Miles Aircraft Company
by Neil Farley
and the Miles Aircraft Collection.
The story of Miles
Aircraft started at Shoreham, in the county of Sussex, in 1925, where,
from very small beginnings, Mr. F.G. Miles, one of the sons of a laundry
owner at nearby Portslade decided that his future was to be in aviation.
He then decided to design and build his own aeroplane, which he called the
Gnat. It was a small biplane and was built in the workshop of the laundry
with the help of a few friends but it was destined never to be flown.
Miles then decided that he really ought to learn to fly, so he enlisted
the help of the now legendary Cecil Pashley to teach him in his Avro 504K.
Having obtained his 'A' licence, Miles lost no time in persuading Pashley
to help him to operate a joy riding business along the south coast.
Miles then acquired an Avro Baby biplane, a number of Avro 504K's and
other assorted airframes, and then decided that the Baby could be suitably
modified to make a really aerobatic, sporty, aeroplane this became the
Southern Martlet, one of which survives to this day in flying condition,
at Old Warden with the Shuttleworth Trust.
His next venture, after he had met and married 'Blossom', was the Satyr, a
very small and highly aerobatic biplane, which was built for him by George
Parnall & Co. of Yate in Gloucestershire.
In 1932, Miles met Charles Powis, a motor engineer who had formed an
aviation business, Phillips & Powis Aircraft (Reading) Ltd, in 1929, at
Woodley, near Reading in Berkshire. During the course of conversation they
agreed that what was really wanted was a cheap but modern, light aeroplane
for the private owner and aeroplane clubs. By then MIles had decided that
the way forward was with low wing, cantilever, monoplanes, to be built of
wood and so the Miles Hawk was born - the prototype making its first
flight, from Woodley, on 29th March 1933.
Thurstan James, who reviewed Don Brown's book 'Miles Aircraft since 1925',
which was published by Putnam in 1970, for 'Aerospace'. His views are very
similar to mine and a better precise of Miles Aircraft would be hard to
No phenomenon of British aircraft construction
deserves closer study than the outburst of the Miles efflorescence in the
twenty years between 1928 and 1948. In that time 47 different types of
Miles aeroplane were flown and a total of 5,644 were built between 1929
and 1946. The story is told in this book. It tells how a young man (F.G.Miles)
without training or money but blessed with unique talents and energy,
coupled with those of his wife (Blossom), the aid of a gifted brother
(George) and certain enthusiastic adherents (among whom the author of this
book was one) revolutionised the look of British light aviation, grew big
enough to go into partnership with Rolls-Royce and became a fully fledged
member of the S.B.A.C.
The protagonists learnt to fly before they learnt to design. They
test-flew their own aircraft.
It was a long time before Miles aircraft were built by a firm bearing that
name. In the beginning was the Gnat Aero Company. This grew into Southern
Aircraft Ltd. For what was perhaps the firm's finest hour it was known as
Phillips and Powis Aircraft of Reading - Charles Powis of that company
played no small part in the Miles story, more than appears in this book.
As one of Putnam's pubilcaions devised to give maximum data about aircraft
types and projects, this volume succeeds in full measure. Out of ninety
separate types dealt with, half are projects - but what projects!
Outstanding was the Supersonic Project literally built round a Whittle
turbine. DesIgned during the closing stages of World War lI, it had been
ordered by the Government with the object of attaining the hitherto
unbelievable speed of 1,000 mph. After the War ended, chicken-hearted
Authority lost its nerve and cancelled the razer-winged projectile before
completion so that the Americans, whom the same chicken Authority enabled
to study the design, got there first.
Subsequent tests with the air-launched rocket-propelled models showed that
the straight-winged Miles design could have achieved its goal. Its success
full-scale might have altered the whole pattern of Britain's post war
Another Miles design, two versions of which flew but was also rejected by
Authority, was the remarkable Libellula tandem-wing concept. This promised
much by virtue of its extended c.g. range between the trailing edge of the
leading wing and the leading edge of the rear wing, though some people
might find something worrying in the idea of a tandem-winged aircraft in a
tightly banked turn. A design, which still has potentialities over twenty
years later, is the Miles M.68 Boxcar with its mobile detachable
container, able to be towed by road to the aerodrome and latched into
place on the airframe.
The essential rightness of Miles designs is shown by the fact that though
Miles Aircraft closed down in 1948, there were in 1969 still 59 Miles
designs on the British Register. It seems designers who can build and
test-fly their own designs have a certain something!
With regard to his last comment, where indeed could you have found another
company then (and almost certainly none now), whose Chairman & Managing
Director, Chief Designer and his assistant, could not only design and
build a most remarkable range of very advanced, innovative and practical
aircraft, but who were also qualified to test fly them as well.
In December 1948, Miles formed a new company. F.G. Miles Ltd, at Redhill
Aerodrome in Surrey, and from there he started all over again. In 1952 he
started to move back to Shoreham, where it had all begun 27 years
previously, and from there, over the ensuing years, the business developed
into the Miles Group of Companies - but that, as they say, is another