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A.V. Roe & Co / Avro

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One of the world’s first aircraft manufacturers, A.V. Roe and Company was formed by Edwin Alliott Verdon-Roe and his brother H.V. Roe at Brownsfield Mills in Manchester on the 1st January 1910. Alliott Verdon-Roe was the first Englishman to make a powered flight, at Brooklands in 1908. A.V. Roe, whose early experiments in aviation led to the development of A. V. Roe & Co., Manchester and Southampton. It was Roe who really originated the tractor type of machine which is so popular to-day. Hampered by lack of finance and encouragement, this energetic pioneer worked day in and day out upon his invention until at last he persuaded it to leave the ground. It is said, strictly among his friends of course, that A. V. Roe was so enthusiastic in his efforts to perfect a flying machine that he totally forgot to have his hair cut, for in those days his appearance gave one the impression of a musician rather than that of a practical scientific investigator. A study of the various machines produced by this firm illustrates the progress of aeroplane design in an interesting manner.

His career, though distinguished, is typical; many other pioneers and inventors, whose story will never be written, faced difficulties as he did, and helped to lay the foundations of their country's excellence in the newly-discovered art. It has become almost usual, among those who do nothing but write, to insist that the duty of officials, and other persons publicly appointed, is to save Englishmen the trouble of thinking and acting for themselves. If the nation were converted to this belief, the greatness of England would be nearing its term. But the nation stands in the old ways, and clings to the old adventurous instincts. As it took to the sea in the sixteenth century to defeat the Spanish tyranny, so it took to the air in the twentieth century to defeat the insolence of the Germans.

Mr. Roe began life as an apprentice at the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Locomotive Works, and very early distinguished himself in cycle racing. He then qualified as a fitter at Portsmouth Dockyard, studied naval engineering at King's College, London, and spent three years, from 1899 to 1902, in the merchant service as a marine engineer. The seagulls and the albatross of the southern seas set him thinking, and he began to make model gliders. Returned home again, he spent some time as a draughtsman in the motor industry. The news of the Wrights' achievements found in him a ready believer, and he wrote to The Times to combat the prevailing scepticism. His letter was printed, with a foot-note by the engineering editor to the effect that all attempts at artificial flight on such a basis as Mr. Roe described were not only dangerous to human life, but were foredoomed to failure from the engineering standpoint. From 1906 onwards Mr. Roe devoted all his time and all his savings to aviation.

A.V. Roe designed his first machine, a biplane, in 1906. It was the first British machine to leave the ground. In 1907 he made a full-size flying machine and took it to the Brooklands motor track. He had no sufficient engine power, and while he was waiting many months for the arrival of a twenty-four horse-power Antoinette engine from France he induced sympathetic motorists to give him experimental towing flights. It was difficult, he says, to induce the motorists to let go at once when the machine began to swerve in the air; they often held on with inconvenient fidelity, and many of the experiments ended in a dive and a crash.

In April 1907 models of aeroplanes and flying machines excited the curiosity of visitors to Cordinglty's Motor Show and Aero Club Display at the Agricultural Hall, London. Of all the competitors only two attained anything appproximating success. Mr. H. Crouchley's aeroplane fell on its rudder when the force of the preliminary throw was spent, and Mr. H.H. Piffard's model bent its propeller on the first attempt. Nearly forty feet were covered by Mr. P.P. Clarke's machine ere it fell, the combined force of the propeller and the inventor's "throw" securing such a result, the most encouraging up to that point. The great Albatross, that was generally surrounded by a crowd at the Agricultural Hall, only flew 10 ft., and then fluttered down on to its beak. Mr. H. B. Webb's three-decker aeroplane, after rising to some height, capsized, and made a rapid descent, which ended in the damage of the machine. Mr. Montford Kay's five-decker apparatus did little more than turn a somersault. Again Messrs. Roe and Howard were easily in advance of their rivals. Mr. F. W. Howard's glider, the screw driven by a coiled spring, went over 71 ft. Mr. A.V. Roe's Aeroplane flew full into a net ninety feet away.

By May 1908 Mr. A. V. Roe's aeroplane was almost ready for its new trials. On several occasions it has been used as a kite with the operator on board: towed round the Brooklands track by a motor car, it had risen off the ground with facility at some thirty miles an hour, and proved easily controllable. But, as expected, the 8-h. p. J.A.P. motor proved to be totally insufficient, and was replaced by a 24-h. p. water-cooled Antoinette. In the spring of 1908 his Antoinette engine arrived, and on the 8th of June he made the first flight ever made in England, covering some sixty yards at a height of two feet from the ground. Then he received notice to quit Brooklands. He had never been much favoured by the management, who perhaps thought that the wreckage of aeroplanes would not add to the popularity of a motor-racing track, and his experiments had been made under very difficult conditions, for he was not allowed to sleep in the shed where his machine was housed, nor to practise with the machine during the hours when the track was in use.

He applied to the War Office for leave to erect his shed by the side of Mr. Cody's at Laffan's Plain, but was refused. He then consulted a map of London, and pitched upon Lea Marshes, where there were some large fields open to the public, and some railway arches, a couple of which he rented and boarded up. In the stable of a house at Putney belonging to one of his brothers he had already built a tractor triplane which he now removed to Lea Marshes.

Under the stress of his misfortunes he had parted with his Antoinette engine, so he had nothing better for his triplane than a nine horse-power J.A.P. motor-cycle engine designed by John Alfred Prestwich. With this, the lowest-powered engine that has ever flown in England, he made, in June 1909, the first successful flight on an all-British aeroplane. Thereafter he made many flights; the earliest of these were short and low, earning him the name of 'Roe the Hopper ', but before long he was making flights of three hundred yards in length at a height of from six to ten feet.

The 'Bull's Eye,' as the triplane with which Mr. Roe carried out many experiments on the Lea Marshes in 1908-1909 was called, weighed only 200 lbs. It had a surface area of about 300 square feet, while the engine was a 10 h.p. Jap. The fuselage was triangular in section, the pilot being situated some distance behind the main planes. The main planes could be swivelled round a horizontal axis in order to vary the angle of incidence. These main planes could also be warped in order to maintain lateral stability, while directional control was maintained by the rudder at the rear of the tail planes. The triplane tail was of the lifting type, and was rigidly attached to the rear end of the fuselage. A. V. Roe's triplane was an unlucky machine. It figured in three mishaps, the last of which cost its owner nearly $2,000. A strange thing, this machine was one of the first aeroplanes to fly in England, the only one of its kind that ever flew, and was always fairly successful, even carrying a passenger beside the operator.

One day in the summer of 1909 a young woman who had come down to commit suicide in the river Lea saw his machine skimming about and went home; then she wrote to Mr. Roe urging him to let her take his place as pilot and so save his life at the expense of hers. Mr. Roe very tactfully replied that he would gladly let her fly the machine when he had perfected it, thus offering her something to look forward to. But his chief troubles were with the local authorities, who employed a bailiff to watch him and prevent his flying. At Brooklands Mr. Roe had become accustomed to early rising, and it was some time before the bailiff caught him in the act of preparing to fly, but he was caught at last, and policecourt proceedings were instituted. Just at that time Bleriot flew the Channel, and the case was dropped, so that the authorities were not called upon to decide whether flying is legal or illegal.

As for Mr. Roe, he moved on to Wembley Park, where he flew with steadily increasing success. In 1910 he made an aviation partnership with his brother, who had prospered as a manufacturer of webbing in Manchester. In the same year«he had his revenge on Brooklands, for the new manager, Major Lindsay Lloyd, saw the possibilities of aviation, and converted the centre of the track into an aerodrome. There the Roes were welcomed, and there they produced and flew their thirty-five horse-power tractor triplane.

In 1911 he abandoned triplanes for the Avro biplane. It was fitted with a 35 h.p. Green engine, only the nose portion of the fuselage being covered with fabric, while the body was triangular in shape as in the triplane. The tail plane was of the non-lifting type fitted with elevators, and lateral stability was obtained by warping the main planes. After a visit to America they settled down to their work and had their revenge on the War Office by producing the famous "Avro machine, so named after its inventor. In its original form it was a tractor biplane with a Gnome engine of fifty horse-power, shortly afterwards increased to eighty horse-power.

The Avro 504 K, which is a modification of the Avro 1913 machine, had been used as the standard training machine for pilots of the Royal Air Force, and by 1922 was practically the only early machine still in general use. It became, and remained, the standard training machine for the Royal Air Force. It is sufficiently stable, and yet sensitive, and can fly safely at high or low speeds. It set the fashion to the world in tractor biplanes. Mr. Roe had never believed in the front elevators of the early American and French aeroplanes, with the pilot sitting on the front edge of the plane, exposed to the air; nor in the tail held out by booms, as it is in the pusher machines, with the airscrews revolving between the body of the machine and the tail. For his perfected machine of 1913 he had the advice of experts and mathematicians, but the general design of the machine was his own, worked out by pure air-sense, or, in his own words, by 'eye and experience '.

The Avro "Pike" was the first Avro twin-engined machine to be built, and was intended for work as a three-seater fighter; a gunner was stationed in the nose and another well aft halfway between the planes and the tail. The machine had an adjustable tail, rotatable gun rings and bomb racks. It was fitted with two l60-hp. Sunbeam engines. Another model used two 150-hp. Green engines, the airscrew being tractors instead of pushers.

Type 530 was a two-seater fighter and a radical departure from the usual Avro practice. Instead of rotaries it used a water-cooled 200-hp. Sunbeam Arab. The wing tips were totally different, the fuselage was deeper and of a different shape. The object of the design was to provide as good a view as possible for both pilot and gunner, the pilot being so placed that his eyes were on a level with the under side of the top plane, and the gunner firing over the top plane. A sort of fin was extended up from the body; inside this fin was mounted the pilot's machine gun, synchronized, while the gunner's weapon was mounted on a rotatable gun ring. Originally it was fitted with a 300-hp. HispanoSuiza engine, later with 200-hp. Sunbeam Arabs and 200-hp. Hispano-Suizas.

One of their first designs, which was to keep the company busy through-out the First World War and beyond, was the Avro 504 fighter, with production eventually reaching 8,340 aircraft.

In the 1920s, having out grown their Brownsfield Mills site, A.V. Roe moved to New Hall Farm, Woodford in Cheshire. In 1928, Alliott Verdon-Roe sold his shares in the company and with the proceeds purchased the S.E. Saunders Company and formed Saunders-Roe, who later became famous for building flying boats. During this turmoil at Avro’s, Roy Chadwick returned to the Woodford factory as Chief Designer. He had first joined A.V.Roe and Company in 1911, as Alliott’s personal assistant and the firm’s draughtsman. He worked on many of the company’s early designs before moving to Avro’s new Experimental Test Station at Hamble near Southampton.

In 1935, Avro became a subsidiary of Hawker Siddeley. In the lead-up to the Second World War, Avro produced a number of aircraft extensively used by the Royal Air Force, including the Avro Tutor training aircraft, the Anson and the Manchester, Lancaster and Lincoln bombers.

After the war, Roy Chadwick designed the Avro Tudor, which was Britain’s first pressurised airliner, however, with the development of jet airliners at de Havilland, very few Tudors were built. Sadly, Chadwick died on 23rd August 1947 in an accident involving the prototype of the Avro Tudor 2, but not before overseeing the initial designs for another classic Avro aircraft, the Vulcan. The Vulcan bomber was originally designed as a nuclear strike aircraft and maintained the British nuclear deterrent through the early days of the Cold War.

When Avro was absorbed into Hawker Siddeley Aviation in July 1962, the Avro name was dropped. However, the Avro name was to re-appear thirty years later when in 1994 British Aerospace re-branded its 146 regional jet design and adopted the name Avro RJ (Regional Jet). The Woodford airfield remained in operation, where BAE Systems built the Nimrod MRA.4 for the Royal Air Force. BAE Systems announced the sale of its Woodford site to Avro Heritage Limited Tuesday, 20 December 2011. Avro has vowed to continue Woodford’s association with the aviation industry. Over the past 90 years, more than 20,000 aircraft - including the Lancaster Bomber, Canberra, Vulcan, Nimrod and Avro jets – have been built there.





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Page last modified: 09-05-2013 17:37:47 ZULU