Inside the Eagle

Inspired by a discussion on Twitter, here’s a selection of aircraft cutaway artwork, mainly from the British children’s magazine ‘Eagle’ most famous for the cartoon strip ‘Dan Dare’.


[It was the era of the straight leading edge Avro Vulcan B1, and the carrier HMS Eagle.]


Dare aside, the other highlight for most in the magazine were the cutaway drawings, mostly by graphic artist L Ashwell Wood. (Apparently a more mysterious character than one might expect, from the research here.)


[The Fairey Gyrodyne proved to be a dead end, interesting innovation though it was, while the Supermarine 510 was another postwar dud from that company, but got a greater degree of fame than the design warranted.]


In the ‘Eagle Times’ blog, here, Will Grenham notes: “Eagle’s cutaway drawings feature ran from the very first issue, 14th April, 1950, until 19th April, 1969 (Vol 20, No 16). The run was not continuous – on about 40 occasions other features replaced it … Also, some features that are sometimes counted as part of the series are not strictly ‘cutaway’ drawings. It was not headlined as ‘An Eagle Cutaway Drawing’ until 1963.” 

Eagle_0001 ATL Carvair web copy

[The Aviation Traders Carvair modification of a Douglas airliner was a successful design, while the Boeing 707 needs no introduction, while the Vickers VC-10, further below, should’ve had greater success than it did.]

Grenham adds: “In all, around two dozen artists contributed to the feature, the most notable after Leslie Ashwell Wood being: J. Walkden Fisher, John Batchelor, Geoffrey Wheeler, Laurence Dunn, Hubert Redmill and Roy Cross.”

Accuracy varied, but while one might nit-pick, and acknowledging most were drawn to a lower level of technical complexity than more mainstream cutaways, they were remarkably accurate considering the complexity and unique nature of some of the subjects.


As in the discussion, these cutaways often ended up on kid’s bedroom walls or were pored over for hours, and then became inspiration for another generation of designers and engineers, among others. Inspirational! And the artists were certainly able to work with the manufacturers and users to show the subjects off to their best – in fact these show how the presentation actually oversold the real success of some of the subjects.


While a huge range of topics were covered, an aeronautical selection seems to end up emphasising the hope, pioneering and dead ends of the British aviation industry of the 1950s and 60s. Some, like the vertical take off airliner below were only ever ideas…


…and others saw significant success by the expectations of the time, such as the Dart Herald and the BAC 1-11 below. But despite the optimism of these great designs, systematic problems  in Britain’s aero industry of the era meant they were not to be as successful in many cases, as the picture might imply.

Eagle_0003 Jersey Herald web copy

Eagle_0006 BUA 1-11 web copy

While many would’ve seemed the ‘aircraft of tomorrow’ to the young reader, we now know that some proved to be only prototypes, never succeeding even to the degree implied in these pages.


[The Saunders Roe Princess was a complete miscalculation in postwar air travel, while the Fairey Rotodyne was a great idea crippled by unsolved noise issues.]


91dl5BCEe3LNot to ignore the successes, there’s something attractively tragic about the bright hopes now yellowing ephemeral might-have-beens.

For those interested in more, there’s ‘The Eagle Book of Cutaways’ available, by L. Ashwell Wood, edited and introduced by Denis Gifford.

James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.

Some of the sources of the cutaways here are ‘Core 77’ on L Ashwell Wood, British Caledonian, a Tribute here, a fantastic Flickr tribute here, and some combined posters on a book auction website.

And here’s a few more low res examples (from expired e-Bay sales) because why not:

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Stewart Gray says:

    As a young avid reader of the Eagle I collected the centre spread cutaways in scrap books which I kept for the different subjects, aircraft, ships, vehicles and miscellaneous. I would spend hours browsing and studying them, and at the time I had no idea where it would lead me; which was to a technical illustration apprenticeship in the aviation industry in the UK. Well I’ve moved on since then, still illustrating but in another country and mostly for other industries. But I still manage to illustrate an aviation subject now and then….
    You may also be interested in another book of Eagle cutaways, “the Eagle Annual of the Cutaways” ISBN 978-1-4091-0014-0 It is not focused entirely on the work of Leslie Ashwell-Wood, though it contains rather a lot of his work, but then he was by far the most prolific of the Eagle cutaway illustrators.

    1. jkightly says:

      Thanks, Stewart, that’s exactly the kind of cutaway to career I was thinking of. Appreciate the links, like your VL Viima, a rare survivor subject, too! Regards, James

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