Avro was a British aircraft manufacturer, with numerous landmark designs such as the Avro 504 trainer in the First World War, the Avro Lancaster which was one of the pre-eminent bombers during the Second World War and the delta wing Avro Vulcan, a stalwart of the Cold War.
One of the world's first aircraft builders, A.V. Roe and Company was established at Brownsfield Mills, Manchester, by Alliott Verdon Roe and his brother H.V. Roe on 1 January 1910. Alliot had already made a name for himself as a pilot at Brooklands near Weybridge in Surrey and Farnborough in Hampshire. One early product was the A.V. Roe Bulls Eye, a duplex biplane with a wingspan of 20 feet. The company built the world's first totally enclosed monoplane in 1912, but it was the well-proportioned, wooden biplane known as the Avro 504 that kept the firm busy throughout the First World War and beyond. Production totalled 8,340 at several factories: Hamble, Failsworth, Miles Platting and Newton Heath and continued for almost 20 years. This was a substantial achievement considering the novelty of powered aircraft in this period.
The inter-war years
After the boom in orders during World War I, the lack of new work with peace caused severe financial problems and in August 1920 68.5% of the company's shares were acquired by nearby Crossley Motors who had an urgent need for more factory space for vehicle body building. In 1924, the Company left Alexandra Park Aerodrome in south Manchester where test flying had taken place during the period since 1918 and the site was taken over by a mixture of recreation and housing development. A rural site to the south of the growing city was found at New Hall Farm, Woodford in Cheshire, which continues to serve aviation builders BAE Systems to this day. In 1928 Crossley Motors sold AVRO to Armstrong Siddeley Holdings Ltd. In 1928, A.V.Roe resigned from the company he had founded and formed the Saunders-Roe company that after World War II developed several radical designs for combat jets, and, eventually, a range of powerful hovercraft. In 1935, Avro became a subsidiary of Hawker Siddeley.
The Second World War
Maintaining their skills in designing trainer aircraft, the company built a more robust biplane called the Avro Tutor in the 1930s that the Royal Air Force (RAF) also bought in quantity. A twin piston-engined airliner called the Anson followed but as tensions rose again in Europe the firm's emphasis returned to combat aircraft. The Avro Manchester, Lancaster, and Lincoln were particularly famous Avro designs. Over 7,000 Lancasters were built and their bombing capabilities led to their use in the famous Dam Busters raid. Of the total, nearly half were built at Avro's Woodford and Chadderton (Manchester) sites, with some 700 Lancasters built at the Avro "shadow" factory next to Leeds Bradford Airport (formerly Yeadon Aerodrome), north-west Leeds. This factory employed 17,500 workers at a time when the population of Yeadon was just 10,000. The old taxiway from the factory to the runway can still be seen.
The civilian Lancastrian and maritime reconnaissance Shackleton were derived from the successful Lancaster design. The Tudor was a pressurised but problematic post-war Avro airliner that faced strong competition from designs by Bristol, Canadair, Douglas, Handley Page, and Lockheed. With the same wings and engines as the Lincoln, it achieved only a short (34 completed) production run following a first flight in June 1945 and the cancellation of an order from BOAC. The older Avro York was somewhat more successful in both the RAF and in commercial service, being distinguished by a fuselage square in cross-section. Both Tudors and Yorks played an important humanitarian part in the Berlin Airlift.
The postwar Vulcan bombers, originally designed as a nuclear strike aircraft, was used to maintain the British nuclear deterrent armed with the Avro Blue Steel stand-off nuclear bomb. The Vulcan saw service as a conventional bomber during the British campaign to recapture the Falkland Islands in 1982. Recently Vulcan XH558 flew again after several years of refurbishment, and several are prized as museum exhibits.
A twin turboprop airliner, the Avro 748, was developed during the 1950s and sold widely across the globe, powered by two Rolls-Royce Dart engines. The Royal Flight bought a few and a variant with a rear-loading ramp and a "kneeling" main undercarriage was sold to the RAF and several members of the Commonwealth as the Andover.
In 1945, Hawker Siddeley Group purchased the former Victory Aircraft firm in Malton, Ontario, and renamed the operation Avro Aircraft Limited (Canada). Commonly known as Avro Canada it was actually a subsidiary of the Hawker Siddeley Group and used the Avro name for trading purposes.
When the company was absorbed into Hawker Siddeley Aviation in July 1963, the Avro name ceased to be used. But the brand had a strong heritage appeal, and the marketing name "Avro RJ" (regional jet) was used by British Aerospace for production of the RJ-85 and RJ-100 models of the BAe 146 from 1994 to 2001. This aircraft type is sometimes also loosely called the "Avro 146".
The BAe ATP (Advanced Turbo Prop) design evolved from the Avro 748 and examples continue in use on shorter, mainly domestic, scheduled air services. A few Avro 504s, Tutors, Ansons and Lancasters are lovingly maintained in flying condition as reminders of the heritage of this influential English company. At 39 years, the noisy but impressive Shackleton held the distinction of being the aircraft with the longest period of active RAF service, until overtaken by the English Electric Canberra in 1998.
Published - July 2009
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