1939 to 1949



With the increasing tension in Europe, the new factory enabled Whitley production to be stepped up and, when the long threatened war finally broke out in 1939, several squadrons were already equipped with them.


Until it was succeeded by the Lancaster in 1942, the Whitley was one of the mainstays of Britain's bomber force.  "Old faithful", as it became affectionately known, endeared itself to R.A.F. crews by the manner in which, time after time, it flew back to base after being almost shot to ribbons.


The box spar wing and sturdy monocoque fuselage helped in gaining this reputation, and such was the strength of the design that practically no structural alterations were necessary to raise the original all up weight of 23,500 lb. to a maximum of 33,500 lb.


The Whitley was the first R.A.F. aircraft with a retractable undercarriage and the first modern British example of all metal stressed skin design to go into service.


Whitleys carried out the first wartime operation over Germany (a leaflet raid on the first night of the war).  They were the first British bombers to visit Berlin and the first to drop bombs on the German mainland.   They made history by flying across the Alps to bomb Italy.  They helped to pioneer the famous "Red Beret" Parachute Regiment and assisted in the development of glider towing.  They kept Malta supplied by ferrying huge loads from Gibraltar overnight, and, with Coastal Command was the first to sink a U boat with the aid of airborne surface vessel radar (A.S.V.).


Seven marks of Whitley were built and a development of this famous bomber, the AW 39, was begun using two new 21 cylinder triple bank Armstrong Siddeley Deerbound radial engines buried in the wing.  This failed to come to fruition after the prototype had crashed and the remaining prototype engines were destroyed in the bombing of the Armstrong Siddeley factory.


The 1,824th, and last, Whitley came off the Baginton assembly line in July 1943 and made its final bow at the first post war S.B.A.C. show at Radlett, where it acted as tug for the AW. 52 Flying Wing glider.


But the war, which brought such distinction to the Whitley, ruined the prospects of a truly great aeroplane, the mighty Ensign.   When it first flew in 1938, this huge airliner was years ahead of its time and, with a wingspan of 123 feet, the largest in the world.


So advanced was the design that even in the supersonic age, the Ensign's lines are modern.  It was the first British civil aircraft with a retractable undercarriage.  Because of its high wing, the undercarriage had to be large and, with its 6 ft. 3 in. high, 27 in. wide wheels, was also the largest in the world at the time.


Fourteen Ensigns were built for Imperial Airways. The all up weight was 30,000 lb. and 40 passengers could be carried.  Because of the demand for Whitleys, the whole production layout was transferred to Hamble.


During the war, Ensigns were used as transports in the Middle East.  Two were captured by Germany, where they were used for V.I.P. transport.


After the war, it was hoped the aircraft could be converted again to civil use, but it was decided the cast was too great and the remaining seven aircraft were eventually broken up.


Another aircraft which A.W.A. designed, but never produced, was the Albemarle. Fearing a shortage of light allays, the Ministry asked A.W.A. to design an aircraft in which wood and steel were the basic materials.


The resulting Albemarle was the first aircraft to go into production with a tricycle undercarriage and, in spite of the materials used, was up to date in performance and design, with a structure weight only a little above average.


The mast remarkable feature of all was that the Albemarle was completely sub contracted, being manufactured by over 1,000 firms ranging from furniture makers to manufacturing .of hairdressing equipment, all aver the country. The sub assemblies made in this fashion were brought to a final assembly base where the complete aircraft was put together.


After the Whitley, A.W.A.s production talents were devoted to the Lancaster and Stirling.  The company had dispersal factories at Bitteswell, Sywell, Leicester, Nuneaton, Northampton, Swindon and Hamble, and production records were consistently broken.  More than 1,300 Lancasters alone were produced, and in the peak year, 1944, 656 heavy aircraft (550 Lancasters and 106 Stirlings) were constructed.


Much of the design work during this period was of a research nature, the emphasis being on investigations into laminar flow wings with and without boundary layer suction.  Laminar flow wings were made far a Hurricane, and ultimately the AW 52 Flying Wing made its appearance in glider form in 1945.


The design was proved in this Whitley towed glider. The first of two jet powered Flying Wings made its maiden flight in 1947.  This first aircraft crashed in 1949, while investigating flutter characteristics.   This gave A.W.A. test pilot, J.O. ("Joe") Lancaster the unique experience of being the first man to use an ejector seat in an emergency.


The second AW 52 went to Farnborough, where it did valuable work on airflow behaviour over swept wings.  Boundary layer suction was successfully proved on this design.


Meanwhile, the company's production record ensured that A.W.A. was not short of work.  The Lancaster contracts had been followed by the Lincoln.  281 of these aircraft had been produced when production ceased in 1951.


At the same time, the company had entered the jet age, first with production contracts for Gloster Meteor units in 1946, then with a contract for complete aircraft in 1949. While the 45 Meteor 4's on this contract were being built, another contract was received for Meteor 8's, and 429 of these had been built when the contract was completed in 1953.


On the research side under the direction of Mr. H.R. Watson, Chief Designer, a special Meteor was built at A.W.A. to investigate the prone pilot position, the aircraft being controlled by a pilot lying face downwards in an extra section built on to the nose of a Meteor 8.






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AW 52

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