Sunbeam Aircraft

The Sunbeam Car Company at Moorfield Works, started to build aircraft engines in 1912, and during the first world war obtained orders for aircraft to be built under license. The first order, which was placed on 13th May 1915, was for a batch of 20 Short 827 seaplanes. Another order for a further batch of 20 was received on 29th May. A number of Sunbeam staff were trained by Short Bros at Rochester, so that production could quickly get under way. The aircraft were powered by Sunbeam Crusader engines. The first aircraft was delivered to R.N.A.S. Grain, by lorry on 8th November 1915. Production continued at about 4 aircraft per month, the last one being delivered in October 1916.

The Society of British Aircraft Constructors was formed on 29th March 1915, and Sunbeam was represented by Louis Coatalen. The other members included Herbert Austin, Frederick Handley Page, H.V. Roe, and E.B. Parker of Short Bros.

A plan of Moorfield Works.

The company's founder, John Marston, retired on 6th May 1916 and the running of the company was taken over by Thomas Cureton. An order was received on 18th May 1916, for the production of 20 Short Bombers. The bomber had an 85ft wingspan and was based on the Type 184 seaplane, with wheels instead of floats. They were powered by 240h.p. Sunbeam Gurkha engines. The first one was completed in July 1916 and was tested at Dunstall Park. Production continued at the rate of about two per month, until early 1917, when the last five were cancelled.

The next aircraft produced at the works was the Avro 504 trainer. Two orders were received on 22nd July 1916. The aircraft were produced in single and dual control versions, the dual control machines being used as gunnery trainers. A number were also converted into the Avro 504H, which had a strengthened airframe, a padded seat for the pilot and catapult pick-up points. Production ended in May 1917 after 60 had been delivered.

In December 1916, Sunbeam received orders for 50 Short 310 seaplanes. The first was delivered in September 1917, and the last in June 1918. During this time Sunbeam received further orders for Avro 504 biplanes. The orders were for Avro 504J and 504K models, and production rapidly got under way. Large numbers were produced each month, the maximum being in August 1918 when 59 aircraft were delivered. The last order for aircraft arrived on 16th July 1918 and was for Avro 504k machines. The last machine was delivered at the end of June 1919. The total number of 504J and 504K aircraft produced by Sunbeam was 481.

The story doesn't quite end here, as Sunbeam also designed and built an aircraft of its own, the Sunbeam Bomber. In November 1916 the Committee for Imperial Defence issued a specification for a Type 7 bomber, which could fulfil its future requirements. It would be powered by a 200h.p. Hispano-Suiza or Sunbeam Arab engine, and would carry the single pilot, a machine gun with500 rounds of ammunition, four 65lb bombs and enough fuel for a five hour flight at100m.p.h., at 10,000ft. Sunbeam decided to design and build an aircraft of its own to meet the specification and designed a biplane using the Arab engine. The aircraft had a wingspan of 42 ft and was 31ft 6in. long. It had a top speed of 112.5m.p.h. at 6,500ft, and could reach 109m.p.h. at 10,000ft. It carried a forward firing Vickers machine gun, which was mounted above the engine and synchronised to fire through the propeller. It first flew at Castle Bromwich on 18th July 1917 and had a ceiling of 18,500ft. The aircraft was sent to Martlesham Heath on 4th May 1918, for testing at the Royal Aircraft Establishment. Although its performance wasn't bad, it was slightly inferior to the new Sopwith B.1 bomber. This used the Hispano engine and had a higher speed of 118m.p.h. at 10,000ft. It had a better layout than the Sunbeam and gave the pilot a better view. The Sopwith was preferred to the Sunbeam and so only one Sunbeam bomber was built. 

Aircraft production ended at Sunbeam in 1919, with completion of the last wartime order. Over the four year period of aircraft production, Sunbeam built a total of 647 aircraft.

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