: Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram
FREE Aviation Classifieds since 2004
  Aircraft Manufacturer
Short Brothers
Shorts 360-300 - C-GPCN - Pacific Costal Airlines
Shorts SD3-60 / Shorts 360-300 - C-GPCN (sn SH3621)
Pacific Costal Airlines
Photo taken Jul. 12, 2004
Vancouver Airport, BC - Canada (YVR / CYVR)
Photo © Marcel Siegenthaler

Short Brothers plc is an aerospace company, usually referred to as Shorts, now based at Belfast, Northern Ireland. Shorts was founded in 1908 in London, and was the first company in the world to make production aircraft. It was particularly notable for its seaplane designs manufactured into the 1950s.

In 1943, Shorts was nationalised, later denationalised, and in 1948 moved from its main base at Rochester, Kent to Belfast. In the 1960s, Shorts mainly produced turboprop airliners, major components for aerospace prime manufacturers, and missiles for British armed forces.

In 1989, Shorts was bought by Bombardier, and is the largest manufacturing concern in Northern Ireland. Today, the company's products include aircraft components, engine nacelles and aircraft flight control systems for its parent company Bombardier Aerospace, and for Boeing, Rolls-Royce Deutschland, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney.


The early years

In 1897, the Short Brothers business started when Eustace Short (June 1875–1932) bought a second-hand coal gas filled balloon, and he joined with his brother Oswald Short to develop and manufacture balloons. In 1900, the two brothers visited the 1900 Paris Exposition ('World's Fair'), where they saw the balloons of Édouard Surcouf (of Société Astra), who had developed a method of constructing truly spherical balloons. In 1902, Eustace and Oswald started offering balloons for sale. They manufactured the balloons at Hove, Sussex, in premises above the acoustic laboratory run by a third brother, Horace Short (2 July 1872– 6 April 1917), for Thomas Edison's European agent, Col. Gouraud. In 1903, when Horace left to work on steam turbine development with Charles Parsons, Eustace and Oswald moved their workshop to rented accommodation in London, then again to railway arches in Battersea, conveniently situated next to Battersea gas-works. In 1905, they won a contract for three balloons for the British Indian Army. The quality of their work impressed Col. Templer, superintendent of the Royal Balloon Factory, who introduced the brothers to Charles Rolls. Rolls commissioned them to build him a large balloon to compete in the 1906 Gordon Bennett balloon race. More orders soon followed from other members of the Aero Club of Great Britain (later Royal Aero Club).

In 1908, on hearing reports from Aero Club members who had seen the Wright Brothers' demonstrations of their aircraft at Le Mans in France, Oswald Short reportedly said to Eustace "This is the finish of ballooning: we must begin building aeroplanes at once, and we can't do that without Horace!" Oswald succeeded in persuading Horace to leave his job with Parsons, and in November 1908 they registered their partnership under the name Short Brothers. Two orders for aircraft were soon received, one from Charles Rolls, who ordered a glider, and the other from Francis McClean, a member of the Aero Club who bought several aircraft from Short Brothers, and also acted as an unpaid test-pilot. At the end of 1908, Horace started work on the two designs, and in early 1909 construction was started of McClean's aircraft, the Short No.1 biplane. In March 1910, it was exhibited, without its fabric covering, at the first British Aero Show held at Olympia. Meanwhile, the brothers had obtained the British rights to build copies of the Wright design.

In February 1909, Shorts started construction of a new workshop on unobstructed marshland at Leysdown, near Shellbeach on the Isle of Sheppey, that had been acquired by the Aero Club for use as a flying ground, together with Mussell Manor (now known as "Muswell Manor"), that became its clubhouse. Construction of an initial batch of six aircraft was immediately started. In 1909, Short Brothers thus became the first aircraft manufacturing company in the world to undertake volume production of an aircraft design. In 1910, the business moved, together with the Royal Aero Club, to larger premises at Eastchurch, about 4 km away, where the Short-Dunne 5, designed by John W. Dunne, was built, the first tailless aircraft to fly. In 1911, Shorts also built one of the world's first successful twin-engine aircraft, the Triple Twin. At that time, seaplanes were taken by barge to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey to be launched and tested.

In 1913, Gordon Bell became Shorts' first professional test pilot until 1914, when he was succeeded by Ronald Kemp. Kemp could not handle the volume of flight testing and development alone, and by 1916, other pilots were employed on a freelance basis. One of those young men was John Lankester Parker. In 1918, Parker eventually succeeded Kemp as Shorts' Chief Test Pilot, a post he was to occupy for the next 27 years.

First World War

Shorts continued to build a variety of aircraft, but started to expand during World War I, when they supplied the Short Admiralty Type 184 (or simply "Short S.184"). On 15 August 1915, during the Battle of Gallipoli, a Short S.184 was the first aircraft to attack a ship with a live torpedo, when flying from HMS Ben-my-Chree, piloted by Flight Commander Charles Edmonds, it hit a Turkish supply ship in the Dardanelles. In terms of number built, the S.184 was Shorts' most successful pre-Second World War aircraft: over 900 were produced, many under licence by other manufacturers. A landplane version of the S.184 was also sold to the Royal Flying Corps as the Short Bomber.

During the First World War, Shorts had also been among the manufacturers of two flying boats, the F3 and F5, designed by Sdn. Cmr. John Porte at the Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe. When the war ended, some 50 of these were being built at Rochester.

Expansion at Rochester

Due to the company's success, and the increasing number of seaplanes being produced, larger premises were clearly needed, with ready access to the sea. In 1913, an 8.4 acre (3.4 hectare) plot of land by the river Medway about 20 miles (32 km) away at Borstal, near Rochester, Kent, was purchased from a Mr. Willis (a local councillor), and the planning and construction work started. By early 1915, the first facility of what was to become known as the Seaplane Works was completed: No.1 Erecting Shop. As this and the No.2 and No.3 shops became available, the workforce moved from the Eastchurch factory, No.3 shop being completed in 1917. A long concrete slipway was constructed from the centre-line of No.3 Erecting Shop to enable aircraft of up to 20 tons weight to be launched even at low tide.

Airships at Cardington

In 1916, Short Brothers was awarded a contract to build two large dirigible airships for the Admiralty. As part of the contract, a loan was provided to enable the company to purchase a site near Cardington, Bedfordshire, on which to build airship construction facilities, so while the company concentrated on the construction of heavier-than-air aeroplanes in the Isle of Sheppey/Rochester area, balloon and dirigibles construction was concentrated at Cardington. In 1919, the name of the company was changed to Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Ltd., but nationalisation the same year ended the Short brothers' involvement with the company, which became the Royal Airship Works. The housing estate built by the company near Cardington to house its employees still bears the name Shortstown.

The 1920s and 1930s

During the post-First World War, and the Depression of the early 1920s, the economic climate was difficult for the small aircraft industry in the United Kingdom. Shorts survived without reducing the company's workforce, by diversifying into areas such as building lightweight bus and tram bodies.

During the 1920s and 1930s, flying boats were favoured for long-range civil aviation, because their operation did not rely on the existence of suitable airfields, which were not widespread at the time. Shorts took to the flying boat market, and in 1924 constructed a 350 ft (110 m) testing tank for testing hull and float designs. Shorts designed the floats used for the Supermarine S.4 and Gloster III seaplanes entered by Britain for the 1925 Schneider Trophy race. Alan Cobham's de Havilland DH.50 (G-EBFO) was also fitted with Shorts floats at Rochester. On 30 June 1926, Cobham then started a flight to Australia from the Medway. Two de Havilland Giant Moths were fitted with Shorts floats at Rochester, and the first was flown in June 1928; both were delivered to Western Canada Airlines Ltd.

In 1924, Shorts produced the first of a series of three designs known as the Singapore. In 1927, the Singapore I was made famous by Sir Alan Cobham, when he, his wife, and crew made a survey of Africa, and covered about 23,000 miles. This in itself was a trip that would both prove the worth of flying boats, but also highlighted the difficulties.

Shorts then started design work on one of its most famous designs, the Short Calcutta, based on the Singapore layout but larger and more powerful. In 1928, the Calcutta first flew, and in August 1928 began active service with Imperial Airways. By April 1929, two more were added to the fleet, and they operated passenger-preferred coastal routes from Genoa to Alexandria by way of Athens, Corfu, Naples, and Rome. Several Calcuttas were used on shorter routes, and were instrumental in permitting long-range airline services between outposts of the British Empire. Shorts followed the production of four Calcuttas with the larger Kent, following with a series of still larger aircraft designs such as the Short Empire, the first of which was launched on 2 July 1936. The Empire was commissioned off the drawing board by Imperial Airways (later BOAC), to operate the UK's Empire Airmail scheme. A year later Shorts won a British government defence contract for a military flying boat, the Sunderland. Sharing the same basic design, but a modified upper structure, the Sunderland was one of the most effective long-range seaplanes in use. Dreaded by U-Boats, it was nicknamed "The Flying Porcupine" (Fliegendes Stachelschwein in German), perhaps due to its extensive armament and the several prominent dorsal antennae.

On 5 July 1937, a Short Empire was used by Imperial Airways for the first westbound transatlantic service from Foynes, Ireland to Newfoundland.

In 1933, Shorts opened a new factory at Rochester Airport, which was becoming increasing important for the landplanes the company was producing.

In 1934, Shorts finally closed the Eastchurch premises, and purchased the engine manufacturer Pobjoy, that had moved to Rochester Airport to be near Shorts, and with whom it had worked on its latest designs.

First moves to Belfast

In 1936, the Air Ministry established a new aircraft factory at Belfast, and created a new company Short & Harland Ltd, owned 50% each by Harland and Wolff and Shorts. The first products of the new factory were 50 Bristol Bombays followed by 150 Handley-Page Hereford bombers.

Shorts work on seaplanes eventually culminated in the Short Sandringham and Short Seaford, both based on the Empire/Sunderland boats. These flying boats had enough range to operate as a transatlantic airliner, but largely served the post-war Empire (Commonwealth) market; in competition with 4-engined land planes such as modified Avro Lancasters, Avro Lancastrian and Avro York.

Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL) operated the Coral Route from New Zealand to Fiji, the Cook Islands and Tahiti in the South Pacific, with Short Solent flying boats up to 1960.

Second World War

During the Second World War, the Short Sunderland became famous as an effective anti-submarine patrol bomber, because its long range and long flying time allowed it to close the Mid-Atlantic air gap between Iceland and Greenland, helping end the Battle of the Atlantic. It also rescued sea and air crews from the waters surrounding its spheres of operation especially those of Coastal Command. A squadron was ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force, but never made it to Australia, instead Australians flew for the Royal Air Force Coastal Command. Australia impressed Qantas-Imperial Empire boats into military service, and used these successfully especially on reconnaissance missions in the Timor Sea area.

It was Shorts work on the Sunderland that also won it the contract for the Short Stirling, the RAF's first four-engine bomber. If based on the original submission, essentially a land-based Sunderland with various cleanups, there seems to be no reason to suspect that the Stirling would not have been an excellent heavy bomber. However, the Air Ministry specification stipulated a number of other requirements of the aircraft, that it should be able to function as a troop transport for instance, and an upper limit on wingspan, that meant it was relegated as newer designs outperformed it. In 1944, the Short Shetland, a high-speed, long-range, four-engined flying-boat, was built (with Saunders-Roe providing the wings and a lot of the detail design work), but the war ended before the second prototype was completed. The project continued postwar but was eventually abandoned.

During the Battle of Britain, the Rochester factory was heavily bombed by the Luftwaffe, and several of the early-run Stirlings and other aircraft were destroyed. From then, the Belfast factory became increasingly important, because it was thought to be well beyond the range of German bombers. However, during Easter week of 1941, Belfast and the aircraft factory were subjected to German aircraft bombing. To meet the increased requirement for its aircraft during the war, satellite factories near Belfast were operated at Aldergrove and Maghaberry, producing 232 Stirlings between them. A temporary Shorts factory was established at White Cross Bay, Windermere, that produced 35 Sunderland Mark IIIs. Also during the war, Austin Motors at Longbridge, Birmingham, produced over 600 Stirlings, and Blackburn Aircraft produced 240 Sunderlands at its shadow factory in Dumbarton, Scotland.

In 1943, the Government took over the ownership and management of Shorts under Defence Regulation 78: for the second time (after the nationalisation of the Airship Works at Cardington in 1919) Short Brothers was affected by nationalisation. Oswald Short, who had resigned as Chairman in January of that year, remained as Honorary Life President.


By 1947, all of Shorts other wartime factories had been closed, and operations concentrated in Belfast. In 1948, the company offices followed, and Shorts became a Belfast company in its entirety. In the meantime, in 1947, Short Brothers (Rochester and Bedford) Ltd. had merged with Short and Harland Limited to become Short Brothers and Harland Limited, with Oswald Short remaining as Life President.

In the 1950s, Shorts was involved in much pioneering research, including designing and building the VTOL Short SC1, the Short SB5 and the Short SB.4 Sherpa. Shorts built the Short Sperrin, a backup jet engine bomber design in case the V bomber projects failed, and the Short Seamew, a cheap to produce anti-submarine reconnaissance and attack aircraft intended for the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve squadrons, but the Sperrin was not needed and the RNVR squadrons disbanded. In the 1950s, Shorts also received sub-contracts to build 150 English Electric Canberras, and on 30 October 1952, the first of those made its maiden flight. Of these types, Shorts delivered 60 Canberra B.2s, 49 Canberra B.6s and 23 Canberra P.R.9s, the remaining 18 being cancelled by the Government in 1957. Further work was involved in the conversion of time-expired Canberra B.2s into unmanned radio-controlled missile target aircraft. Two prototypes and 10 production Canberra U.10s were produced, followed by six improved Canberra U.14s. These aircraft were controlled from the ground by VHF radio, and were equipped to provide feedback on their own performance, as well as that of the missiles aimed at them. As early as 1953, Shorts became involved with pioneering the development of electronic analogue computers, to assist with the design of increasingly complex aircraft.

In 1954, the Bristol Aeroplane Company became a 15.25% shareholder in Shorts, and the company used the injection of funds to set up a production line for the Bristol Britannia turbo-prop airliner, known in the press as The Whispering Giant. Although it was originally intended that 35 Britannias should be built by Shorts, a shortage of work at Bristol led to this number being reduced. Eventually, 15 Britannias were completed by Shorts; five sets of Britannia components were sent to Filton and used on the continued production there of Britannias.

In the 1960s, Shorts found a niche for a new short-haul freighter aircraft, and responded with the Short SC.7 Skyvan. The Skyvan is most remembered for its box-like, slab-sided appearance and rectangular twin tail units, but the aircraft was well loved for its performance and loading. It served almost the same performance niche as the famous de Havilland Twin Otter, and the Skyvan proved more popular in the freighter market due to the large rear cargo door that allowed it to handle bulky loads with ease. Skyvans can still be found around the world today, notably in the Canadian Arctic.

In 1937, Shorts established an airfield beside the Belfast factory, that became Sydenham Airport. From 1938 to 1939, that was Belfast's main civilian airport. During the Second World War, the airfield was requisitioned by the Royal Navy. Nutts Corner was a former RAF base that became Belfast's main airport (and in 1963 was itself superseded by Aldergrove). Aldergrove continues to be used for military purposes as RAF Aldergrove, hosting helicopters and occasional visitors from both the USAF and RAF. Shorts used this airfield until production of complete aircraft ceased. In 1983, following interest from airlines and customers, the airfield was opened for commercial flights as Belfast Harbour Airport (later Belfast City Airport (BCA), now George Best Belfast City Airport). Following major capital investment, Bombardier sold BCA for £35 million in 2003.

In the 1970s, Shorts entered the feederliner market with the Shorts 330, a stretched modification of the Skyvan, called the C-23 Sherpa in USAF service, and another stretch resulted in the more streamlined Shorts 360, in which a more conventional central fin superseded the older H-profiled twin fins.
In 1988, the proposed development was announced of a regional jet seating 44 passengers and to be called the FJX. The aircraft would have been a competitor to the Bombardier CRJ100 that was also in development at the time, but the FJX was cancelled after Short Brothers' sale to Bombardier.

Also in 1988, loyalists working at the factory attempted to sell parts, information and knowledge of a new missile system to the apartheid government of South Africa. This was linked to a large arms shipment in 1988 which was then divided between the Ulster Defence Association, the Ulster Volunteer Force, and Ulster Resistance. In April 1989, three Northern Irish men, Noel Lyttle, Samuel Quinn and James King, were arrested in Paris. Also arrested were arms dealer Douglas Bernhardt and a South African diplomat, Daniel Storm.

Bombardier purchase

In 1977, the company changed its name back to Short Brothers, and in 1984 it became a public limited company in preparation for privatisation. The government announced the sale of Shorts to Bombardier on 7 June 1989 for £30 million. As part of the sale, the government also agreed to write off £390 million of the company's "accumulated losses and inject another £390 million to recapitalise the group and cover current and future losses, capital investment and training." Bombardier beat a bid from The General Electric Company plc and Fokker whilst Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm withdrew before final offers were submitted. The sale was finalised on 4 October 1989.

In 1993, with the company under the chairmanship of Sir Roy McNulty, Bombardier Shorts and Thomson-CSF formed a joint venture, Shorts Missile Systems, for the design and development of very short-range, air defence missiles for the UK Ministry of Defence and armed forces worldwide using expertise dating back to the 1950s. In 2000, Thomson-CSF bought Bombardier's 50% share to become the sole owner. Shorts Missile Systems was renamed Thales Air Defence Limited in 2001.


(Year of first flight in brackets)


  • Short Biplane No. 1
  • Short Biplane No. 2 (1909)
  • Short Biplane No. 3


  • Dunne D.5 (1910)
  • Dunne D.6 (1911)
  • Short S.27 (1910)
  • Short Tandem-Twin (1911, 2 x rotary engines for F. McClean)
  • Short S.34
  • Short S.36 (1912)
  • Short S.38 (1912)
  • Short S.39 Triple-Twin (1911)
  • Short S.41 (1912)
  • Short S.42 monoplane
  • Short S.45 (1912)
  • Short S.46
  • Short S.47 Triple-Tractor (1912, 2 x 50 hp rotary driving tractor propellers)
  • Short S.54
  • Short S.57 (1912)
  • Short S.60 (1913)
  • Short Folder (1913 ff.)
  • Short Admiralty Type 3
  • Short Type 42
  • Short Type 74
  • Short Type 81 (1913)
  • Short Type 135 (1914)
  • Short Type 136 (1914)
  • Short Type 166 (1914)
  • Short Type 184 (1915)
  • Short Bomber (1915)
  • Short Type 827 (1914)
  • Short Type 830 (1914)
  • Short 310 (1916)
  • Short Type 320 (1916)
  • Short F3 Felixstowe (1917)
  • Short F5 Felixstowe (1918)
  • Short N.1B Shirl (1918)
  • Short N.2B (1917)
  • Short Sporting Type (1919)


  • Short Silver Streak (1920)
  • Short N.3 Cromarty (1921)
  • Gnosspelius Gull (1923)
  • Short S.1 Cockle (1924)
  • Short S.3 Springbok (1923)
  • Short S.3a Springbok (1925)
  • Short S.3b Chamois (1927)
  • Short S.4 Satellite (1924)
  • Short S.5 Singapore I (1925)
  • Short S.6 Sturgeon (1927) (Biplane)
  • Short S.7 Mussel (1926)
  • Short S.8 Calcutta (1928)
  • Short S.10 Gurnard (1929)
  • Short Crusader (1927)


  • Short R.31 Airship
  • Short S.8/8 Rangoon (1930)
  • Short S.11 Valetta (1930)
  • Short S.12 Singapore II (1930)
  • Short S.17 Kent (1931)
  • Short S.14 Sarafand (1932) (originally known as the Short R6/28)
  • Short-Kawanishi S.15 KF1
  • Short S.16 Scion/Scion II (1933)
  • Short S.18 Knuckleduster (1933)
  • Short L.17 Scylla (1934)
  • Short S.19 Singapore III (1934)
  • Short S.20 Mercury (1937 Short Mayo Composite)
  • Short S.21 Maia (1937 Short Mayo Composite)
  • Short S.22 Scion Senior (1935)
  • Short S.23 Empire Flying Boat (1936)
  • Short S.25 Sunderland (1937)
  • Short S.25 Sandringham (a post-war derivation of the Sunderland)
  • Short S.26 G-Class (1939)
  • Short S.27 Civet - project - not built (1936)
  • Short S.30 Empire Flying Boat (1938)
  • Short S.31 (Half-scale Stirling) (1938)
  • Short S.32
  • Short S.29 Stirling (1939)


  • Short S.33 Empire Flying Boat (1940)
  • Short S.35 Shetland 1 (1944)
  • Short S.45 Seaford (1944)
  • Short S.45 Solent (1946)
  • Short S.38 SA1 Sturgeon (1946)
  • Short S.39 SA2 Sturgeon
  • Short S.1312 Nimbus (1947)
  • Short S.40 Shetland 2 (1947)
  • Short SB3 Sturgeon
  • Short SA6 Sealand (1948)


  • Short S.42 SA4 Sperrin (1951)
  • Short S.43 SA5 (project only)
  • Short S.48 SA9 (glider - project only)
  • Short SB1 (1951)
  • Short SB5 (1952)
  • Short SB.4 Sherpa (1953)
  • Short SB6 Seamew (1953)
  • Short SB7 Sealand III
  • Short SC1 (1957)


  • Short SC9 Canberra (1961)
  • Short SC7 Skyvan (1963)
  • Short SC5 Belfast (1964)
  • Shorts SD3-30 / Shorts 330 (1974)
  • Shorts SD3-60 / Shorts 360 (1981)
  • Shorts C-23 Sherpa (1985)
  • Short 312 Tucano (1986)


  • R31
  • R32
  • R38 (ZR-2)


  • Blowpipe missile – surface-to-air missile
  • Javelin missile – surface-to-air missile
  • Starburst missile – surface-to-air missile
  • Starstreak missile – surface-to-air missile
  • Sea Cat missile – sea or ship surface-to-air missile
  • Tigercat – surface-to-air missile

UAVs and drones

  • Short MATS
  • Short Skeet
  • Short Stiletto

Chief test pilots

  • Francis McClean (honorary) until 1912
  • Gordon Bell 1912–1914
  • Sydney Pickles 1913 (Acting CTP during Bell's absence following a crash at Brooklands)
  • Ronald C. Kemp 1914–1918
  • John Lankester Parker 1918–1945
  • Geoffrey Dyson 1945–1946
  • Harold Piper 1946–1948
  • Tom Brooke-Smith 1948–1960
  • Denis Tayler 1960–1969
  • Donald Burn Wright 1969–1976
  • Lindsay Cummings
  • Allan Deacon
  • Graham Andrews
Last updated April 13, 2012
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Short Brothers".
By use of this site, you accept the Terms And Conditions Of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us
Copyright © 2004-2018 Airplane Mart Publishing. All rights reserved...