Airspeed – The people (Part 2)

More of the people connected with the Airspeed story.


D D Little – David D Little was appointed Airspeed company secretary in November 1931. He also appears to have been involved in the sale of AS.5J Courier (G-ACVG, later VT-AFY) to the Maharajah of Jaipur (the only Courier sale made by R K Dundas Ltd in India) in 1935. His brother, George, who was also one of the original Airspeed employees, bought one of the AS.1 Tern gliders. Intriguingly, a David Drysdale Little, born in Argentina in 1913, qualified for his A-licence at the de Havilland School of Flying in August 1932 (when it was based at Hatfield). However, he appears to have been an apprentice at de Havillands in Edgware at the time.


A E Ellison – a former associate of Hessell Tiltman and Nevil Shute Norway, with a de Havillands and R.100 background, joined Airspeed in 1931. Starting with the AS.4 Ferry he worked on all the major Airspeed designs up to and including the Ambassador. He worked as a project engineer under A E Hagg on the original AS.57 team in 1943. At some stage he appears to have been appointed chief project engineer before being appointed chief development engineer in 1948. He left for a job as assistant chief designer at English Electric Company Limited in 1949 (not 1951 as stated in one source). Here he worked on the Canberra. He was appointed as a chief designer in 1955 (a titled he retained when it became English Electric Aviation in 1959) and took a lead role in the development of the P.1 better known as the Lightning.


J P Jewett – John Percival Jewett was born at Boscombe in 1909. He apprenticed at de Havillands at Stag Lane and became a designer (having qualified as pilot in June 1929). He was gazetted as a pilot officer in the RAFVR in February 1938; having joined in October 1930. After 10 years at de Havillands he moved to the Bristol Aircraft Company where he worked as chief power plant designer and then aircraft development engineer. He later joined A E Hagg at Airspeed in 1943 as chief development engineer and mainly worked on the AS.57 Ambassador. Sadly, he fell ill and after a brief illness died in 1949. He was only 39.


Sir Philip Wigham Richardson – born in 1865, he was educated at Rugby and King's College, Cambridge. A keen sportsman, he was best known as a marksman. He wrote books on the subject and trained snipers for the British Army during WWI. He joined the family shipbuilding firm of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson of Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne, and travelled the world on business. Knighted in 1921 and had a baronetcy conferred on him in 1929, he served as MP for Chertsey from 1922-31. He died, aged 88, in 1953.


Sir Charles Sheriton Swan – C S Swan was chairman of Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson from 1938 – and had been another of the new directors in Airspeed (1934) Limited. The son of one of the shipping firm's founders, he was knighted in 1944 and died in January 1945 at the age of 74.


Sir George Wigham Richardson – second son of Sir Philip Wigham Richardson, he succeeded his brother to the title in 1973. Educated at Rugby, he served with distinction in WWI in France and Flanders. He was an underwriting member of Lloyds and served as a director with a number of other companies. He was appointed to the Airspeed board in 1934. Sir George, who was also an aviation enthusiast, took over from Lord Grimthorpe as Airspeed chairman on 31 December 1936. He died, aged 86, in 1981.


A H G Fokker – Anthony Herman Gerard Fokker was born in Java to wealthy Dutch and French parents. He developed a love for speed – initially in boats and cars. Like Geoffrey de Havilland he designed and flew his own planes. He became widely known in Great Britain owing to his designs being used by the German Air Force in WWI. Adapting technology used by French ace Roland Garros (whose plane had been brought down over German-controlled territory) to create his own interrupter gear that allowed the pilot to fire through his own propeller safely led to the 'Fokker scourge'. Post-war he travelled to America and became head of the aviation division of General Motors. His designs were used extensively by KLM. Returning to Europe he secured the European manufacturing rights to Douglas Aircraft designs – in particular the DC2 (forerunner to the legendary DC3 Dakota). One of Airspeed (1934) Ltd's new Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson directors persuaded Nevil Shute Norway and Hessell Tiltman to open discussions with Fokker. The result was a deal signed in 1935 that allowed Airspeed to manufacture Fokker and Douglas designs, and secured his services as a consultant for seven years. However he is thought to have already been terminally ill at the time. Later, as rearmament and defence contracts became key to the business's future, he was considered to be a liability (no doubt his previous work for the Germans and having had a German wife made him suspect in official circles). In any event nothing seems to have been produced as a result of the deal and it was allowed to lapse. Fokker died in New York in 1939, aged 49.


A E Hagg – Arthur Ernest Hagg, formerly chief designer at DHAC, where he had been responsible for icon aircraft like the DH.88 Comet, had left to start his own business but was recalled to replace the departing Hessell Tiltman as technical director and chief designer. His team at Airspeed included:

F John Jupp, experimental manager

J Johnston, chief draughtsman

C Chapleo, chief structural engineer

D G Riches, assistant experimental manager

J F Foss, chief aerodynamicist

H V Clarke, chief engineer

Plus, G P Jewett and A E Ellison.

After he retired in 1949 he was succeeded George Miles.


G H Miles – George Herbert Miles was born in 1911. His eldest brother Frederick George Miles (same name as their father) was responsible for establishing the aircraft company that bore the family name. Having designed his first aircraft, Miles M.1 Satyr, with his wife Maxine (known as Blossom) Fred joined Phillips and Powis as technical director and later chief designer. In 1935 it became a public company with Rolls-Royce Ltd financial backing. In 1936 Fred became chairman and brother George became technical director and chief designer (having joined as engine manager and test pilot). The Miles M.17 Monarch, which first flew on 21 February 1938, was the first design for which George was entirely responsible. He is also credited with the Miles M.57 Aerovan (1945) and the M.65 Gemini (1945). In 1941 Fred bought out Rolls-Royce, and the company was renamed Miles Aircraft Limited in 1943. During the war the brothers worked on the M.52 jet aircraft which showed great promise but in 1946 were ordered to handover their work to the US Bell Corporation by British Government officials (in 1947 Chuck Yeager became the first man to break the speed barrier in level flight in the Bell X-1). Miles Aircraft Limited eventually collapsed in 1948, and George  took over as chief designer at Airspeed from a retiring Arthur Hagg in 1949. After working on the AS.57 Ambassador he left in 1951 to rejoin Fred at his firm F G Miles Engineering. In 1961 (some sources say 1960) the firm joined the Beagle Group of aircraft companies with Fred as deputy chairman and George as chief engineer of the Beagle-Miles subsidiary. George left after a couple of years to start his own company. He died aged 88.

Click here for Airspeed people Part 1


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