Aviation Archive Issue 25 - 2016 UK

(Jacob Rumans) #1


Westland Whirlwind

Type: Twin-engined long-range
Crew: One
Length: 32ft 9in (9.98m)
Wingspan: 45ft (13.72m)
Height: 11ft 7in (3.53m)
Empty: 8,310lb (3,769kg)
Max T/O: 11,388lb (5,166kg)
Max Speed: 360mph (579km/h)
Range: 800 miles (1,288km)
Powerplant: Two Rolls-Royce
Peregrine inline piston
engines of 885hp each
Armament: Four 20mm cannon in
nose, plus up to 500lb
(230kg) of bombs

Top left: Westland Whirlwind I P7097, L-HE of
No 263 Squadron.

Left: Aerodynamically the Whirlwind was a
very ‘clean’ aircraft with few openings or
protuberances. Radiators were in the leading
edge on the inner wings rather than below the
engines. The engines drove de Havilland three-
bladed variable-pitch constant-speed propellers
featuring prominent prop spinners.

Above: The rare sight of eight Whirlwinds in formation. Presumably this was a publicity image to
illustrate the aircraft entering operational service with No 263 Squadron, probably taken around the
end of 1940.

Below: Pilots of No 137 Squadron (plus mascot) in front of their SF-coded Whirlwinds. The unit suffered
its worst losses on 12 February 1942 when they were sent to escort five British destroyers, unaware of
the escaping German warships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Four Whirlwinds took off at 13.10hrs and
soon sighted warships through the clouds about 20 miles from the Belgian coast. They descended to
investigate but were immediately jumped by about 20 Bf 109s of Jagdgeschwader 2. More Whirlwinds
joined the battle, but tragically four were shot down.

most often used in ground-attack (‘rhubarb’)
missions over France, attacking German
airfields, marshalling yards, and railway traffic.
It was also successful in hunting and destroying
German E-boats which operated in the English
Channel. Sadly, the unreliability of its engines
became an ongoing problem and although its
pilots praised its handling, they were critical
of its lack of range that made it marginal as an
escort. They also questioned its poor visibility
in the landing attitude, a feature compounded
by the type’s high landing speed. In truth, the
Whirlwind’s days were already numbered.
By late 1940, the Supermarine Spitfire was
scheduled to mount 20mm cannon so the
‘cannon-armed’ requirement was being met.
The role of escort fighter had diminished with
the move to night bombing operations, and the
Beaufighter could outperform it as a long-range
attack aircraft. The initial order for 200 aircraft
was cut to 112 and the second order for 200
was cancelled. In January 1942, following the
abandonment of the troubled Peregrine engine,
manufacture of the Whirlwind also ceased.
No 263 Squadron, the first and last squadron
to operate the type, flew its final Whirlwind
mission on 29 November 1943.

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