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Flight test: Avro Anson/19

PUBLISHED: 11:26 11 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:39 11 January 2019

Avro Anson flight test

Avro Anson flight test

Darren Harbar Photography

One of the few remaining airworthy Ansons/Type XIXs of 11,000 built, this solid, single-pilot aircraft benefits from two crew operation and a gentle touch | Words: Dave Unwin Photos: Darren Harbar

Old Warden’s sun-scorched strip looks somewhat short after Farnborough’s enormous runway, but I’m not stressed because I’m not doing the landing. There’s practically no wind and in the left seat Pete Kosogorin has the only brake lever on his yoke, so we’ve decided that, to avoid possibly scaring both of us, I’ll fly the approach down to about fifty feet.

When it’s apparent whether it would have worked (or not!) I’ll take the Anson around and he will then land it. Consequently, I’m very relaxed about the whole thing, and the combination of calm conditions, excellent coaching and a stable aircraft produce a very steady approach. Vref is seventy knots and, as we cross the hedge, the angle to the threshold, speed and sink rate are all perfect. As good landings come from good approaches, I’m pretty sure a good landing would’ve been the result. “OK Dave, go around.”

Aware of the propensity of British inter-war radials to suffer from a ‘rich cut’ if the power is increased too quickly, I add just enough to arrest the sink rate, pause while each engine’s rpm stabilises, and then slowly and progressively open the throttles while Pete retracts the undercarriage and then milks up the flaps.

Even with our forward centre of gravity the nose wants to rise, and I quickly wind on some nose down trim. As I turn the Anson back onto the downwind leg Pete looks across at me and grins. “Very nice−lovely and smooth. In fact, that was such a stable approach that you may as well land it off the next one.” Suddenly I’m not quite so relaxed, but more excited than nervous. What a privilege!

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

The Avro Anson is one of those aircraft that really is an unsung hero. It may not have the bravado of a Beaufighter, the machismo of a Mosquito, or the iconic status of its immortal stablemate the Lancaster, but the old ‘Annie’ performed sterling service in myriad roles with the RAF from 1936 to 1968, along with many other air forces and civilian operators. Some were still earning their keep well into the 1970s. It was even used as a multi-engine trainer for pilots converting on to the Meteor jet fighter!

And the numbers speak for themselves. Designed by the great Roy Chadwick, the Anson was one of the most successful aircraft ever produced by A V Roe and Co, over 11,000 being built in England and Canada. Designed to meet an Air Ministry specification for a relatively cheap coastal reconnaissance machine, Avro took its six-seat 652 airliner as the basis for its tender, and the prototype made its maiden flight from Woodford on 24 March 1935.

It beat the competing DH.89. The Ministry of Supply placed an initial order for 174 and the type−now named Anson after the famous British Admiral George Anson−remained in continuous production until 1952. Although there are quite a few in museums, airworthy Ansons are rather rare, including the subject of this flight test, G-AHKX.

At this juncture, and before some of our more eagle-eyed readers start reaching for their quills, I should point out that, although we even use ‘Anson’ as our callsign, strictly speaking, it isn’t.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

Kilo X-ray is actually an Avro 652A Type XIX Series 2, and was built in 1946 in Avro’s factory at Yeadon (now Leeds Bradford) as the Series 2 prototype. It flew with Smiths Aircraft Instruments until 1960 and, after a long and chequered career, finished up at the Strathallan Collection in 1974.

It has been owned by the BAE Systems Heritage Flight since it left the Strathallan Collection in 1981, and has been based at Old Warden with the world-famous Shuttleworth collection since 2002. It’s been on display during the Farnborough airshow and now needs to be returned home on the evening of the last day. Would I be interested in being its co-pilot? What do you think?

BAE Systems Heritage Flight pilot Peter Kosogorin will be my mentor and captain. As he is on the airshow’s flying committee, we’re not going anywhere until the show ends, so I hang out at the Anson with BAE Systems Heritage Flight Director Howard Mason and Hawk Chief Engineer Graeme Codner and take the time for a languid preflight.

Three items immediately catch the eye. The tailplane is huge (it’s actually larger than my Jodel D.9’s wingspan), there aren’t any cowl flaps, and the undercarriage seems to use sections of Armco barrier for the rear bracing strut. The empty weight is an impressive three tons, and I’m starting to see why.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

The fuselage is a steel-tube structure that’s mostly fabric-covered except for the nose section, which uses plywood. Unlike earlier models which had a wooden wing, the Type XIX (sometimes also referred to as an Avro Nineteen) is all-metal, its cantilever two-spar mainplane being built in five pieces.

The interchangeable outer sections are fitted with Frise ailerons and detachable wingtips, while the centre-section carries the main undercarriage and large split flaps (both hydraulically-actuated) and a pair of Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah radials. Each of these has a pair of 159 litre fuel tanks located outboard of the nacelles.

The Cheetah is an interesting engine. Derived from the Lynx (early Cheetahs were known as Lynx Majors) it is a supercharged seven-cylinder air-cooled radial that was produced in several different variants between 1935 and 1948, ranging in power from 230 to 420hp. Kilo X-ray’s engines are Cheetah XVIIs, which produce 385hp each at +4 boost and 2,550rpm, and are fitted with Dowty-Rotol metal two-blade constant-speed propellers but, curiously, no cowl flaps.

The main wheels retract into the engine nacelles and are fitted with pneumatic drum brakes. Interestingly (and in common with some other designs of this era), even when retracted about half of each wheel still protrudes, and in the event of a wheels-up landing the brakes will still work!

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

The very big tailplane carries a huge elevator and the fin a large, mass-balanced rudder. Pete later told me that, when taxying, the tailplane wobbles in a most disconcerting manner! With the exception of the flaps all the flying control surfaces and their associated trim tabs (the elevator has two) are fabric-covered. Of particular interest (to me at least) is that the castoring tailwheel doesn’t lock.

The show ends, Pete turns up and promptly changes into an old flying suit. “Getting into character, eh?” I observe. Pete grins good naturedly but he has the last laugh. As always with a radial the first thing to do is to pull each engine through several blades (to avoid hydraulic lock), and when we’ve done that venture into the wheel-wells to open the oil shut-off valves. My shirt pays the price.

Access to the cabin (which can carry up to six people, although our only passenger today is Graeme) is via a door on the port side, just aft of the wing. Having stepped over the mainspar, I sit down in the co-pilot’s seat and take stock. I’d assumed that a British twin engine aircraft designed in the thirties would be an ergonomic nightmare, and I’m not disappointed.

Although often operated as a two-crew cockpit, it’s designed to be flown single pilot, with the flight instruments on the port side and the engine gauges in two columns of three in a sub-panel angled slightly towards the P1. These indicate (from top to bottom) cylinder head temperatures, rpm (there’s even a rudimentary synchroniser in the tachometer), boost, oil temperature and pressure. Other dials, scattered seemingly at random around the panel, show fuel quantity and pressure, volts, suction and flap position.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

I never did find the hydraulic pressure indicator, while the brake triple pressure gauge (it has three pointers, one for each wheel brake and one for the main accumulator) is hidden behind the left-hand control column.

A centre console carries the twin throttles, with the prop levers below the throttles, the elevator trim on the right and levers for ‘Air Cleaner’ and ‘Air Intake Heat’ on the left. Mixture control is automatic.

The undercarriage selector is a large plunger in front of the rudder trim knob near P1’s right knee, while the flap selector is a yellow T-handle by P1’s left hip. The large yellow lever for the emergency hydraulic pump, and a big Ki-Gass primer are both located behind the P1 seat, while the two fuel cocks are also unreachable from the P1 position, being on the starboard side of the cockpit.

Finally, the starter, ignition boost and feathering buttons are directly in front of the pilot, with the delightful brass magneto switches (which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Victorian house) above the windscreen.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

As with any multi-engine radial, starting is part procedural and part ritual, for if a motor is recalcitrant, invocations are not unusual, curses are common and prayers may even be offered! Eventually the myriad buttons, handles, knobs, levers, plungers and switches are pulled, pushed, set, turned or twisted−and we’re ready to fire up.

Although the Anson was designed for single pilot operations, Pete and I are going to operate it as a crew. Indeed, simply starting it by yourself would not be easy. While Pete presses the port engine’s starter and ignition boost buttons with the fingers of one hand and guards the throttle with the other, I’m equally busy with the primer (which, you may recall, is behind his seat) and the mags (which are only turned on after the engine fires).

The starboard motor seems inclined towards another couple of squirts of primer to keep it running and smoke sputters from the exhaust until suddenly the remaining cylinders catch, the propeller blades morph into a single shimmering circle and the Cheetah settles into a lazy growl.

Pete’s a no-nonsense BAE Systems test pilot and the takeoff brief is both concise and comprehensive. It includes the procedures to be adopted in the event of an engine failure both before and after ‘blue line’ speed (the Vyse of 80kt) has been attained.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

We also review the other critical airspeeds, such as the limiting speeds for the undercarriage and flaps (even though we’re taking off flaps up). He reminds me that a good climb-out speed will be around ninety, that full power (+4lb/sq in boost and 2,550rpm) is limited to a maximum of five minutes, and that the only hydraulic pump is on the port engine.

Now although the Anson is a multi-engine aircraft, in common with similar aeroplanes of this era the single-engine performance is far from sparkling. Indeed, if you were flying an early version by yourself, the non-feathering propellers and an undercarriage that had to be wound-up by hand meant that the only way to deal with engine failure on takeoff would’ve been to slam the other throttle shut and land ahead.

So, although there are two of us, a hydraulic undercarriage and feathering props, if anything happens to an engine low down that’s exactly what we’ll do. To facilitate this we intend to leave the wheels down until ‘land ahead’ is no longer an option.

Carefully, I align the Anson with Runway 24’s centreline. Ambient conditions are above ISA at 20°C and 238ft AMSL, and a significant advantage is that, with only three POB, little freight and half fuel, we’re some 1,200kg below the 4,717kg maximum all-up weight. Negatives are that Pete has the only brakes, and the tailwheel doesn’t lock, but on the plus side the runway is wide, and there’s almost no wind.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

I’m quietly confident that as long as I bring the power in slowly and lead slightly with the port throttle I can keep it under control without Pete helping with the brakes. Consequently−and as there are 2,000m of runway in front of us – I bring the power in very slowly, wait until the rudder starts to bite then open both throttles up to +4 boost. The Cheetah’s growl turns into a roar.

Check the revs are 2,550 and the airspeed’s alive, then slowly raise the tail. The combination of radial engines turning big props means there’s a mass of metal whirling around on the wings, and gyroscopic precession is not to be taken lightly. Pick the tail up too quickly and a swing is almost inevitable but−and as is so often the case with taildraggers−if you’re ready for the swing then it doesn’t come.

The airspeed continues to build, the main wheels start to skip as the wing takes the weight, and at about sixty knots I ease the Anson into the air and hold it down, just above the runway. Blue line is eighty, and as soon as the ASI’s needle has swung past that I initiate a very shallow climb. Height may be ‘money in the bank’, but speed is money in your pocket, and the Vy is ninety knots.

As the speed hits ninety, landing ahead is no longer an option. Pete raises the plunger and, once the wheels slide into the wells, I bring the throttle and prop levers back to a rough approximation of +2 boost and 2,300rpm for the climb. Pete fine-tunes the power and I turn the Anson’s shapely nose onto a northerly heading.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

It’s a glorious evening, and at 2,750ft on the QNH I bring the power back to the ‘max continuous’ of +1 and 2,100rpm and re-trim. Talking of trim, only the elevator’s needs any attention, and even then no more than one turn of the wheel.

The ASI soon settles on 120kt, but the thirsty Cheetahs are still drinking around 150 litres an hour. I, on the other hand, am drinking in the experience. Gazing out along the wing, past the bulbous engine cowlings and proud RAF roundels at the English countryside is a real treat, particularly as it looks stunning in the late evening sun, and the field of view from the extensively glazed cockpit is exceptional.

Once we’re clear of Farnborough I do as much of the usual Pilot flight test stuff as allowed. A couple of turns with varying angles of bank is always a good place to start an examination of the general handling, and this soon reveals that the Anson flies like it looks; although the controls are reasonably effective they are quite heavy.

Even relatively steep 360° turns aren’t difficult; the control authority is good and the controls reasonably harmonised, although the elevator does seem to have more power than the ailerons. Unsurprisingly, directional control is good (but then the rudder is huge) while, from a stability perspective, it is stable laterally and longitudinally, and positive directionally. I don’t think it’d be too taxing to fly on instruments.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

Decelerating for a look at slow flight is interesting−and deafening! The undercarriage warning horn has clearly been stolen from a car, and as I reduce power and speed with the wheels up it blares quite disconcertingly. With a bit of flap and a dribble of power I actually get the ASI needle flickering just below sixty, before barely a tremor shakes the aircraft. It’s very benign.

For a look at the single engine performance I ask Pete to replicate a failed engine and feathered prop by setting the power on the port engine (the worst case) to zero-thrust. We’re clean (flaps and wheels up) and light (a long way below MAUW) but the density altitude of over 3,000ft makes the test valid.

I can induce the Anson to climb at 85kt, but just barely. The official RAF Pilot’s Notes (AP1525A), which I studied assiduously before my flight, state quite clearly that ‘if engine failure occurs before the undercarriage is raised, it may be impossible to climb away’−and these notes were usually written by men whose style was inclined to understatement. I’m quite sure that it would be impossible to climb with the wheels down after an engine failure, and that a single-engine go-around would also be extremely fraught.

Pete suggests I might try a more spirited manoeuvre to see what it’s like to display an Anson, so I increase power to +2 and 2,200rpm, accelerate to 140kt (Vne is 185) and then pull up into a lazy chandelle. Its fun but it’s not what an Anson is about and for the rest of the flight I elect to rumble sedately across the countryside at +1 and 2,100rpm and just soak up the ambience of flying a vintage twin on a beautiful evening.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

The Cheetahs are purring, the light is glorious and I think that Pete is also greatly enjoying the flight as we don’t even talk that much but just sit there watching the world slide by under our broad wings.

Far too soon the giant airship sheds at Cardington appear, irrefutable evidence that our journey is nearly at an end, and we’re soon sliding into the circuit at Shuttleworth. Old Warden has been hosting an aeromodellers event, and as several are camping overnight they are still flying.

Pete suggests I “make a bit of noise” to alert them that we intend to land, reiterates that I’m to go around at fifty feet and reminds me that at only 85kt Vfe is quite low. The windsock looks languidly limp so we elect to use R03, which will allow us to make full use of the runway extension and also has the advantage (for me at least) of putting the runway on my side, as it’s a right-hand circuit.

As mentioned previously, the first approach goes very well, but as the intention is to land this time I extend slightly further downwind. Pete lowers the undercarriage first, which changes the trim slightly nose-down and then adds some flap, which pitches the nose back up.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

After a brief base leg, I settle the Anson onto final, double check that the props are set fully fine, glance at the brake triple pressure gauge, and then concentrate on maintaining the correct speed and angle. The field of view is excellent, and as we sail over the fence I add a pinch of power to arrest the increasing sink rate, pause, then slowly close the throttles while gently easing the yoke back.

“Don’t flare too high” cautions Pete, so I hold what I have, wait until we’ve sunk a little, and then ease the Anson into the flare and hold off. The touchdown isn’t bad, but weeks of drought mean the grass is like corrugated concrete, and we bounce and skip a couple of times before settling down. (One of the aeromodellers later told me it looked pretty smooth, so it probably felt worse than it was.)

Pete applies a couple of deft dabs of brake, the Anson slows to walking pace and a very memorable flight is nearly over.

We park over by the gate, run through the shutdown checks and I then pull out and hold the ‘Slow Running/Cut-Out’ handle.

Avro Anson flight testAvro Anson flight test

Just like me, it almost seems as if the Anson is reluctant to quit playing for the day, and the Cheetahs continue to growl until the fuel stops flowing and the engines die away into nothingness, accompanied by the whirring diminuendo of the slowing gyros.

Finally, and with a degree of regret, I snap the big black Bakelite Ground/Flight switch to ‘Ground’. Magic!


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