Wills’s Aviation Card #61 – “Roe II.” Triplane.

61F 001.jpgHistory Behind The Card: “Roe II” Triplane.

Card #61 of 75, W.D.& H.O Wills, Aviation series 1911, Capstan Navy Cut – black back issue

  • Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe, April 26, 1877 in Patricroft, Eccles, England, Great Britain – January 4, 1958, Portsmouth, England, Great Britain.

To be honest, the image in the card above looks like Roe I Triplane, owing to its rear wings, and the fact that they are completely open. The Roe II has closed vertical stabilizers holding the rear wings erect on the outer edge.

If you’ll examine further below, you can see what is purported to be the Roe II – but three versions of it.

If you aren’t sure you recognize the name of the man at the top… Mr. Roe, perhaps you might better recognize his aviation company A.V.Roe Aircraft Company… also known as Avro… one of the top designers and manufacturers of aircraft during WWI (The Great War), through WWII, and into the Cold War era.

Believe it or not, even though I had not yet been born by the time the company went out of business, I have six degrees of separation connection with Sir Roe… sort of… which, I’ll reveal later on in this article.

What do we know about A.V. Roe the man? Well, he was the first Englishman to make a powered flight in 1908, and he was the first Englishman to fly an all-British manufactured aircraft in 1909. He was also one of the more famous aeroplane designers and manufacturers during WWI…

Despite the great success and history of Avro and A.V. Roe, there’s not much good to say about the success of the Roe II Triplane that this card is all about.

Oh well… let’s start with a history of Sir Roe and work our way up to through his childhood, aviation successes, a country’s shame, his death and my sorta link. Yes… a country’s shame… something I feel deeply about – my home of Canada.

The tricky part of this whole story, is that AV Roe the person is only involved in Avro until sometime in 1928. While the company lived on, he went and formed the Saunders-Roe aircraft company.

So… to give a full story, I’m going to mention planes built with Roe as pat of Avro… what the Avro company built after he left, what another company did using the Avro Canada namesake, and what the Saunders-Roe company did.

Man… it’s never easy giving a historically accurate background!

AV Roe.jpg

A.V. Roe

Roe was born in Lancashire, England in 1877, leaving home when he was 14 to go to British Columbia, Canada to work as a surveyor… except the silver market had played out, so he had to do odd jobs… including working as an assistant working on drawings for a flying machine… keeping in mind that this would be around 1891…

He returned to England and apprenticed for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway before leaving to try and study marine engineering at King’s College London. He did not get in because, although he passed the technical and math portions, he failed the general subjects.

He ended up as 5th engineer of the SS Jebba ship of the British & South African Royal Mail Company, as well as serving on other ships, eventually ending up as a 3rd engineer.

While at sea, Roe looked at the soaring flight of some albatross birds and turned his thoughts to possibly building his own aircraft.

In 1906, without any experience, he applied for the job of Secretary of the Royal Aero Club (founded in 1901 as the Aero Club of Great Britain, changing its name in 1910 to Royal Aero Club in 1910).

His enthusiasm for aviation caught the eye of one Charles Rolls (one half with Henry Royce, he co-founded the Rolls-Royce car manufacturing firm. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display on July 12, 1910)… getting the job.

He quit to work as a draftsman for G.L.O. Davidson, who had devised a twin-rotored aircraft that was being built in Denver, Colorado, U.S. But, there were disagreements about the design of the machine and problems with his salary, so Roe went back to England to get a design patent, decided to resign instead.

Let’s take a look at the aeroplanes Roe supposedly designed and built.

Please keep in mind that I am taking the next two images from Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft of 1913… from the British section of HISTORICAL AIRCRAFT.

Bored… and now having some skill in the design of aeroplanes, Row tried his hand at building models, winning a Daily Mail newspaper competition of £75 for a design in 1907.

With the prize money and the loan of stables at his brother’s house in Putney, he built a full-sized aeroplane based on his design… what would be known as the Roe I Biplane (aka Avroplane).

Roe I Biplane 1908

Avro biplane.jpg

I can only assume that this plane made hops, per the cutline on the Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft 1913 book.

Roe flew the Roe I biplane at Brooklands in 1907-1908, achieving flight on June 8, 1908, flying 100-feet distance… but it wasn’t flight so much as hopping. Is this a legitimate claim of flight then? By the way, some sources claim the flight was achieved in 1907… but I suspect the plane was only built in that year.

So… a legitimate flight?

I would say no… but people seemed to really have this awe and respect for A.V. Roe that the minor achievement is recognized as a success to heaped upon him.

Although Roe wanted to use a 24 horsepower Antoinette motor, he couldn’t afford it and instead utilized a nine horsepower JAP (JA Prestwich Industries) built V-twin motor.

Knowing that the plane was now lacking in strength, to compensate Roe lightweighted it by using brown paper to cover the wings.

Again, the Roe I Biplane was the first British-designed aeroplane – but it only hopped, and did not achieve actual flight.

Roe I Triplane 1907

Avro Roe I Triplane 1907.jpg

Roe I Triplane/Avroplane/Bullseye 1907, continued

AV Roe I Triplane.jpg

This Roe I Triplane differs from the one above in that it has a skin covering the fuselage, and no longer has a rear wheel. The propellers look similar, but can not be confirmed.

The Avroplane/Roe I Triplane is still around for those of you who are interested, over at the London Science Museum.

For a nickname, the Avroplane was known as the Bullseye by Roe, after a brand of braces manufactured by his brother Humphrey.


To confirm that this is the Roe I aeroplane, you can see this 1952 replica aircraft sitting in the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, England – complete with “Bullseye” annotation on the fuselage… and you can see the open concept of the vertical stabilizers on the rear triplane wings. Image is from the German Wikipedia site, with annotation for the photo belonging to Paul Hermans. Of importance, however, is that the replica above shows a different set of propeller shape from the image at the top of this section. One would assume a museum would get things correct, right?


Roe I Triplane.jpg

You can clearly see the “Bullseye” on the fuselage here… and the covered vertical stabilizers on the rear triplane wings…. so WTF?! Also… these two images showing Bullseye have a rear wheel, but not on the image at the top. Merely variations of a theme.

Should you not be interested in reading the photo cutlines of the three images above, let me point out that it appears as though the images show three different versions of the Roe I Triplane!

The topmost image in this section looks just like the middle image… in that the rear triplane wings match, with an open concept vertical stabilizer separating the wings.

The middle image of a museum replica of the Roe I, shows the aircraft’s name as “Bullseye“.

The third image (at the bottom), shows what purports to be the Roe I Triplane from the era, and also shows the appropriate name of “Bullseye“.

However, The bottom image shows a different design on the rear triplane wings, showing a covered vertical stabilizer between the wings.

Images 2 and 3 show the aircraft with a single rear wheel.

Image 1 shows it without a wheel, perhaps with a single ski providing support.

Also, Take a look at Images 1 and 2… with the identical rear wings, but different rear wheel/ski… the propellers are of a different shape.

Image 2 – the replica also has a #14 on the rear, which I assume was because it was based on a version in an air meet…

But are all of these different versions of the same plane? Is one of these the Roe II? The Roe II that was nicknamed Mercury? No… these are, I believe, just variations of the same Roe I Triplane.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 20 feet (6.1 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet (2.7 meters);
  • Wing area: 320 square feet (30 square meters);
  • Wing area – I spotted other data suggesting: 217.5 square feet (20.2 square meters) – I am unsure which is correct;
  • Empty weight: 300-pounds (136-kilograms);
  • Gross weight: 450-pounds (204-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × JAP V-twin configuration air-cooled proving 9 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 4-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour);
  • Range: 0.3 miles (0.48 kilometers).

Feeling as though he was on the right path, Roe and his brother Humphrey Verdon Roe founded the A.V. Roe Aircraft Co. on January 1, 1910, at Brownsfield Mill, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, England.

Humphrey was the money man, acting as the firm’s managing director until he joined the RFC in 1917.

61R 001.jpg

Roe II/Mercury Triplane

Roe II Triplane Mercury

Roe II Triplane at the 1909 Olympia Aero Show in London, England. Cost to purchase was £550, a nominal fee that also included tuition on how to fly it. You can see the aircraft’s “Mercury” imprinted on the fuselage. Hmm… no wheels… just skids. The image on the Wills’s card shows wheels. Image from www.verdon-roe.co.uk/pictures-videos-of-avro-aircraft1909-1914.

The Wills’s card in question, No. 61, describes the Roe II Triplane, sometimes known as the Mercury – though I wonder if that was a name given to the plane by its only purchaser.

As the first aeroplane of the A.V. Roe and Company, the Roe II Triplane was designed by  Roe – except that this time, he decided he didn’t need to lightweight it with paper all over the wings, seeing as how this time Roe had the money to get a stronger engine placed on board.

The 35 horsepower Green powerplant was designed by Gustavus Green and built by the Green Engine Company and Aster Engineering Company.

Only two examples of this type were built – one for display  – a visual aid, if you will for the company, and the other sold to a Captain W. G. Windham – and admittedly, I can’t find any information on him, except that along with Henri Pequet, the two began an airmail service between Allahabad and Naini Junction in India, to coincide with the Universal Postal Exhibition in Allahabad. This airmail service occurred between December of 1910 and into January of 1911.

I am sure, however, that the aircraft used in India by Windham was NOT the Roe II Triplane, but rather a Farman biplane.

The initial test flight of the Roe II took place sometime in April of 1910 in Brooklands. The plane rolled on take-off.

On a second attempt, it rolled again.

Sensing there was a design flaw (d’uh), Roe changed the planes design to avoid wing warping and instead use a control column that improved the plane’s overall performance.

Its longest flight being a mere 600 feet (180 meters). It is also why I doubt it was improved upon enough in eight months to have become the airmail aircraft of choice in India, as mentioned above.

Still, it was enough of a flight that Roe felt it should be sent along with the Roe III Triplane (see below) to the Blackpool Flying Meeting, October 18 – 23, 1909 in Blackpool, England. See below to find out what happened en route to the event.


The Green C-4 aircraft engine at the Royal Air Force Museum in London, England.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 26 feet (7.9 meters);
  • Height: 9 feet (2.7 meters);
  • Wing area: 280 square feet (26 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 550-pounds (249-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower;
  • Propellers: 2-bladed;
  • Maximum speed: 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour).

With its longest flight achieved being a mere 600 meters, it makes one wonder WHY the Roe II Triplane was deemed worthy enough to get its own tobacco card. I suppose there was initially some hope when an artist was asked to create the image, and then it was too late to change to the Roe III and Roe IV mentioned on the card’s reverse.

Roe III Triplane

Roe_III_Triplane.jpgThe Roe III Triplane was similar in looks to the Roe II Triplane, except it was supposed to be a two-seater – room for a passenger.

A prototype of the Roe III Triplane used a JAP motor, but the other three (but it could be as much as four) machines built utilized a Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower, as was used on the Roe II.

Although the prototype had ailerons fitted to the upper wing, the other three Roe III Triplanes had the ailerons fitted to the middle wing.

The aircraft first achieved flight on June 24, 1910.

Roe seldom exceeded 20 minutes in the air in the prototype Roe III because the JAP engine easily overheated… then spraying the pilot and passenger with oil. Carburetor fires also happened often enough.

By July 9, 1910, with Roe piloting the prototype, it stayed aloft for 25 minutes and was able to maneuver well enough in steep turns.

Roe practiced figure-eight turns, achieving Aviator’s Certificate No. 18 from the Royal Aero Club on July 20, 1910.

Soon after, however, Roe appears to have given up flying and instead concentrated on designing aircraft for his company.

We do know that the prototype Roe III Triplane with the JAP motor was put up for sale in May of 1911 as a second-hand aircraft for £250, but I can’t find anything else about what happened to it.

We do know that aside from the prototype, a Roe III Triplane was sold to:

  • the Harvard Aeronautical Society in Massachusetts, U.S.;
  • one was exported to the U.S.;
  • one (along with the Roe II Mercury Triplane) caught fire from sparks from a train that was transporting them to the 1910 Blackpool Aviation Meet. Roe was able to quickly replace them with new aircraft built from spare parts.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one;
  • Passenger: one;
  • Length: 23 feet (7 meters);
  • Wingspan: 31 feet (9 meters);
  • Wing area: 287 square feet (26.7 square meters);
  • Gross weight: 750-pounds (340-kilograms);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower.

Roe IV Triplane

Roe only manufactured one such Roe IV Triplane, fist achieving flight in September of 1910 and retired 12 months later in August of 1911.

Despite its relatively short shelf life, the Roe IV was flown often by a lot of people.

Because only one was made, however, allow me to force-feed you another Wikipedia entry:

The Roe IV Triplane resembled Roe’s Type III, being a tractor configuration triplane with the lower wing of smaller span than the upper two and a triangular section wire-braced fuselage, which was uncovered behind the pilot’s seat. The middle wing was mounted directly above the upper longerons, and there was a gap between the single lower longeron and the lower wing. The wings were connected by four unequally-spaced pairs of interplane struts on either side, the innermost pair on each side being just outboard of the upper longerons and the outer pair connecting only the upper pair of wings due to the shorter span of the lower wing. Although the ailerons fitted to the previous design had been satisfactory, Roe returned to wing warping for lateral control. The lifting triplane tailplanes of the earlier design were replaced by a non-lifting single triangular tailplane with a divided elevator and a small unbalanced rudder. The undercarriage consisted of a pair of skids extending forward of the propeller, with a pair of wheels mounted on each skid, and a sprung tailskid. It was powered by a 35 horsepower Green water-cooled four-cylinder inline engine, with the radiator mounted above the fuselage between the front inner interplane struts.

As mentioned, the Roe IV got a lot of use. It was used as a training aeroplane for the Avro Flying School at Brooklands.

However, along with the many pilots who learned to fly in it, many also failed, crashing it many times—including twice, that we know of, into the nearby sewage farm.

Suspecting that the length of the craft might have something to do with the numerous crashes, the Roe IV was rebuilt in February of 1911 with an extended fuselage, lengthened by 1.2 meters (4-feet).

Did it work? Maybe. Would-be pilots still manage to fly safely or crash (no known fatalities, by the way).

Why this aeroplane, and not something better – well… a full-scale flying replica was built for the excellent 1965 film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines and was afterwards donated to the Shuttleworth Collection.

General characteristics

  • Crew: one
  • Length: 30 feet (9 meters)
  • Wingspan: 32 feet (10 meters)
  • Height: 9 feet (3 meters)
  • Wing area: 294 square feet (27.3 square meters)
  • Loaded weight: 650-pounds (295-kilograms);
  • Maximum speed: 25 miles per hour (40.2 kilometers per hour);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Green C.4 four-cylinder inline water-cooled piston engine providing 35 horsepower.

After a few more aircraft designs: Roe Type D (only seven manufactured), Avro Curtiss type (also known as the Lakes Water Bird – only 1 manufactured), and the Avro Duigan (only one manufactured), things began to pick up for the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company with the manufacture of the Avro 500 also known as the Avro E.

Avro 500/Avro E


First flown in March 1912, a total of 19 Avro 500/Avro E aircraft were built by the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company, of which 18 were built for the newly-formed RFC (Royal Flying Corp., the air arm of the British Army before and during WWI until merging with the Royal Naval Air Service on April 1, 1918, when it formed the new Great Britain Royal Air Force).

First flying on March 3, 1912, the two-seat Avro 500 (along with the later Avro 502 – a single-seat version of the Avro 500), was considered to be the fledgling company’s most successful bird.

Because nothing is easy, the two-seater Avro Duigan biplane was manufactured first for Australian aviation John Robertson Duigan in 1911. It used a 40 horsepower two-cylinder horizontally opposed Alvaston engine, but was soon replaced with a 35 horsepower E.N.V. V-8 motor. Both were water-cooled engines, with pairs of large coiled tube radiators positioned parallel to the fuselage on either side of the front cockpit.

Once that order was completed, Roe built another two-seater known as the Avro Type E biplane. It was bigger than the Duigan model and had a 60 horsepower motor, water-cooled E.N.V. engine.

From Wikipedia: Both were two-bay tractor biplanes with unstaggered parallel-chord wings with rounded tips, a deep rectangular section fuselage bearing rectangular steel-framed stabilisers, elevators and rudder with no fixed fin, and an undercarriage with a pair of wheels on a transverse leaf-spring and a long central skid projecting forward of the propeller. This aircraft layout dominated aircraft design for twenty years: the Avro 500 and the contemporary B.E.1 are among the first truly practical examples built.

The Avro 500 was built after manufacture of the Avro Type E.

The Avro 500, as initially built, was a success in the air, but Row was not happy with its top speed and rate of climb when tested on March 3, 1912.

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2;
  • Wingspan: 34 feet (10.36 meters);
  • Motor: 1 × E.N.V. type D, 35 horsepower.

So, when he built a second model, he used a 50 horsepower Gnome air-cooled rotary motor, that was not only more powerful than the E.N.V. powerplant, but was lighter!

Using the new motor, the Avro 500 took off on May 8, 1912 reaching an altitude of 2000-feet (610 meters) in just five minutes.

On May 9, 1912, it flew 17 miles (28 kilometers) in 20 minutes. It also impressed the British military, ordering two examples for the aircraft now officially named the Avro 500.

Other intriguing developments by the company include building the world’s first aircraft with enclosed crew accommodation in 1912 with the monoplane Type F and biplane Avro Type G  – but despite that advance, neither plane advanced beyond the prototype stage.

As for the Avro 500… Roe further developed it into the Avro 504.

Avro 504

Avro 504K.jpg

The Avro 504K variant… notice the classic 504 skid just under the lower propeller blade.

What’s so special about the Avro 504? Well… during WWI, the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company built a total of 8,970 of the aeroplanes – the largest number of war craft produced.

Also, production of the Avro 504 continued on until 1932 building well over 10,000 of the aircraft.

First flown on September 18, 1913, the Avro 504 used an 80 horsepower Gnome Lambda seven-cylinder rotary engine. It was a two-bay, all-wood biplane with a square-ish fuselage.

What else is so special? Well, during WWI, it was the first ever British aeroplane to be shot down by the Germans. Okay… not so special. The incident occurred on August 22, 1914, with RFC pilot 2nd Lt. Vincent Waterfall and navigator Lt. Charles George Gordon Bayly – both of the 5th RFC squadron.

It was also the first British aeroplane to strafe troops on the ground; the first British aircraft to make a bombing raid over Germany; and the first Allied aeroplane to be downed by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

The Avro 504 was nicknamed the “Tooth pick” by the pilots because of the single skid between the wheels.

Considering the plane was being manufactured from 1913 – 1932, it should be expected that variations existed – and they do – too many to list, suffice to say the included engine variants, seat variants, differences in fuselage, and more.

One would think that if the fuselage was altered and a new engine used, it would no longer be the same aircraft, but I think the company believed the Avro 504 designation was kept because it was a such a good plane originally – why confuse the buying public?

Initially used as a fighter, scout and bomber during the early phase of WWI, as more agile and faster craft came into being, the Avro 504 was used more and more to train the would be war pilots, in fact becoming better know for its teaching capabilities.


Drawing here is likely mentioning the engines used in the 504E, 504F and 504G versions.

Variations of the 504 are:

  • 504original model;
  • 504A modified with smaller ailerons and broader struts. Use an 80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504Bfor the RNAS with larger fin. With an 80 horsepower Gnome or Le Rhône engine.
  • 504C – single-seat anti-zeppelin aircraft for the RNAS. The 504C was fitted with an extra fuel tank, in place of the observer.
  • 504D – single-seat anti-zeppelin aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps. Six built.
  • 504E100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape engine – 10 built.
  • 504F75 horsepower Rolls-Royce Hawk engine. One built
  • 504G80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504Hused for catapult trials. Used an 80 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504JUsed as a trainer. 100 horsepower Gnome or 80 horsepower Le Rhône engine.
  • 504K – Two-seat training aircraft. The 504K had a universal mount to take different engines. Single-seat fighter conversion used for anti-zeppelin work. Several were assembled in Australia by Australian Aircraft & Engineering. It used a: 130 horsepower Clerget 9, or a 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape or a 110 horsepower Le Rhône 9J engines.
  • 504K Mk.II – Hybrid trainer based on 504K fuselage with 504N undercarriage and wings and powered by rotary engine. Built under license in Mexico as Avro Anahuac.
  • 504L– Floatplane version with engine variants of a 150 horsepower Bentley BR1, a 130 horsepower Clerget or a 110 horsepower Le Rhône engine.
  • 504M – Three-seat cabin biplane. Only one was ever built, using a 100 horsepower Gnome engine.
  • 504N – Two-seat training aircraft, redesigned postwar trainer for RAF with 160 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engine. A total of 598 built.
  • 504OFloatplane version of 504N. First aircraft to fly above the Arctic Circle in 1923 Oxford Expedition.
  • 504PUnbuilt version of the 504N with side-by-side seating.
  • 504QThree-seat cabin biplane. The 504Q was built for the Oxford University Arctic Expedition. Only one was ever built, powered by an Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engine.
  • 504R GosportReworked trainer with revised, lightweight structure. Five prototypes flown 1926 to 1927 with various engines: the 100 horsepower Gnome Monosoupape; 100 horsepower Avro Alpha; 140 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major; and the 150 horsepower Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose. The Mongoose version was chosen as the production type, with 10 sold to Argentina, with 100 more built by FMA (Fábrica Militar de Aviones) under license in Argentina. At least six were exported to Estonia, remaining in service until 1940, and an unknown number to Peru.
  • 504STwo-seat training aircraft. Built under license in Japan by Nakajima Aircraft Company.
  • Yokosuka K2Y1Japanese version of the Avro 504N, given the long designation Yokosuka Navy Type 3 Primary Trainer, it used a 130 horsepower Mitsubishi-built Armstrong Siddeley Mongoose radial piston engine. A total of 104 built.
  • Yokosuka K2Y2Improved version of the K2Y1, powered by a 160 horsepower Gasuden Jimpu 2 radial piston engine. A total of 360 built of both the K2Y1 and K2Y2. The Watanabe-built aircraft were given the long designation Watanabe Navy Type 3-2 Land-based Primary Trainer.
  • U-1 (Uchebnyi – 1) Avrushka was a Russian copy of the 504K, with over 700 built.
  • MU-1 (Morskoy Uchebnyi – 1) – a Russian seaplane version.

Generally speaking (because there were so many variations of the Avro 504), here are the:

General characteristics of the Avro 504K

  • Crew: two;
  • Length: 29 feet 5 inches (8.97 meters);
  • Wingspan: 36 feet (10.97 meters);
  • Height: 10 feet 5 in (3.18 meters);
  • Wing area: 330 square feet (30.7 square meters);
  • Empty weight: 1,231 pounds (558 kilograms);
  • Useful load: 180 lb (82 kg);
  • Max. takeoff weight: 1,829 lb (830 kg);
  • Powerplant: 1 × Le Rhône 9J Rotary, 110 horsepower;
  • Maximum speed: 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour);
  • Cruise speed: 75 miles per hour (121 kilometers an hour);
  • Range: 250 miles (402 kilometers);
  • Service ceiling: 16,000 feet (4,876 meters);
  • Rate of climb: 700 feet/minute (3.6 meters/second);
  • Climb rate:  to 3,500 ft (1,065 m) in five min;
  • Armament: One (1) fixed .303 Lewis atop upper wing (single-seat night fighter variants)


Other aircraft designed and manufactured by the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company are the:

When WWI concluded, the lack of demand for aircraft hit all aeroplane manufacturers, causing Roe to sell 68.5% of his company to high-quality automobile manufacturer Crossley Motors in August of 1920.

In 1928, Crossley Motors sold the A.V. Roe Aircraft Company to Armstrong Siddeley Holdings Ltd.

At this time, Roe sold his shares and resigned from the company he had founded and bought S. E. Saunders Co., to form the new Saunders-Roe Limited.

Before I get to Saunders-Roe Limited, the following are aircraft built using the Avro name under A.V. Roe Aircraft Company  but not with A.V. Roe involved (all are live linked):

The Avro Lancaster

Maintaining their skills in designing trainer aircraft, the company built a more robust biplane called the Avro Tutor in the 1930s which the Royal Air Force (RAF) also bought in quantity. A twin piston-engined airliner called the Anson followed but as tensions rose again in Europe the firm’s emphasis returned to combat aircraft. The Avro Manchester, Lancaster and Lincoln were particularly famous Avro designs. More than 7,000 Lancasters were built and their bombing capabilities led to their use in the famous Dam Busters raid. The Avro Lancaster carried the heaviest bomb loads of the war, including the Grand Slam, a 22,000 lb (10,000 kg) earthquake bomb. I know… you HAVE to look it up now don’t you? 

Saunders-Roe Limited aka Roe, Roe, Roe Your Flying Boat

Okay – so now let’s get back to the real A.V. Roe and what he did next after he left the company he founded, A.V. Roe Aircraft Company… well, like the sub-head says, he formed the Saunders-Roe Limited company in 1929.

Roe and partner John Lord bought a majority share of boat-building firm S.E. Saunders, and decided to produce flying boats under the new company name of Saunders-Roe Limited.

In typical Roe fashion, few of the craft were manufactured in volume, with the largest fleet belonging to its Saunders Roe A.27 London, of which 31 were made, beginning in 1936, flying until 1941, flying primarily for the Royal Air Force (Great Britain) and the Royal Canadian Air Force.


Saunders-Roe A.27 London flying boat

Everybody Wants A Piece
In late 1930, Whitehall Securities Corporation Limited purchased a large share of Saunders-Roe.

Since Whitehall Securities already owned a large share of the Southampton, England airplane manufacturer Spartan Aircraft Ltd., they merged Spartan into Saunders-Roe Limited.

In 1938 Saunders-Roe Limited transferred its marine section—the shipyard and boat building business—to a newly formed company it owned called Saunders Shipyard Ltd. with all of its shares owned by Saunders-Roe Limited.

In 1947, Saunders-Roe tested its SR.A/1 fighter prototype, one of the world’s first jet-powered flying boats.

In 1952, they first flew their prototype Princess airliner, but the age of the flying-boat was over and the two further Princess examples to be completed were never flown. No further new seaplanes were produced here.

In 1951 Saunders-Roe took over the interests of the Cierva Autogiro Company at Eastleigh, England including the Skeeter helicopter project.

I’m just going to copy from Wikipedia here because the convoluted history doesn’t need me convoluting it any farther.

In September 1952 the company was comprised of:

  • Saunders-Roe Ltd. with a Head Office in Osborne, East Cowes, Isle of Wight (I.O.W.) with works at Columbine I.O.W. and Southampton Airport;
  • Saunders-Roe (Anglesey) Ltd, Friars Works, Beaumaris, North Wales;
  • Saro Laminated Wood Products Ltd., Folly Works, Whippingham, I.O.W.;
  • Princess Air Transport Co. Ltd of Osborne I.O.W. with an office in London at 45 Parliament St. SW1.

In 1959 it demonstrated the first practical hovercraft —the SR.N1.

In the same year Saro’s (Saunders-Roe) helicopter and hovercraft interests were taken over by Westland Aircraft which continued the Skeeter family with the Scout and Wasp. In 1964 all the hovercraft businesses under Westland were merged with Vickers-Armstrongs to form the British Hovercraft Corporation. This, in turn, was taken over by Westland and was renamed Westland Aerospace in 1985, and hovercraft production was reduced to nearly nothing until the advent of the AP1-88. The company produced sub-contract work for Britten-Norman, produced composites and component parts for the aircraft industry, especially engine nacelles for many aircraft including the De Havilland Canada Dash 8, the Lockheed Hercules, the British Aerospace Jetstream and parts for the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11. By the mid-1990s, over 60% of the world’s production of turboprop nacelles took place in the East Cowes works.

Wait… it’s gets more confusing…

In the late 1960s/early 1970s the Saunders-Roe Folly Works, by then owned by Hawker Siddeley was merged with the Gloster Aorcraft Company to form Gloster-Saro utilizing both companies’ expertise in aluminum forming to produce fire fighting appliances and tankers. In 1984, Gloster-Saro acquired the fire engine business of the Chubb group with the company merging in 1987 with Simon Engineering to form Simon Gloster Saro.

In 1994 Westland was taken over by GKN, later selling the Westland shares to form the helicopter-design business Agusta-Westland S.p.A, it retained the East Cowes works, where it continues aircraft component design and production.

There’s other stuff, but it doesn’t relate to aviation.

Roe  – Aeroplane Designer, Facist?!
So… what of A.V. Roe himself?

We know that he was knighted in 1929, changed his surname to Verdon-Roe in 1933 to honor his mother. Awww.

He was a fascist.


Yup… Roe was a member if the British Union of Fascists. The group changed its name in 1936 to the “British Union of Fascists and National Socialists”  – National Socialists?! Nazi’s?! The group even adopted the anti-semitism of the German Nazi party in the later years.

He joined the group because he liked their ticket on monetary reform, as he believed it wrong that banks should be able to create money by “book entry” and charge interest on it when they lent it out. The concept of fake money…

During WWII, two of his sons were killed while serving with the Royal Air Force: Squadron Leader Eric Alliott Verdon-Roe (26) in 1941; and Squadron Leader Lighton Verdon-Roe (DFC – Distinguished Flying Cross), aged 22 in 1943.

Roe died on January 4, 1958 in Portsmouth, and is buried at St. Andrew’s church in Hamble.

Stuff completely unrelated to A.V. Roe:

1) Avro regional jets

The Avro name would subsequently be resurrected by British Aerospace when this aircraft manufacturer renamed its BAe 146 family of regional jetliners as Avro regional jets (Avro RJ). Three differently sized versions of the four engine jetliner were produced: the Avro RJ70, the Avro RJ85 the Avro RJ100. The largest example of the family being the Avro RJ 115.

2) Avro Canada

In 1945, Hawker Siddeley Group purchased the former Victory Aircraft firm in Malton, Ontario, and renamed the operation A.V. Roe Canada Limited. Commonly known as Avro Canada, it was actually a subsidiary of the Hawker Siddeley Group and used the Avro name for trading purposes.

Okay… here’s that Six-degrees of Kevin Bacon stuff…  – whom, by the way, I can connect to within three degrees… four if you are supposed to count yourself.

During the early 1970s, my family loved in Malton, Ontario… a small town that later became absorbed as part of Mississauga, Ont. where the Toronto airport–Pearson International Airport–resides.

Okay… not only did I go to a Catholic school called Our Lady Of The Airways because of its proximity to the Avro Canada base, but I lived on Victory Crescent named, obviously after the former Victory Aircraft…. my house was part of a new subdivision in Malton built, I believe in 1970… and I can recall visiting the site BEFORE our semi-detached house was built.

Our Lady Of The Airways 1978.jpg

Our Lady Of The Airways elementary Catholic School in Malton (now part of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) circa 1978, now closed. Too bad, there was a lot of green field behind it for the kids to play on, and lots of fair-sized classrooms. I have good memories of the place.

Okay… it’s not really me touching Kevin Bacon, but the connection is there… even though it was only an Avro facility in name only, it was named in homage to A.V. Roe probably because it was still a famous enough name to make money off of.

So… what did Avro Canada build?

I urge you check out the link to the very brief outline on the Arrow by reading the Arrow blueprints’ story  HERE. It really is a touchy subject among Canada’s aviation community. We know what it could have meant for Canada – should have meant for Canada… and it hurts.

And… for kicks, I also urge you to check out the Avrocar story… I’m sure you’ve seen video of it and wondered what the hell it was.

Okay… that’s enough of Roe…

Despite a lot of great planes designed and built under the AVRO nameplate, most had nothing to do with the man himself. I didn’t know that until I did this blog… actually beleiving that my school had something to do with the great aviation pioneer… and now am bitterly disappointed to find out I’m not separated by six degrees of Kevin Bacon to A.V. Roe.


About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
This entry was posted in Aeroplane Factories, Fighters, Gliders, Heavier-Than-Air, Motors and Engines, People, Pilots, Tobacco Card, WWI, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Wills’s Aviation Card #61 – “Roe II.” Triplane.

  1. Pingback: Wills’s Aviation Card #62 – “Goupy III.” Biplane. | Pioneers Of Aviation

  2. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 85-Card Series | Pioneers Of Aviation

  3. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 85-Card Series – soon to be updated | Pioneers Of Aviation

  4. Pingback: Checklist For Wills’s Cigarettes Aviation 1911 – 75-Card Series | Pioneers Of Aviation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s