The Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Co Ltd was most famous for the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, one of the main British bombers at the start of the Second World War, but it had a history that stretched back to the First World War, and by 1939 was part of a larger company that also included Hawker and Avro.
A feature of the British aircraft industry between the world wars was the frequency with which companies were taken over or merged with each other, but even against this background the story of Armstrong Whitworth stands out. The name was associated with two completely separate aircraft companies, the second of which changed hands on a regular basis, and which outlived the original Armstrong Whitworth company.
The first Armstrong Whitworth aircraft were built in Newcastle, by the giant Armstrong Whitworth heavy engineering and arms company, itself formed in 1887 by a merger between the Armstrong and Whitworth companies. After some earlier involvement in the production of aircraft engines, Armstrong Whitworth entered the aircraft industry in the summer of 1913, after receiving orders for airships from the Admiralty and airplanes from the War Office.
Armstrong Whitworth's new aircraft department was mainly involved in the production of existing designs, such as the B.E.2. Their chief designer, Frederick Koolhoven, did produce a series of his own aircraft, amongst them the F.K.3 two seat reconnaissance and training aircraft, which saw some limited service. This first incarnation of Armstrong Whitworth ended in October 1919, when the aircraft department was shut down. The main firm continued on until 1928, when its armament, shipbuilding and steel branches were sold to Vickers, to form Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd. What was left of Armstrong Whitworth went into liquidation in 1937.
The second Armstrong Whitworth aircraft company was originally formed as the Deasy Motor Car Manufacturing Company, in Coventry in 1906. It then became the Siddeley Deasy Motor Car Co Ltd after the arrival of John D. Siddeley. This company became involved in aircraft manufacture during the First World War, originally producing aircraft engines (the start of the line of Siddeley engines). Some of this work was sub-contracted to Armstrong Whitworth. The first aircraft were produced in 1917, after an order was received for 100 R.E.7s. During this period the company gained the services of John Lloyd, who remained the chief aircraft designer until 1948. His last design was the post-war Armstrong Whitworth Apollo civil airliner. This company's most famous design was the S.R.2 Siskin, an important post-war fighter.
During 1918 negotiations began between Siddeley Deasy and Armstrong Whitworth on a takeover. This was concluded by May 1919, when the Armstrong Whitworth Development Co Ltd was formed as a subsidiary of Armstrong Whitworth. The Development Company would change hands (and names) repeatedly during its existence, but in 1920 a sub-subsidiary was formed - the Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Co Ltd - and this company would be directly responsible for all of the Armstrong Whitworth aircraft that followed.
The new company was based at Whitley airfield, south of Coventry, from 1920, before expanding onto a new site at Baginton from 1935. As mentioned above by the late 1920s the parent company was in trouble, and in November 1926 John Siddeley offered to buy the Development Company. The deal was approved in December 1926, and in March of the following year the development company was renamed the Armstrong Siddeley Development Company. The aircraft company retained its original name.
The maze of takeovers would continue. In 1928 John Siddeley bought A.V. Roe & Co Ltd. In 1933 Armstrong Whitworth began to produce the Hawker Hart, and in 1935 Siddeley sold his stake in the company to Hawker Aircraft. The new company - the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company - would thus be responsible for producing some of the most famous aircraft of the Second World War, amongst them the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, the Hawker Hurricane and the Avro Lancaster.
The Whitley would be the Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company's most significant design of the Second World War, with 1,814 completed when production ended in 1943. The Baginton factory would then produce 1,328 Avro Lancasters and a large number of Lincolns.
In the post-war period Armstrong Whitworth became involved in the production of missiles, especially the Sea Slug. The company was also involved in the design of the Gloster Meteor NF.11 and the production of a number of other company's aircraft (mostly from within the Hawker Siddeley Group). The Armstrong Whitworth name finally disappeared in 1961 with the formation of Whitworth Gloster Aircraft Ltd as part of the Hawker Siddeley Group. Two years later Whitworth Gloster merged again, to become part of the Avro Whitworth Division of Hawker Siddeley. Hawker Siddeley itself survived as an independent company until 1977, when it was forced to merge into the new British Aerospace.
Major Military Aircraft
Newcastle designed Aircraft
F.K.3 two-seat reconnaissance and training biplane, 1915
F.K.10 four-winged fighter bomber, 1917
Coventry designed Aircraft
Armstrong Whitworth Siskin fighter, 1918-1931
Armstrong Whitworth Awana troop carrier, 1923
Armstrong Whitworth Atlas army co-operation aircraft, 1925-1933
Armstrong Whitworth A.W.38 Whitley heavy bomber, 1936-1943
Armstrong Whitworth A.W.41 Albemarle, 1940-1944
Armstrong Whitworth Argosy transport, 1958-1961