John North

(1893 - 1968)

John Dudley North was born on January 2, 1893, in Sydenham the only son of Dudley and Marian North. He was educated at Bedford School and, since his grandfather had been a Captain in the Merchant Navy, his mother favoured the idea of a career for her son in marine engineering. He was accordingly apprenticed to Harland and Wolff in Belfast, thereby missing out on a University education. It was at this stage that aviation caught his imagination in his spare time and became a challenge. The aviation journal Aeroplane had launched a series of competitions in the form of written tests. John North won the first two, and was then warned off to give the others a chance. However, the editor, C. G. Grey, recommended that he should "go into flying" in earnest and the apprenticeship was transferred to the Horatio Barber's Aeronautical Syndicate at Hendon. During his period with the Aeronautical Syndicate, North was also a member of the Aeroplane Building and Flying Society with whom he designed and built a glider in 1911. When Barber wound up the Aeronautical Syndicate, he moved to the Grahame-White establishment next door. By the time he was 20 he had become chief engineer and had been largely responsible for the first passenger-carrying aircraft, the Grahame-White "Charabanc" as well as the Grahame-White Type XI.

In 1915 he joined the Austin Motor Co as superintendent of their aeroplane division-the company was building R.E.7 and R.E.8 biplanes designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory for use in the 1914-18 war. Parallel construction of aircraft was going on at Boulton and Paul, Norwich, and it was to this firm that North moved in 1917 to set up a design and experimental section. He was to remain the prime mover of the Aircraft Department for the next 50 years and was responsible for many important innovations in aircraft design and manufacture. He was chief engineer and director from 1917 to 1954, the first machine he designed for Boulton and Paul being the Bobolink. Among the early aircraft and airships with which he was concerned were the Sidestrand and Overstrand for the RAF, the R.101 airship, for which Boulton and Paul built the hull.

North had heard of a powered turret developed in France by the engineer de Boysson of Societe d'Applications des Machines Motrices (SAMM). This turret had a self-contained hydraulic generator powered by an electric motor. North was able to obtain an option and eventual licence from SAMM for armament development throughout the British Empire. The availability of this system was to lead to the development of the Defiant turret fighter.

Parallel with the intense activity which produced the Defiant and the power-operated turret the aviation interests of Boulton and Paul Ltd., were transferred to Boulton Paul Aircraft Limited in 1934. A new factory was built and established at Wolverhampton, the move being completed by 1936, and North became joint Managing Director with S. W. Hiscocks.

Post war, North now sought to capitalise on his turret control expertise by applying a development of the de Boysson hydraulic generator to the creation of a power unit for aircraft control operation, and this was eventually to lead to the very successful power control business of Boulton Paul. With the Government enforced amalgamations of the British aircraft industry, North was confident that Boulton Paul could hold its position in the power control field, and proceeded to seek an opportunity to utilise equivalent skills and manufacturing capacity in commercial hydraulics.

It was at this point in time that Sir George Dowty, with his long and successful record as a major supplier of equipment to the aircraft industry, became interested in the possibility of including the company in the Dowty Group. North and he had known each other for many years and there were now parallel interests between them, so that a merger might prove to be a logical advantage to both. This took place in April, 1961. North continued in office as Chairman and Managing Director, which dual position he bad occupied for the previous 10 years, but now of course responsible to the Group Board.

John North was elected a Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in May 1961 and made a CBE in 1962. John Dudley North CBE, HonFRAeS, MIMechE, died on January 13, 1968 in Bridgenorth, Shropshire.

Biography References

  1. The Aeronautical Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, October 1970
  2. Flight January 18, 1968

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