The British Taylorcraft Auster was a light aircraft used in large numbers by the RAF for artillery spotting and communications duties. The Taylorcraft Aviation Company had been formed in the United States in 1936, to produce light aircraft. Its aircraft were normally braced high-wing monoplanes, constructed on a wood and metal framework and fabric covered. The early versions carried a crew of two seated side-by-side in a large glass cabin, with the wing forming the cabin roof.
British Taylorcraft was founded in November 1938 at Thurmaston, Leicestershire, to build the Taylorcraft aircraft under license. It began by producing a version of the Taylorcraft Model A, replacing the 40hp engine of the original with a 55hp Lycoming O-145-A2 engine. This aircraft became known as the Taylorcraft Plus C. Later versions were given a 90hp Cirrus Minor I engine, and the designation Plus D.
At the start of the Second World War twenty Plus Cs and four Plus Ds were impressed into the RAF. They were evaluated successfully for the artillery spotting role by No.651 Squadron, and an order was placed for 100 Auster Is, the first of 1,800 that would be built during the war.
The Auster I entered service in August 1942 with No.654 Squadron. It was eventually used by Nos. 651-666 and 671-673 squadrons, split between the 2nd Tactical Air Force in northern Europe and the Desert Air Force, in North Africa and Italy. The Auster was used for artillery spotting over the front line in Algeria, Sicily, Italy, France and German.
The Auster was ideally suited to this role. It could operate from ploughed fields, allowing it to keep up with the rapidly moving front line after the breakout from Normandy in 1944. Its slow speed allowed it to linger over the required part of the battlefield, and was also its best defence if attacked by the much faster German fighters – the standard defensive tactic was to fly in tight circles very close to the ground, which made the Auster much harder to hit on a single short pass. The main threat to these observation aircraft came from ground fire, unavoidable for an aircraft whose job was to hover over the enemy bringing down artillery fire.
American Taylorcraft built a very similar (but slightly lighter) aircraft for the USAAF, where it was designated the O-57 (later L-2) Grasshopper.
The Auster I was similar to the Plus C, and was powered by the Cirrus Minor engine. 100 were ordered
A shortage of engines meant that only two Auster IIs, powered by the 130hp Lycoming O-290 engine, were built.
The unavailable Lycoming engine was replaced by the 130hp de Havilland Gipsy Major I on the 470 Auster IIIs.
As supplies of the Lycoming engine became available, production moved onto the Auster IV, of which 254 were built. The Auster IV had a larger cabin than the earlier versions, with space for a third crewman.
About 800 Auster Vs were built, making it the most numerous version of the aircraft. Like the Auster IV it was powered by the Lycoming engine. The main change was the addition of blind flying instruments on the Mk V.
Auster AOP.6 to AOP.9 (Air Observation Post)
Development of the Auster continued after the war, with the AOP.6 to AOP.9. The AOP.6 was used in Korea, while the AOP.9 saw service over Malaya.
Engine: Lycoming O-290-3 flat-four piston engine
Span: 36 ft 0in
Length: 22ft 5in
Height: 8ft 0in
Empty Weight: 1,100lb
Maximum take-off weight: 1,850lb
Max speed: 130mph at sea level
Cruising speed: 112mph
Normal Range: 250 miles