Airspeed Ambassador

The Airspeed AS.57 Ambassador was a British twin piston engined airliner that first flew on July 10 1947 and served in very small numbers through the 1950s.

Design and development

The Ambassador had its origin in 1943 as a requirement identified by the Brabazon Committee for a twin-engined, short to medium-haul Douglas DC-3 replacement. Airspeed Ltd. was asked to prepare an unpressurized design in the 14.5 ton gross-weight class, using two Bristol Hercules radial engines. By the time the British Ministry of Aircraft Production ordered two prototypes from Airspeed, immediately after the end of the Second World War, the design had grown substantially. The Ambassador would be pressurized, have more powerful Bristol Centaurus radials, and have a maximum gross weight of almost 24 tons.

It offered seating for 47 passengers and, having a nose wheel undercarriage, looked far more modern than the DC-3s, Curtiss Commandos, Avro Lancastrians and Vickers Vikings that were common on Europe's shorter airline routes. With three low fins it shared something of the character of the larger trans-continental Lockheed Constellation.

Three prototypes were built. The first was flown by G B S Errington on 10 July 1947. British European Airways placed a £3 million order for 20 aircraft in September 1948, and operated them between 1952 and 1958, calling them "Elizabethans" in honour of the newly crowned Queen. It also helped the growth of Dan-Air, an important airline in the development of package holidays.

The popularity of this aircraft was soon eclipsed by the arrival of turboprop-powered aircraft such as the Vickers Viscount and, some years later, the Lockheed Electra, which featured more reliable engines and faster speeds. The coming of turboprops and the dawning of the jet age caused the Ambassador to fall out of favour, along with negative publicity arising from two fatal crashes.


AS.57 Ambassador 1
prototype aircraft with Bristol Centaurus engines, two built.AS.57 Ambassador 2
production aircraft, 21 built.

Accidents and incidents

Two Ambassadors made the headlines due to accidents:

  • An Ambassador crashed on take-off from Munich on 6 February 1958, in what became known as the Munich air disaster. This crash received tremendous public attention in the UK as it involved team members and staff of Manchester United football club, together with representatives of the national press.
  • A spectacular fatal crash-landing at London Heathrow Airport on 3 July 1968 by a BKS Air Transport Ambassador which killed its crew and several horses which were being transported. The crash was caught on camera and broadcast on the BBC news of that day (the recording may still be available in the BBC archives). A parked Trident jet was damaged beyond repair and another Trident had its tail torn-off before the airliner hit terminal buildings and came to rest. The accident was found to have been caused by the failure of a flap actuating rod in the Ambassador's port (left) wing. Coincidently, the Trident which suffered the damaged tail (G-ARPI) was subsequently repaired and later involved in an (unconnected) fatal accident in June 1972.

Civil Operators

Military Operators


One Elizabethan, Christopher Marlowe (G-ALZO c/n 5226), is preserved at the Imperial War Museum Duxford.




  • Singfield, Tom. Classic Airliners. Leicester, England: Midland Publishing, 2000. ISBN 1-8578-0098-2.
  • Jackson, A.J. (1974). British Civil Aircraft since 1919 Volume 1. London: Putnam.

External links

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