Tudor History & Specs

Tudor G-AGRZ

A Brief History….

The Avro Tudor was often considered to be the aviation equivalent of Marmite/Vegemite with two distinct camps emerging, each of which was comprised of those who either loved it or those who loathed it. With the fortunes of war clearly favouring an impending victory for the Allies, Britain would as a result, desperately need modern civil airliners to ply their trade not only across the skies of a post-war Europe, but also on the long since established Empire routes. However, in the meantime the Americans had already taken the lead by churning out vast numbers of C-47 and C-54 transport aircraft, both of which were sturdy, reliable and easily convertible between cargo and passenger configurations, but Britain was nevertheless determined to catch up.

While efforts had been made to temporarily fill this gap using converted WWII bombers such as the Lancaster and the Halifax, these relatively narrow bodied aircraft were ultimately deemed unfit for purpose due mostly to their cold, cramped and uncomfortable interiors that could only accommodate a tiny number of passengers or a small amount of freight. So in 1943, using wings from the new Avro Lincoln and any other tooling and parts that were available, Avro did its best to ‘look to the future’ and created the Tudor, the prototype making its first flight just one month after the war had ended. Quite naturally, this particular design would be given a much wider and more roomy, pressurised fuselage that could in its initial form seat 24-32 passengers depending on the cabin configuration.

Two versions would eventually emerge. The Tudor 688 would primarily appear in the form of series 1 and 4 aircraft which made up the bulk of the production run, although a handful of aircraft would at a later stage be converted to the slightly longer Tudor 4B standard. Compared with what was to come, the 688 was a relatively sleek looking offering with a streamline nose and a moderately short fuselage. In contrast, the Tudor 689 was a huge, lumbering beast of an aircraft with an oversized cylindrical fuselage and a nose that was so high off of the ground that it no doubt induced a modicum of altitude sickness in the engineers who occasionally had to work in the cockpit! Indeed, the latter variant was neither graceful nor pleasant on the eye although as luck would have it, only a small number of this particular version would emerge in the form of series 2, 5 and 7 aircraft.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of ‘buying British’ B.O.A.C. (which was at the time controlled by the Ministry of Supply) placed an order for 14 of the smaller 688 variant, although they were far from impressed with the final product which they summarily rejected while its engineers demanded that almost 350 changes be made. In fact, the Tudor had already begun its somewhat ominous fall from grace almost from the outset with the death of Roy Chadwick, chief designer of both the Lancaster and the Tudor who was killed during August 1947 along with the crew of Tudor G-AGSU – the first Tudor 2 prototype. At about the same time, B.O.A.C. finally rejected these aircraft although a number of them were then either leased or sold on to associate airline B.S.A.A.

Then, as if things couldn’t get any worse, a pair of high profile disappearances over the Western Atlantic (while operating with B.S.A.A.) and several problems with the aircraft design itself finally doomed this aircraft and by the time production ended in 1949, only 38 machines had actually been produced. The first of these tragic losses occurred on January 30th 1948 when B.S.A.A. lost Tudor G-AHNP ‘Star Tiger’ on their Atlantic route to South America, the aircraft vanishing while on approach to Bermuda never to be seen or heard from again and then almost one year later, a similar disappearance took place on January 14th 1949 when Tudor G-AGRE ‘Star Ariel’ silently fell out of the sky somewhere between Jamaica and Bermuda. Sufficed to say, both incidents remain unsolved to this very day.

Chief pilot of B.S.A.A. Gordon Store hated the Tudor, calling it “A hopeless, noisy, battleship of an aircraft” while Don Bennett, former Air Vice-Marshal of Bomber Command and Director of B.S.A.A. wouldn’t hear a bad word said about it. Bennett’s love of the aircraft no doubt primarily stemmed from a mishap that occurred during the Berlin Airlift after he and co-pilot Ken Rayment (who tragically died as a result of the Munich Air Disaster) forgot to remove the elevator wind gust locking tabs before taking off and yet somehow, they still managed to bring the aircraft in for a safe landing using the thrust from the engines and the little lateral control that the elevator trim tabs offered the aircraft. In fact, so incensed was Bennett over the idea that the Tudor was at fault after the mysterious loss of the two B.S.A.A. aircraft, that his unwavering defence of them would eventually cost him his job with the airline, although he would continue his fight to clear its name and on several occasions, even went as far to suggest that both planes had been destroyed by saboteurs.

Somewhat inevitably, the Tudors were quickly removed from passenger services by the larger airlines and were then either sold off to private companies or summarily reduced to hauling freight, but in 1950, disaster struck yet again as another Tudor crashed, this time on approach to Llandow Airport in Wales on the return leg of a rugby charter; this plane somewhat ironically being operated by Fairflight (a company owned and run by the aforementioned Don Bennett). The huge death toll of 80 made this the most deadly air crash the world had ever seen to date and despite once again being declared free of blame, the aircraft in question having likely been overloaded, more or less all Tudor flights were subsequently reduced to hauling cargo, especially after the government had actively taken measures to ban Tudors from flying with passenger loads.

Needless to say, in the hands of ATEL these aircraft underwent extensive modification before being unceremoniously passed over to Air Charter. However, the government refused to sanction trooping flights using the Tudor and as such, this work was instead carried out by ACL’s perceivably safer York fleet. As a consequence of this, the Tudors were restricted to flying cargo which they were called upon to do during the ‘Mini Berlin Airlift’, while during the mid to late-50s, ACL’s 4B Supertraders would frequently fly to the other side of the world on top secret missions, hauling missile parts for Britain’s nuclear deterrent to the RAF test range in Woomera, Australia. However, while Tudor operations went swimmingly until the late-50s, Air Charter would not escape the ‘Tudor Curse’ either and in 1959 two more fatal accidents once again brought the Tudor name into disrepute although again, both aircraft were eventually exonerated of all blame for these incidents too. Nevertheless, the Tudor had had its day and by the end of 1959 this aircraft had vanished from the skies forever, while those that remained on the ground were quickly reduced to scrap.

Many thanks to Chris Garton for help with providing editing suggestions for this page.

 

Tudor Variants

Tudor 1

The first 688 production model which was offered to B.O.A.C. for its North Atlantic routes

Tudor 2

The first 689 model with a longer and wider fuselage

Tudor 3

Tudor 1 modification with a 10 seat/9 berth V.I.P. interior

Tudor 4

A 5ft 9in lengthened version of the Tudor 1 along with numerous modifications

Tudor 4B

As for the Tudor 4 although with a flight engineer’s station

Tudor 4B Super Trader

As for the 4B although with a large cargo door fitted in the rear, port side of the aircraft

Tudor 5

As for Tudor 2, although with more powerful engines and a few minor modifications

Tudor 6

A 689 variant intended for Argentina – Never entered production

Tudor 7

Tudor 689 design – Bristol Hercules powered variant

Tudor 8

Jet powered Tudor 688 variant

Tudor 9

Jet powered Tudor 689 variant – Developed into the Avro Ashton

Tudor Specs a

Click to enlarge

 

 

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