The Anson was derived from the commercial six-seat 652 model; the militarised version, which first flew on 24 March 1935, was built to Air Ministry Specification 18/35. It was the first RAF monoplane with a retractable undercarriage. Avro allotted the type number 652A to the Anson. The first production run resulted in 174 Mk I aircraft for service with Coastal Command. No. 48 Squadron RAF was the first to be equipped in March 1936.
A distinctive feature of the Anson I was its landing gear retraction mechanism which required no fewer than 140 turns of the hand crank by the pilot. To forgo this laborious process, early model aircraft often made short flights with the landing gear extended at the expense of 30 mph (50 km/h) of cruise speed.
A total of 11,020 Ansons were built by the end of production in 1952, making it the second-most-numerous (after the Vickers Wellington), British multi-engined aircraft of the war.
At the start of the Second World War, there were 26 RAF squadrons operating the Anson I: 10 with Coastal Command and 16 with Bomber Command. However, by this time, it was obsolete in the roles of bombing and coastal patrol and was being superseded by the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley and Lockheed Hudson.
Limited numbers of Ansons continued to serve in operational roles such as coastal patrols and air/sea rescue. Early in the war, an Anson scored a probable hit on a German U-boat. In June 1940, a flight of three Ansons was attacked by nine LuftwaffeMesserschmitt Bf 109s. Remarkably, before the dogfight ended, without losing any of their own, one of the Ansons destroyed two German aircraft and damaged a third.
The aircraft's true role, however, was to train pilots for flying multi-engined bombers such as the Avro Lancaster. The Anson was also used to train the other members of a bomber's aircrew, such as navigators, wireless operators, bomb aimers and air gunners. Postwar, the Anson continued in the training and light transport roles. The last Ansons were withdrawn from RAF service with communications units on 28 June 1968.
The Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy operated the aircraft until 1952. Although the Canadian Anson's were used throughout the training schools of the British Commonwealth Air Training plan for training aircrew some were pressed into operational service with the RCAF's Eastern Air Command. A good example of the training schools involvement in combat operations with the EAC during the emergency of the battle is illustrated in an article dated the 1st of March, 2006 of the Royal Canadian Legion magazine entitled Eastern Air Command: Air Force, Part 14 the author Hugh A. Haliday wrote: "The need for Atlantic patrols was undiminished, yet the Battle of the St. Lawrence stretched EAC resources. Based at Charlottetown, 31 General Reconnaissance School was mobilized to fly patrols using Avro Ansons, each carrying two, 250-pound bombs. At the very outset of the war the Anson and its ordnance had failed in RAF anti-submarine work. Now in Canada it was remobilized as an aerial scarecrow. German views varied as to Canadian countermeasures. The captain of U-517 found his operations increasingly restricted by strengthened air patrols. In October 1942, U-69 reported “strong sea patrol and constant patrol by aircraft with radar.”
The Egyptian Air Force operated Ansons in communications and VIP duties. A specially outfitted Anson was given to the then King by the Royal Air Force. The Royal Afghan Air Force obtained 13 Anson 18 aircraft for various duties from 1948. These aircraft survived until 1972.
Postwar civil use
Avro Anson 11 G-ALIH of Ekco Electronics at Blackbushe, Hants, in September 1955
After the war, Ansons continued in production with Avro at Woodford for civilian use as light transports with small charter airlines and as executive aircraft for industrial companies. Countries which saw civilian operations with Ansons included Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Denmark.
Avro Anson XIX operated for aerial survey work in the United Kingdom up to 1973
Railway Air Services operated Ansons on scheduled services from London's Croydon Airport via Manchester to Belfast (Nutts Corner) in 1946 and 1947. Sivewright Airways operated three Mk XIX aircraft from their Manchester Airport base on charter flights as far as Johannesburg and on scheduled flights to Ronaldsway Airport in the Isle of Man until 1951. Finglands Airways operated an ex-RAF Anson I on inclusive tour flights and on scheduled flights from Manchester Airport to Newquay Airport between 1949 and 1952. Kemps Aerial Surveys operated several Anson XIXs on survey work within the UK until their retirement in 1973.
India ordered 12 new Anson 18Cs in 1948 for use by the Directorate of Civil Aviation as trainers and communications aircraft, these were delivered from Woodford in the spring of 1949.
Ansons continued to be built by Avro at Woodford for the RAF until March 1952 and were used as trainers and served in the role of Station communications aircraft until 1968.
The wooden wings of Ansons flying in Australia were found to fail at a high rate. The phenolic glue bonds parted, and it was speculated that the problem was due to the high humidity. The Commonwealth Government grounded most wooden-winged aircraft types in 1962, in particular, Ansons and Mosquitos. No aircraft were re-registered as the government mandated a test that essentially destroyed the wings, requiring new wings to be fitted. Most owners had voluntarily scrapped their aircraft well before this time.
Although Ansons have mainly been retired from flying, a 1936 Avro Anson Mk.I was recently made airworthy, fitted with later metal wings and returned to the air on 18 July 2012 in Nelson, New Zealand.
On 9 October 1942, four Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) airmen were killed when their Avro Anson aircraft crashed near Clackline, Western Australia (see Avro Anson Memorial).
On Oct. 30, 1942 an Avro Anson took off from Sidney airport on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, with Royal Canadian Air Force Sgt. William Baird and British air force Pilot Officer Charles Fox, Pilot Officer Anthony Lawrence and Sgt. Robert Luckock aboard. The aircraft crashed, killing all aboard, 50 kilometres (30 mi) from takeoff, on a remote mountainside near Port Renfrew. The wreckage and remains of the crew were found by loggers in October 2013 and recovered in May 2014.
On 16 February 1944 Avro Anson Mark I No: N5130 was flying over Llandudno on a training exercise from Mona field, Anglesey, when a part of the wing ripped off at 5,000 ft and the plane plummeted to the ground at Marl Farm, killing all five on board.
The main Anson variant was the Mk I, of which 6,704 were built in Britain. The other variants were mainly distinguished by their powerplant with Canadian-built Ansons using local engines. To overcome steel shortages, the 1,051 Canadian-built Mk V Ansons featured a plywoodfuselage.
1,069 Mk Vs were built in Canada for navigator training; powered by two 450 hp (340 kW) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior R-985 engines and given a new locally developed wood monocoque fuselage.
One aircraft was built in Canada for bombing and gunnery training; it was powered by two 450 hp (340 kW) Wasp Junior engines.
104 Anson Mk Is were converted into Mk Xs.
90 Anson Mk Is were converted into Mk XIs.
20 Anson Mk Is were converted into Mk XIIs, plus 221 new Mk XII aircraft built.
Gunnery trainer powered by two Cheetah XI or XIX engines; never built.
Gunnery trainer powered by two Cheetah XV engines; never built.
Navigation trainer; never built.
Bombing trainer; never built.
264 were built for the RAF; used as communications and transport aircraft.
Navigation trainer for the RAF, a variant of the Mk XIX to meet Air Ministry Specification T.24/46 for an overseas navigation trainer, one pilot two wireless operators (one trainee and one instructor) and five navigator positions (three trainees and two instructors). Used for bombing and navigation training in Southern Rhodesia, 60 built.
Navigation trainers for the RAF, a variant of the Mk XIX to meet Air Ministry Specification T.25/46 for a home navigation trainer, one pilot two wireless operators (one trainee and one instructor) and five navigator positions (three trainees and two instructors). A prototype was flown in May 1948, 252 were built.
Modification of T.21s for communications and transport duties.
Radio trainers for the RAF, a variant of the Mk XIX to meet Air Ministry Specification T.26/46, one pilot and four wireless operator stations (three for trainees and one for an instructor), a prototype was flown in June 1948, 54 built.
Developed from the Avro Nineteen; 12 aircraft were sold to the Royal Afghan Air Force for use as communications, police patrol and aerial survey aircraft.
13 aircraft were built for the Indian government; used for training civil aircrews.
(Also known as the Anson XIX): Civil transport version; 56 aircraft were built in two series.
United States military designation for Canadian-built Anson IIs used by the United States Army Air Forces, 50 built.