INTRODUCTION by Phil Hunnisett


AWA LogoBy the end of the Second World War Sir W G Armstrong Aircraft Limited was arguably in the second tier of aircraft manufactures in the UK. It had built up a sizeable manufacturing capability during the Second World War. This was used during the late 1940s and 1950s to produce Lincoln bombers, Gloster Meteor Night Fighters (NF 11s & 12s) and maybe NF 13s and NF14s. Gloster Javelin fighter bombers (32 FAW.4, 44 FAW.5 and 57 FAE.7) and Hawker Hunters (Mk.2 and MK5). It also produced about 509 Sea Hawks in 9 marks as new builds and 2 marks as conversions, these went to 4 fleet air arms around the world. AWA in this period also made many aero structures for other aircraft manufactures.

By the end of the Second World War Sir W G Armstrong Aircraft was arguably in the second tier of aircraft manufactures in the UK. It had built up a sizeable manufacturing capability during the Second World War. This was used during the late 1940s and 1950s to produce Lincoln bombers, Gloster Meteor Night Fighters (NF 11s & 12s) and maybe NF 13s and NF14s. Gloster Javelin fighter bombers (32 FAW.4, 44 FAW.5 and 57 FAE.7) and Hawker Hunters (Mk.2 and MK5). It also produced about 509 Sea Hawks in 9 marks as new builds and 2 marks as conversions, these went to 4 fleet air arms around the world. AWA in this period also made many aero structures for other aircraft manufactures.

The design team also worked on a number of innovative projects, most notable being the AW52 flying wing, the AW55 Apollo airliner and the AW? W wing supersonic airliner. Only the first 2 made to prototype, the AW52G, glider and the AW52 jet which were research tools, as well as the AW55 as noted below.

The Apollo was an innovative design and could be claimed to be the forerunner to the very successful Vickers Viscount, in so much as it was propeller turbine powered and pressurised. It is interesting to note that the cabin widows were square, which was the design feature that proved to be the downfall of the Comet 1. While it was a good looking aircraft, it suffered from the continual problems of its Mamba engines and was over taken by the Viscount.

But this is not a history of Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd, (perhaps another project at another time) but a history of the second Argosy. The first being the famous the W G Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Argosy 1 airliner of 1926.

The genesis for the second Argosy was the UK Air Ministry specification OR323 issued in 1955. This was for a medium range freight aircraft capable of lifting up to 25,000 lbs. and have a range of 2,000 nautical miles with a payload of 10,000 lbs. It also required that that the aircraft also meet civil airworthiness requirements. This is interesting, as when the RAF Argosy C Mk. 1 was built it did not meet these civil standards. While I am not 100% sure of this, I remember these aircraft being offered for sale in the 1970s when it was specifically stated in an advertisement in Flight magazine that they did not conform to United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority requirements. However two AW 660 C Mk.1s did make it to the British register, c/n 6767 as G-BDCV which was bought by Field aviation services for Air Bridge Carriers, but was never operated due to the difficulties in getting it certified by the Air Registration Board of the UK. Nova International bought c/n 6798 and registered it as G-BFVT, it was then on sold to Duncan Aviation as spares for N1430Z.

Late in 1955 AWA came up with a design designated AW 66. This was a high wing monoplane with the tail surfaces carried on two closely spaced booms growing out upper sides of the fuselage. At the rear there was a floor level hinged door suitable for both air dropping and ground loading. It had an all up weight in the region of 65,000 lbs. and was powered by two 3,000 hp prop jets. While working on the design of the AW66, extensive market research was carried out. This indicated that there was a potential market for a similar civil aircraft. To meet the civil requirement a revised design was developed, designated AW 65. While the requirement for air dropping disappeared, the need for both front and rear ground loading through full section doors appeared.

Model of AW66

It became obvious in 1956 that a lack of money would lead to the cancellation of this aircraft and the White Paper of 1957, with its emphasis on missiles, was the final straw. details of this White Paper are covered in the "Why it was not a commercial success" section.

It is only fair to point out that AWA had seen the light in 1956 and had moved the design emphasis from military to civil. This resulted in a major change to more address the needs of civil operators. This new design was a twin boom high wing monoplane with full section doors at each end of the fuselage and the cockpit above the freight deck. The tail booms were set wide apart to allow the rear door to be fully opened and the floor of the freight deck was 4 feet above ground level, which was the height of the standard truck bed. The cargo space offered a 47 foot long by 10 foot wide (at floor level) completely unobstructed freight deck

This design was designated AW 650, Freightliner to start with, but in July 1958 this name was changed to Argosy.

A military version was also proposed which later became the AW 660. When finally ordered and operated by the Royal Air force, was designated Argosy C Mk.1. A car ferry version was also offered as the AW 670 but was never built. This would have had an upper passenger cabin, which was an extension behind the cockpit with the existing cargo used to carry the cars.


Once the decision to go ahead with the project as a private venture was made, work went into top gear. Twelve airframes were ordered, 10 flying and 2 as test specimens. No prototype was made but the design effort was assisted with the use of many ground test rigs, some structural and some for systems. The largest of these was at the newly commissioned structural test laboratory at the Whitley factory, which included two 150,000 gallon water tanks, each could accommodate a complete Argosy fuselage.These were used for pressurisation, static strength and fatigue life tests. One unrecorded use for these tanks was as the unofficial apprentice swimming pool.

There were also rigs to test the electrical systems (28 volts DC, 115 and 208 volts AC), air conditioning, hydraulics and fuel, situated at the Baginton, Whitley and Bitteswell factories. The largest of these was the fuel system rig which consisted of a complete set port wing tanks in a mock up wing which could be moved to simulate all attitudes the aircraft was likely to encounter.

It was noted by the Chairman of Hawker Siddley Aviation, Sir Roy Dobson, that the size and shape of the wing was similar to that of the Mk. 3 Avro Shackleton with it's NACA 23018 (modified) at the root and NACA 23012 at the tip. He insisted, much to the chagrin of the AWA design team that this wing be adapted for the aircraft to save considerable time and money in design and manufacture. The Avro design department was tasked with investigating the feasibility of the Shackleton wing and Avro project number733 was allocated.

What upset the AWA design team was that although the Shackleton wing was approximately the correct size and shape, it's structure was from a previous generation, being of the safe-life type rather than the new fail-safe (damage tolerant) design. In addition, although the wing had the advantage of simplicity and cheapness, the mass spar boom design was not as efficient as an equivalent new stressed skin design. This resulted in the Shackleton wing being about 1500lb heavier than the original AWA wing would have been.

In the end, the use of this wing did not provide the benefits initially expected, for by the time the spar booms had been enlarged to give an adequate safe fatigue life and the joint between the centre section and the outer wing panels moved to accommodate a larger fuselage and provide increased propeller tip clearance, the modified design bore little resemblance to the original Shackleton wing. To add insult to injury the NACA aerofoil sections used dated from the mid 1930s and had a much higher drag than the post war, low drag sections proposed for the original wing and this resulted in reducing the cruising speed by about 20 knots.

The story of the wing is probably a good example of many decisions that affected the long term success of the project. More emphasise was placed on cost cutting, rather than on the best technical solution. It is only fair to point out that the economy of the UK at the time was not in great shape and maybe the money was not there. These economic woes resulted in the Labour Government of Harold Wilson cancelling a number of aircraft, including the TSR2, Hawker 1154 and the AWA 680. The later resulted in Hawker Siddley Aviation closing the AWA Baginton plant in 1965.

However the engines, engine mountings and nacelles were from the Vickers Viscount airliner and this did help to shorten the design time. It is also claimed by a contact, who is an ex employee of AWA that the booms were Gloster Meteor fuselages. While I have no reason to question this, as AWA was the designer of the night fighter version of the Meteor this is the only time I have seen this fact. Assuming all the above is true it means that the only parts of the Argosy that were original design were the fuselage, the tail and the undercarriage. One wonders how many other aircraft owe so much of their design to earlier aircraft.

G-AOZZ under construction at Bitteswell


When we look for the reasons that the Argosy was not a commercial success we must first study the British aircraft industry of the 1950s and the situation Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth aircraft found themselves in.

I think it is fair to say that as the 1950s progressed the British aircraft industry found itself in a fast changing environment. While the cold war had not come to an end, it was obvious that the end was coming. The need for large numbers of military aircraft was lessening and the validity of the cost plus contract in this environment was being questioned by the British government. It should also be noted that the British economy was not in very good shape. While it may not have been appreciated by all in the industry a new, more commercially realistic economic order was emerging.

It should also be appreciated that the situation was affected by arguably the most disastrous single thing that ever happened to the British aircraft industry. The Conservative Governments White Paper of 1957. This predicted that manned aircraft would be replaced by missiles by 1970. The result of this was that the then Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, (the hang'em and flog'em Tory MP) cancelled most of the military projects underway at the time, including the Saro 177, Hawker P 1121 and Avro 730. He also bemoaned the fact that he could not cancel the English Electric Lightning as the project was too far advanced. This White Paper and Duncan Sandys are credited (if that is the word) of all but destroying the British aircraft industry by most commentators. It is interesting that he had been on a World War 2 committee to study the threat German missiles posed. It is recorded that he had a great belief in the superiority of missiles but others have suggested that he realised that many of the projected aircraft would not survive over Russia should hostilities arise. It is worth noting that no other major aircraft producing nations came to the same conclusion. To add insult to injury, when English Electric were trying to selling Lightnings to West Germany, it found the British government was promoting the American Lockheed F-104 against the British aircraft. This was a particular act of bastardry as to meet the German specification the F-104 increased its weight by 20% and because of its poor safty record it became known as the widow maker by members of the German Air Force, not to mention the effect it had on the British aircraft industry.

This also meant that due to the run down in military spending the industry was moving towards over capacity and an era of rationalisation was on the horizon. It would seem that to some degree this was appreciated the original military specification that eventually became the Argosy specified that the aircraft should also meet civil air regulations. When the possibility of a military contract disappeared AWA felt from their research that they had a commercially viable product and launched the Argosy as a private venture.

With regard to the aircraft the first question we must ask is, was there ever a sufficient market to make the Argosy a commercial success? My own opinion, to be fair with the advantage of hind sight, is that the answer is no.

To my knowledge there were three aircraft at the time that could be described as competing. The AW650 Argosy, of which 17 were sold between 1959 and 1965, and one of those was to replace an aircraft written off by BEA. The Aviation Traders Carvair ATL98 (Converted Douglas DC 6s) of which 21 were sold between 1961 and 1968 and the Lockheed Hercules which did not sell a civil L100 version until 1965. By which time hundreds of military aircraft had been sold in 3 marks and many sub marks to military markets round the world.

The Argosy was launched into, as I will argue later, a limited market, if not in reality, an all but non existent market.

Phil Hunnisett did not complete his assessment of the Argosy.


This is what Phil wrote about himself on the original website

I started my full time working life as a probationer Aeronautical Engineering Apprentice at 08.15 on Monday the 15th of August 1960 at the employment office of Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Ltd. at Baginton near Coventry, as my letter of offer tells me. How I got this far is a story in its own right, to be told another day. As I remember it the employment office was housed in a second world war building, half way down the drive from the roundabout on the Coventry bypass to the main factory. What we actually did at the employment office, I cannot remember, but it was probably to sort out the paper work for tax, national insurance and all the other things one had to have in place to be legally employed at the time. From there, we went to the Apprentice Training School, which was situated in one corner of the machine shop and next to the cabinet makers.

The most lasting memory of that day was that it was, and still is, the most uncomfortable day I have ever endured at work due to a number of factors. First I had forgotten my glasses. In those days I did not wear them all the time and at school if I forgot them one day, it was not a problem but to be without them for a whole working day proved to be very uncomfortable. To add to this discomfort we spent most of the day standing up and by the end of the day my legs and feet were killing me. The last hour must go down in history as being the longest hour of my life.

From then on things picked up and overall my time as an apprentice was very enjoyable and rewarding. I am eternally grateful for the depth and quality of training I received from Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft.

In my 5 years at AWA I worked on all aspects of aircraft design, development,production and testing. As I look through my employment records I wonder at the names of some of the departments. Would anybody dare, in this politically correct age, to call a department Boy's Details or Erection? These really did exist, Boy's and Men's Details made all the small individual sheet metal parts such as brackets while Erection was the department where all the major aircraft assemblies were made such as wings, fuselage etc.


Sadly he did not get around to continuing