John Lloyd – North Staffordshire’s Forgotten Aircraft Designer

Described by Sir Morien Morgan (the Director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough) as one of the 20th century’s leading aircraft designers, John Lloyd was born near Swansea on October 20th, 1888.

Born into a close-knit Welsh-speaking family, four-year-old John could not speak English when his family moved to Etruria. An intelligent child, he quickly mastered the English language. Educated at Cavour Street Schools and at Hanley High School, he left school at sixteen.

He became an apprentice at Shelton Bar and attended evening classes at the Technical School in London Road, Stoke.

Fascinated by the Wright brothers attempts to build a petrol engine powered glider, John designed and made model flying machines in his spare time.

Before the First World War (1914-18) aeroplanes had wooden frames covered with canvas. Having studied aerodynamics, John believed that an all-metal aircraft could be built. When war broke out, he was employed by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough to design composite wood, metal and canvas fighter aircraft.

After the war, Coventry based aeroplane manufacturer Armstrong Whitworth made John its chief designer and he designed the Armstrong Whitworth Siskin fighter-bomber. In 1923 a specially built two-seater Siskin ll won the King’s Cup Air Race reaching a speed of 149 miles per hour. Shortly afterwards, he modified the aircraft’s design and created the Siskin lll, the Royal Air Force’s first all-metal framed biplane.

Civil aviation developed rapidly after the First World War and in March 1924, the government founded Imperial Airways to carry passengers and mail throughout the British Empire.

An airmail service between England and India opened in 1929 and Imperial Airways asked Armstrong Whitworth to build a four-engine monoplane capable of carrying passengers and mail.

John designed the Atalanta, a commercial transport aircraft that had a range of 540 miles and could carry seventeen passengers. The Atalanta made its maiden flight on June 6th 1932. Imperial Airways bought eight Atalantas and the aircraft went into service on September 26th.

The company assigned four Atalantas to its airbase at Germinston in South Africa. The other four were sent to India where they flew from Karachi to Calcutta, Rangoon and Singapore.

As early as 1933, the government realised that Germany was preparing for war and decided to modernise the Royal Air Force. It asked the aircraft industry to build fast heavily armed monoplane fighters and long-range bombers to replace the Royal Air Force’s old-fashioned biplanes. John designed the Whitley, a long-range heavy bomber. Powered by two Rolls Royce Merlin engines, the Whitley’s maximum speed was 230 miles per hour. It had a range of 2,400 miles and could carry bombs weighing up to 7,000lbs.

A front line aircraft from 1939 to 1942, the Whitley played a major role in the Royal Air Force’s bombing offensive. During the Battle of Britain, it attacked Berlin and bombed aircraft factories, munitions works and railway marshalling yards in Italy. The Whitley’s last operational flight against Germany was on May 30th, 1942 when it took part in the first 1,000 bomber raid. The target was Cologne and for nearly ninety minutes over 3,000 tons of bombs rained down on the city.

Between 1942 and 1949, John was at the cutting edge of aviation research working on the flying wing, an experimental tailless jet aircraft. Hoping these experiments would enable him to design an airliner, he constructed a two-seater tailless glider which flew successfully. Impressed by the glider’s performance the government allowed him to build two jet-powered flying wings. One crashed while being flown by a test pilot and the other was taken to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where it was used in tests which helped to develop the V Bomber force and Concorde.

During the 1950s, John developed the Sea Slug missile for the Royal Navy which was undoubtedly the finest and most effective ship to air guided missile in the world. Retiring in 1959, he went to live with his daughter in London. A modest man, who never boasted about his achievements, John died aged ninety at Kingston-on-Thames on November 16th,1978.

(The photograph shows a Whitley Bomber on a test flight over Coventry)

Copyright Betty Cooper 2010

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