, Records of and relating to H H Martyn & Co Ltd.



  1. Obituary, Mr Hugh Burroughes. The Times, Thursday, Oct 31, 1985; pg. 16; Issue 62283
  2. King (1955) p173
  3. Buttler p190-191
  4. James 1971, pp.240—241.
  5. Buttler p193


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