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Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft Company

Argosy Transport plane
Armstrong Whitworth A.W. 15 Transport plane
Armstrong Whitworth A.W.16 Fighter plane
Ensign Transport plane
Scimitar Jet fighter plane
Whitley Bomber
Aeroplanes were built by Sir W. G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co., Ltd., of Newcastle, as early as 1912, in which year the first aeroplane, a Farman type biplane with 50 h.p. Gnome engine, was constructed, and was afterwards sold to A.V. Roe & Co., of Brooklands, who used it for school work. This machine was built at the Elswick works, and it was not until August the following year, 1913, that the Armstrong-Whitworth aircraft department was formed, with works in the sawmills at Scotswood, near Newcastle. The War Office placed orders with the firm for a small number of B.E. 2A biplanes, the first of which was completed in April, 1914. Further small orders were subsequently received for the improved type of machine known as the B.E. 2B, and these were completed in August, 1914. The aeroplane works were then transferred to new premises, and on the outbreak of war, the War Office issued instructions to extend the works, placing at the same time large orders for B.E. 2C biplanes.

In August, 1915, a biplane having a 90 h.p. engine was put in hand, intended to compete with the B.E. 2C. This machine, the F.K. 3, was successful in its trial flights, and a large order for these machines was placed with the firm during 1916. The output of F.K. 3's, which were constructed alongside the B.E. 2C's, had now reached from 20 to 25 per month, and complete squadrons were equipped for service on the various fronts. In addition a large number were employed for training pilots at home. The F.K. 3 is not unlike, in a general way, the B.E. 2C, which it was intended to supplant. There is the same large gap and shallow, narrow fuselage. The undercarriage is, however, different from that of the B.E. 2C, and consists of a central skid mounted on two pairs of Vees from the fuselage, and of a two-wheel running gear mounted on shock absorbers in the side of the body, somewhat after the fashion of the old R.E.P. monoplanes in France.

Towards the end of 1916 a larger and improved type of two-seater tractor biplane was designed. This machine, the F.K. 8, was fitted with a 160 h.p. Beardmore engine, and had two machine guns and a wireless installation. It proved a great success, and was built in great quantities, both by the original designers and by other firms. Squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps were equipped with it and used it on all fighting fronts, its duties including night and day bombing, artillery spotting and reconnaissance, trench fighting, dropping of food to advanced troops, etc. Towards the end of 1917 the output of complete machines of this type in the A.W. works had reached between 80 and 100 machines per month. Construction was continued until July, 1918, when the machine was superseded by the Bristol Fighter. Owing to being fitted with a vertical engine, this machine has a certain similarity to German aeroplanes, an impression that is furthered by the fact that there is no centre section, the two halves of the top plane meeting at and being attached to the top of a cabane of steel tubes. The earlier machines were fitted with an oleo type of undercarriage, somewhat similar to that of the F.K. 3, but with the central skid cut short in front of the undercarriage.

Since the A.W. Quadruplane, tested in 1917, was the only example of this type of machine which has been constructed by British aeronautical engineers, its leading features are of considerable interest. On trial it was found that its performance was slightly inferior to that of contemporary triplanes of the same engine power, and much inferior to that of small biplanes. The load per brake horse-power is somewhat high, and it is possible that the fitting of a more highly powered engine would lead to a considerable improvement in its performance. The Armadillo is noteworthy from the fact that the fuselage entirely fills the centre section of the wing structure; while in the Ara machine there is a slight gap between the top of the fuselage and the top plane. Both of these machines are singleseater tractors, and their performance under test was good.

The question of visibility was attempted to be solved in the A.W. "Quad.," in which the stagger was very pronounced, while the second plane passed across some little distance above the top of the fuselage, the third and fourth planes passing through and under the body respectively and obstructing, owing to their narrow chord, the view to a small extent only. When this machine first appeared the triplane had been tried with fair success, but the multiplane was somewhat of a dark horse, as regards its aerodynamic properties. It will be noticed that on the A.W. Quad, there is no fixed tail plane. This is probably in order to render the elevators as effective as possible, a necessary precaution on a quadruplane with its comparatively great height over the aerofoils.

As more powerful engines became available, the designs for a number of experimental machines were brought out, among them being the 220 h.p. "Armadillo" and the 320 h. p. "Ara." The former was fitted with a B.R. 2 rotary engine, and two pairs of inter-plane struts beyond the cowl on each side, thus ensuing a better angleo f the usual simple Vee type for the lift wires. The rotary engine is enclosed in a circular cowl, which is surmounted by a square, box-like excrescence, inside which the two machine guns are mounted, synchronized, of course, to fire through the propeller. Trial flights took place in September, 1918. The results were so promising that it is fairly safe to say that the machine would have been put into production in time for the 1919 spring offensive.

An improved type of single-seater was contemplated at the time of testing the Armadillo. This was to be fitted with a 320 h.p. Dragonfly engine, but as considerable delay was experienced in the production of this engine, it was not until the last week in December that an engine could be obtained. In the meantime, in the hope of getting this engine, a machine had been built for it. This was the one now known as the "Ara" type. Owing to the delay in obtaining the engine it was not until January. 1919, that the machine was ready for its tests. As will be seen from the table, the performance is very good, indeed, both as regards speed and climb. In appearance the "Ara" is somewhat different from the "Armadillo," the top plane being placed some little distance above the fuselage, while the fact that the engine fitted is a radial instead of a rotary has made it possible to provide a better entry for the air in the neighborhood of the nose of the fuselage.

After 1930, the Great Depression placed many planebuilders under considerable financial stress. Officials of the British government responded by encouraging aviation leaders to reorganize their industry into fewer but stronger companies. Thomas Sopwith, chairman of Hawker, took the initiative by drawing on profits from sales of Harts as he raised capital of 2 million, some $10 million. He then bought up other firms: Gloster Aircraft, Armstrong Siddeley Motors, Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, Air Service Training, and A.V. Roe. In 1935 he reorganized these holdings as the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company. These mergers placed those firms on a good financial footing, at a time when war was only a few years away.

In 1942, the British were enthusiastic about the compounded advantages of the flying-wing design and laminar flow. It was desirable to maintain laminar flow over most of the surface of the airplane by the use of laminar-flow airfoils which had the potential of providing significant drag reductions. Three prototypes were constructed under the direction of Armstrong Whitworth. The failure of the airplane to maintain laminar flow was attributed to the rather severe wing sweep required to maintain satisfactory longitudinal control characteristics.

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Page last modified: 09-05-2013 17:37:46 ZULU