The rise of the ‘ultralight’ – the 1923 A.N.E.C. II, G-EBJO

By: shortfinals

Feb 29 2012

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Category: aircraft, airshow, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, Museums, Second World War

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Focal Length:22mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

Aviation ‘survivors’ come in many forms; sometimes a whole class of aircraft can suddenly be made obsolescent by technological change, and scrapped – this happens especially quickly during wartime; for example there is only ONE Hawker Typhoon left out of 3,317 built. In the 1920s and 30s experimental aircraft designed for ‘the common man’ were constructed in many countries. Civil aviation was still developing, and the private ownership of light aircraft was a relative novelty; this ‘rush to fly’, gave rise to some dangerous machines, such as the lethal French Mignet HM.14 ‘Pou de Ciel’ (see the blue and silver example suspended from the hangar roof in the background of the above photograph). In Great Britain various efforts were made to build successful aircraft in a class which would now be regarded as ‘ultralight’.

The Royal Aero Club organised a series of light aircraft trials in 1923, 1924 and 1926 based at Lympne Aerodrome, Kent. These trials – approved by the Air Ministry – were flown over a triangular course starting from Lympne Aerodrome, to the village of Postling, then South Hill, then back to Lympne. Many of the major aircraft companies of the day took part, and the list entrants included the Avro Avis, Blackburn Bluebird, Bristol Brownie, Hawker Cygnet, Short Satellite, Supermarine Sparrow, Vickers Vagabond, and the Westland Woodpigeon. As well as this, the Air Navigation & Engineering Co. Ltd. of Addlestone, Surrey, a company which as the British subsidiary of the Blériot & SPAD Manufacturing Company Limited, had built SPAD and Avro aircraft during WW1, entered the ANEC II. This aircraft was an enlarged example of their ANEC I design, since the 1924 trials were for two-seaters, the official name being ‘The Two-Seater Dual Control Light Aeroplane Competition’. Weight and size of the competing designs were severely constrained by the maximum engine capacity of only 1,100 cc!

The ANEC II was of wooden construction, with a fuselage of minimal cross-sectional area, consisting of six spruce longerons, braced by three plywood bulkheads and covered in plywood sheets; the all-up weight was 730 lbs. The engine was an Anzani inverted V-twin of 1,100cc, and therein lay the problem! Before the pre-event testing was even completed, the Anzani had broken a valve spring and developed a terminal carburettor fault; an engine change was not effected in time for the G-EBJO to reach the start, and the ANEC II was eliminated, not just from the Lympne trials, but also from the Grosvenor Cup race which followed them.

The aircraft was flown in the 1925 ‘King’s Cup’ air race by Major R. C. Savage but retired with a blown engine. A new owner – Mr. Norman Jones – flew G-EBJO at several aviation meetings, including those at Bournemouth and the Hampshire Air Pageant at Hamble. Racing success finally came when the little aircraft beat the handicappers by winning the 1927  ‘Air League Challenge Cup Race’ over a 116 mile course, from Castle Bromwich to Woodford and return, at an average speed of 73.5 mph! However, G-EBJO’s luck changed during the 1927 King’s Cup race. After a first lap at nearly 75 mph, the ANEC suffered that modern aviation problem – a ‘bird strike’ – and had to retire. Owners then came and went, with engine changes including a 32 hp Bristol Cherub III and a 35 hp A.B.C. Scorpion flat twin. According to CAA records, it was sold to one Edward Guild in 1937 for the sum of only £8.00! Eventually, the airframe, minus engine and many other parts, ended up in the hands of Richard Shuttleworth at Old Warden Aerodrome, where it was stored throughout WW2.

A masterly restoration by Don Cashmore eventually took place, back to the ‘post Lympne Trails standard’, and G-EBJO is now powered by a 32 hp A.B.C. Scorpion Mk II, which gives a top speed of 85 mph. The ANEC can now be seen in flight at some of the Shuttleworth Trust events.

Amazingly, the Trust owns not one but THREE of these rare precursors of the ultralight aircraft movement, from the 1923/4/6 Lympne Trials. As well as the ANEC II from 1924, they also have the only surviving de Havilland DH53 Humingbird, G-EBHX, and the only remaining English Electric Wren, G-EBNV, built from the remains of two aircraft. Both of these types took place in the 1923 Trial. If you look beyond the ANEC in the photograph you can just see the fuselage of the de Havilland Hummingbird! All three of these wonderful relics of the Golden Age of flying are gently flown at some of the Old Warden airshows.

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