Pre 1930



The first aircraft to carry the name Armstrong Whitley were built during the 1914-18 war by the Newcastle engineering firm of that name.  After the war, the Dutch designer of these aircraft, Frederick Koolhoven, returned to his native land and production of Armstrong Whitworth aircraft ended.


In Coventry, the Siddeley Deasy Company had been the first British company to produce a motor car after the war. The Siddeley Six was selling well and Managing Director, John Siddeley, later Lord Kenilworth, was seeking to strengthen its position by expansion.


In 1919, Armstrong Whitworth of Newcastle and the Siddeley Deasy Company combined, and John Siddeley formed the Armstrong Whitworth Development Company Ltd, which was later changed to Armstrong Siddeley Development Company Ltd.


Always a discerning man, Siddeley was confident of the future of flying and after completing his merger he transferred the Aircraft and Motor section of Armstrong Whitworth from Newcastle to the "Deasy" works at Parkside, Coventry.


Here, in 1920, Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Limited was formed, the original factory being a corrugated iron shed on the city's London Road.


During these years, an enthusiastic journalist had described one of Siddeley's cars as being "as silent and inscrutable as the Sphinx".  This so delighted Siddeley that he adopted the Sphinx as the firm's trademark, sending an artist to London to copy the Sphinx on the Embankment to get the details right.


Almost naturally, the trademark of A.W.A. became the famous "flying sphinx".


Shortly after the formation of A.W.A., Siddeley also bought the old R.A.F. flying field at Whitley, near Coventry, and one of the aircraft company's first activities was the forming of a flying school there.  This was such a great success and grew to such an extent that in 1931 it was re-named Air Service Training and, as a separate company, transferred to Hamble, near Southampton.


The beginning of A.W.A.'s growth to one of the world's leading aircraft companies started in 1923 when most of the company moved to Whitley, the exception being the design team which remained at Parkside until 1930.  Production of the famous Siskin single seat fighter began at this time.


The Siskin was conceived during the 1914-18 war, when the Siddeley Deasy Company was building RE 7 and 8, SE 5 and DH 9 aircraft.  This aircraft was first sketched out in a tiny back room over a Coventry laundry in 1917 by a young man still in his twenties, Mr. J. Lloyd.  Mr Lloyd had just been recruited from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough as Chief Designer of Aircraft to the Siddeley Deasy Company.


The Siskin, like all contemporary aeroplanes, was an all wooden structure.  It first flew in 1919.  The original Dragonfly engine was not a great success, but the aircraft had such advanced control and stability characteristics that it was obviously worth continuing with.


An all-steel version, the Siskin II, which was subsequently developed, was a revolutionary aircraft for its day.


The further developed version, the Siskin III, was adopted as the R.A.F.'s standard fighter and was the first all-steel aircraft in the world to go into series production.


This was when the A.W.A. story really began.  


Heading the team, which was to build the company into such a great success, was the Siskin's designer, Mr. J. Lloyd, later a director of the company, on the design side.


On the production side was Mr. S. Hiscocks, later to be succeeded by Mr. H.M. Woodhams, who was the holder of the first ground engineer's licence for aero engines.   Mr. Woodhams started his A.W.A. career as Chief Inspector and subsequently became Assistant Works Manager, Works Manager, General Manager and, finally, Chairman and Managing Director.


The Siskin laid the foundations of success.  This aircraft won the Kings Cup Air Race in 1923 and 1925 and a total of 214 was finally delivered to the R.A.F., as well as foreign and Dominion governments.  Some were still in service until the late 1930's.


Since the first Siskin was delivered, there had always been an A.W.A. built aircraft flying in R.A.F colours.


The Siskin was followed by another highly successful single engine biplane, the Atlas.  Intended primarily for Army co-operation work, the versatile Atlas eventually filled many roles.  In addition to the 449 built for the R.A.F., many were delivered to Commonwealth Air Forces and foreign countries, including China, Greece, Japan and Turkey.  Of 14 delivered to Canada, no less than 13 were still on R.C.A.F. strength at the outbreak of the 1939-45 war.  The Atlas first flew in 1925.


Meanwhile, A.W.A. had also built the Sinaia in 1921, which was a twin engine biplane bomber, two of which were used for experimental work at Farnborough.  The Awana was built in 1923, which was a large twin engine troop carrying biplane, two of which were used experimentally by the R.A.F.  The Wolf was built in 1924, which was a two-seater trainer biplane built specially for the flying school, the three built being in constant use until the transfer to Hamble in 1931.


In 1926, A.W.A. entered the civil aircraft field with the three engine Argosy biplane airliner.  This was the first aircraft in the world to pay its way with a civil airline.  The seven Argosys built for Imperial Airways gave sterling service on European, African and Far East routes until 1935.


On May 1st, 1927, an Argosy introduced the world's first luxury "named" air route, the "Silver Wings" lunchtime London to Paris service, for which a bar was installed and a steward carried to serve refreshments.


The last Argosy to survive was bought by British Airways Limited, and spent its last summer, that of 1936, flying hundreds of sightseers round Blackpool Tower.


A number of biplanes followed the Argosy: -


The Ape (1926) was a strange looking machine equipped with three of everything, including three lengths of fuselage and innumerable combinations of rigging.  It was used for full scale aerodynamic research by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.


The Ajax (1928) marked the trend towards cleaner lines in design, but only one prototype of this two-seater general purpose biplane was built.


Similar in many ways to the Siskin, but with a much higher performance, the Starling (1929) had a number of refinements in design and equipment.  Three were built and the first was shown at the Olympia Aircraft Exhibition in July, 1929.


Before leaving the 1920's, it is worth noting some of the pioneering research and development work carried out by A.W.A. which contributed as much as the aircraft it produced towards the reputation it had gained by 1930 for high quality engineering.


Experimenting briefly in fields other than aircraft engineering, the company produced a cinema projector in 1920 which incorporated a "Geneva" motion to eliminate the flickering affect which plagued projectors of the time.  After successful experiments in Coventry cinemas, the patent rights were sold to a film production company.


During the 20's, A.W.A. put much work into research on metal airscrews, wing spars made from high tensile steel strip, the electrical heat treatment and hardening of the steel strip, and the now universally used system of "pop" riveting, for which A.W.A. held the patents as long ago as 1925.


This research and development work was continued into the 1930's with anti-corrosive yet extremely lightweight stainless steel floats, locked joint tubes rolled from high tensile steel strip for light struts, light alloy box-spar wing construction, and monocoque fuselage construction.  Each of these was a significant step forward in technique at the time.


On the pure research side, A.W.A. had shown its forward-thinking attitude in 1926 by designing and building its own wind tunnel, one of the first to be built by a private firm in this country.


All this was rapidly taking the company away from the "string and canvas" age and its awkward looking aircraft.  The AW 16, which made its first flight in 1930, was the cleanest looking aircraft yet produced by the company.  At the time, it was described as the fastest air cooled single seat fighter in the world, but it was still a biplane, as was the two seat Aries produced in the same year.


Three AW 16s were sold to China, but only one Aries was produced.






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Siskin III

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AW 16

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