In the summer of 1913, when I was just 16 years old, I managed to get into the aeroplane drawing office of the Austin Motor Company and in a few months was engaged in stressing and simple design work. The Austin Motor Company, in fact, built a number of prototype areroplanes — earlier ones under the direction of JD North, subsequently of Boulton Paul, and latterly under John Kenworthy, who arrived from the Royal Aircraft Establishment in, I think, 1916. Kenworthy’s first aeroplane, which flew I suppose in the spring of 1919, was a two-seater fighter bomber with a 320 horsepower ABC engine, intended as a Bristol Fighter replacement. The War ended before this machine, or any of its competitors, could go into production.
Kenworthy’s second machine was the Austin Whippet. I did some of the stressing under the direction of TH Jones who was the chief stress man, and, believe it or not, I carried out the detailed design of the tail unit.
It really was a splendid little aeroplane with its simple steel tube fuselage and its folding wings. It was, however. and I am quite sure you feel the same, under-engined. It could have done with another 20 horsepower. We built six of them, at least one of which went to South America, and I wish one had been preserved for the Shuttleworth Collection: I do wish you had been able to hang on to yours.
We used to fly the Whippet from a small airfield which we created at Longbridge by cutting off the top of a small hill. You certainly could, with skill, get it in and out of quite small spaces. I do not know when the design competitions for civil aircraft were announced by the government. but I imagine it was in 1919. There were competitions for two or three classes at least — one for marine aircraft and one for commercial aircraft. At Austin’s we designed a beautiful aeroplane called the Kestrel, which was a side-by-side two seater and entered it for the appropriate competition. We were ready and flying on the due date, but none of the other competitors were and they — the bigger boys— persuaded the government to keep the competition open for another 12 months. We could have done a bigger if not better job had we known that the time was to be extended, but there was no time for us to do another complete machine. We were the only people ready on the original competition closing date, and even at the extended date we got 3rd prize.
And that was the end of aircraft design at Longbridge. We had a good design team and, deserved a better fate than being shut-down, but the only thing to do in the immediate post-war period was to concentrate on very short-term projects and Austin concentrated on motor cars, not without success.
Peterborough was, of course, wrong in referring to the Whippet as a two-seater. I am so glad you liked it so much; there cannot be many people who remember it. I have some photographs of it somewhere and one day they will turn up: when they do I will see that you get copies. The test pilot was a Flight Lieutenant called Nares, and we even had a Publicity Manager with the incredible name of C Newman Gudgeon.
You mentioned in your letter two people whom I knew well — FG Miles and Tom Chapman. It is certainly a pity that you did not ask Mr. Chapman for a Genet.
After the aeroplane design office closed down. I had one or two years in the Austin shops. Having got an external degree I went to the University and there became enamoured of airships. In 1924 I was one of the first of the design team which made R101 but in the end found my way to Farnborough. on aeroplanes again.