One year after celebrating its centenary, the UK's Marshall Aerospace is diversifying across a new range of business activities, and has completed its largest-ever acquisition.

Best known for supporting the UK Royal Air Force's Lockheed Martin C-130 transports, Marshall also works in areas ranging from maintaining business jets to producing auxiliary fuel tanks and providing test and certification services.

"People think Marshall Aerospace do C-130s, but we're into a lot more," says chief executive Martin Broadhurst. Covering 325Ha (800 acres), its Cambridge airport site has a 2,000m (6,560ft) runway and numerous hangars for maintenance, repair and overhaul work, plus production and assembly facilities.

The company's aerostructures unit recently delivered the first pair of engine nacelles under a deal to provide five development shipsets for the HondaJet. It designed the all-metal structure for the light jet before contracting out manufacturing work, and hopes to eventually assemble around 100 sets a year.

The same building also houses an assembly line for centre wing fuel tanks made for types including the Airbus A318 Elite and Boeing 737-based P-8 Poseidon.

Another focus of investment has been Marshall Business Aviation, which opened a new centre for business passengers and to maintain types such as NetJets Europe's Cessna Citations.

 Marshall Aerospace
© Marshall Aerospace
Some of NetJets Europe's Citations are supported in Cambridge

"We've seen our business aircraft movements grow quite dramatically, despite the general downturn in the market," says Broadhurst. "The runway has gone from being the road in to the factory to a significant business."

Another example of looking beyond the military MRO market is in test and certification. The company is performing fuselage and wing fatigue testing on the C-130 for Australia and the UK and is bidding to do similar work on Bombardier's CSeries jet.

It also completed flight tests last year in support of the Airbus Military A400M. Installing a Europrop International TP400-D6 engine on a C-130K was "probably the most complex piece of testing that anyone's done in this country for some considerable while", Broadhurst claims.

Family-owned Marshall's relationship with the UK's C-130s dates back to 1966, and it maintains others flown by nations including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

It will soon deliver its second refurbished C-130H to the Dutch air force, having sourced the pair from desert storage and installed all-new avionics. The same upgrade will be performed on two more Dutch aircraft, and is being offered to potential customers in Asia, Europe and North Africa.

The first of nine RAF Lockheed TriStar tanker/transports to also receive a new cockpit made its first test flight in mid-February, and Marshall will replace the type's bottle-based fuel tank inerting equipment with an on-board inert gas generating system.

The company is talking to airlines about a similar safety enhancement for their Boeing 757s and 767s, with its modular design (below) also suitable for Airbus types.

 Marshall Aerospace generic inerting system

With new aircraft moving away from all-metal designs, Marshall completed its largest ever acquisition on 1 January, buying Slingsby Advanced Composites.

"Our focus had been on metal aircraft, and we need to evolve," says Broadhurst. Previously the subject of a management buy-out, Slingsby has around 130 employees at Kirkbymoorside in Yorkshire and at Glasgow Prestwick.

With its Firefly trainer out of production, the firm diversified over recent years to make parts for commercial aircraft and business jets, lightweight helmets for combat aircraft and attack helicopters and stealthy structures for the UK Royal Navy's BAE Systems Astute-class submarines.

Its relationship with BAE has also included building Herti unmanned air vehicles (below) and producing the carbonfibre wing for its Mantis technology demonstrator.

 Herti Woomera - BAE Systems
© BAE Systems

Broadhurst says Marshall Slingsby Advanced Composites could help the company win future support work, but also hails its niche manufacturing skills.

"We want to make sure that we are balancing our business out, by building on those core engineering skills that make us a different company from any other MRO in the world," he says. "We are a lot more than an MRO."

Source: Flight International