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Harold Bolas

(1888 - 1956)

Harold Bolas was born 1888 in Eccles, Lancashire, the son of James and Margaret Bolas. A graduate of Manchester University, in 1910 he began an aviation career with the AID at the Army Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. The work was mainly concerned with making modifications to some of the Army airships then under construction at Farnborough, and Bolas found himself assigned to tasks alongside such men as F M Green, S W Hiscocks and Geoffrey de Havilland.

With the start of the war Bolas was commissioned in the RNAS and appointed to a position with the Admiralty's Air Department. He there became involved with detailed design work on the A.D. Flying-Boat, a project in which he was closely associated with Harold Yendall and Clifford W Tinson. Lieut Linton Hope was responsible for designing the flying-boat's hull, and the complete aircraft was built by Pemberton-Billing Ltd.

Harold Bolas undertook next the design of the A.D. Navyplane, working on this project with Reginald J Mitchell. This embodied a crew nacelle weighing only about 80lb complete with seat and floor fittings. It was this form of monocoque construction which was to influence Harold Bolas later, when he designed the Pamall Panther. The A.D. Navyplane was not a success and, although the Admiralty did place an order for six machines, only one was completed, the rest of the contract being cancelled after tests held in 1917 proved unsatisfactory.

Harold Bolas was released by the Admiralty on a loan basis to Parnall & Sons, joining the firm in 1917, and quickly finding himself in the position of chief designer. It was not long before plans were developed for the building of his first design for Parnall. This was the Panther, a two-seater spotter reconnaissance biplane for the Royal Navy. Tests in 1918 were disappointing as performance was only marginally better than the Sopwith 1½ Strutter which it was designed to replace, and only 312 aircraft were ordered from the firm.

George Parnall formed a new company, George Parnall & Co. Ltd. with a handful of previous employees including Bolas and opened the Coliseum Works in Park Row, Bristol in 1921. The first design was another naval aircraft, the Puffin and Bolas designed all of the Parnall aircraft from that point until 1929. The attractive Elf was Bolas's last design for the company, a two-seat, touring biplane in the de Havilland Moth class.

In 1929 Harold Bolas left England with his wife Winifred and children Jill and Deborah, and took up residence in America. There he joined forces with fellow countryman Captain J Goodman Crouch, late of the British Air Ministry. He had also served in the RNAS and worked on early small airships before becoming officer-in-charge of the RNAS Dunkirk. After the war he joined the Civil Service and was with the design department of the Air Ministry, later becoming involved with the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, where he was engaged from 1922 until 1928. He then went to the United States and became General Manager of the Whittlesey Manufacturing Co of Bridgport, Connecticut; Harold joining him as the company’s Chief Engineer. Unfortunately, the Wall Street crash finished that phase in the proceedings, but determined to succeed, Messrs.’ Crouch and Bolas pooled their resources into the development of what is known today as a STOL aircraft. Following much experimentation, Harold initiated his design for a full-scale test aircraft, named the Dragonfly. During April 1934 the completed Dragonfly was taken to a private flying field at Round Hill, Massachusetts, where it made its initial flights. Successful test flying continued, but during 1937 it became increasingly apparent that raising sufficient capital to carry on with the Dragonfly programme would be almost impossible, and in December 1937 the Crouch-Bolas Corporation went into liquidation. This was despite the fact that Goodman-Crouch, during the worst depression the USA had known, raised nearly a quarter of a million dollars for the Corporation.

Meanwhile during 1936 Harold Bolas had proposed several new designs, including a low-wing monoplane passenger aircraft with twin fins and rudders known as the CB-37 Speed Ranger, and the CB-40 Pursuit, a military aircraft with a mid-wing layout and a single enclosed cockpit.

Harold returned to Britain in 1940, Crouch having preceded him in 1937, leaving his family behind in Providence, Rhode Island, and his name first appears in connection with Lancashire Aircraft Corporation, Ltd. of Bankfield Mill, Bankhouse St, Burnley which was formed on July 20 1940. Founders and initial directors were Ernest Walton and Harold Bolas with Goodman Crouch as Managing Director. During the war they were involved with the overhaul of Beaufort and Beaufighters.

After this Bolas became involved for the second time with rotorcraft, something that had begun earlier when Parnall built a prototype to the specifications of Juan de Cierva. 1943 Douglas Pobjoy appointed Harold as Auxiliaries Project Engineer to study the possibilities of Rotol products being used in helicopters, which would possibly be built by Rotol themselves. Nothing came of this scheme.

The Cierva Company recommenced operations at Eastleigh in 1943, under the directorship of J.G. Weir and C. G. Pullin. In 1945, Harold joined the new company, where he was responsible for much of the design and stress of the Cierva W.9 and W.11 Air Horse machines. Unfortunately, the Air Horse crashed on June 13, 1950, at Eastleigh, killing test pilot H A Marsh and his crew. The accident was attributed to fatigue failure a rotor hub. Bolas played a prominent part in development of the Cierva W.14 Skeeter , built at Eastleigh during 1948. After Cierva was taken over by Saunders-Roe January 1951, Bolas was put in charge of the Technical and Stress Office of the helicopter division of Saunders-Roe.

Harold Bolas, M.B.E., B.Sc, A.M.I.C.E., A.F.R.AeS, died on July 8, 1956, near Bath, where he had settled after his return from the USA, having been separated from his wife Winifred for 15 years. Winifred outlived her husband by 23 years, remaining in the USA where she died in 1979 at Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Biography References

  1. Parnall Aircraft since 1914, K.E. Wixey (Putnam, 1990)
  2. The Bolas Touch, K.E. Wixey, Air enthusiast #103

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