UK Skies
Your guide to the UK's Aircraft Past & Present

UK Manufactured Aircraft Still Flying Today


Many companies within the United Kingdom are heavily involved in the manufacture of a range of modern military aircraft. These are used in a number of roles throughout the world.

AugustaWestland AW 101

Used both in a military and civilian capacity, the AugustaWestland AW101 provides medium lift capacity in multiple scenarios.

The AW 101 came about after a collaboration between UK firm, Westland Helicopters and Augusta of Italy. Both countries required a utility helicopter for use in naval activities and so the AW 101 was born.

Other than its obvious use in both the United Kingdom and Italy, many other armed forces fly the AW 101, designated codename Merlin. These include Denmark, Norway and Portugal while the machine is built under licence in both Japan and the United States.

The helicopter first flew in 1987 but it took another twelve years before it entered service to perform a number of maritime roles including transport, utility ship based operations anti-submarine duties, search and rescue as well as in amphibious support roles.  In the civilian world, the AW 101 is mostly used as a passenger transport but also for disaster relief and medical evacuations.

Because of their collaboration on the project, Westland and Augusta merged in 2000 to become AugustaWestland. Interestingly, the AW 101 is produced in both the Westland factory situated in Yeovil as well as the Augusta factory in Milan. While both factories produce components, the final assembly for military versions of the AW 101 takes place in Italy, while the commercial variant is produced in the United Kingdom. The naval version of the AW 101 is produced in both Italy and the United Kingdom.

AugustaWestland AW 159

The AugustaWestland AW 159 Wildcat is a multi-role helicopter designed for a number of military roles, most notably anti-surface warfare, search and rescue missions and as a battlefield utility helicopter. In the United Kingdom, it has replaced the legendary Lynx.

After much debate regarding the need for a new military helicopter, the Ministry of Defence placed an order for 70 AW 159 helicopters to be split between the Navy and Army. It was first flown in 2009 and began entering service in 2015.

A number of other countries have expressed interest in the AW 159 including South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia. The helicopter is produced at AugustaWestlands Yeovil factory.

Airbus A330

One of the ever expanding Airbus passenger fleet, the A330 serves as a civilian airliner capable of flying passenger routes from 5600 to 13,400 kilometres in range carrying 335 occupants. The A330 concept was first envisioned in the 1970’s but only entered service in 1994 with Air Inter.

Interestingly, the Airbus A330 offers three separate powerplant configurations from either General Electric, Pratt and Whitney or Rolls-Royce. Over the years, the A330 has been used in many other guises including as a cargo carrier and as a tanker in a military role.

The United Kingdom plays a massive role in the construction of this aircraft. Not only are some powered by Rolls Royce engines, but of the wings the A330 are built at the Airbus UK factory at Broughton, a historic site where during World War Two, the famous Avro Lancaster was constructed. Airbus UK are also stationed at Filton. Here the wings for all Airbus aircraft are designed as well as fuel systems and landing gear. In fact, over 100 000 jobs have been indirectly created due to the fact that wing design and construction for all Airbus aircraft happens in the United Kingdom.

Airbus A320

The Airbus A320 is a commercial jet airliner operating on short to medium air routes throughout the world.  It operates between distances of 3100 to 12 000 kilometres and is able to carry around 220 passengers.

The A320 was the first commercial jet airliner to include digital fly-by-wire control systems and first flew in 1987. It entered commercial service the very next year. The aircraft, the longest serving in the Airbus commercial fleet has been continually upgraded over the years. This included more powerful engines, minor design changes, weight saving and aerodynamic changes. As with all Airbus aircraft, the wings for the A320 are constructed at the Airbus UK factory in Broughton. The only exception in this regard are the wings for A320’s for the Chinese market – the whole aircraft is built in China.

Airbus A340

A four-engine, long-range commercial jet airline, the A340 operates at ranges of 12,400 to 16, 700 kilometres. It comes in two fuselage versions – the standard version (holding 375 passengers) and the stretched version (which is able to hold another 65 more).

In fact, the A340 has four different fuselage lengths and all the latest models are powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines. With these different fuselage lengths, the aircraft has a number of wing configurations as well, all of which were designed and manufactured by Airbus UK at their Filton and Broughton factories. Production on this aircraft has since stopped.

The A340 first flew in 1991 and entered commercial service in 1993.

Airbus A380

Airbus A380

The flagship of the Airbus commercial fleet, the A380 is a wide-bodied commercial jet airliner capable of carrying passengers over 15 700 kilometres. It is the biggest commercial airliner in service. In fact, it offers 40% more space than a Boeing 747. This means it can transport many as 853 people in an economy class setup but typically it carries 525 people across first, business and economy. The wings of the A380 include some incredible design ideas including winglet tips to help improve aerodynamics and therefore, increase range as well as fuel efficiency. All wing designs and further design ideas come from the design team at the Airbus offices at Filton in the UK, while the wings themselves are built at the factory in Broughton.

Airbus A400M Atlas

The Airbus A400M Atlas is a military transport aircraft used for both personnel and equipment. It is designed to replace the far older Transall C160 and the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.  The aircraft began life as a joint venture between a number of countries, including Germany, Britain, Spain, France and Italy.

Despite numerous delays and talk of the project being cancelled, the first Atlas flew in 2009 and finally entered service in 2013. It will be used by a number of air forces around the world including Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Belgium and Malaysia.

The wings for the Atlas were designed and built in the United Kingdom.

BAE Hawk

Since the late 1970’s, British pilots have been trained on the BAE Hawk, a single engine, two-seat jet trainer perhaps most famous due to it being the aircraft used by the display team, the Red Arrows. This aircraft replaced the equally successful Folland Gnat which served from the late 1950’s. The Hawk was first manufactured by Hawker Siddeley from 1974 to 1977. British Aerospace took over production from 1977 to 1999 and finally BAE System manufactured the aircraft from 1999 to present day.

The Hawk is manufactured in Britain and exported to a number of other countries for use as a trainer in their air force. These include Finland, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The United States Navy use a T-45 Goshawk as a training aircraft. This is a heavily modified, carrier capable version of the aircraft built by McDonnell Douglas and BAE Systems. Over 900 units of the Hawk have been sold to the above-mentioned operators, which in turn has generated billions of pounds in revenue.

Boeing 767

The Boeing 767 is a twin-engine commercial jet airliner capable of flying mid to long range routes between 7100 to 11 800 kilometres. It can be made up in various configurations but typically carries up to 181 passengers in a first, business and economy class layout. The aircraft first flew in 1981 and entered service the following year with United Airlines.

From a UK perspective, some of the variants of the 767 are powered by Rolls-Royce engines. Boeing employs around 2000 people at sites around the United Kingdom, all involved with Boeing aircraft in some way. The company has spent over £1.8 billion on over 250 other UK-based companies connected to the production of Boeing aircraft, greatly contributing towards the economy and helping to produce over 55 000 jobs.

Boeing 777

Boeing 777

The Boeing 777 is another long range commercial aircraft capable of seating 314 to 451 passengers, depending on the seating configuration used. Its typical range is between 9 600 to 17 500 kilometres. It has a number of recognisable features. These include turbofan engines with the largest diameter of any commercial aircraft flying today as well as a six-wheel configuration on each landing gear. The 777 first flew in 1994 and entered service in 1995.

There are two fuselage variants of the 777, with a longer version which came into service in 1997. The 777-200SL holds the record for the longest distance flown non-stop by a commercial aircraft.

From a UK perspective, some models of the 777 are powered by Rolls-Royce engines, while a number of the world’s leading airlines, including British Airways, were involved with the overall design of the aircraft.

Boeing 787

The Boeing 787 or Dreamliner is an incredible piece of technology. With an airframe constructed of composite materials, mostly carbon fibre, the 787 is the most fuel efficient aircraft in the Boeing fleet and is capable of taking between 242 and 335 passengers to long-range destinations. The Dreamliner first flew in 2009 and entered service in 2011. Currently, a number of airlines operate the aircraft, including All Nippon Airways, Japan Airways and United.

The aircraft was developed and is produced as part of a massive collaboration between numerous companies and suppliers from around the globe. The United Kingdom has a massive stake in the project with Boeing UK and contractors around Britain producing many important components. These include business class seats, landing gear, flight deck seats, simulators, certain engine configurations (produced by Rolls Royce) and a host of others. The Dreamliner in fact goes a long way to the £1.8 billion spent annually by Boeing in the UK and the 55 000 jobs it helps to contribute towards.

Bombardier CRJ700

The Bombardier CRJ700 is a short to medium range airliner intended for regional use. It first flew in 1999 and entered service in 2001 and is used throughout the world. The CRJ700 is able to hold between 66 to 78 passengers, depending on the seating configuration used.

Interestingly, Northern Ireland plays a role in the manufacture of this aircraft. Although final construction of all aircraft takes place near Montreal, Canada, the centre fuselage, as well as the nacelles and certain wing components, are in fact constructed in by Bombardier Aerospace at their factory in Belfast, contributing towards the GDP of the country.

Bombardier C Series

Another in the series of medium-range jet airliners produced by Bombardier, the C Series is very new, having flown for the first time in 2013.  It entered service in July 2016 with Swiss Global Air. The C series can carry up to 133 people on regional routes up to 4300 kilometres.

The Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland also contributes towards making vital components for this aircraft, including the composite wings. Again, the final aircraft is assembled in Montreal, Canada.

Bombardier Learjet 75

Perhaps the most famous aircraft made by Bombardier is their Learjet range. Bombardier acquired the then bankrupt Learjet company in 1990. The Learjet 75 is a medium ranged aircraft, able to take 8 passengers and 2 crew over trips of 3700 kilometres. The aircraft is mostly aimed at wealthy businessmen and charter companies.

Again, the aircraft components for the Learjet 75 are built around the world, with the Bombardier factory in Belfast, Northern Ireland manufacturing the complete fuselage section. 

Britten-Norman Defender

The Britten-Norman Defender is primarily a transport aircraft but capable of performing a number of utility roles. The Defender is used by the military and other government agencies for transport, coastal patrols, counter-terrorism and reconnaissance. It has a maximum range of 1100 kilometres and can carry a number of weapons as well as surveillance equipment.

A number of countries make use of the Defender including the United Kingdom, Ireland, Pakistan and the United States where the aircraft is in fact used by the FBI. The Defender first flew in 1970.

Britten-Norman Islander

The Britten-Norman Islander is the civilian aircraft on which the Defender is based. First flown in 1965, the Islander serves as a light utility aircraft as well as a regional airliner, particularly for island hopping in the Caribbean or other island-based nations.  Over 43 other countries have used the Islander at some point or another and there are still 750 in service in the world today.

The Islander is able to carry a crew of two as well as nine passengers for trips of up to 1400 kilometres.

Hawker 800

A twin-engine aircraft aimed for use in the corporate world, the Hawker 800 was first developed in 1983 by British Aerospace. It was an upgrade on the British Aerospace 125-700 which had been in operation for over 20 years. The new aircraft included many changes such as a new cockpit windscreen design, changes to the rear fuselage, improved engines and redesigned wings.

From 2007 onwards, the aircraft has been in production with Hawker, right until 2013 when production was stopped. It is used mostly in civil roles as a regional carrier, for businessmen or by jet charter companies. The Japanese Air Self-Defence Force use the Hawker 800 as a search and rescue aircraft, while in South Korea it is used in a reconnaissance role.  The aircraft can hold 2 crew and up to 13 passengers and has a range of around 4800 kilometres.

Lockheed Martin C130

The Lockheed Martin C130 Hercules is probably one of the most famous military transport aircraft ever built. Despite entering service in 1954, a number of air forces around the world still use the Hercules as their primary transport aircraft and over 2500 of these incredible aircraft have been manufactured. With over 60 years of service, this is the longest produced military aircraft in the world.

The Hercules is primarily a transport and is able to carry a payload 20 000 kilogrammes or 92 passengers or 64 airborne troops over a range of around 3800 kilometres. Lockheed Martin, together with a number of British firms produce components for the aircraft in the United Kingdom, especially those used by the Royal Air Force.

Super Hercules

The Super Hercules, a massive update on the CJ-130 ‘Hercules’ first flew in 1996. Major upgrades were made to the engines, the flight deck of the aircraft and all systems were modernised.  The upgrade led to orders for the aircraft from fifteen different nations. Overall, the aircraft is still used in the same role, a military transport for either equipment, personnel or troops. The Super Hercules is able to fly over 40% further than its predecessor, while it is 20% faster and needs almost half the runway space to be able to take off.

Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II

Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II

Although the Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II will be the primary fighter in service in the United States, BAE systems are heavily involved in the manufacture of certain parts as well as numerous systems used on the aircraft.

The F35 is a multirole fighter aircraft that will come into service in the next couple of years after having undergone extensive testing over the past decade. The aircraft itself was designed and built by Lockheed Martin together with a number of other contributors including the United Kingdom’s BAE Systems.

As a key technology partner in the programme, BAE has provided a number of systems as well as software to the F-35 Lightning II. This includes important flight control software, a number of crucial electronic warfare systems, active interceptor systems as well as the building of many structural components for the aircraft such as both horizontal tails as well as the aft fuselage, or pretty much the rear section of the aircraft. 

Estimates put BAE contribution at around 15% towards each F35 Lightning II that is built. In fact, the programme has generated over £1 billion to the UK economy while creating 25 000 jobs. It will continue to do so in the future, both in terms of aircraft built and the maintenance needed to keep them in flying condition worldwide.

Eurofighter Typhoon

Euro Fighter Typhoon

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a cutting-edge fourth generation multi-role fighter operated by a number of air forces throughout Europe.

BAE Systems are particularly involved in the construction of the aircraft as well as many of the systems and software used on it.  These include the aft fuselage (stage 1), vertical stabiliser, canards, inboard flaperons, forward fuselage cockpit assembly as well as the E-scan radar systems.

BAE also designed and produced the Striker Helmet system used by Typhoon pilots. This features a ‘Helmet Mounted Symbology System’. This effectively lets a pilot see right through the body of the aircraft, giving him unequal views, vital during combat. It also allows him to look at multiple targets and lock onto each of them in a prioritized manner. Effectively, this means that wherever a pilot looks and spots a threat, he can then send a weapon towards it. This rules out the need for constant manoeuvring.

BAE estimates that the Typhoon programme will bring in about £2.7 billion revenue in terms of construction, sales and maintenance of the aircraft. This will increase as new systems are introduced and installed on current machines as they are upgraded.