The tempting answer would be: Avoid being gobbled up by de Havilland Step one in that process would be to avoid overstretching - which means avoid the Brabazon Committee. The AS.57 Ambassador was a huge leap for Airspeed. Ironically, they probably would have done better following DH's example with the Dove.
The DH.104 Dove - although it ended up being a Brabazon selection - began as a private venture (rather quietly, one assumes, since this was 1943). Perhaps had Airspeed designed a fully modern, metal-construction AS6 Envoy analogue instead of refurbished Oxfords for civilian use at war's end, the firm might have done better?
It would have been challenging for Airspeed I think to remain independent but they could have had a good try I think.
Their wartime efforts were mainly concentrated on the Oxford and Horsa. The AS.45 Cambridge was soon aborted for several reasons and Airspeed never really got back into the training field. Even if they had, de Havilland, Miles and Percival would have put up very stiff competition.
Post-war it was too tempting not to make use of the Oxford for civil use. It was not a totally bad idea, Avro continued building Ansons until 1952 but it seems that the RAF never really saw the Oxford as their preferred multi-engine trainer or communications aircraft and remained committed to the Anson. Had the RAF ordered updated Oxfords then they might of picked up some useful orders.
Should a new all-metal design of been built? Possibly but the conditions were not good for non-Brabazon aircraft. Miles built a few designs like the Aerovan and Merchantman and had designs for Dove-category aircraft but had less than stellar sales success. Percival's Merganser was also smothered but the resulting Prince was heavily reliant on RAF orders to boost the production numbers to a respectable figure. The other Dove-wannabes from other companies remained on the drawing boards. Efforts like the Concordia etc. were stillborn.
Airspeed also looked at several Dakota conversions, so again making use of available air frames seems to have been the main policy while the company concentrated its efforts on the Ambassador.
Airspeed must have thought its ship had come in having won the Brabazon 2A contract. Instead it seems a mixture of de Havilland's indifference to a non-Hatfield product, the major design changes that saw the size and weight increase as pressurisation was added and BEA's ever-present lukewarm enthusiasm prevented much success. Numerous variants never got off the drawing board, it did good work as turboprop testbed but a production version never interested BEA. It could of been a winner, but like most post-war civil designs it seems the chips were stacked against it despite being a technically good and popular airliner with its passengers.
Perhaps what might have been more lucrative might of been a new AS.5 Courier to compete with the Proctor and Miles Messenger, GA aviation might of been a more suitable line and with Percival aiming for trainers and Miles falling by the wayside the only major competition would have been from Auster. It might have been a sweet niche for Airspeed to exploit.
Good points. Agreed that Oxford conversions were very tempting (especially in a straitened postwar economic environment). A problem for both future RAF contracts and dealing with the Brabazon Committee was that Nevil Shute Norway had made his disdain for the Air Ministry (and the shortcomings of officialdom, generally) quite public.
De Havilland definitely had an advantage with the Dove. Some of that may have stemmed from DH's traditional advanatge of both airframe and engine being supported by essentially same entity. In the early days, Airspeed seemed glued to Armstrong Siddeley powerplants but the latter had long-since been gobbled up. Not a problem for zen's scenario, though, so long as he doesn't mind his longer-lived Airspeed being a part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation.
Interesting notion about a 'next-gen' AS.5 Courier. NS Norway was obviously a Proctor fan The original AS.5 was that bit bigger and more powerful than the Miles and Percival progenitors. Perhaps maintain that size difference (for a 5- or 6-seater) but shift to all-metal construction?
The best of the 'Ox-boxes' was the AS.46 Oxford V powered by 450 hp P&W R-985 Wasp Juniors. Maybe offer that as an option on postwar Consul conversions. Surplus A-S Cheetah X radials could then be a 'budget' option for powering your 'Courier NG'. An alternative would be to go light twin - ie: a 5-seater but with two Gipsy Majors instead of the single radial (so more Piper Apache than Miles Gemini).
As for having "to move into the jet age at some point", did you mean literally jet-propelled zen? If so, what is your hope for outcome?
I remember reading, many years ago, an old article about Airspeed, where this issue was raised. In the opinion of the author,(may have been Gunston, but I'm not sure) the only way for Airspeed to survive as an 'independent' entity, was to be taken over by another defence/engineering (to use the modern term) company, but one that was not already involved in aeronautics. So the question would be, which one ? One of the large shipbuilders ? Rolls Royce (as the only large aero engine manufacturer without an associated airframer) ?
On shipyards, there's a simpler solution: Until 1940, Airspeed was associated with Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson - SC Swan and the Wigham Richardsons (George and Philip) being Airspeed Directors. So, a simple what-if: Swan, Hunter refuses de Havilland's 1940 offer to buy all of its Airspeed shares. There, that's DH out of the mix
Cobham does make sense though (Sir Allan being one of Airspeed's most ardent supporters). Maybe reinforce the connection to create opportunities with Flight Refuelling Limited. Perhaps a dedicated 1950s RAF air-air-refuelling aircraft from Airspeed/FRL?
On the design front, an easy what-if would be having Hessell Tiltman stay at Airspeed as chief designer. He was a parter in Tiltman Langley Laboratories since 1938 in any case (obviously, Airspeed had no problem with him 'moonlighting'). So, was Tiltman bored with Airspeed or did he just move fulltime to Tiltman Langley Ltd to push the Gerritsen Gear?
If the latter, maybe make JJ Gerritsen TLL's Technical Director while Tiltman keeps designing planes for Airspeed? If the former, perhaps hire Marcus Langley as another designer for Airspeed (his BA Eagle experience might have proved useful if Airspeed chose to develop smaller civil aircraft types). And, maybe, Tiltman just got on better with Langley than with Norway?).
@zen; merging with Saro would create the same result as happened with De Havilland; the Airspeed design team would eventually lose their independence, and be swallowed up. Likewise with Supermarine, and don't forget, Supermarine had themselves been swallowed up by Vickers in 1928 . . . @Apophenia; I wasn't aware of the Swan Hunter connection, thanks . . . Going back to my post #7 above, what I took away from the article I mentioned, was that without the parentage of a large company, Airspeed didn't have the financial strength to continue independently, and that if that company were already an aircraft manufacturer, Airspeed's independence would be lost anyway, as happened with De Havilland.
Thinking further about it, Vickers might have been a suitable parent, allowing Airspeed to operate in a niche decided by Vickers, as they did with Supermarine. Whether this would have been acceptable to Airspeed's designers would be debatable . . .
Yet another conjecture. How about someone in the Railway industry, somebody like Birmingham Carriage and Wagon Company, or Vulcan Foundry ?
Flight Refuelling were not financially strong so unlikely to be able to buy/merge with Airspeed. However Hessel Tiltman did design a flight refuelled airliner for FR in 1944 so there is a tentative connection
Guy Motors: Interesting. Maybe flagging subsidiary Star Engineering is sold-off to another automaker prior to 1932. Sydney Guy is then looking for an alternative investment option and turns to newly-formed Airspeed? If aero-engines are in play, maybe bring Granville Bradshaw back into the former Guy/Star fold?
Hamworthy: Are you thinking if there was no fire, Hamworthy Engineering moved from pumps, compressors, and heavy equipment towards aircraft engines? Or is Hamworthy just the money behind Airspeed?
Only just remembered last night that George Miles replaced Arthur Hagg as Chief Design when Hagg retired. Had he not been distracted by designing the Vampire trainer then who knows what he might of done instead alongside his work to get the Ambassador into shape. A revival of some of the Miles types, makes a tie-up with F G Miles' reborn Miles company at Redhill a possibility too to re-enter the light aircraft field.
Air Ministry decided in 1920 to confine Design Invitations to Tender to a Ring of 16 airframe, 4 aero-engine firms. That was more than Defence would need after the War to end Wars.
As 1933 evolved into 1936 Munitions/Air, became investors' dot.com bubble of the era. Air Ministry was happy to see market capital coming into production facilities, but not into R&D - they perceived a small, inadequate pool of "draughtsmen". Newcomer airframe design hopefuls by 1938 were 16; Alvis, Fairey, General, Wolseley trying for aero-engines.
Air Minister Swinton in 1935 revived WW1's shadow Munitions scheme: where the State had paid for R&D, the product could be put out to production to whomsoever the State might choose, with no rights for work or royalty for the design parent. He sat with the Ring and agreed not to subsidise newcomer design competitors. In turn he required parents' co-operation with his nominated sources, whether 2nd. or sole. The Ring had no option but to co-operate, often grumpily (Supermarine's boss had to be fired before they did so). He and his successors (sort-of) adhered to that, bar: Harland (we bought Short in 1943; by 1947 we had little for them, so shifted their design team to Belfast and shut Rochester)...and:
(US Westinghouse-controlled) English Electric. Forerunners had been good production WW1 shadows (e.g.: Dick, Kerr/Preston managing No.4 National Aircraft Factory, Bracebridge Heath). Swinton assigned HP Hampden to EE/Preston; Halifax followed, smoothly. When Westland's owner John Brown in 1944 became unable to work with the Technical Director inherited from founder owner Petters, Minister of A/c Production Cripps shifted WEW.Petter to create an EE design competence. He took with him John Brown's good wishes and his sketch...which became Canberra (now there's a fine What if...WEW.Petter had been able to work with J.B's Eric Mensforth: Westland Canberra? EE stays in locos? HSAL leads BAES?)
Airspeed gained capital investment 8/34 from marine engineers Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson (A.M. encouraged mariners into Aero - Denny, J.Brown, Harland as they were seen to understand intense metal production). 25/1/35 Airspeed took a Fokker licence (15 products) and sub-licence for DC-2/3...but nothing came of that. In 1936 they raised in the Commons the iniquity of risk-capital being shut out of Defence business. Swinton adhered to his deal with the Ring...ish...but chose to define some orphan, dull jobs as outside the Ring monopoly: so: Phillips&Powis Magister; Percival Proctor; Airspeed's Envoy adapted as Oxford (later: wooden assault gliders, non-existent when the Ring was formed).
When MAP in 1940 built Christchurch Agency factory it could be assigned to Airspeed to Manage, as it would build Oxford. Who could (be bothered to) object? The mariners were happy to unload their equity - they had wetter things to attend to; DH was happy to takeover, to put much Oxford work in Hatfield, then much Mosquito work in Chistchurch. DH then kept their Airspeed Division busy till they, DH folded into HSAL. What could a not-DH Airspeed have hoped for? Was it DH's fault that Hagg's Brabazon 2A, designed for 4 ASM Mambas, was devastated by VC2, designed for 4 ASM Mambas? No. Cripps could not have selected not-Ring Airspeed. BEAC killed it by buying it with Centaurus.
I have to say, I am reading the histories of Miles and Beagle at the moment and I'm increasingly sceptical whether the decline of the industry was ever avoidable. The industry players wailed in pubic about the government cheating them at every opportunity when in reality they seemed clueless most of the time about what they were doing and pushing every business decision down the road they could. Of course there were pockets of sound decision making but overall the effect was a slow-motion train wreck.
BEAC and BOAC put the kiss of death on most projects too with their muddled thinking and poor forecasting. In fact you could argue that the Viscount was the odd one out, the only project they seemed to get behind that really was a world beater and sold a lot off its own reputation. Same with the BAC 1-11. Perversely everyone fretted about making a sale to the big nationals or the RAF in order to attract exports but most of the big sellers seem to have been the opposite way around.
Could the Mamba of saved the Ambassador? I doubt it, the Mamba was a temperamental beast and only worked in the Gannet in the mid-50s. A Dart version might of been better perhaps? Also, maybe having triple tails killed it, Viscount looked like a sleek aircraft and well proportioned with big windows. The Ambassador has its own grace but its a chunky looking aircraft and then you think, hmmm three tails, is this a bit of beast to keep in a straight line? Aesthetics do matter I think in these kind of decisions, not many triple-fin types have been successful, the Lockheed Constellation perhaps being the sole exception.
The issue is this, lack of long term funding - in the UK people want a 6 month return on investment - ie property and very little in the way of endurance which you need for aircraft development. If you look at the US and other countries it was more planned and long term.
Its also difficult when the treasury thought the US via MAP would fund development and were more keen on selling bonds. We now see from the US, Korea, China, Turkey, Indonesia long term planning and an effort to produce their own solutions.
I remembered " not bothered" was the mantra from the 1960's for the UK aircraft industry- one hunter airframe had been sold 17 times myth or not it shows what happens when short term thinking takes over