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Auster Aircraft Photo Collections
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Auster Aircraft Photo Collections

Collection Item
Julie Thomson
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This exhibition contains 53 images.
The Auster is a light, highwing monoplane designed for private flying and club use, but also successfully adapted for military and other purposes. They were built at Thurmaston and Rearsby in Leicestershire between 1939 and 1965.

You can see an Auster aircraft on display at Charnwood Museum.

The Beginning

In 1938, Leicestershire County Flying Club bought a new Taylorcraft Model A aircraft from America. One of its members, A. L. Wykes, a pilot from World War One (WWI) and a local businessman, was so impressed with this aircraft, he decided to build them himself.

With no previous experience, but a love of flying and some local financial backing, Wykes headed for Taylorcraft in America to purchase a licence to produce their aircraft. He returned with a Taylorcraft Model B aircraft, details of how to manufacture them and 50 engines.

The Early Years

In November 1938 Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) Ltd, was formed in the spare buildings at the rear of Wykes' machinery factory "Crowthers" in Thurmaston. The first aircraft produced, the model Plus C, sold for approximately £500.

The company continued to produce aircraft until the outbreak of WWII in September 1939, when all civilian flight was banned along with the manufacture of civil aeroplanes.

WWII Production

Because of the ban, Wykes negotiated contracts to produce other goods to keep it afloat. This included repairing Tiger Moth, Typhoon and Hurricane military aircraft. Meanwhile, the Army had been undertaking trials to test modern methods for air observation. For this they needed a light aircraft that could be used by artillery officers to locate enemy forces. Wykes knew of this and produced for the trials 6 new Taylorcraft Model Plus D aircraft. Taylorcraft were awarded the contract because of their factory facilities and the Model D was:

- small enough to avoid attacks
- low cost to run
- easy to handle
- easy to dismantle and reassemble
- easy to transport

Air Observation Posts

To distinguish the military aircraft from the civilian they were renamed "Auster" - the Latin word for a warm, dry southwesterly wind. he first military aircraft produced was the Auster Mk 1, 100 of which were ordered in 1942 for use as the new Air Observation Posts (AOP). Under the direction of the RAF, the AOPs were flown by trained Army artillery pilots. The Austers became known as the "eyes of the army" and were used worldwide throughout the war years.

With increased demand and a shortage of a male workforce, women were employed to take on their workloads. By the end of the war in 1945, over 1600 Austers had been built.

Auster Aircraft Ltd 1946-1961

After the war, the company under the new name "Auster Aircraft Ltd" continued to develop new, improved military Austers. A new line of more economical and low powered civilian Austers were also produced from the successful wartime Mk 5 model. The aircraft were modified for a variety of purposes and were used at home and around the world. These included:

- training
- touring
- observations
- crop spraying and dusting
- aerial advertising
- delivery
- aerial photography
- pleasure trips
- private flying

However, lack of demand and the availability of cheap ex-military aircraft soon led to a slow down in production and many redundancies throughout the workforce. To keep the company productive, they established connections with motor companies and started making car parts, including gear changes for the Hillman Minx and Hunter.

The End of the Company

Auster Aircraft Ltd continued to make civilian and military aircraft until 1960 when it was absorbed into British Executive and General Aviation, better known as "Beagle", part of the Pressed Steel Group. Auster models, such as the Terrier, Airedale and Husky, continued to be produced by Beagle until 1968, when all aircraft production ceased.