Nevil Shute Norway Foundation

Photo TimeLine

1931 - 1940 page 1

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Born in 1884, JTC Moore-Brabazon, later Lord Brabazon of Tara, (Back Row, 2nd from the left) was a pioneering racing driver and friend of Charles Rolls, a pioneering aviator taking the first pig in an aeroplane to prove pigs could fly, holder of the British Royal Aero Club Pilot Certificate No. 1, a pioneer of aerial photography in WW1, a top golfer, an innovative sailor, a member of several company boards, holder of 2 ministerial posts under Churchill and a champion of the Cresta Run. He was still doing the Cresta Run at the age of 70. As a member of The Cresta Run Committee, which also included Shute's Airspeed business partner Lord Grimthorpe, Lord Brabazon was the sort of person Shute was referring to in Slide Rule when describing the ideal potential investors in a new aeroplane manufacturing company. Shute felt that Cresta run people were the right sort of investors because they were reasonably well off, gambled a little and were prepared to live somewhat on the edge. The Cresta Run is a speed trial toboggan run which is ridden face forward down a specially made track in St Moritz in Switzerland. With your face only a few inches above the track, you hurtle down on the tiny toboggan (seen above with the cups on it) at speeds up to 88mph or 140kph. After that, risking your life savings in an aeroplane company would be child's play. While Lord Brabazon knew Nevil Shute and gave him a personal and warmly inscribed copy of his autobiography with comments on their relative literary skills in the 1950s, he does not appear to have been an original investor in Airspeed. (Photo: Courtesy of The Brabazon Family 2007)


Shute joins up with Hessel Tiltman, (now Sir) Alan Cobham and Lord Grimthorpe to be Joint Managing Director of Airspeed. Shute invents the Airspeed name in his room at the St Leonards club in York although his authorship is later disputed. The alternate story was that Shute decided the name should start with an A and Miriam Tiltman came up with Airspeed.

February - March

Airspeed rent 6,000 sq ft - 1/2 of a bus garage in Piccadilly, York for a factory.

York Bus Garage

A 1968 photo of the York Bus Garage at 17-21 Piccadilly, on the corner of Merchantgate, York. Airspeed started building aircraft here in early 1931. The handy Red Lion pub is to the left. In 2003 the building still stands but is empty and faces demolition and redevelopment.

(Photo: DHM / DH ) Click for larger image
See next panel for photographs taken in 2008

Photos taken of the Bus Garage in York in 2008
Airspeed started here in 1931
Looking North, with the elevated "office"
section on the right
NSN & Tom Laing's office
Where once an airliner emerged.

(All four photos:PN 2008)

Number 10, Piccadilly Chambers, York Click for larger image

Airspeed did early design work at office number 10, Piccadilly Chambers, York.

(Photo: RM 2003)

7th March

The marriage record of Nevil Shute Norway and Frances Mary Heaton Click for larger image

Nevil Shute Norway and Frances Mary Heaton marry at Bromley in Kent. They were 32 and 28. Shute's address was The St Leonards Club, York. Frances lived at 8 Pinewood Rd, York. They honeymoon in Switzerland. Shute takes along the stress calculations for the Tern Glider.

( DH )

13th March

Airspeed is officially registered.


The Lockheed Orion appears with the first retractable landing gear on a commercial aeroplane.

The Aeroplane Click for larger image

It was seeing this photo in an article on page 990 of The Aeroplane magazine of May 27 1931 that inspired Shute and Tiltman to design their own retractable undercarriage for their upcoming Courier. The Lockheed Orion had the first retractable landing gear on a commercial aeroplane. The Orion carried 6 rather cramped passengers at a top speed of 225mph. (360kph) The first model had manual retraction but later a hydraulic pump was used. Copyright of the editor of The Aeroplane, C. G. Grey is acknowledged.

( TA )


Tern Calculations

Dated May 1931 and in Shute's handwriting, we believe this is the final version of the Tern glider calculations that Shute took on his honeymoon to Switzerland after his March 07 marriage. The document runs to 37 pages of calculations and diagrams. (Copyright ® BAE SYSTEMS PLC)

R101 Court of Inquiry

At the Court of Inquiry, 6 months after The R101 crash, many of the technical details in Eileen Garret's seances were confirmed. Shute used many aspects of the air crash inquiry coupled with a theme of psychic communication as the basis for No Highway.

( OU )

Early Summer 1931

Shute completes Lonely Road and stops writing to concentrate on Airspeed.

Mid 1931

A few months before the first flight of the Tern glider in August 1931 Shute obtains his gliding "A" certificate at Sherburn-in-Elmet aerodrome in preparation for doing the first test flight of the Tern.

July 1931

Sir Alan Cobham orders two Ferries for his National Aviation Day air show. National Aviation Day later featured in Round The Bend.

Airspeed Ferry Plans

AS4 Ferry Plans. (Copyright © BAE SYSTEMS PLC)

Airspeed Ferry under construction Click for larger image

An Airspeed Ferry under construction in the York bus garage factory. A Tern Glider fuselage is suspended from the roof. ( DHM / DH )

An Airspeed ferry being taken out of the Airspeed works (the bus garage) at night.

August 1931

Airspeed Tern

Shute flies the Tern glider on its maiden flight at Sherbern-in-Elmet aerodrome. Towed into the air by Airspeed's Buick, the Tern flew well and was very stable.

The three photos below are of a scale model of the Tern, provided for the website by Malcolm White, of the Malverm Soaring Association. It was built by Roger Reffel who died in 2007. Roger's father flew on the South Downs one of the two Terns built. (MW)

Model of Tern glider Model of Tern glider Model of Tern glider

Disassembled Tern

As these people are carrying the disassembled Tern glider up a grassy hill, I assume that this is one of the flights of the Tern made in North Yorkshire by the young German pilot Magersuppe. They appear to have made flights at Ingleby Greenhow in the Cleveland Hills and at Stoupe Brow between Whitby and Scarborough. Fuzzy as the picture is, I suspect it might be Shute at the right hand side and Tiltman in white trousers in the middle. Also likely to be amongst these people is Magersuppe. (PL / Copyright © BAE SYSTEMS PLC)

After August 1931

Undated newspaper clipping about Tern record flight

Magersuppe, aged 20, a young German glider pilot, flies The Tern and sets the British Gliding record at Ingleby Greenhow in the Cleveland Hills. Haak, his assistant is 18. Later they are deported back to Germany. Shute always wondered if Magersuppe was later involved on the wrong side of The Blitz.

This sadly undated newspaper clipping reports Magersuppe's flight in the Tern. Taking off from Stoupe Brow, about 10 miles southeast of Whitby in North Yorkshire, he followed the cliffs and finally landed on North Beach near Scarborough.

Bentley Click for larger image

In 1931 Airspeed takes an open, 4 seater, 6.5 litre Bentley as a deposit on the second Ferry. Shute drives it to London for sale. He likes it, and the car soon appears in Lonely Road as a saloon and again, 30 years later, in Trustee From The Toolroom. This is a modern photo of a vintage Bentley.

( OU )

16th November 1931

R100 is sold for scrap.

R100 is crushed by a steamroller

By February 1932 the carefully calculated and stressed frame of R100 has been crushed by a steamroller. An investment said to be 500,000 Pounds and 5 years of loving work is sold as scrap for around 500 Pounds.

( OU ) Click for larger image
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