Airspeed – The timeline (1940-1968)

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 (1940-1968) covers the period after de Havillands take control.


June 1940 – A subcontractor since June 1938, de Havilland Aircraft Company purchases the shares held by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson effectively taking control of the Airspeed. DHAC chairman, Alan S Butler, and directors: Frank Hearle, F E N St Barbe and W E Nixon, join the Airspeed board. J Liddell (ex-Swan Hunter and company secretary) also becomes a board member. The Airspeed Design team move from Portsmouth to Hatfield.


2 October 1940 – Junkers Ju88A-1 (Werk. No.4136) of Stab I/KG77, '3Z + BB', dropped four bombs on de Havillands destroying the 94 Shop and Airspeed Design Office at Hatfield and damaging a number of others. In possibly one of the most devastating hit-and-run German raids of the war, the mock-up, drawings and design calculations of the AS.49, a single-engine, single-seater fighter powered by a Gipsy VI engine were destroyed leading to the cancellation of the project. The Airspeed Design Team were then moved to Salisbury Hall, where they worked on developing the AS.51 Horsa glider (after its completion the bulk of the team were relocated to Portsmouth, where they worked on the AS.58 Horsa II with a hinged nose allowing it to carry vehicles or artillery).


18 October 1940 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.39 Fleet Shadower (N1323) prototype, piloted by G B S Errington. Only two prototypes of the four-engined, folding wing, carrier-based aircraft were ordered.


January 1941 – F/Lt C H A Colman killed in action. The Airspeed test pilot had returned to the RAF at the start of WWII. He was lost over the Channel during a combat mission (3 or 4 January) while flying as Acting Squadron Leader with No.23 Squadron. His body was recovered from the sea and he is buried at St Andrew's Church, Tangmere.


19 February 1941 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.45 Cambridge  (T2249) prototype, piloted by G B S Errington. Only two prototypes of the Bristol Mercury engine, advanced training aircraft were built.


12 September 1941 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.51 Horsa (DG597), flown by G B S Errington, towed by an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley flown by Nick Carter at Fairey Aviation's Great West Aerodrome (now part of Heathrow).


1942 – Sir Alan Cobham, one of the original directors, leaves the company. Followed by the last of the co-founders, A Hessell Tiltman.


January 1942 – Second Airspeed AS.51 Horsa protoype (DG600) flown at Snaith, Yorkshire.


1 January 1943 – Arthur Hagg, once chief designer at de Havillands, officially appointed Airspeed technical director and director of design (he had been invited by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to work on the Airspeed AS.56 Napier-engined fighter in 1942).


25 January 1944 – Airspeed (1934) Ltd changes name back to Airspeed Ltd.


September 1944 – Design team section under A E Hagg moves from Fairmile Manor, Cobham to Christchurch factory.


14 July 1945 – Last of 4,411 AS Oxfords built at Portsmouth is delivered to the RAF. Of the at least 8,586 built (there is some uncertainty about the totals), 1,515 were made at Hatfield [de Havilland figures say 1,440 produced during the war].


1946 – Philip E Gordon-Marshall appointed to the Board as Sales Director.

– Christchurch factory given subcontract work for DH.100 Vampire fuselages.


March 1946 – First Airspeed AS.65 Consul (G-AGVY), a civilian conversion of a Hatfield-built AS.10 Oxford (V3679), is certified and sold to the Bata Shoe Company.


10 July 1947 – First flight of the Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador (G-AGUA), flown by George Errington, Airspeed chief test pilot, from Christchurch. He was accompanied by J Pears as flight observer and engineer.


1948 – de Havilland takeover of Airspeed is completed when holders agree to exchange their 6% preference shares for £1 de Havilland ordinary shares.


26 August 1948 – First flight of the second Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador prototype (G-AKRD) – the first to be pressurised – from Christchurch.


23 September 1948 – Contract for 20 Airspeed AS.57 Ambassadors signed with British European Airways (BEA), who called their Ambassadors Elizabethans.


9 November 1948 – AS.65 Consul NJ318 (G-AKCW) made its first flight  fitted with Alvis Leonides engines as VX587.


Summer 1949 – Arthur E Hagg retires as technical director and hands over to George H Miles as chief designer (who left at the end of 1951 to join his brother F G Miles, and was replaced by W A Tamblin, a senior designer at de Havillands).


May 1950 – First flight of the third Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador prototype, (G-ALFR) Golden Hind, which was the first production prototype.


13 November 1950 – Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador prototype, (G-ALFR), piloted by Airspeed test pilot R E Clear, crashes on landing at Hurn, Christchurch during trials. Despite damage to the undercarriage and both engines shearing off it flies again in three weeks.


15 November 1950 – DH.115 Vampire Trainer, designed and built at Christchurch, makes its first flight.


10 April 1951 – AS.57 Ambassador (G-ALZN) Elizabethan, the flagship of the BEA Ambassador fleet made its first flight.


June 1951 – Decision to absorb Airspeed into de Havillands is announced. The company becomes the Airspeed Division of de Havilland (the Christchurch factory later becomes the de Havilland Aircraft Company, Christchurch).


End 1951 – G H Miles resigns as Airspeed's chief designer and is replaced by W A Tamblin (under overall direction of R E Bishop from Hatfield).


13 March 1952 – First scheduled BEA Elizabethan London-Paris service. Ambassadors (Elizabethans) stayed in BEA service for just over 6 years.


16 June 1952 – First flight, using BEA Ambassadors (Elizabethans), of the resumed luxury Silver Wing service to Paris (originally started in 1926).


6 February 1958 – AS.57 Ambassador (G-ALZU) Lord Burghley, crashes on takeoff at Munich Airport killing 23 of the 44 people on board – including eight Manchester United players.


30 July 1958 – Last scheduled BEA Elizabethan flight from Cologne-London. Although Ambassadors continued in service for around a decade.


1959 – Christchurch Design Office closed down and W A Tamblin returns to Hatfield (along with most of the team).


August 1961 – Decision to shed 1,500 workers posts announced in the local Portsmouth newspaper.


October 1962 – Final DH assembly leaves Portsmouth factory.


1968 – Portsmouth site closed.


Click here for timeline (1930-1939) 



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