Douglas Pobjoy and Nick Comper at work

Douglas Pobjoy and Nick Comper at work

Nick Comper’s closest collaboration was with Douglas Pobjoy, the designer of the Pobjoy engine.  These were small radial engines that were intended to be smoother and give a higher performance than the four-cylinder Cirrus and Gipsy types generally used in British light aircraft at the time.   They first met at Cranwell where they were colleagues.  Pobjoy’s eyesight was not good enough for him to fly so he joined the service as an education officer.  His first prototype  was a little 7-cylinder air-cooled radial engine which he tested on the benches at Cranwell.   For Nick Comper, Pobjoy was to be the answer to his search for a reliable engine for his CLAs.  In 1926 his “P” type engine had been planned to power one of two CLA 4s at Lympne but alas a mechanical failure emerged that blocked that plan.  But by 1928 it passed its official Air Ministry Type Test.  After their success with the CLA4s both Comper and Pobjoy left Cranwell to form their own companies.

Initially Pobjoy set up his company, Pobjoy Air Motors, in Surrey but in 1928 he moved his operations to Hooton, to be close to the Comper Aircraft Company.  In 1930 the Pobjoy engine was fitted to the Comper Swift.  This was the diminutive 85 hp R-type engine weighing only 135 lbs.  Almost all of the Swifts were built with the Pobjoy engine and the plane competed every year in the Kings Cup air race between 1930 to 1937.  (Only in 1930 did the Pobjoy powered version not fly in the race. )

But Comper was not Pobjoy’s only customer.  Most of the General Aircaft plane, the Monospar, were powered by Pobjoy engines.  In all, at least thirty eight different types of light single and twin engined aircraft are recorded as having been powered by Pobjoy engines at one time or another.  In 1934 Pobjoy moved from Hooton to Rochester Aerodrome taking his 800 employees with him.  This was the year the Monospar won the Kings Cup air race.

Butler arrives at Sydney

Butler arrives at Sydney

Pobjoy’s collaboration with Comper, while it lasted, attracted a great deal of public attention not only because of the engine’s racing capabilities but because the Pobjoy powered Swift broke records.  In 1932 C A Butler broke the existing world record with its flight from Biggin Hill in England to Darwin, Australia in 9 days.  Another of these planes flew to South Africa in a similar time and in 1932 C H A Taylor made a double crossing of the Andes at 18,000 ft.  These exploits wowed the public.  The Telegraph headlined “Challenge that led to Air Triumph” writing of Butler’s accomplishment.  ”Flight” declared “The Pobjoy-engined Comper Swift goes from triumph to triumph” following the Andes flight.  As late as 1936, after the Pobjoy/Comper partnership no longer existed, Charles Gardiner flew  the Swift G-ADDT from Rochester to India in the January of that year returning two months later.


Pobjoy’s work on light aircraft came to an end when the second World War broke out in 1939.  During the war years he worked as chief engineer at Rotol Airscrew near Gloucester.  After the war he decided there was no immediate prospect for small aircraft engines so he completely changed tack and designed a tractor.   He planned to set up a factory in Grantham.   It was following a sales trip for the tractor project to Finland in 1948 that his life was brought to a horrifying end.  The commercial flight from Finland, on which he was a passenger, was stacked up over Northolt awaiting landing when it collided with  an RAF transport plane.  All thirty nine passengers and crew died in the crash, in what was at that time Britain’s worst air disaster.  How strange that both Comper and Pobjoy should have lost their lives in wholly different but freakish circumstances.  Pobjoy was 53 years old.  Without this remarkable man British aviation would have been very much the poorer.

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