Design and development
Designated the Avro type 685, development began in 1941. The design paired a new "squared-off" fuselage with the wings, tail and undercarriage of the Lancaster bomber. Production was undertaken by Avro with the hopes of sales to both the RAF and in the postwar civil airliner market.
The prototype, LV626, was assembled by Avro's experimental flight department at Manchester's Ringway Airport and first flew there on 5 July 1942. It had initially been fitted with the twin fins and rudders of the Lancaster, but the increased fuselage side area forward of the wing compared to the Lancaster necessitated fitting a third central fin to retain adequate control and directional stability. Initial assembly and testing of production Yorks, mainly for the RAF, was at Ringway, later Yeadon (Leeds) and Woodford (Cheshire).
One pattern aircraft was built at Victory Aircraft in Canada, but no further orders were received. Victory tooled up for 30 of those aircraft and built parts for five with one ultimately being completed about the time the war came to an end.
The first civilian York (G-AGJA), initially built for the RAF as MW103, was delivered from Ringway to British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in February 1944. In RAF Transport Command service, the York was used on the England–India route.
Production orders included 50 civilian Yorks and 208 military versions to the RAF – many of which subsequently passed into civilian hands. During the Berlin Airlift, Yorks flew over 58,000 sorties – close to half of the British contribution, alongside the Douglas Dakota and Handley Page Hastings. During wartime years they also served as VIP transport aircraft.
In the postwar years, BOAC used Yorks on their Cairo to Durban service, which had previously been worked by Shorts flying-boats. They were also used by British South American Airways and by many independent airlines on both passenger and freight flights.
When the Distant Early Warning Line (Dew Line) was being constructed in Canada in the late 1950s, the Avro York was introduced as a freighter by Associated Airways. At least one of the Yorks, CF-HAS, was retained, and was in service with Transair as late as 1961.
The Avro York was, like its Lancaster and Lincoln stablemates, a very versatile aircraft. One of the prototype Yorks, LV633, Ascalon, was custom-built as the personal transport and flying conference room for Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Ascalon was to be fitted with a special pressurised "egg" so that VIP passengers could be carried without their having to use an oxygen mask. Made of aluminium alloy it had eight perspex windows to reduce claustrophobia. It also had a telephone, instrument panel, drinking facilities and an ashtray with room for cigars, thermos flask, newspapers and books. Testing at RAE Farnborough found the "egg" to work satisfactorily. However, Avro said it was too busy with the new Lancaster IV (Avro Lincoln) work so it was never actually installed in Ascalon. It was considered for installation in the successor aircraft, a Douglas C-54B but the contractor Armstrong Whitworth decided it was impractical and the project was shelved. The whereabouts of "Churchill's Egg" is currently unknown.
MW104, Endeavour, flew to Australia in 1945 to become the personal aircraft of HRH The Duke of Gloucester, Australia's then Governor-General. It was operated by the Governor-General's Flight from 1945 to 1947, and it was the Royal Australian Air Force's only York.
Another York, MW102 was fitted out as a "flying office" for the use of Viceroy of India and C-in-C South East Asia Command, Lord Mountbatten. During its first major overhaul by Avro at Manchester (Ringway) in 1945, the aircraft was re-painted a light duck egg green, a shade intended to cool down the aeroplane, instead of its former normal camouflage colour scheme.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory was killed 14 November 1944 while flying to his new posting in Ceylon to take command of Allied air operations in the Pacific, when York, MW126, struck a ridge in the French Alps in a blizzard, 30 mi (48 km) S of Grenoble, France. His wife Dora and eight aircrew also died. Wreckage found by a villager in June 1945.
Published - July 2009
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