Sopwith, Sir Thomas (Tommy) Octave Murdoch

Sopwith, Sir Thomas (Tommy) Octave Murdoch
b. 18 January 1888 London, England
d. 27 January 1989 Stockbridge, Hampshire, England
English aeronautical engineer and industrialist.
Son of a successful mining engineer, Sopwith did not shine at school and, having been turned down by the Royal Navy as a result, attended an engineering college. His first interest was motor cars and, while still in his teens, he set up a business in London with a friend in order to sell them; he also took part in races and rallies.
Sopwith's interest in aviation came initially through ballooning, and in 1906 he purchased his own balloon. Four years later, inspired by the recent flights across the Channel to France and after a joy-ride at Brooklands, he bought an Avis monoplane, followed by a larger biplane, and taught himself to fly. He was awarded the Royal Aero Society's Aviator Certificate No. 31 on 21 November 1910, and he quickly distinguished himself in flying competitions on both sides of the Atlantic and started his own flying school. In his races he was ably supported by his friend Fred Sigrist, a former motor engineer. Among the people Sopwith taught to fly were an Australian, Harry Hawker, and Major Hugh Trenchard, who later became the "father" of the RAF.
In 1912, depressed by the poor quality of the aircraft on trial for the British Army, Sopwith, in conjunction with Hawker and Sigrist, bought a skating rink in Kingston-upon-Thames and, assisted by Fred Sigrist, started to design and build his first aircraft, the Sopwith Hybrid. He sold this to the Royal Navy in 1913, and the following year his aviation manufacturing company became the Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd. That year a seaplane version of his Sopwith Tabloid won the Schneider Trophy in the second running of this speed competition. During 1914–18, Sopwith concentrated on producing fighters (or "scouts" as they were then called), with the Pup, the Camel, the 1½ Strutter, the Snipe and the Sopwith Triplane proving among the best in the war. He also pioneered several ideas to make flying easier for the pilot, and in 1915 he patented his adjustable tailplane and his 1 ½ Strutter was the first aircraft to be fitted with air brakes. During the four years of the First World War, Sopwith Aviation designed thirty-two different aircraft types and produced over 16,000 aircraft.
The end of the First World War brought recession to the aircraft industry and in 1920 Sopwith, like many others, put his company into receivership; none the less, he immediately launched a new, smaller company with Hawker, Sigrist and V.W.Eyre, which they called the H.G. Hawker Engineering Company Ltd to avoid any confusion with the former company. He began by producing cars and motor cycles under licence, but was determined to resume aircraft production. He suffered an early blow with the death of Hawker in an air crash in 1921, but soon began supplying aircraft to the Royal Air Force again. In this he was much helped by taking on a new designer, Sydney Camm, in 1923, and during the next decade they produced a number of military aircraft types, of which the Hart light bomber and the Fury fighter, the first to exceed 200 mph (322 km/h), were the best known. In the mid-1930s Sopwith began to build a large aviation empire, acquiring first the Gloster Aircraft Company and then, in quick succession, Armstrong-Whitworth, Armstrong-Siddeley Motors Ltd and its aero-engine counterpart, and A.V.Roe, which produced Avro aircraft. Under the umbrella of the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company (set up in 1935) these companies produced a series of outstanding aircraft, ranging from the Hawker Hurricane, through the Avro Lancaster to the Gloster Meteor, Britain's first in-service jet aircraft, and the Hawker Typhoon, Tempest and Hunter. When Sopwith retired as Chairman of the Hawker Siddeley Group in 1963 at the age of 75, a prototype jump-jet (the P-1127) was being tested, later to become the Harrier, a for cry from the fragile biplanes of 1910.
Sopwith also had a passion for yachting and came close to wresting the America's Cup from the USA in 1934 when sailing his yacht Endeavour, which incorporated a number of features years ahead of their time; his greatest regret was that he failed in his attempts to win this famous yachting trophy for Britain. After his retirement as Chairman of the Hawker Siddeley Group, he remained on the Board until 1978. The British aviation industry had been nationalized in April 1977, and Hawker Siddeley's aircraft interests merged with the British Aircraft Corporation to become British Aerospace (BAe). Nevertheless, by then the Group had built up a wide range of companies in the field of mechanical and electrical engineering, and its board conferred on Sopwith the title Founder and Life President.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1953. CBE 1918.
1961, "My first ten years in aviation", Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society (April) (a very informative and amusing paper).
Further Reading
A.Bramson, 1990, Pure Luck: The Authorized Biography of Sir Thomas Sopwith, 1888– 1989, Wellingborough: Patrick Stephens.
B.Robertson, 1970, Sopwith. The Man and His Aircraft, London (a detailed publication giving plans of all the Sopwith aircraft).

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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  • Thomas Sopwith — Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith, CBE, Hon FRAeS (January 18 1888 ndash;January 27 1989) was an English aviation pioneer and a celebrated yachtsman.Early lifeThomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith was born in Kensington, London. He was the eighth child… …   Wikipedia

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