THE AVRO 504 — A Tribute



THE AVRO 5.D4 — A Tribute w BEFORE the First orld War, aeroplanes wgn

wgn regarded as wonderful, mysterious, but seldom-encountered things, so far as those outside the intimate circle of the pioneer aviators were concerned. The future of the flying machine was regarded with scepticism — if God had intended man to fly, He would have made them grow wings, people said. . . .

The mae that engulfed Europe and altered a way of life that had remained largely unchanged for centuries, brought the ordinary man closer to the aeroplane, either as a soldier watching fights between RFC pilots and German airmen far above the trenches, or as a civilian aware of the German bombers (and Zeppelins, flying over English cities, intent on death and destruction. So it was natural, when peace eventually broke out, that many members of the public wanted to “go up”, to take a “joy-ride”, in an aeroplane, even though these were still regarded with considerable awe, their forced-landings a matter of great local excitement, and crashrs of morbid interest to the Press.

Even after the first non-stop Atlantic flight had been accomplished (for American readers, perhaps I should add by a British Vickers Vimy, on Rolls-Royce engines) aeroplanes were only partially accepted by many people, and at that time, in spite of the enormous numbers of different ones that had been built and flown, all small aeroplanes were called Acres, all large ones Handley-Pages, by the uninitiated. This is hardly surprising when it is realised just how many Avro 504 bi-planes there were and how often those who braved a “flip” or “joy-ride” did so in one of them. Although the prototype 504 did not fly until July 1913 (at Brooklands), by thread of the war in 1918, 8,340 had been built, each one costing just less than £869 without engine or instruments. As the Avro remained she RAF’s standard training aeroplane into the mid-19205 when the Avro Tutor replaced it, with the Lynx version remaining in service to 1933, it is not surprising that it was easily obtainable by the “barnstormers” who gcn, for very small sums, aeroplanes that in later form, ready to fly, had cost the taxpayer £1,676 each, when a 40/50 Rolls-Royce chassis cost £2,100. It is estimated that A. V. Roc & Co. Ltd. took up more than 30,000 joy-riders in Avro 504s from seaside resorts in the summer of 1919, and in addition Alan later Sir Alan, Cobham’s Berkshire Aviation. rho Cornwall Aviation Company, the North British Aviation Co., Surrey FlYiu, Services and many other such ventures were doing similiar “joy-ride” business. (Incidentally, can anyone tell me whether Cobham’s old shed at East Hannay, near Wantage, or the sac of it. still exists?)

It is not surprising that the “mystique” remained, for even those who were now well acquainted with motor vehicles must have found very strange the fixed-speed rotary engin!, controllable only by a button-type igniuon “blip-switch” or the petrol tap, the fumes of burnt castor-oil. the apparent absence of any noun!’ carburetter or magneto on the very odd cowlediu power units, and she forbidding single nose-dud that protected an Avro’s propeller when it nosed over. To accommodate extra passengers, the dual controls would be removed from RFC or School Avros and the rear cockpit extend.’ to take an additional ivo, or even three, occupants. Apar, from training many RArpilots, the faithful Mr° was used by civilian Flying Schools, notably by the Henderson School at Brooklands, until the

little DH Moth took over after about 1926 — from when all small aeroplanes were deemed to be Moths! The Avro 504 was a product of A. V. Roe 82 Co. Ltd., founded by the famous pioneer airman, to whom a memorial was erected in 1954 by Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd. at Brooklands to commemorate his flights from the Finishing Straight in 1907/8, Roe being one of the first British pilots to get airborne. The 504 was designed by Roy Chadwick and made at the Manchester factory of A. V. Roe, and, during the war, by many sub-contractors, including the Sunbeam and Humber Motor Companies. The early versions had the 80 h.p. Gnome rotary engine. Later Aviv 504s used the 100 h.p. Gnome Monosoupape (the Mono-Avro), the 110 h.p. Le Rhone, and 130 h.p. Clerget, the 504J having

been given a universal enginemounting to facilitate using thew various rotary engines. Even the 150 h.p. Bentley BR1 rotary engine was installed in the 504K and the later 504N was given Armstrong-Siddeley Lynx and Mongoose radial engines, although some operators reverted to the by-then-ancestral Clerget power.

As late as the outbreak of WW2, the Avro 504Ns used by Air Publicity Ltd. of Heston were Unpressed by the RAF for experimental work associated with gliders and radar. The Anderson brothers also used Avro 504Ns for aerial publicity work from Hanworth Air Park, the Earl of Cardigan was a satisfied user of one long after it was in common usage, flying it from his private aerodrome at Marlborough until 1936 and saying he required nothing better than this safe and easily serviced aeroplane for getting in and out of small fields on leisurely journeys, and as late as 1935 Zenith Airways was taking up joy-riders from Camber Sands in their Clerget-Avro 504. Radial-engined 504s flew as seaplanes.

But it was before, during, and shortly after WWI that the Avro 504 was the man-in-the-strect’s idea of an aeroplane. During hostilities it never did much fighting, although some were converted irfto single-seaters, given a Lewis machine-gun, and used by the RAF in 1918 for Home Defence. However, it was as a great training aeroplane that the RFC and RAF best remembered the Avro 504. Hundreds of Service pilots were trained on the friendly Avro and in August 1917 the 504J was adopted by Major R. R. Smith-Barry as the standard trainer of the School of Special Flying at Gosport (using communication by headphones, between instructor and pupil). This remained the system used by the Royal Air Force, the 504K being recognised as the sole training type from February 1918, its rotary engine thought a good introduction to Sopwith Pups and Camels, etc. GnsPort Avros were expected to be flown to the limits of the machine’s capabilities, and some wonderful performances were seen there, by skilled pilots like Williams, Foote, Breardly and Duncan-Davies (the last-named “Skipper” of the Post-war Brooklands School of Flying). Capt, Williams, Commander of “C.-Flight, for instance, liked to end a flight in his 504J by landing it between two hangars regardless of the direction of the wind, swinging round on his landing run, to finish up inside “C” — Flight’s hangar) Some French war-time pilots were ttained on these Avros and HRH Prince Albert ‘king George VI) learned to fly a 504J. The Avro 504 had a wing-span of 36 ft., was 291, ft., long, had a wing area of 330 sq. ft. and weighed 924 lb. empty, or 1,100 lb. in MOrio-Avro form. It was not fast, the prototype

cleaving the skies at 81 m.p.h. flat out and the production Gnome-Avro and Mono-Avro being only fractionally faster. You could get 90 m.p.h. from a Clerget-Avro, 95 m.p.h. from a Le Rhone-powered 504, but with age a cruising speed of 65 to 70 m.p.h. was more normal. The 504K had an initial rate-of-climb of 700 ft./min., and the Mono-Avro had a service-ceiling of 13,000 ft. The Le Rhone-Avro could get to 16,000 ft., but took 16 minutes to reach 10,0006. By way of comparison, the DH 60 Cirrus Moth of 1925 had a wing-span of 29 ft., weighed 770 lb. empty, and would do 90 m.p.h. and cruise at 80 m.p.h. with an initial climb of 436 min, and a ceiling of 13,000 ft.: with its folding wings it was a much more “garageable” aeroplane that the Avro. The Avro’s 21-gallon main petrol tank and supplementary 41/2-gallon gravity tank gave the normal 504 a range of 225 miles, although a 504L could only manage 160 miles,

It was the docile handling qualities and its ability to get down in spaces no small that not many light aeroplanes would have cared to follow it, that made this Avro 504 so well-liked by those who flew it. Moreover, the Gnome engine could be overhauled a cylinder at a time in the open air, and often was. Avros of this kind were largely indestructable, and easily repaired if disaster struck. Pilots buds great regard for the Avro 504. Cecil Lewis has described it as handy on the controls,

simple to fly, with no vices or idiosyncracies, with which most who flew it were in agreement. Apart from all its other roles. the 504 was also raced. For example, F. P. Raynham flew the prototype into 4th place in the 1913 Aerial Derby, at 661/2 m.p.h., and G-ADEV, the 1915 Lc Rhone 504K now owned and flown by the Shuttleworth Trust, won the 1937 Devon Air Race. at 103 m.p.h. And Hendon Air Displays saw them in the air before the between-war crowds. . . Sometimes they force-landed (I remember as a schoolboy hearing of a 504 which came down on Tooting Bec Common, but have only recently learned that in avoiding some children the pilot pulled the wings off between two trees). Occasionally they crashed, even fatally, but mostly these old Avros gave wonderful service, to those who believed in them. But their days am now long past. R. Dallas-Brett has written of being among them, “soon after dawn on a summer’s morning, with the queer fizzing sound of a Gnome engine in one’s cars and the whiff of burnt castor-oil, the most exciting smell in the world, in one’s nostrils.” But, as he added, “the Gnome is gone and Lord Wakefield has taken the scent, if not the romance, out of castor oil. . .” And it was amid the heady scent of the stuff, blended with the aroma of crushed grass and the pear-drop perfume of newly-doped wing-fabric, as Harold Penrose remembers from his first flight in just such an Aviv. that the then-seemingly-immortal 504 belonged. — W.B.