BAE Systems ROCHESTER – MASTERS OF INNOVATION
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
08 Apr 14. Q-Warrior, a revolutionary ‘head-up display system’ designed and built by the Electronics Systems business of BAE Systems in Rochester, Kent has been designed for military personnel operating outside of the safety of Army vehicles. This unique capability which makes use of high transmission and high luminance see-through colour displays can be used to identify hostile and non hostile forces. Intelligence and Surveillance are at the heart of the modern day defence piece and the ability to see the enemy and to look over the hill beyond is crucial importance to the modern Army of today. Whether in the air, sea or land tomorrows war will be won or lost on the back of technology capability. Q-Warrior is yet another superb piece of kit in a now very long list of technology firsts from a truly fascinating manufacturing operation that has roots stretching back over two hundred years to 1804.
Few companies within the huge BAE Systems portfolio have a more diverse and fascinating history than the Rochester based Electronics System operation and which I had the pleasure of visiting a short while ago.
The Rochester operation is steeped in history and heritage that is more than worthy of mention:
Having prospered on the back of manufacturing drawing boards, barometers and telescopes the company, then known as Elliot Brothers, expanded the range of specialised equipment to include optical, surveying, navigational and “philosophical” instruments for the home. Following the introduction of electricity galvanometers and batteries were added to the list of products manufactured together with lighting, traction and power equipment for the growing network of tramways. Aviation products in the form of altimeters, tachometers, gun sights, clinometers plus other specialised equipment started appearing from around 1913 along with significant levels of naval gunnery equipment. Elliot Research Laboratories was founded in 1946 and this was to become a significant force in the range of new technology based industries including military radar and the emerging field of digital computers and industrial instrumentation. The world’s first real-time computer with memory store was built at Elliot Laboratories site in 1947 and by 1950 450 staff where employed in the company’s computer based industry. The Elliot 401 digital computer was the first working machine to be developed outside of Universities. In 1953 the Aviation division was formed with twelve specialist divisions including military flight controls, transport aviation controls, flight and engine instruments, gyro plus inertial. The Rochester site which had been developed for this specific purpose has its own history to tell having been a manufacturing site for Sterling bombers during the second world-war together with being a major refurbishment site for various other Royal Air Force aircraft.
As with a great many companies primarily engaged on war work mixed years were to follow the end of the second-world-war and it was not until the company was effectively taken over by Leon Bagrit in 1947 that the story of Elliot takes another large step forward. It was from this point that avionics was to become a central activity and that led to the company receiving no less than 15 ‘Queens Awards’ to industry for export and technological innovation. Elliot Automation which by 1962 included Elliot Flight Automation plus various acquisitions that had included the display equipment manufacturing company Cintel expanded fast under the leadership of Jack Pateman. With export activity growing and pioneering development work which would later lead to the successful development of the initial fly-by-wire systems, electronic slat and flap controls Elliot was looked up to as one of the world leading suppliers of avionics and sophisticated electronics equipment.
It was from the Rochester