The first Airspeed Ambassador (G-AGUA) flew at Christchurch on 10th July 1947. An elegant high wing, twin piston-engined airliner design with triple tail fins, the Ambassador had its origins as the Brabazon Committee’s Type IIA.
The Ambassador was designed by Arthur Hagg at Fairmile Manor, Cobham, Surrey from 1943 onwards. The programme was held back by delays in validation of the wing design, and fuselage pressurisation testing, which was carried out by submerging a test fuselage in Portsmouth Docks not far from the Airspeed Factory and Headquarters. Initially it was powered by 2 Bristol Hercules radial engines although these were later replaced the more powerful Bristol Centaurus. 3 prototypes were built, the first flow by George Errington on 10th July 1947.
BEA placed an order for 20 aircraft at a cost of £3 million in September 1948 with the type entering service as the BEA Elizabethan Class on 13th March 1952. Other key routes were introduced and at one point the Ambassador became BEA’s most used aircraft with each attaining 2,230 flying hours per annum.
At the 1948 SBAC Show, the 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 on just one engine.
By 1956 however, the aircraft were looking and feeling tired and they were progressively replaced in BEA service by the Vickers Viscount from 1957. The last scheduled 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.
During the 1950’s Ambassador 2 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 for the Britannia before being transferred in 1958 to Rolls-Royce for work on the Tyne which was to power the Vickers Vanguard (as G-37-3) and the Dart engine, as the Ambassador P. Special.
The coming of turbo-props and the dawning of the jet age caused the Ambassador to fall out of favour, along with 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 (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)|
|Ambassador 1||2 Prototype|
|Ambassador 2||21 Production|
|Ambassador 2 (G-ALZO)||
Duxford Aviation Society, Duxford, Cambrigeshire, United Kingdom