A vision in silver – Auster Autocrat, G-AGTO


Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) Ltd, had set up shop in Rearsby, Leicestershire in November, 1938 with a mission to build Taylorcraft high-wing lightplanes for the British market; it was is if the design was coming ‘home’ to the East Midlands, for the two Taylor brothers, Clarence and Gordon, who had founded the Taylor Brothers Aircraft Corporation in Rochester, New York in 1926, were originally from Nottingham – just 21 miles away from Rearsby. Six of the Taylorcraft Model ‘A’ were imported to Leicestershire in ‘knocked down’ form, and sold mostly to flying clubs. The welded steel-tube fuselage, covered in Irish linen, was described in a company publication, thus:

‘For the private individual or flying club this robust light aeroplane, covered in fabric, presents an inexpensive practicable machine, which leaves in the shade all those infatuated and excited by stressed skin construction’.

The company had just broken into the British civil aircraft market, when the storm of war broke over Great Britain. Existing British Taylorcraft in private hands, or owned by flying clubs, were ‘impressed’ by the British Armed Forces, predominantly the British Army, who used them for Air Observation Post duties, spotting for the artillery, whilst the Royal Air Force used them for liaison and communications. Some of these ‘impressed’ Taylorcraft were quickly painted in a camouflage colour scheme and sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force – only a few trickled back after the evacuation from Dunkirk. The Air Ministry ordered 100 of these aircraft and asked Taylorcraft for a name for them; the company chose ‘Auster’, which was Latin for ‘a warm, southerly breeze’. Taylorcraft were incredibly busy during the World War Two, producing parts for Spitfire, Oxford, Audax, and Albemarle aircraft, and repairing hundreds of Hawker Hurricanes and Hawker Typhoons. Auster I, III, IV and V aircraft were active on almost every battle front, and performed prodigiously during the invasion of Europe, spotting for the guns which pounded the Third Reich, popping up from tree-top level when told a battery had fired, in order to observe the ‘fall of shot’, then diving back down to safety and to radio the results.

With the end of hostilities, the peacetime aviation market was flooded with ex-military light aircraft such as de Havilland Tiger Moths and Miles Magisters which had been sold off in the great sales at No. 5 Maintenance Unit, RAF Kemble. However, these aircraft often didn’t have enough seats for the civilian market or, since they were designed to military specifications, were too expensive to maintain. The last wartime Auster had been the Model J, or Auster V. One of these was taken from the production line in 1945 and modified by fitting a Blackburn Cirrus II four-cylinder engine, producing 100 hp. The extra windows to the rear of the centre section (from the military AOP aircraft) were left in position, and the civil registration G-AGOH acquired. The new aircraft was finished in cream with green striping, and fitted with three seats covered in green Rexine fabric; there were attractive, Victorian-style hand-holds alongside the front two seats, and an external, glass-domed rotary fuel gauge immediately in front of the cockpit windshield. How do I know all these details? Simply because G-AGOH was our ‘staff’ machine (and photo-survey aircraft to the county) when I was Assistant Keeper, Aviation to Leicestershire Museum Service! A prototype aircraft (G-AFWN) was quickly followed by the first production machine, G-AGTO, which was sold to Mr Thomas Shipside of Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, the list price being £825. By now, March 8th, 1946, the company had changed its name to Auster Aircraft Ltd, and was looking to re-establish itself in the civilian market, the recommencement of civil flying having officially begun on 1st January, 1946. Auster’s also had to satisfy all those ‘reserved’ orders made by Servicemen and others during the war (a £25 deposit was needed to reserve a slot on the postwar production line). The new type was officially named the ‘Taylorcraft Auster V Series J/1 Autocrat’, but this was quickly changed to ‘Auster J/1 Autocrat’. Almost all subsequent civilian Auster models were modified from the J/1; these included the J/1N Alpha, for those owners requiring rather more power, which was equipped with a de Havilland Gipsy Major engine of 120 hp, and an enlarged fin and rudder.

Production increased by leaps and bounds, with over 400 being completed by the end of 1947. Many machines went for export, e.g. EI-AMK to Ireland, SE-ARL to Sweden. One Autocrat, G-AERO, owned by ‘The Aeroplane’ magazine, became the first civilian aircraft to land on a Royal Navy aircraft carrier. This occurred on 16th October, 1946, just south of the The Nab Light in the English Channel; the carrier involved was the famous HMS Illustrious, which had served with the British Pacific Fleet (Task Force 57) off Okinawa. Gaumont British News, a company that provided news ‘footage’ for cinemas around the U.K., took delivery of Autocrat G-AHSH, used for transporting cameramen ‘to the scene of developing news stories’ and the distribution of the edited newsreels to cinemas. The delivery pilot was no less than Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, V.C., one of the most distinguished bomber pilots of the Royal Air Force.

Many Autocrats still survive, in countries all over the world, and G-AGTO, Auster serial number 1822, the very first production-standard machine is pictured here, hangared at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Now owned by David Miller and Michael Barnett, they are to be congratulated for a wonderful reconstruction of the traditional 1945 Auster colour scheme. There is a personal connection to this aircraft, which I found out when digging in the archives of the Civil Aviation Authority; little did I realize, that in 1957, as an aircraft-mad 8 year old boy, the owner of this very Auster, one Mr Geoffrey Asher, was living 150 yards away from me at 20 High Street, Codnor, Derbyshire. Oh, if I had known then, what I know now!

The Auster Autocrat – simple, appealing, enduring!

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7 comments on “A vision in silver – Auster Autocrat, G-AGTO”

  1. It’s often a small world 😉

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  2. – As a young cadet in the RAF Section of the CCF at Sir Wm. Turner’s School, Redcar, North Yorkshire (1950s), I did not realise Austers were actually American-designed Taylorcraft tail-draggers! Flew later variants at Middleton-St-George after that RAF aerodrome became Teesside Airport. The Autocrats were a regular sight along the North Sea coast at Redcar and Saltburn when they operated from the WWI grass airfield at Marske: 5 shillings per hop!

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  3. Hello, Mac, I hope that you had a lovely Christmas. I really like Austers – a lot! The RAF ran T.7s as a trainer for the AOP squadrons, and you can still find Autocrats and some Aiglets and AOP.9 types about. Have a splendid New Year! I hope to be in Matlock, Sheffield, Harrogate, Yeadon and Durham next year – all being well !

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  4. Great information on these awesome aircrafts. They truly are an amazing piece of machinery and have stood the test of time. I would love to get to experience one of these aircrafts. Thanks for sharing the history and information. Great read.

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  5. It’s great to read that ‘agto’ is still flying and in such original condition.
    Circa 1963, G-AGTO was owned by Smiths Industries Flying Group, and operated from Staverton Airport, Gloucestershire.
    My father John Dance was a keen amateur pilot, and I was lucky enough to spend many hours in the rear seat(that faced sideways across the aircraft) and on occasions, seated next to dad on trips all over the south of England, I particularly remember a fly in to Shuttleworth, and a trip to the Isle of Wight! Other members of Smiths flying club included Clive Roberts ,and Peter Lewis, who with Dad later built a Rans Microlight that they flew from Gotherington Fields.

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  6. When I was a 15 year-old aircraft spotter, back in the 1960s, I used to watch G-AGTO regularly flying in at Staverton Airport (now Gloucester Municipal Airport). Many a time I crossed it off my daily spotters list and entered in my Ian Allan ‘Civil Aircraft Markings’ book!

    Glad to see the old girl is still looking smart and sprightly!

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