Airspeed – The timeline (1930-1939)

Key dates in the history of Airspeed Limited from the events leading to its inception to the final closing of the factory gates. This section (1930-39) covers the events leading to its founding to the outbreak of WWII.


5 October 1930 – British airship, the R.101, crashes on its maiden flight to India at Beauvais Ridge, France.


2 December 1930 – Airship Guarantee Company, makers of the R.100 and wholly owned subsidiary of Vickers, closes down following a Government decision to stop airship building and development after the R.101 disaster.


20 February 1931 – First unofficial board meeting of a embryonic Airspeed aircraft company.


20 February 1931 – First unofficial board meeting of a embryonic Airspeed aircraft company.


3 March 1931 – Airspeed Ltd formed in York by ex-Airship Guarantee Company employees, Nevil Shute Norway and Alfred Hessell Tiltman who are joint managing directors. Lord Grimthorpe (chairman), Alan J Cobham, and A E Hewitt are the other members of the board.


25 April 1931 – Initial share issue closed. The £5,300 raised was too little to develop a powered aircraft, which led to Airspeed's first design being a glider.


17 April 1931 – First official board meeting.


June 1931 – Alan Cobham places an order for two examples of the planned Airspeed AS.4 Ferry, a three-engine passenger plane.


July 1931 – A Hessell Tiltman assisted in design by A E Ellison, who stayed with Airspeed until 1951.


August 1931 – First flight trials of the Airspeed AS.1 Tern, an advanced glider (also known as a sailplane). N S Norway made its first flight from Sherburn-in-Elmet aerodrome.


November 1931 – D D Little appointed Company Secretary.


17 November 1931 – Hessell Tiltman's initial designs for the Airspeed AS.5 Courier approved by the Board.


5 April 1932 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.4 Ferry (G-ABSI), piloted by Capt H V Worrall, chief pilot at the Yorkshire Aeroplane Club run by National Flying Services.


April 1932 – R D King joins the company (later appointed Business Manager). 


6 May 1932 – provisional order for the AS.5 Courier signed. Ordered by Alan Cobham, with funding from Lord Wakefield. He later used the prototype G-ABXN to carry out air-to-air refuelling trials.


September 1932 – Airspeed win contract to build a two-seat plane, the SM.1, designed by W S Shackleton and C Lee Murray.


March 1933 –  Airspeed move from a rented bus garage in York to a new factory at Portsmouth.


11 April 1933 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.5 Courier (G-ABXN), flown by F/Lt G H Stainforth, a former Schneider Trophy winner hired for the occasion, from Portsmouth Airport.


August 1933 – Airspeed in financial difficulties and is saved by four working shareholders investing a further £10,000 in the company.

         – Leonard Tetley joins the board after investing £10,000.


May 1934 – First commercial (cargo) flight using an Airspeed AS.5 Courier, operated by Bouts-Tillotson Transport between London and Manchester.


26 June 1934 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.6 Envoy (G-ACMT), flown by F/Lt C H A 'Percy' Colman, who had joined Airspeed from Midland and Scottish Air Ferries (which suspended operations at the end of September). It was displayed at the SBAC show at Hendon in July.


July 1934 – Takeover agreement announced with Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd (large Newcastle-upon-Tyne shipbuilders). The original Airspeed Ltd company is put into liquidation and a new company Airspeed (1934) Ltd created. The board consists of the original Airspeed Ltd (1931) directors, who were joined by C S Hunter, Sir Philip Wigham Richardson and George Wigham Richardson. A E Hewitt, a York solicitor and one of the original board members, was asked to retire to make way for the new directors.


September 1934 – G B S Errington joins Airspeed as an aircraft inspector. However, his skill as a pilot is recognised by Cyril Colman and he is chosen to be a test pilot.


22 September 1934 – Alan Cobham and Squadron Leader W Helmore attempt a non-stop flight using air-to-air refuelling from England to India in Airspeed AS.5 Courier (G-ABXN). First refuelling from a Handley Page W.10 (G-EBMR), Youth of New Zealand, was successful. However, a mechanical fault resulted in a forced-landing at Malta, after the second refuelling from G-EBMM damaged the aircraft and ended the attempt.


October 1934 – MacRobertson England-Australia Air Race – Airspeed AS.8 Viceroy (G-ACMU) built to order for Capt T Neville Stack and his co-pilot S L Turner. The race was won by the de Havilland DH.88 Comet Racer designed by Arthur E Hagg (who later played a more important role in the Airspeed story). The first production AS.5 Courier (G-ACJL), flown by Sqdn Ldr D E Stodart (who originally entered G-ACVF), with his nephew as copilot, finished third in the handicap race.


3 December 1934 – Cheetah-engined long range AS.6 variant (G-ACYJ) built for C T P Ulm (a famous Australian airman who re-registers it as VH-UXY) leaves Oakland, California for Hawaii in a trans-Pacific record attempt. But although they were known to have ditched safely no trace was ever found of Charles Ulm, co-pilot G M Littlejohn and navigator J L Skilling.


1935 – Airspeed Aeronautical School (later College) founded at Portsmouth Airport.


29 January 1935 – Share capital increased by £130,000 to fund an agreement with A H G Fokker to build his designs (and Douglas Aircraft designs, like the DC2, as Fokker had the European licence) and sell them within the British Empire. Although the agreement did not have much of an impact as Airspeed's manufacturing capacity was limited and it eventually lapsed. Fokker was also hired as a consultant for seven years.


Mid-January 1935 – G-ACVJ, first Lynx engine powered AS.6 Envoy (the colonial / overseas variant), flown by F/Lt H C Johnson and Alan Cobham sets off for India, where it was used as a demonstrator. Built to the order of R K Dundas Limited (a firm set up by Lord Ronaldshay and R D King).


April 1935 – AS.6 Envoy enters airline service with North Eastern Airlines, formed by Lord Grimthorpe (Alan Cobham forms Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation later that year for destinations south of London).


August 1935 – Manufacturing licence for the AS.6 Envoy sold to Mitsubishi of Japan. Initially order 2, then another 4 more three months later [In his autobiography, N S Norway states that a Japanese visitor got drunk and spoke of the coming war – information that was passed to the authorities].


10 October 1935 – Two AS.6 Envoys officially enter service with the then Czechoslovakian airline Ceskoslovenske Statni Aerolinie (CSA).


May 1936 – Order for two prototype Airspeed AS.30 Queen Wasps (radio controlled gunnery targets).


July 1936 – A Townsley, formerly from Swan Hunter, becomes general manager.


4 July 1936 – First two (of 7 ordered) convertible civilian-military Envoys set out on their delivery flight to South Africa.


September 1936 – AS.6 Envoy (G-AENA) Gabrielle crashed on take off at Abercorn, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Entered by Max H Findlay and Ken Waller (Waller flew one of the other DH.88 Comets in the MacRoberston air race) in the Schlesinger Trophy race from Portsmouth to Johannesburg, the crash killed two of the four crew. Max Findlay and radio operator A H Morgan lost their lives.

– Lord Nuffield announces the decision for Wolseley to stop producing aero engines (which had been intended for use in the Airspeed Envoy trainer – AS.10 Oxford) [Please note: one source states that the decision was announced in October]


October 1936 – Order received for 136 Oxford trainers for the RAF.


31 December 1936 – George Wigham Richardson takes over as chairman from Lord Grimthorpe.


January 1937 – First of two Airspeed AS.6 Envoys delivered to China, flown by F/Lt C H A 'Percy' Colman. The second, delivered in June, was flown by G B S Errington.


March 1937 – Order received for an Airspeed AS.6 Envoy for the King's Flight.


1 May 1937 – Malayan Airways Limited AS.65 Consul (VR-SCD) took off from Singapore's Kallang Airport on its first scheduled flight. Eventually, in 1972, it split into Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airline System.


11 June 1937 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.30 Queen Wasp (K8887) landplane prototype, piloted by G B S Errington, from Portsmouth Airport. Developed as a replacement to the Queen Bee (a radio controlled Tiger Moth for use as a gunnery target).


19 June 1937 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.10 Oxford (L4534), flown by F/Lt C H A 'Percy' Colman. Later developments of this aircraft being the AS.40-3, AS.46 and AS.65 Consul (civilian conversion of the Oxford military trainer).


September 1937 – W F 'Bill' Shaylor appointed Commercial Manager.


November 1937 – First Airspeed AS.10 Oxford trainers delivered to the RAF.


April 1938  – Following a disagreement co-founder and Joint MD Nevil Shute Norway leaves the company to become a full-time writer (Nevil Shute). He goes on indefinite leave with a generous settlement (he still had 15 months to run on his contract). Hessell Tiltman supported in MD role by A Townsley.


May 1938 – King George VI uses Airspeed AS.6 Envoy III (G-AEXX) to tour RAF training stations.


June 1938 – After winning a large Government contract, construction is sub-contracted to the de Havilland Aircraft Company and Percival Aircraft Company.


1939 – Subsidiary company, Fireproof Tanks Ltd established to use licensed technology from CIMA to make self-sealing fuel tanks.

Click here for timeline (1940-1968) 



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