12/31/2010. Armstrong Whitworth's third airliner type, the Ensign, was the largest machine built in pre-war days for Imperial Airways Ltd. and, like the Atalanta, was a four-engine high-wing cantilever monoplane designed by John Lloyd. There the similarity ended, the newcomer being of almost twice the physical size, three times the all-up weight, of all-metal stressed skin construction, and fitted with an enormous retractable under-carriage. Power plants were four 850 hp Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IX engines.
The need for the Ensign followed a Government decision in 1934 to carry all first-class Empire mail by air and an order for 12 machines, later increased to 14, was placed in 1935. The Whitley factory was working to capacity on the bomber to which it gave its name, with the result that all Ensign construction took place at Hamble, in the hangars of Air Service Training Ltd., another member of the Hawker Siddeley Group.
Relays of minor modifications called for by Imperial Airways during the construction of the prototype G-ADSR, delayed its first flight until January 24, 1938, the initial test being carried out by test pilots C.K. Turner-Hughes and E.S. Greenwood. After flight trials during which fuel starvation brought about a lucky forced landing at Bicester, the machine qualified for its CofA, and flew its first service to Paris on October 20, 1938 piloted by Turner-Hughes. It carried 27 passengers in three cabins and was intended for the distant Empire routes, sleeping accommodation being alternatively provided for 20.
Four machines, 'Eddystone', 'Ettrick', 'Empyrean' and 'Elysian' differed internally, having seats for 40 passengers and were known as the European model. They were preceded on the production line by the Empire models 'Egeria', 'Elsinore', 'Euterpe' and 'Explorer', the first three of which were used to fly the 1938 Christmas mail to Australia, but falling by the wayside with engine and other defects, were returned to the makers. More powerful Tiger IXc engines of 935 hp, driving constant-speed propellers, were then fitted, but the delay prevented any further pre-war flying by Ensigns on Empire routes.
By the outbreak of war in 1939 all but one of the first 12 Ensigns had been delivered, and after evacuation from Croydon to Baginton a few were used under the aegis of National Air Communications for carrying food, ammunition and other stores to British Forces in France. Many and varied were the flight experiences of the camouflaged Ensign fleet in confused, war-torn Europe during 1939-1940. Inevitably a number of machines were lost by enemy action.
Arduous service flying again proved the Ensign to be underpowered, and in 1941-1942 the eight survivors, now in BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) service, were re-engined with 950 hp Wright Cyclone GR-1820-G102A engines, and their designation amended to A.W. 27 Mk.2. The final pair of machines, 'Everest' and 'Enterprise', on which work had stopped in 1939, were completed with the new engines in 1941, and in the following year the fleet was ferried through Portreath to the Near East. Here it was used on a shuttle service linking east and west African ports.
In the course of these ferry flights, 'Everest' was shot up by a Heinkel He 111 over the Bay of Biscay and was forced to return to England for repairs and 'Enterprise' encountering engine trouble enroute to South Africa, made a forced landing on the West African coast near Nouakchott (presently in Mauritania) in February 1942 and was abandoned. 'Enterprise' was later repaired by the French and registered F-AFZV it was flown to Vichy France, reregistered F-BAHD and eventually fell into German hands. It was re-engined with Daimler Benz motors, and subsequently used as a German VIP-transport, at least being seen as far afield as Finland.
The final assignment allotted to the nine survivors was the operation of the Cairo-Calcutta section of the Australia route, a task faithfully carried out until their retirement in 1945. With the exception of the prototype, scrapped following an accidental undercarriage retraction, and 'Euterpe' cannibalized at Almaza to make their return possible, all the remaining machines were flown home. The last passengers to fly in an Ensign, left Almaza on June 3, 1946 in 'Eddystone' piloted by Capt. O. Pritchard on the ferry flight to the British terminal, Hurn. Each of the once-proud Ensigns was there taken out of service to make its last short flight of 23 mls (37 km) to be broken up at its birthplace, Hamble.
Fourteen aircraft were produced, first 12 delivered to Imperial Airways, last 2 to its successor BOAC:
G-ADSR c/n 1156. (View also photo 3280A and 4022.)
First flown January 24, 1938, delivered October 5, 1938, named Ensign (Phillip Hayes Collection), withdrawn from use September 1944 at Cairo, Egypt, and cannibalized.
G-ADSS c/n 1157.
First flown May 28, 1938, delivered November 11, 1938, named Egeria, scrapped at Hamble April 13, 1947.
G-ADST c/n 1158.
First flown November 7, 1938, delivered November 11, 1938, named Elsinore (Phillip Hayes Collection), scrapped at Hamble March 28, 1947.
G-ADSU c/n 1159.
First flown November 12, 1938, delivered November 24, 1938, named Euterpe, withdrawn from use February 1945 at Cairo, and cannibalized.
G-ADSV c/n 1160.
First flown November 24, 1938, delivered same day, named Explorer, scrapped at Hamble March 24, 1947.
G-ADSW c/n 1161.
First flown December 11, 1938, delivered June 15, 1939, named Eddystone, scrapped at Hamble April 21, 1947.
G-ADSX c/n 1162.
First flown February 27, 1939, delivered June 7, 1939, named Ettrick, damaged by air attack and burned at Le Bourget, Paris, France, June 1, 1940.
G-ADSY c/n 1163.
First flown June 19, 1939, delivered June 21, 1939, named Empyrean, scrapped at Hamble April 21, 1947.
G-ADSZ c/n 1164.
First flown June 25, 1939, delivered June 29, 1939, named Elysian, damaged by air attack and burned at Merville, France, May 23, 1940.
G-ADTA c/n 1165.
First flown August 19, 1939, delivered same day, named Euryalus, damaged by air attack enroute from Merville, France to Croydon, UK, May 23, 1940, withdrawn from use Hamble, and cannibalized.
G-ADTB c/n 1166.
First flown August 19, 1939, delivered same day, named Echo, scrapped at Hamble March 20, 1947.
G-ADTC c/n 1167.
First flown June 25, 1939, delivered June 29, 1939, named Endymion, damaged by air attack and burned at Whitchurch, UK, November 24, 1940.
G-AFZU c/n 1821.
First flown June 20, 1941, delivered 1941, named Everest, scrapped at Hamble April 16, 1947.
G-AFZV c/n 1822.
First flown October 28, 1941, delivered October 30, 1941, named Enterprise, taken over by the French in 1942, registered F-AFZV, reregistered F-BAHD, taken over by German forces, reportedly scrapped in 1943.