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The first 30 years

Aviation in Ulster — 1909-1939

The history of powered, controlled flight in Ulster and Northern Ireland spans little more than 100 years. At no time during that period was the population of the region greater than around 2 million people yet the historical scope and importance of its aviation heritage bears very favourable comparison with other regions of Britain and Ireland. Selective germinal contributions during the first 30 years are attributable to a number of persons and organizations.


Harry Ferguson (left) — who later achieved world-wide fame as inventor of the three-point linkage and its application to the development of agricultural machinery and tractors — was the first person in Ireland and only the second native-born citizen of the United Kingdom to fly an aircraft designed and built to his own specification, at Hillsborough, County Down on

31 December 1909. Hard on his heels was Joseph Cordner, who was doing comparable things in the north-west of Ulster.  

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In one respect however, their achievements were eclipsed by Lilian Bland. Inspired by a postcard of Bleriot's monoplane sent from France by her uncle, Miss Bland first tested her aircraft, named Mayfly, as a glider at Carnmoney.


Then with an engine supplied by A.V Roe in the summer of 1910 at Randalstown, County Antrim, became the first woman   in the world to fly an aircraft she had designed and built.


One hopes that her remarkable contribution has been largely ignored because of ignorance rather than for chauvinistic reasons.

Assembly-line production of aircraft in Ulster commenced in 1917, when Belfast shipbuilders Harland & Wolff were awarded a series of contracts for a combined total of 1,000 aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air service.  In response, during the period 1917-20, the company produced at least 600 aeroplanes, mostly DH.6 and Avro 504 types plus a comparatively small number of Handley-Page V1500 bombers.


To facilitate the test-flying of the V1500s, an airfield was constructed at Aldergrove in County Antrim and became No 16 Aircraft Acceptance Park.  Whereas H & W stopped building aircraft in 1920, the experience gained was a factor which led to the creation of Short & Harland in 1936, the result of an amalgamation between the world’s oldest aircraft manufacturers Short Brothers (Rochester & Bedford) Ltd and Harland & Wolff.  


In 1947, following a decision by Short Brothers to cease their design and manufacturing work in England, Short & Harland took over the company which then became Short Brothers & Harland Ltd, then Short Brothers Ltd and then Short Brothers plc until taken over by Bombardier Inc in 1989.

by Ernie Cromie

Avro 504 serial C6001 manufactured in Belfast and pictured at the Harland & Wolff  factory.

The fact that Short Brothers plc was considered worthy of incorporation into that huge conglomerate iis a tribute to the late            Sir Philip Foreman, who was Managing Director and Chairman of Short Brothers plc at the time of his retirement in 1988 and the esteemed Patron of the Ulster Aviation Society for ten years, up until his death in 2013.

Harry Ferguson in a rather debonair pose with the 6th variant of his aircraft at Magilligan strand 1910.

Lillian Bland's Mayfly biplane

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