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A history of the RAAF’s liaison stalwart
The Early Days
In 1938, Alexander Lance Wykes, a local Leicestershire
businessman, flying enthusiast and member of the
County Flying Group, travelled to North America and
negotiated a licence agreement to build an American-
designed light aeroplane in England.
A.L. Wykes was the managing director of Crowthers
Limited, a Thurmaston Company who manufactured
textile machinery in the Britannia works, Melton Road.
The licence obtained was for the manufacture of the
Taylorcraft Model B aeroplane.
On the 21 November 1938, Taylorcraft Aeroplanes
(England) Limited was registered as a private company
with both production and selling rights for the British
Empire and Europe. Construction commenced in rented
premises behind Crowthers Britannia Works during
February 1939. The first aircraft was completed by 24
April 1939 and registered G-AFNW.
The finalised Thurmaston aircraft differed from its
American counterpart, as it had to be strengthened to
comply with British Civil Airworthiness requirements. It
was therefore designated a Taylorcraft “Plus C” model.
Once completed, the first aircraft was taken by road to
Sir Lindsay Everard’s aerodrome at Ratcliffe-on-the-
Wreake from where it made its first flight on 3 May 1939.
Production of the type then followed with the first aircraft
G-AFNW being subsequently delivered to the County
Flying Group at Rearsby aerodrome. The group had
occupied this airfield since leaving its flying field in Melton
Mowbray during the late ’thirties.
The War Years
With the outbreak of the Second World War in
September 1939, all civilian aircraft production and
private flying ceased. Taylorcraft Aeroplane (England)
Limited, with its aircraft production halted, undertook
sub-contacts for major aircraft companies.
By 1940 the company had become a Ministry of Aircraft
Production Repair Centre. To this effect further premises
were acquired for component manufacture and repair in
Syston. This complemented the repair and rebuild of the
DH Tiger Moth aircraft at the Britannia works for the
Royal Air Force. Towards the end of 1940 the company
began similar repair and rebuild work on Hawker
Hurricane fighter aircraft. This was later followed by
To accommodate this extra demand additional premises
were sought. Ratcliffe Aerodrome was by this time in use
by the Auxiliary Air Transport as an Aircraft Ferry Station.
The County Flying Group Airfield on Gaddesby Lane,
Rearsby was taken over. New hangers were erected
together with airfield extensions. By the war’s end the
company had requisitioned 10 sites in Thurmaston,
Syston, Mountsorrel and Rearsby, in support of its
Whilst expansion in support of aircraft repairs was taking
place, the Model C was being developed and modified
for military service and evaluation for an Air Observation
Post (AOP) role suitable for supporting the Royal Artillery
on the battlefront. A developed design was subsequently
selected and a production order for 100 aircraft
designated the Taylorcraft-Auster Mk 1 was placed
during 1942. Following the first volume order, the
company progressively developed its initial military
design. Three further versions went into wartime
production. In total over 1,630 aircraft were produced for
wartime service with Air Observation Squadrons.
In addition to the company production of its own
designs, it repaired and rebuilt nearly 1,300 aircraft for
return to service in support of the war effort.
Post War Years
During the later stage of the Second World War,
Taylorcraft Aeroplanes (England) Limited recognised the
requirement for an economical post war light aeroplane
suitable for private use.
By 1945 the last of the wartime designs, a Taylorcraft-
Auster Mk V was modified to take a lower powered
engine. Following development of this aircraft, the
resultant design was designated initially the Taylorcraft-
Auster J/1 Autocrat. Following a company name change
to Auster Aircraft Limited in March 1946, Taylorcraft was
deleted from the title, thus severing the early American
The Auster J/1 Autocrat become the first post-war civil
light aeroplane to go into production. Over 400 were built
and sold for just over £1,000 each. This aircraft was the
forerunner of prolific and diverse marques of light aircraft
that were sold worldwide to both military and civilian
In various guises and configurations Auster Aircraft
Limited of Rearsby designed and produced numerous
variants for training, touring, observation, artillery
spotting, crop spraying, aerial advertising, air racing
together with float and ski conversions. In total, 3,868
aircraft were produced and these were the mainstay of
British light aircraft manufacturing for a period of over
In 1960 Auster Aircraft Limited was taken over and
absorbed into British Executive and General Aviation Ltd
(BEAGLE). Auster design and development continued
within the new corporate framework until 1968, when all
Auster design and development ceased. Thus ended the
Auster dynasty and reputation that had made Auster and
Rearsby synonymous worldwide with light aircraft.
Thanks to Jim Sime and Prof. Mike Preston of the
International Auster Club for permission to republish this
official history and the photo of the prototype.
Technical details from the Museum’s website.
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