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Airspeed Ltd


Airspeed Ltd

This article describes the company Airspeed Ltd. For the technical concept, see Airspeed

Former type Private Ltd
Industry Aeronautical engineering
Fate Merged
Successor(s) de Havilland
Founded 1931
Defunct 1951
Headquarters Founded in York, England
moved to Portsmouth, England.
Key people A.H. Tiltman
Nevil Shute Norway
Products Aircraft

Airspeed Limited was established to build aeroplanes in 1931 in York, England, by A. H. Tiltman and Nevil Shute Norway (the aeronautical engineer and famous writer, who used his forenames as his pen-name). The other directors were A. E. Hewitt, Lord Grimthorpe and Alan Cobham. Amy Johnson was also one of the initial subscribers for shares.

Early operations

After a short production run of the AS.1 Tern glider, Airspeed produced the AS4 Ferry, a three engined, ten passenger biplane, concentrating on transport monoplanes thereafter. In March 1933, the firm moved to Portsmouth and, in the following year, became associated with the Tyneside ship builder Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson Limited and became Airspeed (1934) Limited[1] in August 1934. During this period, it developed the AS8 Viceroy for an intercontinental air race.

Wolseley engine

All Airspeed aeroplanes under manufacture or development in 1936 were to use a Wolseley radial aero engine of about 250 horsepower (190 kW) which was under development by Nuffield, the Wolseley Scorpio. The project was abandoned in September 1936 after the expenditure of about two hundred thousand pounds when Lord Nuffield got the fixed price I.T.P. (Intention to Proceed) contract papers (which would have required re-orientation of their offices with an army of chartered accountants) and decided to deal only with the War Office and the Admiralty, not the Air Ministry.

According to Nevil Shute Norway it was a very advanced engine (and the price struck Shute as low; much lower than competing engines on the basis of power-to-weight ratio), so its loss was a major disaster for Airspeed (and Britain). But when he asked Lord Nuffield to retain the engine, Nuffield said "I tell you, Norway ... I sent that I.T.P. thing back to them, and I told them they could put it where the monkey put the nuts!" Shute wrote that the loss of the Wolseley engine due to the over-cautious high civil servants of the Air Ministry was a great loss to Britain. Shute said that "admitting Air Ministry methods of doing business ... would be like introducing a maggot into an apple .. Better to stick to selling motor vehicles for cash to the War Office and the Admiralty who retained the normal methods of buying and selling."[2]

Second World War

In June, 1940, formal announcement was made that the de Havilland Aircraft Co., Ltd., had completed negotiations for the purchase from Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson, Ltd., of that firm's holding of Airspeed ordinary shares. Airspeed, retained its identity as a separate company though as a wholly owned subsidiary of de Havilland.

Around 1943, presumably to reduce the risk of Luftwaffe bombing, a new dispersed design office was opened at Fairmile Manor in Cobham, Surrey; little is known of this establishment and nothing survives there today.

Airspeed's most productive period was during the Second World War. The graceful, twin-engined trainer-cum-light transport aircraft known as the AS10 Oxford had a production run exceeding 8,500.

Almost 3,800 AS51 and AS58 Horsa military gliders were built for the Royal Air Force and its allies. Many of these made one-way journeys into occupied France as part of the D-Day landings, and later Holland for the Arnhem landing, towed from England behind aircraft such as the Douglas Dakota and Handley Page Halifax.

Postwar operations

The company reverted to the company name of Airspeed Limited on 25 January 1944. Postwar it became involved in adapting some surplus ex-RAF Oxford aircraft as AS65 Consuls for the commercial market. Airspeed went on to produce the superbly streamlined pressurised twin-engined piston airliner called the AS57 Ambassador. This served successfully for some years with British European Airways as their "Elizabethan Class".[3] In 1951 Airspeed Limited completely merged with de Havilland.

List of aircraft and first flight

Main article: List of Airspeed aircraft
Glider (sailplane); built to get publicity by breaking British gliding records (Two built; plus parts for third, which were sold)
Three-engine biplane transport aircraft
Single-engine low-wing monoplane passenger transport with retractable undercarriage of conventional configuration
Two-engine development of the Courier
Variant of Envoy, adapted for long-range flight. One aircraft was built
Larger two-engine development of Envoy
  • AS16
Projected license production of Fokker F.XXII, none built.
  • AS20
Projected license production of Fokker F.XXXVI, none built.
Single-engine single-seat biplane target drone aircraft
Four-engine high-wing monoplane maritime patrol aircraft prototype. Two aircraft were ordered; one was completed
Single-engine two-seater low-wing monoplane trainer aircraft with retractable undercarriage of conventional configuration. Two aircraft were built
Large troop-carrying glider
Two-engine high-wing piston engine airliner
Variant of Horsa with openable nose section for front loading
Civilian conversion of wartime Oxford


Further reading

  • Nevil Shute Norway, Slide Rule (William Heinemann, London, 1954) Norway's biography covers his time at Airspeed in great detail

External links

  • Airspeed Type Designations at Flight archive
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