The Vickers corporation, founded as the Vickers company in 1828, was a British manufacturer, primarily of military equipment.
Vickers produced the Vickers machine gun, well remembered by thousands of British machine gunners. The company was also known for its tank designs, starting with the widely used Vickers 6-Ton. Another famous design was the Valentine in World War II. In more recent years Vickers' main tank product was the Challenger II.
Vickers Sons and Maxim began work on a rigid airship for the British Admiralty in mid 1909 in a dock at Walney Island, Cumbria, sadly it disintegrated upon its second trip out of a floating hangar on the evening of 23 September 1911. Further designs and difficulties followed although non-rigid machines including Sea Scouts (popularly called blimps) proved generally less troublesome than the larger rigid examples. Some models featured floating cars slung beneath them. Much experience in mooring techniques and swivelling motors was gathered despite the pressures of wartime. The last airship built at the Walney Island dock was a small non-rigid reconnaissance machine for the Japanese government that first flew on 27 April 1921. Company interest revived from 1923 onwards and led to the building of a massive six-engined commercial airship, the R100 at Howden in Yorkshire. This airship flew initially on 16 December 1929 at the hands of Major G.H.Scott and achieved some trans-Atlantic flights before its scrapping in November 1931 by Elton, Levy and Company. A subsidiary called the Airship Guarantee Company Limited existed from 29 November 1923 until 30 November 1935.
Vickers produced one of the first aircraft designed to carry a machine gun, the FB5 (fighting biplane)Gun Bus. It also built the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean non-stop, a converted World War I RAF Vickers Vimy bomber. (See 1919 in aviation.)
It was a pioneer in producing airliners, early examples being converted from Vimy bombers, and went on to manufacture the piston-engined Vickers VC.1 Viking airliner and Varsity military crew trainer, the Viscount and Vanguard turboprop airliners, and the stylish though noisy VC-10 jet airliner, which remains in RAF service as an aerial refuelling tanker. The Valiant V bomber was another Vickers design. The company later shifted its focus to military vehicles and weapons.
1955 saw the separation of the company, then named Vickers-Armstrongs, into three groups, including Vickers Aircraft and Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. The aircraft design and manufacturing parts of Vickers were merged with the Bristol, English Electric and Hunting aircraft firms into the British Aircraft Corporation in 1960.
Vickers acquired the Swedish ship engineering company Kamewa in 1986. The 1990s saw Vickers Shipbuilding enter a period of diversification, notably with the £340m ($609m) acquisition of Ulstein, the Norwegian shipbuilding group in December 1998.
Vickers was acquired by Rolls-Royce plc in 1999 for £576m ($1.03Bn.) The marine propulsion portfolio of Vickers made it particularly suited to Rolls-Royce, transforming the group into the global leader in marine power systems.
In 2002 Vickers Defence Systems (which excluded the marine business) was bought by Alvis plc, and became a subsidiary, Alvis Vickers Ltd. In March 2004 the board of Alvis plc approved a £309m takeover bid by a direct competitor in the field of military vehicles, General Dynamics of the U.S. However, on June 4, 2004 BAE SYSTEMS outbid the American company, offering £355m, following which the board withdrew its recommendation in favour of the General Dynamics bid. BAE already owned almost twenty-nine percent of Alvis Vickers, and its last minute bid was seen as an attempt to prevent a strong rival from gaining a significant foothold in its home market. Following regulatory and majority shareholder approval the BAE offer was declared unconditional on 17th August.
In September 2004 BAE announced the creation of BAE Land Systems, a new company bringing together BAE subsidiary RO Defence and Alvis Vickers.
The role of Vickers Armstrong in the Chaco War is parodied as Viking Arms Co. Limited in Tintin's comic-book The Broken Ear.
Company website (http://www.alvisvickers.co.uk/default.html)