Brough Aviation Legacy
Robert Blackburn started his aircraft manufacturing career in Leeds with a factory in Benson Street where he built his first aircraft, becoming the first Yorkshireman to design and fly an aircraft in May 1910 from the beach at Saltburn. His second and subsequent aircraft were built at Balm Road, Leeds and then Olympia Leeds, a former skating rink. Flight testing now used Filey beach (briefly), and Soldiers Field Roundhay Park Leeds, with float planes operating from the Humber at Brough..
Aviation at the Brough site was the direct result of the events that happened during WWI. Before its former titles of BAE Systems, Hawker Siddeley, and many others, the site was first occupied by The Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company.
Robert Blackburn had been looking for a site with a good stretch of water to test his floatplanes,and Brough was discovered by chance during the Zeppelin raid in the summer of 1915. Robert Blackburn finished work at the start of the night shift at the Leeds factory and he set off on a journey to Hull with his wife and two nieces to watch the following morning flight trials of one of the seaplanes from Scarborough. However due to a Zeppelin raid, which were regular in those times, their car was stopped at South Cave by the military police (known as Specials in those days) and they could not go any further.
Robert Blackburn managed to persuade the military police to take them to the nearest village to find somewhere to stay the night as it was late and he didn’t want to drive back in the dark. The Police escorted them to Brough where they managed to find a room in the Station Hotel (now the Buccaneer Pub).
The next morning Robert went to walk along the bank of the Humber and three hours later he came back to the hotel in an excitable state, kicking his heels in the air saying that he had found just the site that he’d been looking for to build and fly his Seaplanes. He then went straight to see the land owner, Col. Harrison-Broadly, and a few months after, the Brough site was rented and operational by early 1916, before being finally purchased in the late 1920’s.. Olympia finally closed in 1929 and all activities were then centred at Brough. During the two world wars, numerous satellite factories and sub-contractors supported the central organisation, with employment peaking at 22,000 in eight Blackburn sites during WWII.
Following Robert Blackburn’s death in 1955 at the age of 70, Blackburn was absorbed into Hawker Siddeley Aviation in 1960, and by 1965 the Blackburn name had disappeared. From the early 80’s the Brough site has been the centre of design and manufacture for the world famous Hawk training aircraft, but with the contraction of the BAE Systems footprint at Brough site in 2013, the major responsibility for Hawk manufacturing has passed to the Warton site, although the Brough site retains sub-assembly manufacturing work.
BAE Systems Brough site now constitutes a part of the major development of the Humber Enterprise Park.