Avro: Science in the city - part two
Manchester, home of Atmos International’s head office, is the European City of Science 2016. This honour has been granted to the city to recognize ‘its unique scientific heritage and contribution to scientific discovery, innovation, and industry’. This article series gives a short summary of some of Manchester’s most historical scientific and engineering achievements.
Who were Avro?
AV Roe and Company (Avro) was an aircraft building company founded in 1910 by Salford born Alliott Verdon-Roe and his brother Humphrey. It became one of the most successful aviation companies in Britain. Founder Alliott claimed he was the ‘first Englishman to make a powered flight’, although this title was under some dispute by his aviation rivals at the time.
In 1907, the Daily Mail hosted a model plane competition at Alexandra Palace, London. The prize was £150 for the best design that could travel more than 50ft. Alliot’s ‘rubber-powered’ model easily out-flew the competition at over 100ft, with the judges commenting that they “need look no further than this to find the winner."
He used this money to hand-build his own full size ‘avroplane’.
What’s the Manchester connection?
Avro’s first home was on Great Ancoat’s Street close to Manchester City Centre. Their building, Brownfields Mill dates back to 1825 and had previously been used for spinning cotton. Today it is a Grade II listed building with a blue plaque commemorating its time as the first Avro workshop.
In 1918 the War Department opened Alexandra Park Aerodrome where RAF planes built by Avro were test flown. The site is now Hough End playing fields, at little over 2 miles from Atmos’ office. Although the full size planes have now moved to Manchester Airport in Wythenshawe, a model plane club still meets at Hough End to fly their miniatures.
What were Avro’s greatest creations?
Avro designed and build many iconic planes but a few of the most noteworthy are:
Best known as a training aircraft, Avro produced more than 8000 units during World War One. Certain types of engine were in short supply, and this aircraft had the versatility to interchange different types of rotary engine as they became available. The training methods used with the 504K still form ‘the basis for virtually all primary flying instruction given throughout the world since then’.
For the second half of World War Two, the Lancaster was the ‘major heavy bomber’ used to fight Nazi Germany. The RAF Museum describes the scale of the Lancaster’s significance to the war effort:
“Six major companies built 7377 aircraft at ten factories on two continents; at the height of production over 1,100,000 men and women were employed working for over 920 companies. More service personnel were involved in flying and maintaining it than any other British aircraft in history.”
During the 60’s, the iconic delta-winged bomber acted successfully as a nuclear deterrent, with no British bomber ever actually flying with a live nuclear weapon. During the Falkland’s War, the Vulcan was used in a 15 hour and 45 minute bombing mission, at the time a record breaking length of time.
The Vulcan XH558 ended its RAF service in the early 1990’s. The Vulcan To The Sky Trust was established in 2004, a charity dedicated to maintaining and operating the aircraft. Its distinctive design and loud engine roar made it an air show favourite.
Unfortunately, third party support for the aircraft recently came to an end, and it took its last flight on 28 October 2015. The farewell tour included flyovers at Manchester Airport, Woodford Aerodrome, and City Airport (Barton). Thousands of people gathered at vantage points to watch.
To learn more, visit the Avro Heritage Museum website.
*This blog series 'Science in the city' has no affiliation with the Science In The City Festival (22-29 July 2016).