Aerospace industry in the United Kingdom

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The aerospace industry of the United Kingdom is the second-largest national aerospace industry in the world and the largest in Europe, with a global market share of 17% in 2015.[1][2][3][4] In 2014, the industry employed 230,000 people across 3,000 companies.[2] Domestic companies with a large presence in the British aerospace industry include BAE Systems (the world's third-largest defence contractor[5][6]), Britten-Norman, Cobham, GKN, Hybrid Air Vehicles, Meggitt, QinetiQ, Rolls Royce (the world's second-largest maker of defence aero engines[7]) and Ultra Electronics. Foreign companies with a major presence include Boeing, Bombardier, Airbus Group (including its Airbus, Astrium, Cassidian and Surrey Satellite Technology subsidiaries), Leonardo-Finmeccanica (including its AgustaWestland and Selex ES subsidiaries), General Electric (including its GE Aviation Systems subsidiary), Lockheed Martin, MBDA (37.5% owned by BAE Systems), Safran (including its Messier-Dowty and Turbomeca subsidiaries) and Thales Group (including its UK-based Thales Air Defence, Thales Avionics and Thales Optronics subsidiaries). Current manned aircraft in which the British aerospace industry has a major role include the AgustaWestland AW101, AgustaWestland AW159, Airbus A320 family, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A380, Airbus A400M, BAE Hawk, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787,[8] Bombardier CRJ700, Bombardier CSeries, Bombardier Learjet 85, Britten-Norman Defender, Britten-Norman Islander, Eurofighter Typhoon, Hawker 800, Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. Current unmanned aerial vehicles in which the British aerospace industry has a major role include BAE Taranis, Barnard Microsystems InView UAV, HAV 304 Airlander 10, QinetiQ Zephyr and Watchkeeper WK450.

The British aerospace industry has made many important contributions to the history of aircraft and was solely, or jointly, responsible for the development and production of the first aircraft with an enclosed cabin (the Avro Type F), the first jet aircraft to enter service for the Allies in World War II (the Gloster Meteor),[9] the first commercial jet airliner to enter service (the de Havilland Comet),[10] the first aircraft capable of supercruise (the English Electric Lightning),[11] the first supersonic commercial jet airliner to enter service (the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde),[12] the first fixed-wing V/STOL combat aircraft to enter service (the Hawker Siddeley Harrier),[13] the first twin-engined widebody commercial jet airliner (the Airbus A300),[14] the first digital fly-by-wire commercial aircraft (the Airbus A320),[15] and the largest commercial aircraft to enter service to date (the Airbus A380).[16]

A parade flight comprising an Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde and BAE Hawks of the Red Arrows aerobatics display team for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
A Supermarine Spitfire, of which 20,351 were produced between 1938 and 1948.

General statistics[edit]

UK aerospace industry in 2013[1]
Turnover (£ Bn.) No. of enterprises Economic contribution (£ Bn.) % of economic output
24.7 634 9.4 0.9%



1900 to 1909[edit]

1910 to 1919[edit]

  • 1910: First flight of British Army Airship Beta
  • 1910: First flight of Bristol Boxkite

1939 to 1945[edit]

1945 to 1949[edit]

1950 to 1959[edit]

1960 to 1969[edit]

1970 to 1979[edit]

1980 to 1989[edit]

1990 to 1999[edit]

2000 to present[edit]

Current major projects[edit]

Manned civil aircraft[edit]

  • Airbus A380, A350 XWB, A340, A330 and the Airbus A320 family have their wings and fuel systems built in the UK. The A380 is the world's largest civil passenger plane in production. Rolls-Royce offers its Trent 900 for the A380 and has so far secured 61% of the market based on operator decisions.[17] Iain Gray, former Airbus UK Managing Director, has claimed that an Airbus A380, fitted with Rolls-Royce engines, has a UK content of about 40-50%. The A350 XWB has so far achieved 564 firm orders and has its wings developed in Filton and assembled in Broughton. Rolls-Royce is currently the only engine supplier to the A350 XWB with the Trent XWB.
  • Hawker 800XP, the Airbus plant in Broughton builds the fuselage and wings for the Hawker 800XP variant. This work employs about 450 people at the plant in North Wales.
  • Bombardier Aerospace facilities in Northern Ireland play an important role in nearly every Bombardier aircraft programme. The most notable are the production of the fuselage for the Learjet 40 and Learjet 45, the production of the centre fuselage for the Challenger 300 and other programmes.[18] For the newly proposed C-Series, Belfast is planned to design and produce the wings, rear fuselage and nacelles.[19]
  • SonicStar is a proposed supersonic passenger airliner designed by HyperMach. Its first flight is planned for 2021.[20]

Manned military aircraft[edit]

  • Eurofighter Typhoon, the British aerospace industry has a 37.5% share in the production of the Eurofighter Typhoon and a 33% share in the development of the aircraft. The main participants are BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. The UK had 40,000 jobs involved in the construction of the Eurofighter Typhoon, across 400 suppliers. Comparatively, the next largest contributor to the Eurofighter Typhoon, Germany, had 25,000 jobs involved and 400 suppliers.[21]
  • BAE Hawk is one of the best-selling advanced jet trainers in the world and has generated billions of pounds in exports for the British aerospace industry. BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are the two main participants and, so far, over 900 Hawks have been sold worldwide. The latest variant is the "AJT" version, or "Advanced Jet Trainer".[22]
  • F-35 Lightning II, the UK aerospace industry has a workshare of about 20% in the aircraft and has two companies in "Team JSF", BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce. BAE Systems designed and produces the aft fuselage, fuel system, horizontal and vertical stabilizers among other things. Rolls-Royce has a 40% workshare in the F136 alternative F35 Lightning II engine and provides the Liftfan for all F35Bs.[23]
  • Airbus A400M, the UK is buying 22[24] A400Ms and thus has a workshare roughly equivalent to its share of procurement, which equates to about 14%. Due to traditional Airbus roles, Airbus UK developed the wings for the A400M and outsourced some of the manufacturing; however, the final assembly takes place in Filton.[25]
  • Saab JAS 39 Gripen, over 30% of the content within Gripen is manufactured in the UK, according to Saab.[26] The carrier-based concept, the "Sea Gripen", was also designed in the UK.[27]
  • TAI TFX, BAE Systems was chosen to provide technical assistance on the design of the Turkish fifth-generation fighter.[28] A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was also signed between EuroJet (of which Rolls-Royce is the largest shareholder) and Turkey's ASELSAN on the development of the aircraft's propulsion.[29]

Civil and military UAVs and UCAVs[edit]

InView UAV for use in scientific, commercial and state applications.
  • BAE HERTI, developed by BAE Systems. It first flew in 2004 and was successfully deployed to Afghanistan on trials in 2007. An armed version, named BAE Fury, was revealed in 2008.
  • BAE Mantis, a MALE UAV technology demonstrator, developed by BAE Systems, which first flew in 2009. It was hailed as the world's first fully autonomous drone by BAE Systems. Technology from it was to be used in an Anglo-French MALE UAV named Telemos, however, France effectively abandoned Telemos in 2012 after it joined a collaboration with Germany and Italy instead. The Royal Air Force has since selected the Certifiable Predator B from the U.S.-based General Atomics to fulfill its future MALE UAV requirements.
  • BAE Taranis, a UCAV technology demonstrator developed by BAE Systems in partnership with Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and GE Aviation Systems. Technology derived from it is to be used in the development of an Anglo-French Future Combat Air System that will equip the air forces of the UK and France by 2030.
  • InView UAV, developed by Barnard Microsystems Limited for use in scientific (measuring volcanic ash distributions), commercial (oil, gas and mineral exploration and production) and state (border patrol) applications. The focus in the development of the InView was on safety, automation (test and flight) and modularity. First flights of this twin engine unmanned aircraft took place in the U.K. in on 9 April 2010.[30]
  • Future Combat Air System, an Anglo-French UCAV currently in development. It will use technology derived from BAE Taranis and Dassault nEUROn. It is expected to enter service by 2030.
  • Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV 304 Airlander 10, a hybrid airship developed by Hybrid Air Vehicles based in Bedfordshire. It is currently the world's-largest aircraft.
  • QinetiQ Zephyr, a HALE UAV developed by QinetiQ. In July 2010, it made the world's longest recorded flight of an unrefuelled unmanned aerial vehicle with a flight that lasted 336 hours, 22 minutes and 8 seconds.
  • Selex ES has developed a range of small battlefield UAVs, such as the Falco and ASIO. Most of these have been developed in collaboration with Italian companies.
  • Thales Watchkeeper WK450, an ISTAR UAV developed by Thales UK in partnership with Elbit Systems of Israel. It is based on the Hermes 450. The British Army plans to operate a fleet of 54 Watchkeeper UAVs. France has expressed interest in buying the system and an armed version has also been pitched to Poland.


  • AgustaWestland AW101, a medium-lift helicopter developed for both military and civil applications. It was designed by Westland Helicopters in collaboration with Italy's Agusta. It made its first flight in 1987. It is manufactured in Yeovil, England by AgustaWestland, a joint company formed by GKN of the UK and Finmecannica of Italy in 2000. However, GKN sold its 50% share of AgustaWestland to Finmecannica in 2004, giving Finmecannica total ownership of the company. As of August 2016, the AW101 has been exported to 11 countries.
  • AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, a significantly improved version of the Super Lynx. It is manufactured by AgustaWestland in Yeovil, England. It first flew in 2009 and entered operational service in 2014 with the British Army. It has been exported to South Korea and the Philippines.
  • AgustaWestland Apache, a license-built version of the American AH-64D Apache Longbow featuring several unique modifications, including Rolls-Royce Turbomeca engines, a new electronic defensive aids suite and a folding rotor blade mechanism. 59 of the 67 WAH-64 Apaches were built by Westland Helicopters (now AgustaWestland) in Yeovil, England.


A Boeing 787 powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines.
  • Eurojet EJ200, the powerplant of the Eurofighter Typhoon. Rolls-Royce has a 33% share in development and a 34.5% share of production. The EJ200 is based on the XG.40 engine research programme carried out by Rolls-Royce and the UK Ministry of Defence in the 1980s.
  • General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136, the alternative engine for the F-35 Lightning II. Rolls-Royce had a 40% workshare in the engine. Development was cancelled in December 2011 after failing to obtain Pentagon support for further development.
  • Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour MK951, an Anglo-French co-development for the SEPECAT Jaguar and later adopted for the Hawk trainer jet. It was also recently used in the BAE Taranis UCAV technology demonstrator. Rolls-Royce has a 50% workshare in the Adour and the final assembly line is in Bristol, United Kingdom.
  • Europrop International TP400-D6, the powerplant of the Airbus A400M. Rolls-Royce has a 25% workshare, which includes final assembly, the high pressure compressor, the low pressure shaft, the intermediate case, and the bearing support structure. However, much of this work is carried out in Germany, such as the final assembly, because Rolls-Royce has a larger workshare in relation to the UK aircraft purchase. The solution is that Rolls-Royce Deutschland does some of the work and thus can claim a part of the German workshare in the aircraft.
  • Rolls-Royce LiftSystem, the STOVL component for the F35B. It is entirely developed and produced by Rolls-Royce. As with the Rolls-Royce share in the F136, the liftfan development is led by the company's Bristol facility with considerable input from its Indianapolis offices.
  • Rolls-Royce Trent family.
    • Trent 500 is the only engine offered for the Airbus A340-500 and A340-600.
    • Trent 800 is offered for the Boeing 777 and the Trent 700 is offered for the Airbus A330, where it has achieved large success.
    • Trent 900 is Rolls-Royce's offering for the Airbus A380 and it has achieved a workshare of more than 50% against the Engine Alliance GP7200.
    • Trent 1000 is the launch engine for all variants of the Boeing 787 and, by November 2007, over 600 Trent 1000s had been ordered by 19 airlines. This gives the Trent 1000 a market share of slightly more than 40%.[31]
    • Trent XWB is the newest Rolls-Royce engine of the Trent series. It will power the Airbus A350 XWB and has currently achieved 800 orders. In November 2007, Rolls-Royce declared that it will build a new factory in Singapore to final assemble some of the Trent XWBs and Trent 1000s.
  • Rolls-Royce RB211 family.
    • RB211-524 engine is supplied by Rolls-Royce for the Boeing 747. It formed the basis for the development of the Trent engine series.
    • RB211-535 is supplied for the Boeing 757 and Boeing 767.
  • RB282, an engine developed by Rolls-Royce to power the new Dassault super midsize business jet. In November 2007, Rolls-Royce announced that the RB282 would be developed and tested in newly completed facilities in Bristol. Its production however would take place in Virginia.[32]
  • International Aero Engines V2500, Rolls-Royce is a supplier for the IAE V2500, having previously also being a major shareholder of the company. Whilst the Rolls-Royce final assembly for this engine has been shifted from Derby to Germany, the British part of Rolls-Royce still manufactures a large degree of the engine.
  • EFE - Environmentally Friendly Aero Engine is a 95 million pound programme, carried out by Rolls-Royce and a first engine run is planned for 2008. Its aim is to prepare the UK industry for future engine programmes and from a technical perspective, its aims are a 10% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and a 60% reduction in NOx emissions.[33]
  • UAV Engines Limited (UEL), a British company owned by Elbit of Israel, is one of the largest suppliers of UAV engines in the world. Their engines, ranging from 20 hp (15 kW) to 120 hp (89 kW), are installed on 25 different UAV systems.[34] It will provide the engine for the British Army's Watchkeeper UAV.
  • Reaction Engines SABRE, a hypersonic precooled hybrid air-breathing rocket engine currently in the early stages of research and development. It is being developed by the British-based company Reaction Engines and is expected to power their Skylon spaceplane with a planned first flight by 2025.


  • ASRAAM, a short range air-to-air missile developed by MBDA UK.
  • Brimstone, an air-to-ground missile developed by MBDA UK.
  • CAMM, a family of missiles which includes versions for air, land and sea environments. It is developed by MBDA UK with technology sourced from ASRAAM.
  • Martlet, a lightweight air-to-surface / surface-to-surface missile developed by Thales Air Defence with technology sourced from Starstreak.
  • Meteor, a pan-European beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile. The UK is the lead developer.
  • Sea Venom, a lightweight air-to-surface / surface-to-surface anti-ship missile developed in cooperation with France.
  • SPEAR 3, a network-enabled anti-ship, anti-tank and anti-ground mini-cruise missile developed by MBDA UK.
  • Starstreak, a short-range surface-to-air missile, originally developed by Shorts Missile Systems, later taken over by Thales Air Defence based in Belfast.
  • Storm Shadow, a long range stand-off cruise missile developed in partnership with France and Italy.
  • Perseus, a hypersonic anti-ship / land-attack cruise missile being developed in partnership with France.


  • Euroradar CAPTOR, the radar developed for the Eurofighter Typhoon. It has been developed and is being produced by the Euroradar consortium, a joint venture of major European radar houses. The UK contribution comes mainly from Selex ES (formerly Ferranti). The CAPTOR is based on the Blue Vixen radar of the Sea Harrier FA2.
  • Euroradar CAPTOR-E, the AESA variant of the CAPTOR radar which will equip later tranches of the Eurofighter Typhoon. A CAPTOR-E technology demonstrator, called CAESAR, first flew in early 2006 on a BAC 1-11 and has since then also flown on a Eurofighter development aircraft. According to reports, it has about 1400 T/R modules.
  • Searchwater 2000, the main maritime surveillance radar for the now defunct Nimrod MRA4 programme, developed by Thales UK. The AEW variant is currently fitted to the UK's Westland Sea King AsaC7 helicopters.
  • Seaspray 5000E, Seaspray 7000E and Seaspray 7500E, developed by Selex ES, have found widespread use in various applications. The Seapray 7000E has been selected for the AW159 Wildcat and the Seaspray 7500E has been selected by the United States Coast Guard for its C-130s. The range for these radars is given as more than 100 nautical miles (190 km) for the Seaspray 5000E,[35] 200 nautical miles (370 km) for the Seaspray 7000E[36] and 320 nautical miles (590 km) for the Seaspray 7500E.[37]
  • Vixen 500E, a small AESA radar developed by Selex ES for small lightweight fighter aircraft. It is currently under development and has so far no customers. It has approximately 500 T/R modules. There is also a variant with 750 T/R modules under development. The range of the Vixen 500E is given as 35 nautical miles (65 km).[38]
  • Picosar radar, a very small AESA radar also developed by Selex ES with a range of about 20 kilometres and a weight of around 10 kg.[39] Its market is mainly seen as a cheap, small radar for UAVs.


  • Galileo satellite navigation system, intended to rival the American GPS system, is supported by the United Kingdom and its industry has a significant workshare in the development of the system.
  • Disaster Monitoring Constellation, a five satellite constellation with the first satellite being launched in 2002, to monitor disasters around the globe. Every satellite has been funded by a different country and SSTL has built and operates them. Currently, there are another three satellites under construction, one for Nigeria, one for the UK and one for Spain.[40]
  • Astrium satellite business
  • Solar Orbiter, amongst the largest research satellites built in Britain[41]


Current major participants[edit]


AgustaWestland is an international helicopter manufacturer owned by Leonardo-Finmeccanica of Italy. In the United Kingdom, the company has one factory in Yeovil, employing more than 4,000 people.[51] Its main products with a large British content are the EH101, the Super and Future Lynx and the AW139 and AW149.

Airbus UK[edit]

An Airbus A380, the wings and engines of which are produced in the UK.

Airbus (a subsidiary of Airbus Group) directly employs around 13,000 people at its UK division Airbus UK, with estimates that it supports another 140,000 jobs in the wider UK economy.[52][53] The traditional UK workshare in Airbus aircraft is around 20%.[54] Airbus has major sites at Filton in the city of Bristol and at Broughton in north Wales.[52] Filton is the main research and development and support centre for all Airbus wings, fuel systems and landing gear integration.[55] Broughton, which employs over 5,000 people, is the main wing manufacturing centre for all Airbus aircraft and also builds the fuselage and wings of the Hawker 800.[53][55] Since 2006 Airbus has also had a small development centre in the Midlands.[citation needed]

Airbus Defence & Space[edit]

Airbus Defence and Space (a subsidiary of Airbus Group) is the largest space company in Europe and employs around 2,700 people in the UK.[56] It has sites at Stevenage (1,200 employees), Portsmouth (1,400 employees) and Poynton (120 employees).[57][58][59]

BAE Systems[edit]

The UK-headquartered BAE Systems is the world's second-largest defence contractor and it employs around 36,400 people in the UK.[60][61] The largest aerospace related locations of BAE Systems are Warton, Samlesbury and Brough. The final assembly line for the British Eurofighter Typhoons, a collaborative European programme, is located at Warton. All flight test activity for manned aircraft is undertaken from Warton, which is also the development centre within BAE Systems, for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), UCAVs and the Saudi Tornado upgrade programme. Samlesbury is the production hub of the Military Air Solutions division of BAE Systems. Here, components for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F35 Lightning II, the Hawk, UAVs, UCAVs and Airbus aircraft get built. At Brough, the BAE Hawk gets produced and final assembled, flight tests are done at Warton. Overall, Military Air Solution has 14,000 employees spread across eight sites in the United Kingdom.[62]

Britten-Norman Group[edit]

The Britten-Norman Group is a small company with about 100 employees. It is best known for its design of rugged transport aircraft, such as the Islander,[63] Trislander and Defender 4000. To reduce costs, the company (resident on the Isle of Wight) did not perform manufacture of the airframes, but instead outsourced this to Romania. However, it has now moved production of all aircraft back to Daedalus Airfield and also performs in the European hub for the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 final assembly and delivery.[64]

Bombardier UK[edit]

The Canadian company, Bombardier, employs about 5,000 people in its aerospace division in the UK. It can trace its roots back to Shorts Brothers in Northern Ireland. The company has significant workshares in most Bombardier aircraft with its specialities being fuselages and nacelles.


Cobham plc employs more than 12,000 people in the UK and elsewhere. Its most important products include refuelling equipment and communication systems.

GE Aviation Systems[edit]

GE Aviation Systems, formerly known as Smiths Aerospace, is a division of General Electric, with about 10,000 employees, half of which work in the UK.


GKN Aerospace is a division of the British company GKN, which employs approximately 5,000 people, mainly in the UK and the USA. In the UK, its most important facility is on the Isle of Wight, where it has a carbon composite centre of excellence. There it designed, and used to produce, the composite wing spar for the Airbus A400M now produced at GKN's New purpose built Western Approach, Bristol site. The company is also known for producing the cell of the Super Lynx and Future Lynx helicopters. It is the former owner of Westland Helicopters.


MBDA is the largest European missile house, owned by BAE Systems (37.5%), EADS (37.5%) and Finmeccanica (25%). It operates across Europe, with main capabilities in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. In the UK, the main sites are Bristol (software and systems) Lostock (production), Stevenage (R&D and integration) and London (management). Modern missile programmes, of MBDA with a British input, are the AIM-132 ASRAAM, Meteor, Storm Shadow, Rapier, Sea Wolf and Brimstone among others.[65]


QinetiQ was formed from parts of the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA). It has close to 12,000 employees and is one of the major players in the British aerospace industry. QinetiQ's main aerospace business relates to satellites, UAVs and reconnaissance systems.


An Airbus A400M, which is powered by the Europrop TP400.

The UK-headquartered Rolls-Royce Group is the world's second-largest maker of aircraft engines (behind General Electric).[66][67] It has over 50,000 employees, of whom about 23,000 are based in the United Kingdom.[32] The company's main UK factories are at Derby and Bristol. In Derby, the three shaft Trent engines get developed and produced. The current line up includes the Trent 700 for the Airbus A330, the Trent 900 for the Airbus A380, the Trent 1000 for the Boeing 787 and the Trent XWB for the Airbus A350 XWB, among others. In Bristol, the company has concentrated its military aerospace business with the British final assembly line for the EJ200 engine for the Eurofighter Typhoon, the only final assembly line for the British-French Adour engine and other programmes, such as significant parts of the workshare, in the international TP400 turboprop engine for the Airbus A400M and the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 engine for the F-35 Lightning II. Recently, Bristol has also been confirmed as the centre for the development and testing of the civil RB282 engine, which will, however, be produced in Virginia.[32]

Main locations[edit]

  • Derby
  • Bristol
  • Hucknall
  • Barnoldswick/Burnley
  • Inchinnan

Selex ES[edit]

Selex ES is a Leonardo-Finmeccanica company and an international leader in electronic and information technologies for defence systems, aerospace, data, infrastructures, land security and protection and sustainable ’smart’ solutions.

The company is an integrated global business with a workforce of approximately 17,000 and total revenues in excess of €3.5 billion. Alongside core operations in Italy and the UK, the company has an established industrial and commercial footprint in the United States, Germany, Turkey, Romania, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India.

Surrey Satellite Technology[edit]

An artist's impression of two of the five satellites constructed by Surrey Satellite Technology for RapidEye AG.

Surrey Satellite Technology is a small satellite development and production company. It has currently has c.600 employees and is the world leader in small satellites.[68] In its 22-year history, it has developed satellites for 27 missions. The two Galileo satellite navigation proofing satellites, GIOVE-A and GIOVE-A2, are two of their better-known satellites. Originally a spin-out company from the University of Surrey, Surrey Satellite Technology is now 99% owned by the Airbus Defence and Space division of Airbus Group.[69]

Thales UK[edit]

Thales Group UK has wide ranging capabilities including avionics, UAVs, simulation capabilities and other things.

Trifibre Flight Cases[edit]

Trifibre are Manufacturers of bespoke Flight Cases, protective Cases for the Aerospace Industry.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

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