The naval architect and aircraft engineer James Bird was born in London in 1883. He was educated at Marlborough School before serving an apprenticeship at Armstrong Whitworth and Co. He worked as a consultant naval architect and developed his interest in aviation until the outbreak of war in 1914. In 1916 he left the Royal Naval Air Service to become manager of the Supermarine works at Woolston.
In 1919 Bird became a director of Supermarine and in 1923 bought control of the company from Hubert Scott-Paine to become its managing director. With R. J. Mitchell as chief designer the firm went on to design and build a range of successful commercial and military flying boats, a series of seaplanes that broke world speed records and won the prestigious Schneider Trophy outright, and the Spitfire fighter plane. This is widely thought of as the world's most successful aircraft building programme ever.
In 1928 Bird sold out to Vickers, but continued to manage the Supermarine factory. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Bird returned from semi-retirement to supervise production of the Spitfire fighters.
He was also prominent in the business affairs of Southampton and was a member of the Harbour Board. He lived at Wickham in Hampshire and died there in August 1946.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 5
Supermarine Aircraft since 1914, by C. F. Andrews and E. B. Morgan. (HS/ph)
R. J. Mitchell, by Gordon Mitchell. (HS/ph)
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