The Avro Anson is a British twin-engined, multi-role aircraft that served with the Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Canadian Air Force and numerous other air forces before, during, and after the Second World War. Developed from the Avro 652 airliner, the Anson, named after British Admiral George Anson, was developed for maritime reconnaissance, but found to be obsolete in this role. It was then found to be suitable as a multi-engined aircrew trainer, becoming the mainstay of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. By the end of production in 1952, a total of 8,138 had been built by Avro in nine variants, with a further 2,882 built by Federal Aircraft Ltd in Canada from 1941.
In 1933, the British Air Ministry proposed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) acquire a relatively cheap landplane for coastal maritime reconnaissance duties, as a supplement to the more capable, but expensive Flying boats that the RAF used for maritime reconnaissance. The Air Ministry requested tenders for aircraft to meet this requirement, with Avro responding with the Avro 652A, a modified version of the Avro 652 twin-engined, six-seat monoplane airliner. The Air Ministry placed orders with Avro and de Havilland for single examples of the Type 652A and the de Havilland DH.89 for evaluation against this requirement late in 1934, with evaluation and selection of a design for production to take place by May 1935.
The Avro 652A first flew on 24 March 1935 at Avro’s Woodford factory, and was evaluated against the DH.89M by the RAF Coastal Defence Development Unit at Gosport from 11 to 17 May. The Avro aircraft proved superior, and was selected as the winner of the competition on 25 May. Air Ministry Specification 18/35 was written around the Type 652A, and an initial order for 174 aircraft, to be called "Anson", was placed in July 1935. The first production Anson made its maiden flight on 31 December 1935, with changes from the prototype included an enlarged horizonal tailplane and reduced elevator span to improve stability. Deliveries to the RAF began on 6 March 1936.
The Anson Mk I was a low-wing cantilever monoplane with a retractable undercarriage, the type with this configuration to enter service with the RAF. It had a wooden wing, of plywood and spruce construction, while the fuselage was constructed of steel tubing, mainly clad in fabric, but with the aircraft’s nose clad in magnesium alloy. It was powered by two Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah IX seven-cylinder air-cooled radial engines, rated at 350 horsepower (260 kW) each, driving two-bladed metal propellers. The aircraft’s retractable tailwheel undercarriage was manually operated, requiring 144 turns of a crank handle situated by the pilot’s seat. To forgo this laborious process, early model aircraft often made short flights with the landing gear extended at the expense of 30 mph (50 km/h) of cruising speed.
Initially, the Anson was flown with a three-man crew (pilot, navigator/bomb-aimer and radio-operator/gunner) in the maritime reconnaissance role, but from 1938 it operated with a four-man crew. Armament consisted of a single .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun fixed in the forward fuselage and aimed by the pilot, with an Armstrong Whitworth manually operated dorsal gun turret fitted with a single Lewis gun. Up to 360 pounds (160 kg) of bombs, consisting of two 100 pounds (45 kg) and eight 20 pounds (9 kg) bombs, could be carried in the aircraft’s wings. Ansons used for training were fitted with dual controls and usually had the gun turret removed, although aircraft used for gunnery training were fitted with a Bristol hydraulically-operated gun turret similar to that used in the Bristol Blenheim.
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