The definitive Auster history
Auster – the company and the aircraft by Tom Wenham, Rod Simpson and Malcolm Fillmore www.air-britain.
co.uk £39.95 (£29.96 to AirBritain members)
The Auster story began with its formation as British Taylorcraft in 1938 and ended with its absorption into Beagle Aircraft in 1960. Founded by entrepreneur Lance Wykes, the company started out manufacturing a British version of C G Taylor’s rival to the Piper Cub, which offered side-by-side seating and used a less draggy aerofoil that made it speedier on the same power. This was a good formula that was adapted as a spotter plane on both sides of the Pond.
Indeed, as the authors make clear, WWII saved the British company’s bacon giving it a huge boost, more than 1,600 artillery-spotter Austers being built for the British and other air forces. The Rearsby factory was at maximum production during the war, and was also engaged in repair work on aircraft including Hurricanes and Typhoons (one of the things covered in this book’s many, detailed appendices).
The big military contracts disappeared with the end of the war, the emphasis now turning to the civil market (although the company, now named Auster after the military name for its spotter planes, continued to develop and build military models).
The Autocrat and its successors – a confusing array of models sharing the same basic design – were successful, not only in the UK but also across the world. The Auster constantly changed its shape and the authors make a heroic effort to describe the bewildering array of different models.
Perhaps more interesting to the casual reader are the aircraft Auster didn’t put into production – a fascinating array of machines that any review can only touch on. My eye was caught by the A2/45, a sleek and advanced spotter plane that had a very different, Storch-like undercarriage and leading edge slats. While this design never made it beyond a couple of prototypes, many other machines – some of them very impressive concepts – never got further than the drawing board.
Before helicopters took over the spotter-plane rôle in Army aviation, Auster has one last hurrah in the AOP.9 (actually an entirely new design) but lack of investment and significant development in the company’s private aircraft, which were being made to look and feel very old fashioned next to the new generation of all-metal aircraft from the USA, spelled the end for Auster. This was a sad ending for the company but at least this rather wonderful, beautifully illustrated book pays full tribute to those who designed, built and flew (and continue to fly) its surprisingly diverse range of aeroplanes.