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  • Writer's pictureroy blewett

Airspeed, Aviation Traders and Avro types

Retired from flyinh duties in 1978, WR974 was used initially for ground instruction before joining Peter Vallance's collection near Gatwick in 1988. In 2014 it moved to Bruntingthorpe before moving again in mid-2020 to the South Wales Aviation Museum at St. Athan. Photographed here in January 2023, there is still some reassembly work to be done (John Tomlinson).

Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador


In 1943, a forward-looking British Government tasked Lord Brabazon of Tara to carry out a study into the post-War requirement for air transport across the Empire. This followed the 1942 decision to concentrate the British war machine on developing and producing fighters and bombers, and rely on the US for the provision of transport aircraft, a decision that would have left the UK reliant on ‘Uncle Sam’ for what was assessed as being a vital component of efforts to rebuild the Empire at the war’s end. Brabazon’s report recommended the development of four types, ranging from very large transatlantic airliners to small, unpressurised feeder-liners. Type II, envisaged as the replacement for both the Dragon Rapide and the DC-3, was the most complex and fluid of the Brabazon report recommendations, eventually being split into radial-engine and turboprop sub-types and spawning a Type V to address the feeder-liner aspects. In 1944, the Ministry of Supply awarded Airspeed a contract for a pressurised, twin-engined, radial-powered type - the Ambassador - to fulfil Type IIA. Despite its sleek lines, it was completely outperformed by the turboprop-powered Viscount, and the only order came from British European Airways (BEA). Technical problems experienced during development and flight trials delayed initial deliveries, and in 1951 Airspeed’s parent company, De Havilland, took the commercial decision to abandon the Ambassador in favour of concentrating on the Comet. Known in BEA services as the Elizabethan, the Ambassador finally entered service on 13 March 1952, with a flight from Heathrow to Le Bourget. BEA phased out the Ambassador in 1958, and the type went on to serve with several British independent airlines. Gatwick-based Dan-Air was the final operator and its G-ALZO, now the only survivor, made the final flight of the type, from Gatwick to the Dan-Air maintenance base at Lasham, on 3 October 1971. The aircraft was donated to its current owner in 1986.


First flight: 10 Jul 47 (c/n 61, G-AGUA)

Production: 23, including 3 prototypes, at Christchurch, UK

First delivery: 22 Aug 51, to British European Airways (c/n 5212, G-ALZN)

Last delivery: 6 Mar 53, to British European Airways (c/n 5230, G-AMAH)

Variants: Ambassador 1 - prototype airliner powered by Bristol Centaurus 661 sleeve valve radial engines, with seating for up to 26 passengers, (2 built); Ambassador 2 - production version (21 built)


Aviation Traders ATL-98 Carvair


The Carvair was developed by Aviation Traders (Engineering) Ltd. to replace the Bristol Freighter on vehicle air ferry services across the English Channel and Irish Sea. The ‘Bifo’ had been the mainstay of the air ferry business since its inception in the late-1940s, but its limited payload had made operating margins very small, and the air ferry companies were keen to adopt a larger aircraft. Aviation Traders hit on the idea of using DC-4s being retired by the major airlines in favour of first generation jets, and engineered the Carvair by repositioning the cockpit above the forward fuselage and installing a sideways-opening door in the nose to allow quick loading and unloading of up to 5 cars. The air ferry market disappeared with the emergence of the drive-on sea ferry, able to carry significantly larger loads at a fraction of the cost per vehicle. A small number of Carvairs soldiered on due the type’s ability to carry outsize loads. The last active Carvair was lost in an accident in Alaska on 30 May 2007. Two survive, both of which are potentially active.


First flight: 21 Jun 61 (c/n 1, G-ANYB, converted from C-54B c/n 10528)

Production: 21 in the UK, comprising 3 at Southend (c/ns 1, 11 and 21) and the remainder at Stansted

First delivery: 16 Mar 62, to Channel Air Bridge (c/n 1, G-ANYB)

Last delivery: 19 Jul 68, to Ansett-ANA (c/n 21, VH-INM)

Variants: ATL-98 - air ferry powered by 4 Pratt & Whitney R-2000-7M2 Twin Wasp radials, with typical accommodation for 23 passengers and 5 vehicles.

Avro 685 York


The York was one of only a handful of transport aircraft produced in the United Kingdom during World War II. Development began in 1941, the design mating a new fuselage with the wings, tails and undercarriage of the York’s stablemate, the Lancaster, to produce a long-range aircraft capable of carrying 24 passengers or 6,400 lbs of freight. Four prototypes were ordered on 5 May 1942 and a production contract for 200 aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF) was placed a few months later. A further four production contracts were awarded, including a second-source one with Victory Aircraft of Canada. A low priority, production of the York was slow, and 423 of the 632 aircraft ordered remained outstanding at the end of World War II and were cancelled. 25 of these cancelled aircraft were diverted to British Overseas Airways Corporation under the post-war interim civil transports programme, and a handful of additional commercial orders were also received. Although enjoying a common military designation, Yorks were in fact built to three principal configurations (see variants for more information) and the type was used extensively by both civilian and military operators in the years immediately after the end of World War II. Yorks flew 58,124 of the RAF’s 131,800 sorties in the Berlin Airlift. The RAF withdrew the York from the transport task shortly after the Airlift in favour of the larger (but shorter range) Hastings. However, the type continued to serve with support units until 1957 and with British civil airlines until well into the 1960s.


First flight: 5 Jul 42 (LV626)

Production: 257 in the UK, at Ringway, Woodford and Yeadon and 1 in Canada by Victory Aircraft at Malton, ON as follows:






York III





























First delivery: 21 May 43, to the Royal Air Force (LV633)

Last delivery: 29 Apr 48, to the Royal Air Force (PE108)

Variants: York I - civilian transport version powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Merlin T24s;

   York C.1 - military equivalent, delivered in three  configurations: Long-Range Freighter (LRF) - cargo version with floor rails and lashing points and detachable panels on port side of fuselage for loading and unloading of cargo, with capacity for up to 20,000 lbs; Passenger-cum-Freighter (PCF) - passenger version with two cabins and accommodation for up to 24 passengers, forward cabin reconfigurable for cargo; First Class Passenger (FCP) - as PCF but without reconfigurable forward cabin.

   York III - designation applied to Canadian-built version, powered by Packard-built Merlin 38s.

Conversions included one York C.1 fitted with Bristol Hercules XVI engines, re-designated York C.2. 


Avro 696 Shackleton


The Shackleton was the first purpose-built land-based long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to see service with the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was developed from experience gained in using modified Lancaster and Liberator bombers for the task during World War II. Avro’s design mated a new fuselage with the wing and landing gear from the Lincoln and the resulting Shackleton entered service in 1951. Early feedback from aircrew led to the repositioning of the radar from the nose, where it had proven vulnerable to bird-strikes, to a retractable ‘dustbin’ on the underside of the fuselage. Significant redesign work was carried out for the third generation Shackleton, the resulting increases in take-off weight requiring the installation of a Jet Assisted Take-Off (JATO) system. The type saw nearly 40 years of continuous RAF service, with the earlier MR.2 outliving the MR.3 as a result of the stresses placed on the MR.3 airframe by the JATO system. One export order was secured, from South Africa; although for the MR.2, the version actually delivered was closer to MR.3 standard.


First flight: 9 Mar 49 (VW126)

Production: 185, at Woodford, UK, comprising 3 prototypes and 182 production aircraft. Only the export aircraft were issued with construction numbers by Avro (c/ns 1526-1533; next in sequence, 1534, was the prototype Avro 748).

First delivery: 7 Mar 51, to the Royal Air Force (VP258 and VP260 both handed over the same day)

Last delivery: Jun 59, to the Royal Air Force (XF730)

Variants: Shackleton MR.1 - initial version powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Griffon 57s (76 built, including 47 as MR1As); Shackleton MR.2 - developed version, with repositioned radome (70 built, first flight 17 Jun 52); Shackleton MR.3 - final production version featuring tricycle landing gear in place of taildragging type, wingtip fuel tanks and a pair of Viper turbojets for increased take-off performance (42 built).

Conversions: 17 MR.1s and 10 MR.2s converted for operator training as T.4s and T.2s respectively; and 12 MR.2s converted by Hawker Siddeley at Bitteswell to

Shackleton AEW.2 for the airborne-early warning role.

Airspeed, Aviation Traders and Avro survivors
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