Bonhams|Cars will present a historic three-seat Avro 504 L at its Goodwood Revival Sale in September 2023. Built in March 1920, the 504L was the earliest commercial aircraft manufactured by the British company, Avro, known for developing the first WWI aircraft. Following the war, the military K model was modified into the civil L model with three seats and certified for commercial flying.
This model would go on to carry over one million passengers plus freight and mail during 20 years of civilian service. The world's earliest remaining commercial aircraft, the Avro 504 L, registration no. G-EASD, represents the beginning of the international airline industry and, while over 100 years old, is presently nearing completion to potential flying condition.
From 1913 until the late 1930s approximately 10,500 Avro 504s of various marks were constructed both in the UK and overseas. Today around only 10 genuine examples remain, the majority in major aircraft museums. Offered with extensive and impeccable provenance, the Avro 504 L, G-EASD is the only three-seater left.
After a commercial career in Sweden from 1921 to 1927, the Avro 504 L, G-EASD passed into private ownership in the 1930s and was subsequently left in storage for many years, soaked in castor oil to preserve the airframe and engine. Around 30 years ago, the existence of the aircraft came to light and it was brought to the UK where it was purchased by the current owner. It was a virtually complete aircraft, though in poor condition, and included a Le Rhône 110 engine as well as extensively documented provenance and spares.
The airframe has been restored to flying condition and will be sold with a 1917 Le Rhône 110 rotary engine, restored to display condition by Rolls-Royce. It will not be covered but remain in skeletal condition to enable prospective purchasers to conduct an in-depth survey of the restoration.
Basic Avro 504 history
The original designs for the type were made in 1912 (nine years after the Wright Brothers' first flight). The fuselage was drawn by A V Roe & Company's Roy Chadwick, later its Chief Designer, who would go on to design the Lancaster. The first flights, in 1913, were a great success. Orders were received from both the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), ensuring the future of the Avro company.
When design started in 1912 it was ahead of its time. The 504's tractor layout with staggered bi-plane wings, full 3 axis control utilising control column and rudder bar plus main wheel with tail-skid undercarriage was soon adopted by most aircraft designers as the best. Furthermore, interchangeable components and standard parts were used throughout, making the 504 cheaper to make.
The Avro 504 was among the first British aircraft to arrive in France at outbreak of WW1 in 1914. In November 1914 the RNAS flew three aircraft to the Zeppelin factory at Friedrichshafen, making the first ariel bombing raid in history. In 1916, the 504 was selected as the first standard military training aircraft in the world, serving at the RFC Gosport School of Flying. Its status grew with time becoming the first 'standard trainer' in the world.
In 1917, Avro upgraded the 504 to K model specification with more powerful rotary engines: Le Rhône 110, Clerget 130 or Bentley BR1. This required a minimal amount of fuselage strengthening, otherwise the airframe remained as per the design of 1912. In April 1918 the Royal Air Force was created.
Following the war's end in November 1918, Avro modified the military K model to become the civil L model, with three seats and a choice of undercarriage (which could be changed in less than one hour). In July 1919, an agreement in Paris allowed International Commercial Aviation to commence.
Two fundamental rules were built into the agreement: private aircraft would require only a Certificate of Registration with the registration letters applied to the airframe, while commercial aircraft would require a Certificate of Registration, with letters applied to the airframe, and a Certificate of Airworthiness. G-EASD was issued a C of A in 1920.
In March 1920, Avro 504 L, G-EASD is constructed and begins commercial flying. It would go on to be one of the creators and sustainers of the nascent airline industry. It was a robust simple aircraft that carried over 1 million passengers plus freight and mail during 20 years of civilian service. From 1913 until the late 1930s some 10,500 Avro 504s of various marks were constructed both in the UK and overseas. Today only around 10 genuine examples remain, the majority in major aircraft museums. Avro 504 L, G-EASD is the only three-seater left.
In March 1920 this aircraft was built under licence by Eastbourne Aviation Company and registered on 26th of that month as G-EASD. The EAC had been started as an aircraft constructor by Major Fowler in December 1911 building Bleriot aircraft at Eastbourne under licence.
During WW1 they built a large number of various military machines, the majority for the RNAS, of which 200 were Avro 504s. Post-war the company built six of the new commercial variant, the three-seat Avro 504 L for their 'airline' - Eastbourne Aviation Services. By coincidence it becomes the first personalised registration, EASD = Eastbourne Aviation Seaplane Division.
The Avro was issued with its UK Certificate of Registration on 26th March 1920 and its Certificate of Airworthiness on 1st June 1920. It is believed that the aircraft flew on a regular basis between March and June 1920 prior to the formal issuance of the C of A. G-EASD carried out a test flight on 16th June1920 followed by three flights carrying five passengers, all before lunch, starting its official commercial career.
When A V Roe modified the two-seat military K model into the three-seat commercial L type they equipped it with an undercarriage capable of accepting wheels, snow skis or water floats, making it internationally versatile and commercially viable. G-EASD was built as such, operated by Eastbourne Aviation Services exclusively on water floats utilising the English Channel as its airfield, flying to the beaches of Eastbourne, Hove, Brighton, Shoreham and others.
Between June and September 1920, 329 passengers were carried (fewer than a Boeing 747 load) and one photographic charter was accomplished. From these modest roots the international airline industry began.
In late September 1920, G-EASD was laid up for the winter. George Spaak, a Swedish engineer, had timber interests in the Stockholm hinterland and had created an embryonic Air Transport Company. In 1921, he sent one of his pilots, Jimmy Youell (ex RFC) to Eastbourne to evaluate the Avro. G-EASD was test flown on 21st July 1921, purchased, crated and shipped to Stockholm.
On 26th August 1921 it was erected and test flown. Two days later the aircraft carried seven passengers between Stockholm and Goshaga. It was initially registered as S-AAP with the Swedish authorities, the UK Air Ministry noting the aircraft exported and sold to Sweden.
The Swedish authorities changed their registration system three times in 10 years. S-AAP was officially re-registered S-AHAA on the 13th March 1923 and subsequently as SE-HAA on 1st April 1929, still in the ownership of George Spaak. On 13th December 1927, the Avro made its last commercial flight, landing heavily on a frozen lake and incurring much damage. Nevertheless, George Spaak had enjoyed a good financial return from the aircraft, and it remained stored in a boat shed and eventually was sold on.
During its commercial career in Sweden from 1921 to 1927, the aircraft carried 147 passengers and a large but unknown amount of freight and mail. By the late 1920s the industry was producing better and more suitable commercial aeroplanes. The 504 was becoming redundant and reaching the end of its commercial life. Still registered SE-HAA, the Avro passed into private ownership in the 1930s.
G-EASD, was left in storage in Sweden for many many years, soaked in castor oil which preserved the airframe and engine. The aircraft came to light around 30 years ago and was brought to the UK. Subsequently our vendor obtained it together with all the original documents and spares.
During research, G-EASD's history and its airline significance became apparent as the world's earliest surviving commercial aircraft. All other commercial types that pre-dated G-EASD had crashed, burnt, or in other ways been destroyed. and now this remains the World's Earliest Remaining Commercial Aircraft for sale.