The de­fin­i­tive Auster history

Pilot - - BOOKS & GEAR -

Auster – the com­pany and the air­craft by Tom Wen­ham, Rod Simp­son and Malcolm Fill­more www.air-bri­tain. £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.

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