Boeing: Aviation Giant in the UK

Written and photographed by Tom Mercer | January 13th 2016

The Boeing Company’s roots in the aviation industry can be traced as far back as 1910 when William E Boeing purchased a shipyard on the Duwamish River in Seattle, a shipyard that was later converted into an aeroplane factory but it wasn’t until 1916 that Boeing was really established as an aviation entity. Boeing died just three days before his 75th birthday and unfortunately never got to see the world’s first successful commercial jet airliner take to the skies; the mighty Boeing 707. Since then Boeing’s legacy, The Boeing Airplane Company, has grown into an international aviation machine and over the past 100 years has set its sights firmly on the UK.

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It should come as no surprise that Boeing sees the UK as a critical country for the aerospace industry, with the company itself describing the country as having ‘some of the world’s most inventive technology partners’.

During the 2014 financial year, the company recorded a massive £1.4billion expenditure with more than 250 UK suppliers but where did the company’s relationship with our great nation come from?

Where The Story Began

  • 1938: North American Harvard is sold to the British Government for training and reconnaissance.
  • 1941: British Government purchases three Boeing 314A aircraft for use by British Overseas Air Corporation (BOAC) and the Boeing Airplane Co. Field Service Unit is established to help operate UK-based B-17 Flying Fortress aircraft.
  • 1944: More than 1000 DC-3/C-47 aircraft are instrumental in the success of the D-Day landings.
  • 1960: BOAC introduces the 707-436 on it’s popular London-New York service.
  • 1971: BOAC operates its first 747 flight between Heathrow and New York.
  • 1978: Ministry of Defence (MoD) places an order for 30 Chinooks (CH-47C variant) at an estimated cost of US$200million.
  • 1980: First Chinook enters service with the Royal Air Force (RAF), designated HC1 (Helicopter, Cargo Mk1).
  • 1983-1984: RAF Chinooks deploy to Lebanon to assist with the British Army detachment.
  • 1991: United States Air Force (USAF) B-52s deploy to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire to participate in Operation Desert Storm.
  • 1998: British Airways takes delivery of its 50th 747-400.
  • 2001: C-17 Globemaster enters service with the RAF and almost immediately makes its operational debut in the Afghanistan conflict.
  • 2004: Boeing invests more than £7million into a new training facility at Gatwick.
  • 2005: European Sales and Marketing headquarters open at Heathrow House.
  • 2006: Boeing begins work on a 34-year ‘Through Life Contractor Support’ programme with the UK Chinook Force.
  • 2008: Boeing furthers its commitment to the UK and forms Boeing Defence UK.
  • 2009: RAF C-17s surpass 50000 flight hours.
  • 2010: Boeing 787 Dreamliner makes its international debut at Farnborough International Airshow.
  • 2011: Boeing receives new order from MoD for an additional 14 Chinooks and opens two new facilities in Bristol and Fleet.
  • 2012: Boeing begins final wind tunnel testing of the 737 MAX with Qinetiq in Farnborough.
  • 2013: Thomson Airways becomes the first UK airline to bring the 787 Dreamliner into service.
  • 2014: First Chinook HC6 enters service with the RAF.
  • 2015: Final HC6 is delivered to the RAF.

National Coverage

As you can see from the timeline above, Boeing UK has drastically expanded operations over the last twenty years and now has a major presence at around 30 locations across the country. During 2015 the company hired, on average, a new employee per day in the UK, with this growth trend continuing in 2016 and beyond.

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With around 500 employees, Abbey Wood in Bristol is certainly one of the key sites for Boeing and it’s where the company works very closely with the MoD to support the UK’s military operations. Other large sites include Heathrow and Frimley, where commercial airline partners are supported, as well as RAF Odiham and Gosport where Boeing work with partners to maintain the UK Chinook Force. If that’s not enough, there’s also a state-of-the-art commercial aircraft flight training centre at Gatwick where pilots are put through their paces on seven advanced, full flight simulators alongside technician training.

Frontline Assets

As well as supplying countless types to homegrown international airlines, over the past 100 years Boeing has also successfully sold a number of different aircraft to the British armed forces, with many still in operation today.

Possibly the most notable Boeing aircraft in UK service is the tandem-rotor Chinook helicopter. The Chinook is famous for it’s unmistakeable ‘blade slap’ sound that’s generated by the air that passes between the two sets of opposing rotors and it’s an aircraft that has played a crucial role in every major engagement since the Falklands. With the 14th and final Chinook Mk6 being delivered at the end of 2015, there are now more Chinooks in the UK than ever before!

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The Chinook is joined by the C-17 Globemaster III, a large transport plane that’s based at RAF Brize Norton, the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) E3-D Sentry, a military-derived variant of the successful 707 based at RAF Waddington, and the RC-135W Rivet Joint, a large all-weather electronic surveillance aircraft also based at RAF Waddington.

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As a result of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the MoD is currently in discussions with the US DoD regarding the purchase of nine Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft to fill the Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) role. The RAF have been without a MPA since the SDSR of 2010 when the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled. The P-8 acquisition is estimated at a cost of £2 billion and will provide the RAF with a long-range, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare platform, as well as being able to conduct high-tech intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions across the Forces.

It’s not just the RAF that has strong ties with Boeing.

The Army Air Corps acquired the first Apache AH Mk1 in 2001, with the final (67th) aircraft being delivered in 2004. The Apache AH Mk1 is an AgustaWestland license-built version of the Boeing AH-64 Apache Longbow attack helicopter, built in Yeovil, Somerset from Boeing-supplied kits. The AH Mk1 differs from it’s American cousin by having Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engines, a more comprehensive electronic defensive aids suite and folding rotor blades that allow the aircraft to operate from Royal Navy ships such as HMS Ocean.

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The Royal Navy are currently also operating the ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). ScanEagle is launched autonomously by a catapult launcher and flies preprogrammed or operator-initiated missions. The aircraft is equipped with an advanced, gyro-stabilised camera turret which allows the Navy to surveil battlefields from a distance, for more than 24 hours, at an altitude of 16,000ft+.

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ScanEagle UAV Copyright © 1995 – 2016 Boeing. All Rights Reserved.

100 Years of Innovation

Boeing is celebrating a century of aerospace excellence this year. Aviation has come a long way since 1916 and Boeing has grown into the world’s largest aerospace company but amazingly, they claim that they’re just getting started.

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This summer will see Boeing once again descend on the UK airshow circuit with major exhibitions at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and Farnborough International Airshow (FIA). The company’s presence at FIA16 will be extra special as the date of Boeing’s 100th anniversary, 15th July 2016, falls on the Friday of show week. Although nothing has been confirmed for the show yet, you can be sure that the company will be keen to showcase not only the future of the aerospace industry, but also their incredible, undeniable heritage across the full week of the show for both industry and public alike.

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So many of you have been a part of this exceptional story and it’s time that your voice was heard. Whether you’re a pilot that’s flown a Chinook into the battlefield, an engineer that’s worked on a Boeing airframe or simply a passenger that’s had a memorable flight on a 747; Boeing want to hear from you!

To celebrate the centenary, Boeing are looking to you to share an unheard story from their past. So, have you got a story to tell? Head to www.boeing.com/our-stories and share your experience in your own words.

With the planned acquisition of the P-8 Poseidon, Boeing’s commitment to the UK is going to increase even further over the coming years and help propel this country’s aerospace industry into the next century.