Britain’s affiliation with the aircraft industry is steeped in our history and can be dated back to the 1900′s. The most notable influence upon the British aerospace industry could be accredited to the World War 2 efforts. For example in 1938 Britain invested £126,400,000 in its air force, this budget was more than the Canadian Governments total annual budget for that year. This investment involved mapping out a program calling for the production of 2,850 first line aircraft by 1940 and resulted in the construction of new factories and airdromes, the training of thousands of new pilots and the storage of bombs, machine guns and other armaments.
This investment was 25% more than the year before and twice as large than the budget in 1936. Britain relied heavily on its air force during both World Wars and the RAF held 5 major functions in the defense plans. These were home defense, counter attack, reconnaissance, trade protection and co-operation. As a result the RAF had a significant part to play in Britain’s War victories with actions such as The Dam-Busters. Even Churchill himself when talking about the Air Fleet after the Battle of Britain said “Never, on the field of human conflict was so much owed by to many to so few”
Even after the war effort, Britain’s average expenditure on its air force was around £17,000,000 and by 1945 Britain had around 27 aircraft companies, which was more than even the USA. This considerable boost in demand and funding sparked significant growth in not just the aerospace industry but also its affiliated industries. These included, most prominently, the specialised engineering sector with companies such as Rolls Royce being transformed from a relatively small company into a major contender in the aerospace engineering industry. It was the development of the Merlin engine which was subsequently used in iconic world war aircraft such as the Spitfire which catapulted this little company to success.
Other British based engineering companies such as BL Pegson also prospered due to the increased investment in the aerospace industry. Pegson pumps were used in many areas of the war effort from mining and construction to the development and usage in some of the early fire engine emergency vehicles. With BL Pegson’s specialist knowledge in the development of pumps and engine cooling systems they expanded into the aircraft industry in 1939 and were strongly involved in the the construction of new aerodromes and also the development of aircraft refueling pumps.
Britain has been well known for its quality of engineering and innovation and it is our knowledge and expertise which have helped to drive our economy. Even now as we sit in the grips of a recession the engineering sector is blossoming with its strong involvement in areas such as the £250 Billion Offshore Industry this could be the perfect time for Britain to go back to its roots and invest in its engineering base.
Caron J Rose