Avro Information


I thoroughly enjoyed your tribute to the Avro 504 in October’s issue but despite your characteristically erudite and thoroughly readable account, I would like to offer a mild challenge on a couple of points.

Firstly, you dismiss the 504’s martial achievements a little lightly when you claim that “it never did much fighting, although some were converted into single-seaters, given a Lewis machine gun and used by the RAF in 1918 for Home Defence”. In fact the 504 played a useful part in the early war years. In 1914 No. 5 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, operated it in France and an example fitted with a Lewis gun is credited with forcing down a German Albatross in November, while one of the squadron’s 504s earned the dubious distinction of being the first British aircraft in the war to be shot down when it was hit by infantry fire over Belgium in August of that year

The aircraft distinguished itself more with the Royal Naval Air Service. In the first British bombing raid on Germany a flight of three 504s each modified to carry four 20lb. bombs attacked the Zeppelin sheds at Friedrichshafen on the shores of Lake Constance on November 21st, 1914. They approached their target at ultra low-level across the lake and popped up to deliver their bombs (a profile still much employed today to keep aircraft below the enemy’s radar cover — as seen in the recent difference of opinion in the S. Atlantic). They succeeded in destroying two Zeppelins for the loss of one 504.

The preparations for this raid seem to have been copious and thorough. Four aircraft had been earmarked at Manchester about a month before and were then transported by rail and sea via Southampton and Le Havre to Belfort, where they were secreted in farm buildings to keep them from prying eyes until the day of the raid. After all that endeavour one aircraft was unable to participate because of a broken tail-skid,

Later, in March 1915, 504s of No. I Sqn RNAS attacked the submarine base at Antwerp, destroying two U-Boats, but after this brief front-line service I must confess, the type was relegated largely to training duties.

My second point concerns Roy Chadwick, whose outstanding career in the British aircraft industry culminated in his design of the Vulcan (Avro 698) shortly before his tragic death in the crash of a Mk 2 Avro Tudor, caused by crossed control wires, in August 1947. He had been responsible for the immortal Lancaster (Avro 683) and many other Avro types, but in 1912 when the 504 was conceived he was a draughtsman in the design office at Brownsfield Mill under Reginald Parrott — and was still only 19 years old. So your claim that he was the designer of the 504 is, doubtless, a little extravagant,

However, before joining A. V. Roe he had been trained by George Bailey (later Sir George Bailey of Metropolitan Vickers) at the British Westinghouse Electrical Co. He had learnt the elements of stressing and mechanics and showed outstanding talent as a draughtsman. His enthusiasm, industry and ability rapidly led to his appointment as chief draughtsman, relieving Parrott to become works manager. (To give scale to these appointments, it is worth noting that A. V. Roe and Co. Ltd. was then about 40 strong!) He draughted the Avro 500 and his first major undertaking was to convert Alliott Roe’s pencil sketch of the Avro “F” monoplane into more precise drawings.

There is no doubt that the 504 started life similarly as a pencil sketch by A. V. Roe himself, because that sketch still exists. It was then passed to the drawing office for the metamorphosis to precise plans and has passed through Chadwick’s able hands but he was not to have full design responsibility for an aircraft until he designed a twin engined bomber and subsequently developed the 504 through its manifold permutations of types over the years.

No more eloquent accolade could be given him than that of Harald Penrose in his definitive “British Aviation” from which I quote; “Artistic with unbounded enthusiasm and unsparing energy, Roy Chadwick was a great designer of intuitive diagnostic ability rather than a scientist, yet like all great masters was in step with the tide of knowledge and contemporary outlook.”

Stockport P. HENLEY, Deputy Chief Test Pilot. Brittish Aerospace