A. V. Roe and Company (Avro)

A. V. Roe and Company, better known simply as Avro, was one of the most famous of all British aircraft manufacturers, best known for the iconic Avro Lancaster bomber. Originally founded in 1910 by the aircraft pioneer Alliot Verdon Roe, by the time the Lancaster appeared the company was part of the Hawker Siddeley Group, while Roe himself had moved on to form Saunders-Roe Ltd.

A. V. Roe’s interest in aircraft developed before the First World War. His first design was the Roe I Biplane of 1907, which lacked a powerful enough engine to take off without assistance, until one was loaned in 1908. On 8 June 1908 Roe successfully took to the air, although only for a series of short hops.

A. V.’s brother H. V. Roe was himself a successful businessman, and owner of Everard and Company of Brownsfield Mills, Manchester. On 1 January 1910, with financial assistance from H. V., A. V. Roe and Company was founded. The fledgling company was given engineering space at Brownsfield Mills. The first aircraft produced by the new company was the Roe II Triplane, one of a series of early designs that culminated in the Avro 500 biplane of 1912, considered by Roe to be his first truly successful design. A. V. Roe was responsible for a number of “firsts”, amongst them the Avro Type F of 1912, the first aircraft to fly with an entirely enclosed cockpit.

Avro Rota autogiro
Avro Rota autogiro

All of these early aircraft were produced in very small numbers, but the Avro 504 would change that, with 8,340 built over two decades. A tiny number of these aircraft saw front line service during the First World War with the R.F.C, while the R.N.A.S. used the Avro 504 during its famous raid on the Zeppelin sheds at Freidrichshafen on 21 November 1914. Despite this its main claim to fame, and the reason so many were built, was that the Avro 504 became the standard training aircraft for the young R.A.F.

The interwar years saw the arrival of Roy Chadwick, later famous as the designer of the Lancaster, and the departure of A. V. Roe. In 1928 he sold the company to J. D. Siddeley, and Avro became part of the Armstrong Siddeley Development Company and a sister-firm of Armstrong Whitworth. Siddeley followed suit in 1935 when he sold out to Hawker, and Avro became part of the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Group.

A large number of new designs were produced between the wars, with most produced in small numbers. The next major success was the Avro 621 Tutor, which replaced the Avro 605 in RAF service. This aircraft was designed in 1929, and remained in service throughout the Second World War.

Avro Anson Avro Anson

The next major success for Avro was the Anson, of which over 11,000 were produced. Originally ordered as a coastal reconnaissance aircraft, the Anson was soon replaced in that role by the Lockheed Hudson, but went on to serve as a training aircraft.

Avro Lancaster III of No.619 Squadron
Avro Lancaster III of No.619 Squadron

The most famous of all Avro aircraft was the Lancaster. This was developed from the much less successful Avro Manchester, a very similar looking but twin engined aircraft, which was led down by the failure of the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine. The Lancaster saw the twin Vultures replaced by four much more reliable Merlin engines, producing one of the finest aircraft of the Second World War.

The design of the Lancaster was used as the basis for the Avro York transport aircraft, the Avro 691 Lancastrian passenger plane and the post-war Avro 694 Lincoln, originally designed for the Pacific war. The Lincoln was further modified to produce the Avro 696 Shackleton, a mainstay of Coastal Command after the war.

A dramatic change in design came with the Avro 698 Vulcan, the first large delta wing aircraft, and Avro’s first military jet aircraft. Over the next decade the company produced a number of civil airlines, but the Avro name disappeared in July 1963 when the company became part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation.

Major Aircraft
Avro 504 trainer
Avro 549 Aldershot bomber, 1922-1926
Avro 555 Bison carrier reconnaissance and spotting aircraft, 1922-29
Avro 621 Tutor trainer, 1929-1936
Avro 636 Sea Tutor trainer, 1932
Avro 652 Anson maritime reconnaissance aircraft, 1933-1968
Avro 679 Manchester heavy bomber, 1939-1942
Avro 683 Lancaster heavy bomber, 1941-1960s
Avro 865 York transport, 1943-c.1960
Avro 694 Lincoln heavy bomber, 1945-55
Avro 696 Shackleton long range maritime reconnaissance, 1949-
Avro 698 Vulcan heavy bomber, 1952-

 British Aircraft Manufacturers since 1908, Gunter Endres. A very useful reference book which provides brief histories of seventy five British aircraft manufacturers, ranging from famous names like Avro or Supermarine, to more obscure firms such as Slingsby Aviation of Kirkbymoorside. The publication date of 1995 means that this book covers the entire history of all but a handful of the main First and Second World War Companies.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 October 2008), A. V. Roe and Company (Avro), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/company_avro.html

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