MAEE conducted jet seaplane research

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ALL the pioneering research work for the world’s first jet seaplane was carried out at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at RAF Helensburgh and Rhu.

The Morris Furniture Company of Glasgow provided wooden models of the world’s first jet propelled seaplane fighter produced by Saunders Roe, as before the prototype could be made and flown, scale models had to be produced and tested.


This was done at RAF Helensburgh during the final two years of World War Two.

Robin Bird, whose father Bob was the MAEE photographer and who has written two books about MAEE, said: “These scale models — some radio controlled — must have been the ultimate ‘boy’s toy’ of their day.”

MAEE used flying scale model planes (such as the one pictured below right) to test new aircraft designs, following trials of hull designs in the water tank at the Hydro Ballistic Research Establishment in Glen Fruin or Helensburgh skating pond.

The most ambitious flying model was that of the proposed Saunders Roe A1 jet seaplane as it was radio-controlled.

The seaplane made its maiden flight on July 16 1947, flown by Geoffrey Tyson, after MAEE had returned to Felixstowe, where research continued despite uncertainty for its need following the end of the war.

MAEE-model-planeThe actual prototype and its two sister aircraft were soon grounded for modifications. For various reasons progress was slow, not helped by the cold winter of 1947-48.

It was then intended to give the jet seaplane concept a boost at a public display, the Battle of Britain Air Show of 1949.

MAEE Squadron Leader K.A.Major took the controls for the rehearsal, and was killed when SRA-1 TG271 crashed.

“This fatal flying accident heralded the end of the MAEE, military seaplanes and flying boats,” Robin said.

“The RAF no longer wanted seaplanes or flying boats. The Government was making cuts.

“During World War Two so many airfields had been established worldwide that flying boats were no longer required by the RAF.

“It is fair to say, however, that flying boat and seaplane research reached a peak of achievement at RAF Helensburgh and helped defeat the U-Boat threat.”

The final flight by the MAEE involved a Sunderland in 1953 before it disbanded.

Some of the information for this article was provided by Charles MacKay, archivist for the Morris Furniture Company, which still exists and in 2010 relocated to new premises.

During World War Two the Morris Furniture Company made a major contribution to the war effort — including making parts for the Mosquito fighter-bomber and wooden stocks for Enfield rifles.

maeeThis aspect of its work is in the public domain. What is not as well known is that Morris Furniture embarked upon secret projects for the Government and Barnes Wallis, inventor of the Bouncing Bomb.

MAEE conducted trials of both the Upkeep and Highball bouncing bombs, the latter taking place on Loch Striven, where an old battleship was moored as the target.

Highball test bombs were basically dummy bombs, made of wood and produced to specification by Morris Furniture. They each weighed 1,100lbs and were designed to be buoyant for examination after the trials.

Charles came across the MAEE articles on this website, offered to assist with information and drawings from his company’s archive, and was put in contact with Robin.

Since then he has provided some more valuable pieces to the jigsaw of information about MAEE.