Can you identify this aircraft from the 1920s or 30s I think? On the back of the photo it says “Taken at Nanking, after flying from Hong Kong to Shanghai”. I don’t know who the pilot is. My grandfather was in the British Fleet Air Arm, so I guess it is one of his friends. There is a distinctive air intake above the propeller which doesn’t match any photos I have seen.

enter image description here


1 Answer 1


I think this may be an Avro Avian. Wikipedia has a few different illustrations of this (more on Commons) but several types have the pronounced bump of an intake over the propellor; in particular, this 1933 photo of Hélène Boucher is an almost perfect match (shown below).

enter image description here
Agence de presse Mondial Photo-Presse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I was able to track down a couple of references in the British press to fourteen Cirrus-engined Avians (the same type as Boucher's?) being sold to establish a flying school in Nanking/Nanjing in 1929. One was successfully flown from London by two Chinese and Danish pilots - it took ten weeks of which 21 days were flying time. The others seem to have been shipped and presumably arrived later that year.

It's a bit unclear what happened to them after that, but this photo suggests they ended up at the "Nanyuan Air Force Academy". The description also suggests that site closed in 1928, however - so a bit of a mystery.

Update: in the comments ymb1 picks up that the letters seem to be VR-H (Hong Kong), and mins points out the Avro production list. From that we can see the fourteen Avian IVs in 1929 (ten to "Canton Government", ie the Republic of China, and four to the Chinese Navy) as given in the article, but there are also are a further 34 Avian IVMs with VR-Hxx codes. These were all sold via the Far Eastern Aviation Company of Hong Kong; one is explicitly noted as going to a Hong Kong flying club (VR-HAE) but the others are mostly noted as going to the Government of China. There are also another batch of eleven IVMs for the "Kwangai Air Force" in 1930-32, again via the Far Eastern Aviation Company; this seems to have been one of the smaller independent groups though I cannot work out which one.

My guess would be that this is one of the second batch of Chinese Avians, going to the government in Nanking, and the Hong Kong - Shanghai - Nanking flight was the delivery flight from Hong Kong, where they were imported and assembled?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Spectacular answer! $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 14:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can vaguely read some big letters on the underside of the lower wing in the OP's photo, looks like "VD" or maybe "VP", "VR", "VB"? Might be a clue of something... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 18:20
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Darrel: my guess was VR: List of aircraft registration prefixes: Hong Kong: Previously VR-H during British rule. $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 18:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Some info which could be useful: VR-H series started in March 1930. Avro production list. The flying school could be Far East Flying Training School. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Oct 20, 2021 at 20:26
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The mind boggles at just how much information a bunch of experts can extract from one old photo. Congratulations people! $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 7:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .