Airspeed Ltd moved their production facilities from York to Portsmouth during 1933, a period in which the first Airspeed AS5 Courier was under construction. This delayed its arrival only slightly and once settled in the much larger premises on south coast they were able to progress very quickly on what was their most advanced aircraft to date.
Designed by A. Hessell Tiltman (co-founder of Airspeed), the six-seat Airspeed AS51 Courier was a low wing monoplane, the first British design to be fitted with flaps and undercarriage that retracted into the wings.
The prototype (G-ABXN) flew for the first time on 10th April 1933, in the hands of RAE Test Pilot George Stainforth.
In the test flight programme that followed, it sustained two minor accidents, one at Portsmouth in April 1933 and a second 2 months later at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Martlesham Heath. On each occasion only superficial damage was sustained, being quickly repaired after both occasions.
The confidence gained during the testing experience saw Airspeed commence production of the Courier during the summer of 1933.
The first production aircraft was delivered on 4th September 1933, to the type's appointed agents Exchange & Mart Magazine, who demonstrated the aircraft with a flight to Scotland. This, along with other promotional flights, saw a good level of enquiries and potential sales.
By the end of that year, Airspeed offered two basic versions of the AS5 Courier, one configured for the home UK market and another specially adapted for overseas and the colonies of the British Empire.
The prototype had been specifically built to order for Sir Alan Cobham, with a view to his demonstrating a non-stop flight to India, with the assistance of air-to-air refuelling. In the event however, on the first leg on 22nd September 1934, the attempt was aborted after a mechanical failure of the throttle, forcing an emergency landing at RAF Hal Far on Malta. That said, Cobham had just successfully refuelled from a Handley Page HP W10 when the throttle broke, proving the capability of the aircraft.
In order to bolster interest, the first production aircraft (G-ACJL) was entered in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race, piloted by AVM AE Borton. The Race, running from England to Australia, featured 41 starters with the AS51 Courier finishing fourth on handicap on the first day of the race.
Although intended for private use, small fleets were operated commercially by Portsmouth, Southsea and Isle of Wight Aviation Ltd, North Eastern Airways Ltd and by London Scottish and Provincial Airways Ltd.
Due to the aircraft's advanced aerodynamics, two airframes were used purely in research, one by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough and the other as a development aircraft for the Napier Rapier engine.
During World War II, surviving Airspeed AS5 Couriers were seconded into the RAF as communications platforms whilst at the end of hostilities those that were left we used for joy-riding from Southend Airport.
The final Airspeed AS5 Courier was scrapped in December 1947.
|Powerplant||One 240 hp Armstrong Siddeley Lynx IVC|
|Span||47 ft 0 in|
|Maximum Weight||3,900 lb|
|Capacity||Pilot and five passengers|
|Maximum Speed||153 mph|
|Cruising Speed||132 mph|
Variants & Number built
|AS.5 & AS.5A Courier||13 built - 240 hp (179 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Lynx IVC|
|AS.5B Courier||2 built - 277 hp Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah V|
|AS.5C Courier||One only - 325 hp (242 kW) Napier Rapier IV engine test bed|