The first Airspeed AS57 Ambassador (G-AGUA) flew at Christchurch on 10th July 1947. It was an elegant, high wing, twin piston-engined airliner design with triple tail fins. The Airspeed AS57 Ambassador had its origins as the Brabazon Committee’s specification Type IIA, originally calling a piston-powered short-haul feeder-liner intended to replace the Douglas DC-3, to Ministry Specification 25/43.
Designed for Airspeed (1934) Limited by Arthur Hagg, at Fairmile Manor, Cobham, Surrey from 1943 onwards. Although this was just a stones-throw from Claremont Park, the wartime home of the Hawker Design Team, there is little record of any collaborations or even social gatherings between the two groups. Although the majority interests in Airspeed had been acquired by De Havilland in 1940, their products continued with Airspeed branding.
The Airspeed AS57 Ambassador programme was held back by delays in validation of the wing design as well as fuselage pressurisation testing, which was carried out by submerging a test fuselage in Portsmouth Docks not far from the Airspeed Factory and Headquarters.
Initially, the aircraft was powered by 2 x Bristol Hercules radial engines although these were later replaced the more powerful Bristol Centaurus engines.
3 prototypes were eventually completed and the was first flow by George Errington on 10th July 1947.
After a short program of proving and test flights BEA placed an order for 20 aircraft at a cost of £3 million in September 1948. BEA were keen to lead the field with new innovations to attract wealthy travellers and the type entered service as the 'BEA Elizabethan Class' on 13th March 1952.
The Elizabethan Class was an instant success and so other key routes were quickly introduced and at one point the Airspeed AS57 Ambassador had become BEA’s most used aircraft, each attaining more than 2,230 flying hours per annum.
During the 1948 SBAC Show, the Airspeed AS57 Ambassador gave a spectacular (and possibly never equalled) exhibition by taxiing out with the port engine stopped and its propeller feathered. The aircraft then took off and completed its entire demonstration, flying on just one engine.
By 1956 however, the fleet were looking and feeling very tired so they were progressively replaced in BEA service by the Vickers Viscount from 1957. The last scheduled Airspeed AS57 Ambassador flight in BEA colours was on 30th July 1958, although many were sold on and continued to be used in the development of ‘package holidays’, in the hands of airlines such as Dan Air London Limited.
During the 1950s, Airspeed AS57 Ambassador II prototype aircraft were used as test-beds for the development of a number of engine types. Initially during 1953, the second prototype (G-AKRD) tested the Bristol Proteus 705 engine for the Bristol Britannia, before being transferred in 1958 to Rolls-Royce for work on the Tyne engine, which went on to power the Vickers Vanguard (as G-37-3). It was also used as the Ambassador P. Special for developing the Dart engine.
The coming of turbo-props and the dawning of the jet age caused the Airspeed AS57 Ambassador to fall out of favour and they were gradually withdrawn from use. The final blow was the negative publicity arising from two fatal crashes, the most infamous of which is now known as the Munich Air Disaster ,involving the Manchester United Football Team on 6th February 1958.
Specification (Airspeed Ambassador 2)
|Powerplant||Twin 2,625 hp Bristol Centaurus 661 engines|
|Span||115 ft 0|
|Maximum Weight||52,500 lb|
|Capacity||Three crew and 47 passengers|
|Maximum Speed||312 mph (Cruising speed: 260 mph)|
|Airspeed Ambassador 1||2 Prototypes|
|Airspeed Ambassador 2||21 Production aircraft|
Airspeed Ambassador 2
Duxford Aviation Society, Duxford, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom