Roy Chadwick's fabled creation, the Avro Lancaster, had only just made its maiden flight when the consummate designer turned his pen to a civilian version of the promising new bomber. Although development started on the new transport in 1941, it would not enter service until 1944, as resources were diverted to production of the Lancaster.
Not surprisingly, Avro received no official sanction to develop the new type. The war was at an uncertain stage and, with the US almost a year away from entering the combat, Britain was hard-pressed to withstand the military might of Germany. Admittedly, there was a shortage of large transport aircraft, but the decision to build a new design, rather than ramp up production of existing types, can be described sympathetically as ambitious. At the time it must have looked like madness. Nevertheless, management gave the go-ahead and the Type 685 project was born.
The Lancaster's excellent performance owed a great deal to its superb Merlin engines, so these were an obvious first choice for the 685. But this powerplant was already in use in the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane, Fairey Battle, de Havilland Mosquito, Vickers Wellington, Handley-Page Halifax and many other front-line aircraft. The prospect of a steady supply of engines for a civil transport can't have been viewed optimistically.
But, despite the odds against it, Type 685 was completed, and prototype LV626 made its first flight from Ringway, south of Manchester, on 5 July 1942. Initial impressions were favourable, and further test flights were carried out at Boscombe Down. Lateral stability was improved by the addition of a central tailfin, after it became clear that the large slab-sided fuselage of the 685 made it more sensitive to side winds than the Lancaster.
The Air Ministry placed an order for three more prototypes, to offer variations on the original. The order also provided for a small production run. As part of this programme, LV626, the first-flight machine, was adapted to carry Bristol Hercules radial engines. This configuration was not continued and all subsequent versions were powered by Merlins.
As expected, materials and components for the new type, now christened York, proved difficult to source and initial production was slow. It had been hoped that the York would serve as a high-capacity paratroop carrier, but early trials showed that the non-retractable tailwheel created too great a hazard. Nevertheless, the type received widespread notice when the third prototype, LV633, became Winston Churchill's personal transport.
The first civilian York was delivered to BOAC in 1944. The company continued to use Yorks until 1957. The last airlines to use them were Skyways and Dan Air, both of whom withdrew the big airliner from service in 1964.
After the war, seven RAF squadrons sent Yorks to take part in the Berlin airlift. They flew more than 58,000 sorties, delivering over a million tons of life-saving supplies to civilians trapped by the Soviet blockade.
Sadly, no Avro Yorks now survive in flyable condition. Both of the only two complete survivors are in the UK. Our own G-ANTK is open to the public daily here at Imperial War Museum Duxford. RAF Cosford care for G-AGNV, which served as TS798 with the RAF before taking up her civil registration when she was transferred to BOAC.
G-ANTK was built at Yeadon and was rolled out in January 1946. It entered RAF service with 242 Squadron as MW 232 that August, being based for a time at Oakington. In May 1947 it moved to 511 Squadron at Lyneham, and was used on trooping and cargo flights, including many to the Far East. In 1948/49 it was used on the Berlin Air Lift operation, and had the distinction of carrying the 100,000th ton of supplies into the city. It suffered an undercarriage collapse during a landing there, in January 1949, but was repaired and put into storage. In 1950/51 it was used by Fairey Aviation for in-flight refuelling trials before being put back into storage awaiting disposal.
|First flight:||05 July 1942|
|Powerplant:||4 x Rolls Royce Merlin liquid-cooled V12 engines of 955kW (1,280hp)|
|Wingspan:||31.1 metres (102 ft 0in)|
|Length:||23.9 metres (78 ft 6in)|
|Height:||5.0 metres (16 ft 6in)|
|Empty weight:||18,144 Kg (40,000 lb)|
|Maximum speed:||480 km/h (298 mph, 259 knots, Mach 0.39)|
|Range:||4,828 km (3,000 miles, 2,607 nmi)|
|Service ceiling:||7,010 metres (23,000 feet)|