The Westland Welkin was a British high-altitude fighter developed in response to a perceived threat from very high altitude German aircraft, most notably the Junkers Ju 86P. This reconnaissance aircraft first appeared over Britain in the summer of 1940, and proved impossible to catch. Although high-altitude bombing proved to be no more than a minor nuisance, the high level reconnaissance flights were a serious problem.
The Air Ministry issued specification F.4/40, calling for a cannon-armed high altitude fighter. Westland had just finished development work on the Whirlwind high speed fighter, and so took up the challenge.
The new aircraft followed the same basic configuration as the Whirlwind, but with a number of significant differences. The most obvious visible difference was the wingspan of 70ft. This was an increase of 15 feet over the Whirlwind (and over the de Havilland Mosquito). The aircraft was also given a bullet-proof pressurised cabin, attached to the wing front spar. The aircraft was powered by two Rolls-Royce Merlin engines.
The Air Ministry accepted the Welkin design and issued a new specification (F.7/41) for the prototype. This took to the air on 1 November 1942. Although the new aircraft lived up to most expectations, events had passed it by. The Germans had failed to produce high altitude aircraft in any numbers, reducing the significance of the threat. By the time the prototype took to the air, a specially lightened Supermarine Spitfire Mk V based at Aboukir (Egypt) had shot down a Junkers Ju 86P at 42,000ft, reducing the need for a specialised fighter. Finally, the Mosquito NF.30 entered service. Lacking the very long wings of the Welkin it was less stable at high altitude, and couldn’t reach quite the same altitude, but it could get close, was capable of 400mph and was an established type. After only 67 production aircraft had been completed, the Welkin was cancelled.
Although none of the 67 production aircraft saw operational service, the aircraft was used to conduct experiments in high altitude flight. It was also used as the basis of a potential night fighter, the Welkin Mk II, produced in 1944 to specification F.9/43. This was a two-seat fighter with a rear-facing observer. It was developed too late in the war, and did not enter production.
Engine: Two Rolls-Royce Merlin 76/77 inline piston engines
Horsepower: 1,250hp each
Span: 70ft 0in
Length: 41ft 7in
Max Speed: 387mph at 26,000ft
Service Ceiling: 44,000ft
Range: 1,200 miles
Armament: Four 20mm cannon in nose