Backbone of the ATA – the Fairchild Argus

Fairchild Argus

Elegant and efficient, this product of the Fairchild Engine & Airplane Corporation formed the backbone of the Air Transport Auxiliary fleet during World War Two. The ATA had been set up in 1940 to transport urgent items (including mail) between airfields. It rapidly evolved into an organisation which ferried the planes themselves, from factories, Maintenance Units and Repair Stations to the frontline units. A wholly civilian staffed organisation,  the ATA (motto, Aetheris avidi, ‘Eager For The Air’) was headquartered at White Waltham, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, and took female as well as male applicants. They eventually flew everything from Vickers-Supermarine Spitfires to Avro Lancasters, from Fairey Swordfish to Consolidated Liberators. One of the needs of this organisation was for a fleet of air taxis, four-seat machines, which could pick ferry pilots up and return them either to base, or on to another ferry job. The Fairchild Model 24 had been in production in the USA since 1932, as a comfortable 4-seater, but was quickly subject to a wartime order for the US Forces as the UC-61, and was an excellent communications and utility machine. Powered either by a Warner Scarab radial engine (this machine was called the Argus II in RAF parlance) or the Ranger L-440 inverted 4-cylinder inline engine of 200hp (the Argus III), it was the latter which was the main version used by the ATA. The Argus was supplemented by numbers of twin-engined  Avro Ansons and Airspeed Oxfords, for the larger jobs. The war-time flying took its toll; 173 members of the ATA lost their lives, including the world-famous aviatrix, Amy Johnson, who died in 1941 after crashing an Airspeed Oxford into the Thames Estuary.

The Argus has a specially designed, oleo-damped undercarriage, which allows a high rate of sink during landing. This, along with immensely strong main spars in the wing, made from laminated spruce, all contributed to a rugged airframe, and, therefore, a fair number of post-war survivors. Production of the Argus continued into peace-time, and the last civilian Model 24 left the factory in 1948 – a most creditable run.

This aircraft, G-BCBH, is a Fairchild 24R-46A (Modified); it was the 975th aircraft of the type to be built, and is powered by the Ranger L-440-C2 engine. Note also the brass sheathed leading edges of the wooden twin-bladed propeller, which helped prevent damage. Bravo Hotel is in a rather splendid yellow and white finish, which reflects the afternoon sunshine at GVFWE. It returned to the British register in 1983, having spent some time on the South African register as ZS-AXH. A most pleasing sight to see, and a very handsome restoration.

2 comments on “Backbone of the ATA – the Fairchild Argus”

  1. It looks gorgeous although I’m prejudiced because we also own a Fairchild 24. It’s got a scarab engine and came out to Australia in the 1950’s. We’re trying to research its history.


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