Today we celebrate the anniversary of the first flight of the diminutive Avro 534 Baby, a civil biplane which was conceived by A.V. Roe and Roy Chadwick during the post war years.
Avro turned its attention to the possibilities of civil aviation as soon as the Armistice was announced and, reasoning that many people would take up flying, Roe and Chadwick began designing a small aeroplane which would be cheap to run and easy to maintain. The final design was determined by the fact that the only available engine was the 35 hp Green which had previously been used by the first Avro Type D.
The original intention was to call the new machine ‘Popular’, but when it was wheeled out for its first flight at Hamble on 30th April 1919, it had the new name Avro Baby emblazoned on both sides of the fuselage. The maiden flight didn’t exactly go to plan when H.A. Hamersley crashed after accidentally knocking off the ignition switches shortly after take off! Fortunately, Hamersley wasn’t badly injured and a second machine was quickly built by reusing parts from the first. Only a small number of the Avro Baby were built (around 12 machines) but these would lay the foundations of the light aeroplane movement that came during the mid-1920s.
The Avro Baby soon became well known thanks to winning the Handicap section of the Aerial Derby at Hendon and Victor Trophy Race during the summer of 1919. It was also flown non-stop from Hounslow to Brussels in 2 hours 50 minutes and went on to the First Air Traffic Exhibition at Amsterdam. The success of the Avro Baby attracted the interest of the Soviets who ordered a single example. The delivery flight from London to Moscow was the first ever made between the capitals.
On 13th January 1920, Chadwick took an Avro Baby on an eventful cross-country flight, having recently been taught how to fly by Hamersley. The aircraft was caught in a down-draft and smashed into some trees before coming to a rest in the garden of A.V.’s brother Everard’s vicarage! Chadwick was badly injured but both he and the aeroplane were soon put back together!
Bert Hinkler bought an Avro Baby (G-EACQ) in April 1920 and made some extraordinary flights with the machine. On 31st May he made the 650 mile nonstop flight from Croydon to Turin in 9 ½ hours for which he was later awarded the Britannia Trophy. Hinkler then had the aeroplane shipped to Australia where on 11th April 1921 he made the historic 800 mile nonstop flight from Sydney to his native Bundaberg. On landing in the main street, he taxied right up to his garden gate! The aeroplane is currently on display at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation in Bundaberg.
Other variants of the Avro Baby include the Avro 534A Water Baby and the Avro 554 Antarctic Baby. The latter was intended for use during the Shackleton-Rowett South Polar Expedition and was ferried onboard ‘Quest’. However, the machine wasn’t flown because some essential parts weren’t collected on route. It was sold to Bowring Bros of St Johns in January 1923 who fitted the machine with skis and used it for seal spotting in Newfoundland.