Vickers Vespa

The Vickers Vespa was designed as an army co-operation and reconnaissance aircraft, to replace the First World War-era Bristol Fighter. None were ordered by the RAF, but the Vespa was sold in small numbers to Bolivia and the Irish Free State, while the original prototype, in a greatly modified form, broke the World Height Record in September 1942.

The pilot’s cockpit was located under the centre line of the top wing, below a large cut-out section, which gave the pilot good upwards visibility. The lower wing was staggered back, so visibility forward and down was also good for the pilot (but poor for the observer). The narrow fuselage was suspended between the wings, so the upper wing was closer to the fuselage than was normal. The narrow fuselage was only just wide enough to carry the cameras and radio equipment required in 1924.

The Vespa Mk I was a fabric covered biplane, with a metal frame for the fuselage and a wooden frame for the wings. After the Mk I crashed it was rebuilt as the Mk II with metal framed wings

Perhaps rather absurdly for an aircraft of which only 15 were ever built, the Vespa eventually reached the Mk VII, although four of these mark numbers were successively allocated to the original prototype.

Mk I

The Vespa Mk I (Vickers Type 113) was built as a private venture in response to Air Ministry specification 30/24 for a corps reconnaissance aircraft. It was given the civil registration G-EBLD, and made its first flight in September 1925. In February 1926 the Vespa was flown to Martlesham Heath, where it performed disappointing in tests. Speed was only adequate, and despite the wing arrangement the view of the ground when flying low was poor. The aircraft was then badly damaged in a crash on 24 June 1926, and was rebuilt as the Mk. II. In the same week Vickers learnt that they would not be receiving any RAF orders for the Vespa.


The Vespa was rebuilt with a new Jupiter VI engine and metal framed wings. It was also given a new type number – 119. The Vespa Mk II was slightly faster, with a higher ceiling and better climb rate than the Mk I, and impressed a Bolivian military mission enough for them to order six Vespa Mk IIIs in 1928.


The Mk III (Type 149) saw another improvement in performance. The metal wings of the Mk II were replaced with stiffer lighter wings, which reduced the weight of the aircraft. Like the Mk II it outperformed the Mk I. A number of improvements were made to crew comfort, and the general aerial performance was improved by the moving forward of the centre of gravity. Six Mk IIIs were delivered to Bolivia between 9 April and 25 July 1929, where they were used in the mountainous parts of the country. One of these Vespas broke the South American height record when it reached 27,000ft. They do not appear to have played any significant part in the Gran Chaco war.


The second country to buy the Vespa was the Irish Free State, which ordered four Mk IVs (Type 193) in 1929 and four Mk Vs in the following year. These aircraft were all powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar VIC geared radial engine. On the Mk IV the engine was equipped with a Townend ring. The four Mk IVs were delivered on 14 April 1930.

Mk V

The Vespa Mk V (Type 208) was the designation given to the second batch of four aircraft ordered for the Irish Air Corps. Two were delivered on 26 March 1941, and two on 31 March. They included a number of refinements over the Mk IV, and lacked the Townend ring. The Irish Vespa remained in use throughout the mid 1930s.


In 1931 the original Vespa received its fourth mark number and type number and second civil registration, when it became the Vickers Type 210,  Vespa Mk VI, registration  in preparation for a trip to China, where Vickers hoped to win a production contract from the Chinese Central Government. The Mk VI was given a new Bristol Jupiter VIIF supercharged engine and a Fairey-Reed metal propeller. Many of the improvements made to the Irish Mk IVs were also fitted to the Mk VI. Performance was significantly better than had been the case for the Mk II, with top speed up by 20mph and service ceiling by 5,000ft. The trip to China was a technical success, with the Vespa performing well in difficult conditions, but not a commercial success. The Mk VI returned to Britain, where it would become the Mk VII.


The final incarnation of the original Vespa was as the Type 250, Vespa Mk VII. The Vespa was given another new engine – this time a supercharged Bristol Pegasus “S”, and on 16 September 1932 was used to capture the World Height Record, when it reached 43,976ft. After its record breaking flight the aircraft was purchased by the Air Ministry, and from 1933 was used by the RAE for high-altitude research. It later went to No.4 Squadron, before on 15 June 1938 moving to the No.15 School of Technical Training.






Bristol Jupiter VI

Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar VIC

Bristol Jupiter VIIF














31ft 3in


32ft 6in


10ft 3in

10ft 6in

10ft 6in

Empty Weight




Gross Weight




Max Speed at 10000ft





21,700 ft (service)

26,000ft (absolute)

26,700ft (service)



580 miles at 116 mph at 15,000ft


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 October 2008), Vickers Vespa ,

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