Montage of cigarette cards with Airspeed aircraftAirspeed – Key designs

Like with most aircraft manufacturers only a small number of aircraft designed went into production. In Airspeed's case poor market conditions meant there weren't the crucial orders that would have turned some promising drawing board designs into reality, while another promising one was destroyed in the war. Still, the few that made it played their part in aviation history.


AS.1 Tern glider – first flown by Nevil Shute Norway (his first and only flight as an Airspeed test pilot). Only two were built and parts for a third were sold.


AS.4 Ferry – three engine, biplane. Capable of carrying 10 passengers. Only four were built.


AS.5 Courier – single engine, low wing monoplane with a 5-6 seating capacity. First British aircraft to feature retractable undercarriage.


AS.6 Envoy – essentially a twin-engine version of the AS.5 Courier.


AS.10, AS.40-3 and AS.46 Oxford – the AS.10 Oxford became the standard RAF twin-engine training aircraft. For many of the Second World War RAF bomber pilots this was their first experience of a multi-engine aircraft (although other aircraft, like the Avro Anson, were also used in this role). The AS.10 was produced in three series, the later marks were mainly experimental testbeds / development aircraft that were not produced in large numbers.


AS.51 and AS.58 Horsa glider – indelibly linked with the use of airborne troops on D-Day and the ill-fated Operation Market-Garden at Arnhem. It played a less dramatized but highly effective role in the later Rhine crossings. It endures as probably the most iconic Airspeed design. The AS.58 had a hinged nose and was used to carry heavy equipment, like jeeps and artillery pieces. Some 3,655 examples of both versions were built in total.


AS.57 Ambassador – delayed into service by problems during development and constrained by political infighting and the demands of its main customer British European Airways, the sleek Ambassador did not reach its full potential and was overtaken by the arrival of the jet age.

BEA's first Ambassador G-ALZN was called the Elizabethan (a name which it called all aircraft of this type in its service, rather like classes of ships being named after the first one). All subsequent Ambassadors in the BEA fleet were named after prominently Elizabethans. Tragically, on 6 February 1958, G-ALZU, Lord Burghley (named after William Cecil, who had once managed Queen Elizabeth I's Hatfield estates and father of Robert Cecil who built Hatfield House), crashed on takeoff at Munich killing 23 of the 44 people on board – including eight Manchester United players (the Busby Babes). A German inquiry laid the blame on the pilot Captain James Thain. However, the real culprit was slush on the runway which caused the plane to lose speed a critical point during takeoff. Captain Thain, who lost his licence and job as a result of the German findings, devoted himself and his lifesavings to clearing his name. Finally, after a second inquiry was held in London he was cleared of any blame. Sadly, the tragedy claimed another victim. Exhausted by his struggle to clear his name and financially ruined, Captain James Thain died soon afterwards.


AS.65 Consul – the wheel completes a full circle: the AS.10 Oxford was the military version of the AS.6 Envoy (which was the twin-engine adaption of the AS.5 Courier); the AS.65 Consul was an adaptation of postwar surplus AS.10 Oxford planes back to a civilian configuration.



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