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Clifford Tinson

(1890 - 1982)

Clifford Wilfred Tinson was born on 3 November 1890, in Islington, Middlesex, son of Willie Ebenezer and Annie Eleanor Tinson. Educated at the London Polytechnic, in 1911 he joined the Universal Aviation Co. Ltd (originally L.D.L. Gibbs and Co., Ltd), of Piccadilly, where he assisted in the design and manufacture of the Universal Birdling. At this time he was a member of the Paddington Gliding Club and that same year agreed to consented to draw out the plans of the new glider, though it is unknown if this was completed.

Shortly afterwards, on January 4, 1912, he joined the British and Colonial Aeroplane Co. where Frank Barnwell was placed in charge of "X" Department by the firm just after Christmas 1911. Their first task at Bristol was a remarkable one.

A naval officer, Lt. C. D. Burney, R.N. (later Sir Dennistoun Burney), had produced proposals for an aeroplane that could be carried aboard submarines. The Burney aircraft itself was a revolutionary conception, but could hardly have been realized with the techniques and materials of its day. Its inventor proposed that it should be an inflatable aeroplane made of rubberized fabric; when deflated it was to be stowed in a small container in the submarine. For undercarriage it had three long legs, each of which bore a set of hydrofoils, and there was a marine propeller between the main legs. The aircraft was to be accelerated by means of the marine propeller alone until the hull had risen on to the lowest hydrofoil; then, with hull clear of the water, the pilot was supposed to engage the airscrew and take off, Lt. Burney interested the British and Colonial Aeroplane Co. in his ideas in October 1911.

The Admiralty was also interested in the project and required that its development should be carried on in secrecy. The cottage that was No. 4 Fairlawn Avenue was therefore set aside as a special drawing office for the work, designated "X" Department with Frank Barnwell in charge. His responsibility was the translation of Lt. Burney's ideas into a practical aircraft and in this task he was to be assisted by Clifford Tinson. Barnwell and Tinson pursued their activities independently of the Filton House drawing office. This might have been because "X" Department's work was secret and Coanda was not a British subject; but even when the Burney experiments ceased, Barnwell and Tinson retained their independence.

Their next design together was the single-seat biplane Scout. The design calculations were made by Barnwell in a penny exercise book, and all the drawings were produced by him and Tinson in a manifold book. Simple carbon copies of the drawings were sent to the construction shops, and the aeroplane was quickly built.. By now, in the summer of 1914, Barnwell and Tinson had been absorbed into the main organization under Coanda. Following the outbreak of war, the Filton works were fully occupied on the production of BE.2cs for the War Office. No development or design work was being undertaken, and soon the British and Colonial design team began to disperse. In late 1914 Frank Barnwell was commissioned in the R.F.C. and Clifford Tinson joined the Air Department of the Admiralty.

At the Admiralty, Tinson, along with Harold Bolas and Harold Yendall, was involved with the design of the AD Flying Boat in 1915, under the overall design leadership of Harris Booth, but with hull design by Lieutenant Linton Hope. However, his stay there was relatively short, for in January, 1916, Tinson left the Air Department, with the sanction of Commodore Sueter, and joined Frederick Sage & Company Ltd of Peterborough as designer.

The design of the first Sage machine was at this time already in hand under the direction of Mr. Gordon England and Mr. L. Bonnard, but this did not leave the drawing board. Tinson's first design for Sage was a two-seat fighter aircraft, the Sage Type 2. It was a small tractor biplane in which the pilot and gunner sat in an enclosed, glazed cabin that filled the gap between the fuselage and upper wing. In order to compensate for the lack of effective gun synchronising gear to allow a fixed gun to fire through the propeller disc, a hole was cut in the upper wing above the gunners seat, so the gunner could stand with head and shoulders above the wing, giving him a good field of fire for his Lewis gun, including forward over the propeller. Although the prototype first flew in August 1916, no further development was carried out, as by this time, effective synchronising gear was available. Tinson was responsible for all Sage designs from then on up until the Type 10 of 1919 but by then, in common with most aircraft companies in the immediate aftermath of World War One, contracts ended abruptly and by the end of 1920 the Aircraft Design Department closed down.

Leaving Sage, in 1921 Tinson was for a short while chief draughtsman at A.V. Roe and Co. in Hamble before he rejoined Bristol in 1922, also as chief draughtsman, an appointment he held for ten years. In May 1936 he was made one of four senior technical assistants, and three years later became test flight development engineer. He returned to the design side early in 1941, and after the war was appointed sales liaison engineer. He finally retired from Bristol in (May?) 1955, but his retirement was not long as in 1956 he joined Dowty Equipment Ltd in Cheltenham, where he became technical assistant to Sir George Dowty.

Clifford W. Tinson died in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, on 20 July, 1982.

Biography References

  1. Plane to Plane – The Story of Frederick Sage & Co., Ltd, Martyn Chorlton, (Old Forge Publishing, 2004)
  2. The Aeroplane Directory of British Aviation, 1952 (Temple Press, 1952)
  3. Flight Apr 15, 1911
  4. Flight July 6, 1912
  5. Flight Jan 31, 1914
  6. Flight July 24, 1919
  7. Flight Oct 25, 1928
  8. Flight June 17, 1955
  9. Flight Sep 26, 1958
  10. Flight Oct 30, 1982

V1.3.0 Created by Roger Moss. Last updated February 2017