The Earl’s Avro — A Pre-War Cameo
LAST MONTH, in the article “The Avro 504 — A Tribute”, we referred to how the Earl ot Cardigan was an enthusiastic user of one of these aeroplanes, at least until beyond the mid-1930s. We have since discovered that the Avro he flew
was a surplus RAF 504 N powered with an Armstrong Siddeley Lynx seven-cylinder radial engine and that the Earl kept it at his private landing-ground in Wiltshire, consisting of a fairly large sloping field with a had approach on one side and commonly infested with cows, which the low landing speed of the machine enabled him to dodge. A barn in an adjacent field had been converted into a makeshift hangar, with a few yards of tarmac in front of it and a breach in the hedge between the meadow it was in and the flying field.
Early impressions after the vendor had demonstrated the Avro by making one or two landings in the Earl’s field in about one-tenth of the available space were of the size and the large numbers of inter-‘plane struts and bracing-wires, which gave a comforting impression of strength and durability. Moreover, the front cockpit allowed for plenty of elbovv-room. which again gave a beginner a sense of confidence. The Earl of Cardigan expressed himself as impressed and a little awed — he quoted the saying that looking along the wings from the front cockpit, from which the Avro was flown. was “like looking down the aisles of some great cathedral”.
There were other advantages, as he noted. This aged aeroplane had a hand-snagneto, which obviated the need (0 swing the prop. Alter landing away from a conventional aerodrome. when ready to leave any yokel could be asked to wind the engine over for the purposes of “sucking-in”. with all switches “off”. With a 1930s light ‘plane it was necessary to get out, to swing the prop, unaided, in close proximity to the “live” airscrew and dangerously remote from the controls and switches. In the Ayr() 504, once one, helper was clear, winding the hand-magneto after switching on invariably started the Lynx. Another boon was the glass-tube pct.-level gauge adjoining each of the two fuel tanks — an immutable natural law decreeing that the level shown in the tubes must be exactly that in the tanks, i.e., direct, not circumstantial. evidence. . . . The 200-plus h.p. of the Lynx enabled the Avro to take off with almost any load fnter any surface, even with the undercarriage axle meeting stiff resistance from a crop of hay, although that called for a rather longer take-off run than the normal lift-off at 40 m.p.h., or less if a rut or ridge threw the Avro into the air. when it would start flying within a few yards. So in this hardy aeroplane the owner was able to take-off from a point 500 yards from Ins home and quite often land within 500 yards of his destination, flying at 1,500 r.p.m. or 80 m.p.h. for economy. although 90 mph. was possible at normal cruising revs., and the top speed was about 100 m.p.h. Landing was equally easy, the forward view, largely due to the steep gliding-angle, being good. Providing the novice pilot approached fairly high,
he could hardly fail to finish up somewhere near the middle of she intended field, and the Astro could only under-shoot, over-shooting irreparably being virtually impossible. The landing was made at a quiet, steady speed, yet with the machine quite safely controllable. Hence the ability to cow-dodge. . . . The supple undercarriage masked poor landings, to the extent of passengers congratulating the pilot on them, nor did he ever get praised for making good ones, because it was well .town that “those old machines practically land themselves”. However. the huge wingspread that so usefully shortened the landing-run could cause the Avro to be blown onto a wing-tip very easily. so it was as well to have wing-tip skids fitted. In a strong wind it was embarrassing to find the 504 bimled gently backwards down a smooth tarmac runway after the pilot had switched off and was therefore helpless! Stringer oleo-struts would probably have cured much of the danger of damaging a wing-tip when taxiing across wind. Another foible of the Avro 504 was aileron drag, necessitating using stick and rudder-bar sUnultancously when picking ttp a wing-tip in bumpy air.
The Earl of Cardigan’s Avro had been converted to carry two passengers in the back cockpit but even when stacked with suitcases beside a solitary passenger, performance and trim were scarcely affected. He used Ill gallons of petrol an hour, and quite a lot of oil, the bill for both of which totalled about (I per hour. Harald Penrose, OBE. reminds me that draughtsmen who worked on the. drawings for the prototype Avro 504 were R. J. Parrott, who supervised the work of Cliff Horrex and Roy Chadwick. the latter becoming Avro’s Chief Draughtsman, then in 1918 their Chief Designer. Penrose, that great test-pilot and aeronautical historian. had his first flight in 1919, as a passenger in a Berkshire Aviation Avro 504. An astonishing number of aer,lanes of various makes and types have been built since then but, studying Putnam’s Aeronautical Histories, I have been equally as-tonished at how many were crashed. Today about the only Aver 504 still flying in this country is G-ADEV. a Le Rhone-Avro of the Shuttleworth Trust, which
was re-converted to civilian specification by Avro apprentices and acquired by the Trust in 1958.