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80. Conception


The origin of the Bristol Scout is not entirely clear.

The team that designed it are well known; Frank Barnwell, Clifford Tinson and Harry Busteed had all been involved on the top secret Project X with Lt. Burney, and by this time 100 years ago work was ongoing with the the third prototype, the X3. It was a fascinating concept, and there are some good pictures and a fuller description here. Harry Busteed was still generally out at Dale, Milford Haven, working on the modifications to X3, but Frank and Clifford were back at 4 Fairlawn Avenue, away from the main drawing office, their work on the X3 not full time.

In British Aviation: the pioneer years, Harald Penrose quotes the late Harry Busteed as saying:

The Bristol Scout was initiated by me while Barnwell and I were together at Dale getting the Burney hydroped ready… I broached the idea of a single-seater to Stanley White (a director of the B&CA), he agreed to let me have a cut at one, so while down at Dale Barnwell and I got together and produced a general arrangement drawing which we thought would fill the bill. Shortly after, when we had rounded off the Milford Haven business, we took part of a fuselage of a tractor monoplane, known as the SB5, construction of which had been brought to a halt owing to the War Office ban on monoplanes, and this we proposed to convert into a biplane. At ‘X’ Department, we started making constructional drawings in an ordinary carbon copy sketch book for issue to the works, but I was pulled out for some testing jobs, so the brunt of the work fell on Frank Barnwell and Clifford Tinson, who stuck to our original schemes, and the Scout came out. Certainly the origin of the idea had been generated by Harry Hawker, with whom I kept more less in touch after bringing him over with Harrison and Kauper.’

Jack Bruce is sceptical about this account. In Windsock Datafile 44, he reckons there wouldn’t have been much contact between him and Barnwell in this period, and he thinks it unlikely that he and Harry Hawker, who were working for rival organisations, would have shared ideas. It’s hard to know, but Clifford Tinson wrote in a letter to Bruce in 1953 that

S.N.183 was 100% Barnwell in design and we did the job under the counter, as it were, presumably so that Coandă would not know what was going on until it was a fait accompli.

This seems to be evident from the fact that we made all the drawings in a manifold book, from which the carbon copies went out into the shops.

“Since we both had drawing boards in No 4 I can only conclude that the management did not want to have a collision with Coandă, but did want to try Barnwell out as a competitor to him.

C H Barnes, in his book Bristol Aircraft since 1910 says that Busteed ‘… had had a considerable hand in the design…’ but doesn’t elucidate.

So here’s a hypothesis which I think fits most of the facts, allowing for a little bit of ‘inflation’ by Busteed.

During the summer of 1913, Busteed had some time off and went to London to meet up with his friend Harry Hawker, who was test pilot for Sopwiths in Kingston on Thames. They had come across from Australia together the previous year; both had achieved high-profile jobs in their chosen profession and would have been unlikely to have met up particularly frequently. Neither had family in the UK and would have valued the chance of a catch-up. Both would have been involved on secret projects. In Busteed’s case, of course, Project X would have been covered by the Secrets Act, and he would have been unable to discuss any significant part of their work. Hawker would have been bound by commercial confidentiality at the very least, so the talk would have moved on to more general topics. Both were hotshot pilots, and inevitably the conversation would have turned to the hot ship of its day, the S.E.2 and its performance. It would be amazing if somebody hadn’t said ‘I’d love a go in that thing’ and the other hadn’t agreed, and then Busteed had said ‘I wish Bristols would build one like it.’ And perhaps this was sufficient trigger for Busteed to go back to work, talk it over with Barnwell while they were in Bristol and put the idea to the managing director, Stanley White.

And why would White have sanctioned it? Again, much of this is plausible hypothesis, but it is consistent with the known facts. He could see that Project X was not going to be the next big thing, and that Barnwell and Tinson were under-employed. It’s possible their salaries would be paid by the Admiralty while Project X ran its course, and that there was the part-finished fuselage of the SB5 which might keep the material costs down. He could see that even if the RFC didn’t take up the idea of the high-speed single seat Scout, air racing would likely bring in some good publicity, and so in business terms it was a low risk project which might bring benefits, and would be an opportunity to see how Barnwell managed with a clean sheet of paper. And so he gave the go-ahead. By this time, Busteed was back at Dale in Milford Haven, so the actual design work was 100% Barnwell, with Clifford Tinson making the manufacturing drawings.

The sketchbooks in the RAeS library are all Barnwell’s – there’s no evidence of Busteed’s presence at all, and Barnwell’s neat handwriting and drawing style is the only one in the book.

I’m slightly puzzled by Clifford Tinson’s assertion that the aircraft was manufactured from carbon copies of the notebooks, since they are too small, and lack sufficient detail, to be of any use on the shop floor. There’s also the fact that there are multiple references to XD series drawings (XD clearly indicating ‘X Department’), the numbers, starting at XD710, seeming to indicate that they started numbering from where the X plane drawings left off. It’s possible, I suppose, that the fully-detailed XD drawings were done by Tinson in a larger sketchbook with carbon copies. These early XD series drawings haven’t survived, so there is a deal of guesswork involved in this.

I’m proposing to publish these sketches on the centenary of their drawing so that you can see the great speed with which Barnwell worked, but you’ll see that they cover almost every detail of the airframe, that they are all signed by Frank, and that they cross-refer to the manufacturing drawings that Clifford Tinson drew up.

As for the secrecy thing, it seems possible to me that since all three were still nominally involved in the X Project which was still covered by the Official Secrets Act, this may have been why the Scout project was also kept away from the main factory, rather than any desire to keep it secret from the Chief Designer.


From → History

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