S. E. Saunders Ltd.

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S. E. Saunders Ltd. was a boat building firm founded in 1830 and based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. In 1909 it moved to larger premises in East Cowles where it built the crew and engine gondolas for Britain's first airship, the HMA1 Mayfly, using its "Consuta" system. Patented in 1898, the "Consuta" system, based on Saunders' study of Candian-Indian birchbark canoes, consisted of sewing together veneers of plywood laid in different directions, with layers of waterproofed fabric between, to make a complete skin.

The first heavier-than-air aircraft project, probably begun in 1910, was building a hydro-aeroplane--apparently owned by and perhaps designed by Henri Fabre--for Roger Ravaud; during trials in March 1911, it made a few hops ranging up to 500 meters but, caught by the wind, it was blown onto the rocks and wrecked. The next aircraft project was in 1912 when Saunders built a double-skinned hollow hull using its "Consuta" system for a Sopwith amphibian "bat boat;" weighing only 180 lbs, it was wide enough to seat pilot and passenger side by side; this craft won the Mortimer-Singer prize in 1913 for its ability to make a series of landings and take-offs from both water and land. Efforts turned to the war effort when, in the spring of 1915, Saunders received an Admiralty contract to build 30 Short 184s; it built these plus 50 more. It also built three Curtiss flying boats, 201 Avro 504 biplanes, and 24 Norman Thompson pusher flying boats. It also contracted to build 100 Felixstowe F2A flying boat hulls and engine and crew gondolas for the R31 and R32 airships using "Consuta."

The Perry-Beadle twin-tractor flying boat exhibited at the Aero Show of 1914 had its lower main plane, tail plane, elevator, fin, and rudder as well as its hull constructed on the "Consuta" system. To produce its "Consuta" hulls commercially, Saunders employed huge sewing machines--of the Singer leather-stitching model many times enlarged--to stitch with a special twine (probably catgut) the veneers of plywood, after they had been laid upon and cemented to one another, with intermediate bonding layers of waterproofed linen; the resulting immense web of composite wooden fabric was then hot-press-ironed upon long steel-faced tables. Saunders was able to turn out hulls for the Admiralty at the rate of nearly 20 a week. In 1928, Sir A. V. Roe purchased a majority interest and changed the company name to Saunders-Roe Ltd., or Saro for short.

Locations: Factories and yard at East Cowes, Isle of Wight; additional factories added at West Cowes during WWI. At some point, the firm established a seaplane base and aerodrome on the Isle of Wight.


  • Gunston, 1993, p268, 222-223
  • Gunston, 2005, p410, 338
  • SD230
  • 1911FM356
  • 1913FM148, 211, 791, 792* 1919FM184
  • 1929FM66
  • 1936FM May 7
  • 1956FM999
  • 1963FISupp66-67
  • bbc.co.uk A430886

Names S. E. Saunders Ltd.
Country Great Britain
City East Cowes; West Cowes; Isle of Wight
Started aero 1910
Ended aero 1928
Key people
Wikidata id