Short, Hugh Oswald

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 16 January 1883 Derbyshire, England
d. 4 December 1969 Haslemere, England
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English co-founder, with his brothers Horace Short (1872–1917) and Eustace (1875–1932), of the first company to design and build aeroplanes in Britain.
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Oswald Short trained as an engineer; he was largely self-taught but was assisted by his brothers Eustace and Horace. In 1898 Eustace and the young Oswald set up a balloon business, building their first balloon in 1901. Two years later they sold observation balloons to the Government of India, and further orders followed. Meanwhile, in 1906 Horace designed a high-altitude balloon with a spherical pressurized gondola, an idea later used by Auguste Piccard, in 1931. Horace, a strange genius with a dominating character, joined his younger brothers in 1908 to found Short Brothers. Their first design, based on the Wright Flyer, was a limited success, but No. 2 won a Daily Mail prize of £1,000. In the same year, 1909, the Wright brothers chose Shorts to build six of their new Model A biplanes. Still using the basic Wright layout, Horace designed the world's first twin-engined aeroplane to fly successfully: it had one engine forward of the pilot, and one aft. During the years before the First World War the Shorts turned to tractor biplanes and specialized in floatplanes for the Admiralty.
Oswald established a seaplane factory at Rochester, Kent, during 1913–14, and an airship works at Cardington, Bedfordshire, in 1916. Short Brothers went on to build the rigid airship R 32, which was completed in 1919. Unfortunately, Horace died in 1917, which threw a greater responsibility onto Oswald, who became the main innovator. He introduced the use of aluminium alloys combined with a smooth "stressed-skin" construction (unlike Junkers, who used corrugated skins). His sleek biplane the Silver Streak flew in 1920, well ahead of its time, but official support was not forthcoming. Oswald Short struggled on, trying to introduce his all-metal construction, especially for flying boats. He eventually succeeded with the biplane Singapore, of 1926, which had an all-metal hull. The prototype was used by Sir Alan Cobham for his flight round Africa. Several successful all-metal flying boats followed, including the Empire flying boats (1936) and the ubiquitous Sunderland (1937). The Stirling bomber (1939) was derived from the Sunderland. The company was nationalized in 1942 and Oswald Short retired the following year.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Freeman of the City of London. Oswald Short turned down an MBE in 1919 as he felt it did not reflect the achievements of the Short Brothers.
Bibliography
1966, "Aircraft with stressed skin metal construction", Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society (November) (an account of the problems with patents and officialdom).
Further Reading
C.H.Barnes, 1967, Shorts Aircraft since 1900, London; reprinted 1989 (a detailed account of the work of the Short brothers).
JDS

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

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