Short Brothers Aviation Pioneers

Hugh OSWALD Short

Born June 1883 Derbyshire and died in 1969 at Gillham’s Farm, Lynchmere, West Sussex

John Lankester Parker, Chief Test pilot for 27 years and Company director…

“The contribution made by Oswald to the technical side of aviation is, I think, far greater than is generally realised and in my view he has never received the rightful tribute for his imaginative and practical work.

Oswald, personally, sponsored the use of aluminium alloy for the primary structure of aircraft years before the material was accepted as ‘airworthy’.

He pioneered the stress-skinned, all-metal construction with the most fanatical enthusiasm.”

A note in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Gordon Bruce, Company Secretary of Shorts and Harland Ltd…

“Oswald was an unassuming, courteous man whose physical courage was proven as an aeronaut, pilot and observer on test flights.

He was a lover of music and animal life; his labour relations were paternalistic with a Victorian sense of fair play.”

As boys Eustace and Oswald made their own model balloons of tissue paper and these, as Oswald said in later years, were truly the first products of the Short brother’s aeronautical enterprise.

Their drive and industry demonstrated both determination and vision and these experiences led to their later multiple successes with heavier-than-air machines. In 1908 they had begun to think of aeroplanes and built one which was shown at Olympia. Oswald it was who, in 1916, saw the possibilities of using metal alloys such as Duralumin more extensively in aircraft construction. In 1919 he patented a system of stressed-skin construction.

The government showed little interest in these early ideas, so the firm put their hands in their pockets and their faith in Oswald and built, as a private venture, the famous Short aircraft -The Silver Streak. This was the first all-metal framed aeroplane to be built in Great Britain and was on show at the Aero Exhibition at Olympia in July 1920.

Duralumin, at that time, was not considered to be a suitable material for primary aircraft structures. Consequently, the Farnborough pilots were not allowed to fly it – officially.

The peak of Oswald’s career was marked by contracts for Shorts Empire flying boats from Imperial Airways, Sunderland flying boats and Sterling land-based 4-engined heavy bombers for the Royal Air Force in the mid 1930’s and the incorporation of a subsidiary business – Short and Harland Limited of Belfast, Northern Ireland followed.
A red-letter day was the visit of King George 6th and Queen Elizabeth to both factories – the Seaplane Works on the River Medway and the Airport Works at Rochester Airport on the 14th of March 1939. The souvenir programme gives an insight into Oswald’s respect for his employees. “This chronicle is dedicated by the directors to their staff as a token of appreciation of their loyalty and skills”.

Short’s developed one of the most rigorous and demanding engineering apprenticeship schemes in the world, training many generations of skilled tradesmen, engineering technicians and chartered engineers. Oswald insisted that ‘metallurgy’ was studied. “Indeed, the traditions of the founding of the firm on the principle of meticulous care and skill in manufacture was by precept and example instilled into all those trained there” Marconi Avionics News. Issue 33 of 1981.

Following the government’s compulsory acquisition of the Company in March 1943 (Stafford Cripps) Oswald was deeply grieved at the loss and haunted by the fear that history would overlook the Short brothers’ pioneering achievements. Oswald’s peers in the aircraft industry recognised his contributions to the development of powered flight by making him an honorary fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

He was also a fellow of the Guild of Aviation Artists, the Royal Astronomical Society and Zoological Society. Wider society recognised his role also, and he was awarded Freeman of the City of London and Honorary Freeman of the City of Rochester. Short Island is in Antarctica. He died in 1967 and is buried with his wife Violet in Lynchmere Burial Ground near Haslemere. We restored Oswald’s grave in 2017.

hugh oswald short sat reading
Hugh Oswald Short
hugh oswald short older looking ahead
Hugh Oswald Short
team short the men behind the job
‘Team Short’ – the men behind the job
the most famous photograph of the early aviation notables
THE most famous photograph of the early aviation notables!
hugh oswald shorts restored grave
Hugh Oswald Shorts restored grave