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Ownership and influence

Changes of ownership

At the beginning of World War One (1914 – 1918) Pemberton-Billing joined the Royal Naval Air Service RNAS. Its tasks were fleet reconnaissance, patrolling the coasts for enemy ships and submarines, attacking enemy coastal territory and defending Britain from enemy air raids. It operated 55 seaplanes in its 95 strong fleet.  The war gave the developing aircraft industry great thrust as manufacture and design became more focused. In 1916 Pemberton-Billing resigned from RNAS, and sold his shares in Supermarine to his partner Hubert Scott-Paine in order to stand as a Member of Parliament.    

The company continued under Scott-Paine to produce military aircraft for the duration of the war.  Supermarine Aviation Works

[047540] Supermarine Aviation Works

magnify  Supermarine Aviation Works 

Limited, as it was now known, built the first British flying boat fighter biplane Baby during this time. At the end of the war Scott-Paine managed to keep the company afloat by switching production to commercial aircraft when the military contracts dried up. It was a successful decision, whilst other companies in the area had to close, Scott-Paine turned his aircraft factory into a name known all over the world. Despite winning the Schneider Speed Trophy in 1922 Scott-Paine’s interest lay in speed on water rather than in the air and in 1923 he sold his Supermarine interest to a fellow director and left to start the British Power Boat Company. A further change occurred in 1928 when the company was absorbed into the Vickers Group and became known as Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Ltd. In the 1930’s new buildings were constructed on the River Itchen further up from the Woolston works, which were never rebuilt after being destroyed by enemy action in 1940.  


[047550] R.J. Mitchell in 1924

magnify R.J. Mitchell 

Perhaps the most remembered influence on the company was the designer and engineer R.J. Mitchell. The young Mitchell had joined Supermarine in 1917 after the first ownership change. He started in the company as a personal assistant to Scott-Paine, but it wasn’t too long before his talents were recognised. By the age of twenty-two, he had become chief designer and a year later in 1920 he was appointed as chief engineer as well. When the company came under control of the Vickers Group it was with the understanding that Mitchell would stay on for at least five years. After several unsuccessful attempts by Vickers to get him to work with their designers, they allowed Supermarine and Mitchell to continue things in their own way.  

Mitchell’s design output was prodigious; he developed a wide range of civilian and military aircraft for land and water, including the racing seaplanes that won the Schneider trophy and the prototype K5054 Spitfire. One of the reasons for such a large output and his development of aviation design over a fairly short time period, was his confidence in the abilities of his team. He passed developed projects over to them to continue, this enabled him to begin on the next design project. In 1937 after a long battle his life was cut tragically short at the age of 42 from cancer. Mitchell never saw how valuable his creation of the Spitfire was during the Second World War.


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