Alliott Verdon Roe was never one for the sidelines. He'd somehow convinced Charles Rolls that he should be appointed secretary of the Royal Aero Club, despite having nothing that could remotely qualify as relevant experience. Not that he stayed there long - he resigned barely more than a week later, believing the job couldn't further his plans. On founding the company that would bear a version of his name, he decided that the Wright had made flying too difficult and set about designing something better. It's thanks to him we can now control an aircraft's pitch and bank with a single column, instead of the one-armed paper-hanger expectations of Wilbur and Orville's vision.
Compare the advanced design of the Avro to this contemporary Farman MF-11
So it should come as no surprise that his design for a fighter aeroplane was similarly innovative. Although quickly rendered obsolete by the explosion of military aircraft design brought about by WW1, the Avro 504K was a sleek, modern design that looks much more substantial to our eyes today than the string and wire contraptions of 1913.
It was less than spectacular as a fighter, and bears the ignoble achievement of being the first RFC aircraft to be shot down. Front line experience showed that stable, predictable aircraft like the 504 were exactly what wasn't needed. But the machine became a highly successful trainer - despite being, if anything, too easy to fly.
The end of the war saw large numbers of 504s offered for sale to private buyers. Engines were now highly reliable, and A.V. Roe was confident of the stable performance of his design, as well as its excellent lifting ability. He acquired several ex-military 504s and converted them to carry two passengers. He used the same steamroller enthusiasm that had convinced Charles Rolls years before to persuade the authorities to grant permission for him to offer public flights.
Alliott's "Five Bob Flips" were offered for the first time at Easter 1919. Long queues developed as holidaymakers lined up to part with a sizeable chunk of their weekly income to experience this new miracle. Encouraged by the weekend's success, He bought more 504s and set up bases at Southport, Blackpool, Weston-Super-Mare, Manchester, Harrogate and Scarborough, employing ex-WW1 pilots to captain his flights. The Avro Transport Company was born, and by May it was flying scheduled services between Manchester, Blackpool and Southport.
While we may be stretching the point to call the Avro 504K an airliner, its role in trailblazing scheduled passenger flights is undeniable.
|504K by numbers|
|First Flight:||18 September 1913|
|Powerplant:||1 x Le Rhône 9J Rotary engine of 82kW (110 hp)|
|Maximum Speed:||145km/h (90mph)|
|Length:||8.97m (29ft 5in)|
|Height:||3.18m (10ft 5in|