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The Designers


Two of Britains greatest

Added by Keith Bradshaw on 03 March 2020

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One of the most elegant jet fighters ever made the Hawker Hunter designed by Sir Sydney Camm. Photo: Keith Bradshaw

The designers

For over half  the 20th century British aircraft design was dominated by just two people - Roy Chadwick at Avro and Sydney Camm at Hawker. It was all the more remarkable that these two outstandingly talented designers were born in the same year, 1893. This is their story.

Roy Chadwick (1893-1947)  Photo: Unknown                                                      


his contemporary Sydney Camm (1893-1966).  Photo: Public Domain

First let us take a look at the life of Roy Chadwick CBE. Born in Widnes Cheshire he did not have to travel far to find a job when in 1911 at the age of eighteen he joined A.V.Roe as an assistant and draughtsman at their aircraft works in Manchester. Two years later he helped in the design of the famous Avro 504K trainer aircraft. Over 11,300 were eventually built.

An example of Roy Chadwick’s early work, the Avro 504K trainer can still be seen flying today with the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden Bedfordshire.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

It was not until 1916 aged just 22 that he designed his first complete aeroplane, the Avro Pike. However, this twin- engine bomber was not taken on by the military and only two were built. By 1918 he had been appointed Chief Designer and continuing with his liking for bomber design, in 1921 he created the Avro Aldershot. Capable of carrying 2,000 pounds of bomb load, this made the Aldershot the world’s heaviest single-engine bomber, 17 of which were delivered to the RAF. Moving on to his first all metal aeroplane, 1925 saw the Avro Avenger take to the sky. Sadly there was no interest and the project was cancelled.

First flying in 1921 the Avro Aldershot was the world’s heaviest single-engine bomber.  Photo: Public domain

The following year saw better luck with the Avro Avian. It was in one of these aircraft that Bert Hinkler performed the first solo flight from the UK to Australia in 1928. Buoyed up no doubt by his success with the 504K, Chadwick returned to trainer design and in 1929 came up with the Tutor bi-plane, with the RAF and other air forces taking 606 examples.

Another Avro design still flying at the Shuttleworth Collection is their immaculate Tutor. The RAF used these aeroplanes to replace the earlier Avro trainer the 504K. This aeroplane is the only Tutor still in existence.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

Following on from the 504K/Tutor lineage, in 1935 Chadwick designed another successful trainer -  the twin engine Anson and over 11,000 were built in the UK and Canada. Used in many different roles the Anson was used extensively in the training of multi-engine pilots under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan whereby pilots would do their training in Canada, South Africa , Australia or New Zealand away from the war-torn skies of Europe. After the war, the Anson was operated by military air arms worldwide and after Avro brought out a civilianised version commercial operators also used this rugged aeroplane across the globe.

A few Ansons can still be seen flying around the world such as this one with the Canadian Warplane Heritage museum at Hamilton Ontario.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

By this time war clouds were on the horizon and Chadwick’s attention returned to bombers, with the twin-engine Manchester taking to the sky in 1939. Not a very successful design, the Manchester was soon reworked into the iconic four-engine heavy bomber the Lancaster. The first example of 7,377 built was flying by 1941. Not resting on his laurels Chadwick was also aware of the need for a large transport aircraft and by replacing the Lancaster fuselage with a large box like structure,, the Avro York was born, first flying in 1942. In recognition of his work on the Lancaster and the part it was playing in the war effort, Roy Chadwick was awarded the CBE in 1943.


Widely expected to one day be the third airworthy Lancaster, Just Jane at her East Kirby base in Lincolnshire performs a taxi run for her adoring fans.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw
The Avro Shackleton first flew in 1949, entering RAF service in 1951 and was retired after 40 years in 1991. The last eight, such as the one in the picture, were converted to AEW aircraft with the addition of the large radar under the nose. Photo: Keith Bradshaw

Another aircraft that developed from the Lincoln was the passenger airliner the Avro Tudor. First flown in 1945 this was not a very successful airliner and only a few were eventually made. It was on 23 August 1947 whilst flying on a test flight in one of these aircraft that Roy Chadwick aged just 54, along with the rest of the crew sadly lost their lives when the plane crashed on take-off. The cause was traced to crossed aileron control wires following engineering work the night before the fatal flight. At the time of his death Roy Chadwick CBE had been working on the initial designs for a revolutionary new jet bomber that would become the Vulcan.

A Tudor 2 at Stansted in 1955. It was in an aircraft of this type that Roy Chadwick lost his life in 1947. Photo: RuthAs
The final design that Roy Chadwick had a part in was the Vulcan. Difficult to believe in a career of just 36 years Roy Chadwick went from the Avro 504K biplane to this iconic nuclear bomber.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

The other member of this amazing duo of designers was Sydney Camm. Born in Windsor he developed an early interest in aeronautics and built several flying models, before in 1912 he and some colleagues from the Windsor model aeroplane club built a man-carrying glider. He then started work as a carpenter at the Martinsyde Aircraft Company at Brooklands. By the end of the First World War he was employed there as a draughtsman. Martinsyde went out of business and Sydney Camm found himself travelling in 1923 to Kingston-upon-Thames to join the Hawker Aircraft Company. His first design for his new company was the Cygnet whose success led him to become Chief designer in 1925.


Camm’s first design was the Hawker Cygnet, designed as an entry into a light aircraft design competition. Only two were built and an airworthy replica can be seen at Old Warden. The aircraft in the picture is one of the originals and is on display at RAF Cosford.  Photo: Nigel Ish

The Cygnet would be the first of 52 designs Sydney Camm would go on to produce for the Hawker company. In 1928 the Hawker Tomtit trainer arrived with 30 going to the RAF and another five were built for the civil market. Also in 1928 was the first flight of the new and sleek bi-plane light bomber the Hawker Hart. This design was developed into a range of aeroplanes such as the Demon, Fury and Hind, The Hind was a light bomber and the Demon and Fury fighters. 232 Harts were ordered by the RAF. Such was the range of aircraft designed by Camm that at one time in the 1930s 84 per cent of RAF aircraft were Hawker built.

A Hawker Demon fighter leads a Hawker Hind light bomber. 528 Hinds were built. This one has been restored to flight by the Shuttleworth Collection.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

It was from the Fury design that Sydney Camm in 1934 began looking into developing a monoplane fighter. This came to fruition in 1935 with the first flight of the Hurricane but production did not begin until the following year with an initial RAF order for 600 to replace the bi-plane fighters at the front line of its fighter force. The first production Hurricane flew in 1937 becoming the first of 14,487 that would be built, mainly in the UK and Canada. At the start of the Second World War the RAF had just 550 on their books. Often overshadowed by the Spitfire, the Hurricane was the mainstay of the RAF during the Battle of Britain and went on to fly with the RAF and Royal Navy in all theatres of the war.

With more Hurricanes being restored sights like this formation at Duxford are becoming more common at air shows around the UK.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

From the Hurricane came the Typhoon fighter bomber, the Tempest and Fury. The Typhoon first flew in 1940 and was fitted with the huge Napier Sabre engine. Heavily armed with cannon, bombs and rockets the Typhoon saw great success following the D-Day landings chasing the Axis powers out of occupied Europe and becoming the war’s most successful ground attack aircraft. The Tempest and later the Fury were developments of the Typhoon to fulfil the fighter role. When Hawkers first revealed their Centaurus powered Fury the RAF was not interested but the Royal Navy was. The Camm-designed Sea Fury went on to be the Royal Navy’s last piston engine fighter and one of the fastest piston engine powered fighters of all time.

A Hawker Typhoon showing off its cannons and rockets. As Tank busters these aircraft were supreme. They would circle above the battle area until called in by the ground troops to destroy any enemy armour that was holding up the Allies advance into Europe.  Photo : EX_ CC

As the war drew to a close Camm’s thoughts on future designs moved to jet power as his rival at Gloster , George Carter, already had the RAF’s first jet fighter, the Meteor, in service. In 1947 the first Hawker-built jet, the Sea Hawk, made its maiden flight. Designed as a fighter for operation on the Navy’s carriers, the Sea Hawk was powered by a single Rolls Royce Nene jet and became a successful Naval aircraft selling around the world. 542 were built and operated by the Navies of the UK, The Netherlands, Germany and India. Just one remains airworthy with the Royal Navy historic flight. However problems with its engine have kept it grounded in recent years.

A typically smoky cartridge start as the Nene engine of the Navy Historic Flight Sea Hawk bursts into life at a Biggin hill air show.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

With its old-fashioned straight wing and elderly Nene engine the Sea Hawk was not what the RAF needed as a new jet fighter to replace its Meteors. Camm came up with a new swept-wing fighter powered by the powerful Rolls Royce Avon jet. By clever use of the ‘area rule’ aerodynamic configuration at the wing to fuselage join, the design not only reduced drag but became one of the most beautiful fighter planes ever designed. Named the Hunter, this design was a hugely successful aeroplane for Hawkers. This jet sold all around the world over many years with 1,972 eventually being built. Entering service with the RAF in 1954 the type was finally retired from military service when the Swiss grounded their fleet in 2014. Even to this day private operators still fly Hunters under contract to the military, acting as the enemy for flight crew air-to-air training.

The last military operator of the Hunter was the Swiss Air force who even used the British jet as the mount for their aerobatic team Patrouille Suisse.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

Hawkers along with most of the other British manufacturers (with one or two exceptions) had been forced by the government to merge with one another to form two large conglomerates, BAC and Hawker Siddeley. Sydney Camm now found himself working for Hawker Siddeley on his latest design the P1127 VTOL jet which would eventually morph into the Harrier. The first P1127 flew in 1960 and Camm finally retired as Chief Designer in 1965. However he remained on the company board until his death in 1966 at which time he was looking into a design for a Mach 4 aircraft. Sydney Camm was knighted in 1953 on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

Derived from the P1127 the Harrier was at the forefront of the RAF for many years until a defence review saw the entire fleet being sold to the US Marines for spares. However the Spanish Navy still flies the type despite not having an aircraft carrier. This one was displaying at the Yeovilton Air day in 2019.  Photo: Keith Bradshaw

Apart from Chadwick and Camm there were many other great designers during the first half of the twentieth century such as Reginald Mitchell at Supermarine with the Spitfire, Ron Bishop of de Havilland with the Mosquito and Comet and W.E.W “Teddy” Petter at English Electric with the first jet bomber the Canberra to name but a few However no others designed such a large number and range of iconic aircraft during their careers as Chadwick and Camm. Roy Chadwick CBE and Sir Sydney Camm were indeed THE designers and with the demise of the British aircraft industry the like of which we are unlikely to see again.

‘till the next time Keith