A rare colour Wartime photograph of a production Whirlwind fighter (pic from facebook.com/Whirlwindincolour/photos...)
Painting by James Field showing an attack by Whirlwinds and titled, "263 Squadron Rhubarb 19-10-43" (pic from jamesfieldillustrations.co.uk):
Design, Development and Production History
By the middle of the 1930s, aircraft designers the world over were becoming concerned with the general increase in aircraft attack speeds; the time interval for firing at the enemy was decreasing, implying less ammunition hitting the target and ensuring destruction. Instead of using two rifle-calibre machine guns, six or eight were now required; eight machine guns could fire 256 rounds per second. Even with eight machine guns, however, a fighter could not easily knock out an opponent and the rifle-calibre rounds tended to be dispersed unless the distance matched that at which the guns were harmonized to be most effective. The solution to this problem could be at least partially solved by replacing machine guns with cannon - such as the French 20 mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 - which could fire explosive ammunition; attention therefore turned to aircraft designs that could carry four cannon. A secondary problem that required attention was the short range of the most agile fighter planes in spite of their low weight and small size; they carried only a meagre supply of fuel. If fighter aircraft were to perform long-range offensive roles rather than just defence and interception, there would be a need for larger airframes and bigger fuel loads, and these characteristics were best served by twin-engined designs.
The development of the new (8-machine gun) Hawker Hurricane and Spitfire fighters overtook earlier designs for a high-performance machine-gun monoplane, and the RAF Air Staff now decided that the time had come to initiate a parallel focus on the development of a heavier fighter, possibly with two engines, armed with the 20 mm cannon. Thus, in 1935 Air Ministry specification F.37/35 was issued, calling for a single-seat day and night fighter armed with four cannon. The required top speed was to be at least 40 mph (ca. 64 km/h) greater than that of contemporary bombers - at least 330 mph (ca. 531 km/h) at 15,000 feet (ca. 4,572 m).
With a view to satisfying British Air Ministry specification F.37/35, eight aircraft designs from five companies were submitted including single-engine variants of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, the single-engine Boulton Paul P.88 A & B, as well as the twin-engine P.9 from Westland and a twin-engined design from Supermarine - the Type 313. The designs were considered in May 1936, with some debate as to which would be the best engine configuration for the desired aircraft and
the Supermarine Type 313, Boulton Paul P.88, and Westland P.9 were initially chosen to remain in the frame as possible contenders. Supermarine, with its reputation for successful fast aircraft, had been the obvious first choice but at the time the contract was issued to Westland to build two prototypes of the P.9, in February 1937 (expected to be flying by mid-1938), neither Supermarine nor Boulton Paul were ready to proceed to prototype stage with their designs. Westland, on the other hand, had less work on and was more advanced with their project than their main rivals. Thus, orders for the Boulton Paul and Supermarine design prototypes, placed in December 1937, were subsequently cancelled in January of the following year in recognition of Westland being well-advanced with the P.9.
The Westland design team, under the new leadership of W. E. W. “Teddy” Petter (who later designed the English Electric Lightning and Canberra jet bomber, and the Folland Gnat jet fighter/trainer) designed an aircraft that employed state-of-the-art technology; the “P.9” designation stood for “Petter Number 9”. The innovative construction of the P.9/Whirlwind prototypes was all-metal and flush-riveted using stressed-skin duraluminium, apart from the rear-fuselage which had a magnesium alloy stressed skin. The P.9 featured a slender, tubular, monocoque fuselage with one of the first ever all-round vision bubble canopies which slid back to open; although in practise, all-round vision was good, the view directly over the nose of the plane was restricted. The taildragger landing gear assemblies all had a single wheel, with the two main wheel assemblies being on dual struts and retracting backward into the engine nacelles; the tail wheel also retracted. The finalized armament, in line with the original specification and which was to have some teething problems at the start of operational service with the guns jamming, comprised four license-built Hispano Mk I 20 mm cannon in the nose in a 2 X 2 formation, firing 600 lb (ca. 272 kg) of ammunition per minute. This ferocious firepower was somewhat limited by the fact that each cannon used a drum magazine of only 60 rounds, but at least with the cannon being clustered in the nose, problems with convergence seen in wing-mounted guns were avoided.
The P.9 design, which was largely retained through the prototypes and into Whirlwind production, was originally to be powered by two Rolls-Royce Kestrel K.25, V12, 650 HP water-cooled engine mounted in pods beneath the forward, low-set, wings; a proven and reliable power plant used in other inter-war aircraft. However, prior to the completion of the prototypes, the Kestrel engines were replaced by the newly developed and upgraded Rolls Royce Peregrine, a supercharged power plant providing 660 kW (885 HP). The Peregrine engines each drove through a de Havilland-Hydromatic three-bladed variable-pitch constant-speed propeller featuring prominent prop spinners.
The control surface arrangement for the Whirlwind prototypes was conventional, with large one-piece Fowler flaps inboard and an aileron outboard on each wing, the rear end of the engine nacelles hinging with the flaps; elevators; and a two-piece rudder split to allow movement both above and below the tailplane. The twin-tail concept in the original design had been abandoned prior to the building of the prototypes; this most radical difference between the original P.9 design and the Whirlwind prototypes was enacted when wind tunnel tests demonstrated problems with turbulent air from the engines over the tail unit, affecting tail control when the large inboard Fowler flaps were down. A single high ‘T’ tailplane was therefore adopted to keep it out of the turbulence and the rudder was now a split two-piece affair to allow movement both above and below the tailplane. A further, later, modification to improve airflow comprised the Handley Page slats fitted to the outer wings and to the leading edge of the radiator openings; these were interconnected by duraluminium torque tubes. These slats were designed as a stall protection measure and to allow slower landing speeds on shorter runways, but in June 1941, the slats were permanently wired shut for safety reasons on the recommendation of the Chief Investigator of the Accident Investigation Branch, before being dropped altogether, after two Whirlwinds crashed after failure of the outer straps during vigorous manoeuvres. Tests by the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) revealed that this measure barely affected the Whirlwind’s takeoff and landing, and flight characteristics actually improved after the slats were locked shut under the conditions when the slats normally deployed. Given this positive result and the low number of Whirlwinds destined for production (dependent on the supplies of Peregrine engines), no radical redesign of the wing was contemplated to overcome the problem of high landing speed.
The first P.9/Whirlwind prototype, L6844 (pics from worldwarphotos.info):
The first P.9 prototype, designated L6844 and now under the model name, “Whirlwind”, made its maiden flight on 11 October 1938, unarmed and painted dark grey; the pilot was Harald Penrose*. The new features had created delays in construction and there was also a delay in the delivery of the Peregrine engines and undercarriage. L6844 was passed to RAF Farnborough at the end of the year, while further service trials with the second prototype, L6845, were carried out later at Martlesham Heath. The Whirlwind immediately impressed by virtue of its excellent handling characteristics and it was found to be very easy to fly at all speeds; the only exception was inadequate directional control during take-off which necessitated an increased rudder area above the tailplane. The Whirlwind was quite small, only slightly larger than the Hurricane but smaller in terms of frontal area**. The landing gear was fully retractable and the entire aircraft was very “clean” with few openings and protuberances; radiators were in the leading edge on the inner wings rather than below the engines. This focus on streamlining, and the two Rolls Royce Peregrine engines, took the aircraft to a top speed of 360 mph (ca. 579 km/h) at 15,000 feet (ca. 4,572 m), the same speed as the latest single-engine fighters. Indeed, initial indications from the Whirlwind were so favourable over the potential problems that there was pressure to put the aircraft in production immediately; nevertheless, the Air Ministry took a cautious line. With such an innovative aircraft they wanted to wait for the results of further trials.
The second Whirlwind prototype, L6845 (the identical colour and b/w photographs are of the prototype at Martlesham Heath in July 1939 while being tested by the A&AEE; pics from upload.wikimedia.org, and below, pic from i.pinimg.com/originals):
This precautionary approach (at least initially) was validated by certain important alterations to the design of the Whirlwind found to be necessary during the prototype(s) phase. The first prototype of the P.9/Whirlwind - L6844 - used long exhaust ducts that were channelled through the wings and fuel tanks, exiting at the wing’s trailing edge; this was quickly changed to more conventional external exhausts after Harald Penrose nearly lost control when an exhaust duct broke and heat-fractured an aileron control rod. The engines were cooled by ducted radiators which were set into the leading edges of the wing centre-sections to reduce drag, and the positioning of the radiators ensured that the cockpit was properly heated - another innovation not found on many contemporary aircraft. A second change forced by circumstances was the use of the “acorn” fairing on the joint between fin and rudder. This characteristic acorn projection at the intersection between tailplane and tail fin was absent on prototype L6844, and was introduced on prototype L6845 when tests revealed severe tail vibration at speeds over 380 mph (ca. 612 km/h). The first iteration of the acorn, on prototype L6845, was smaller than that used on subsequent production aircraft, and interestingly, its introduction was more a matter of trial and error than aerodynamic theorizing.
The range of the Whirlwind was rather small, however, with a combat radius of under 300 miles (ca. 483 km) or as low as 150 miles (ca. 241 km) when in low level fighter role with normal reserves. This was to inhibit the Whirlwind’s role as an escort fighter and ultimately became one reason for the Whirlwind’s early demise; the operational range of the Whirlwind fighter was 800 miles (ca. 1,287 km), admittedly nearly double that of early Spitfires. By late 1940, just as the Whirlwind was getting underway as an operational production model, RAF Bomber Command turned to night flying and the role of escort fighters became less important. Additionally, at about this time, the Spitfire was scheduled to carry cannon as armament thus solving that particular requirement for which the Whirlwind had been devised. The RAF had changed tack and the main qualities looked for in a twin-engined fighter were now extended range and carrying capacity and in these two regards, the Bristol Beaufighter was found to be superior to the Whirlwind.
Production orders for the Whirlwind depended on the success of the testing programme, and the over 250 modifications to the two prototypes held matters up, as did the fact that deliveries of Peregrine engines did not reach Westland until January 1940. An initial production order for 200 aircraft was held up until January 1939, and this order was followed by a second for a similar number of planes, with deliveries to fighter squadrons scheduled to begin in September 1940. Earlier, experience of lower than expected production at Westland led to suggestions that manufacture of the Whirlwind could be shifted to other firms (Fairey or Hawker) and a proposal was made in early 1939 to build 800 of the aircraft at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory; a plan that was dropped in favour of Spitfire production. In fact, all the Whirlwinds were built by Westland at Yeovil.
Silhouette drawing of the Westland Whirlwind (pic from airvectors.net):
Going back to the P.9/Whirlwind prototypes and their role in finalizing the Whirlwind as an operational fighter, there were certain other differences between L6844 and L6845, and differences between these prototypes and production models. Only these prototypes and the first production sample (P6966) had mudguards above the wheels. More importantly, L6844 had contra-rotation engines whereas L6845 had same-rotation engines, as did the subsequent production aircraft, and crucially as it turned out, the two prototypes featured different propeller blades. This last-mentioned difference was to be a key factor in the exacerbation of what could have been a more minor, less decisive, problem with the Whirlwind - a fall-off in performance at high altitudes over about 15,000 feet (4.57 kilometres). For those who are interested in the technicalities of this matter, I refer you to the DAWA/WFP (2011+) article but I summarize its basic findings anyway, below.
In October 1940, at which time the production of operational Whirlwind aircraft had barely got underway and was a slow drip, Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding, CinC Fighter Command, quoted in a letter a report by the Squadron Commander presumably of 263 Squadron which damned the aircraft as having “very poor” fighting qualities above 25,000 feet, with performance falling off rapidly over and above 20,000 feet. Dowding goes on to say in the letter that, given the strategic importance of performance, manoeuvrability, and climb, at high altitudes, a difference of 2,000 feet in service ceiling is a very important advantage. He concludes that it “seems quite wrong to introduce at the present time a fighter whose effective ceiling is 25,000 feet”. Also in 1940, the Mk I Whirlwind was tested with No. 25 Squadron as a night fighter in 1940. The first prototype was armed experimentally with twelve Browning 0.303 machine guns, while a second aircraft was fitted with a single 37 mm cannon firing through an extended and modified nose; these experiments were not followed up, however.
At the time, the weakness in the Whirlwind's high altitude performance was put down to problems with the Peregrine engine, and in particular with the supercharger failing to provide enough boost at high altitudes. And yet, there had been no such problems at altitude noted by Martlesham Heath on testing the L6845 prototype, Martlesham Heath gave the aircraft a ceiling of 31,000 feet, and didn’t refer to any rpm problems and boost issues - nor did they mention a related problem, spotted by Whirlwind pilots, of serious overheating of the starboard engine in a climb at heights of over 18,000 feet.
Interesting research by DAWA/WFP, contained in their paper and addendum (DAWA/WFP (2011+)) has unearthed the fact that prototype L6845, which provided the RAF with its detailed test/trial figures for assessing the Whirlwind for production, did not use the same propellers as prototype L6844 and all subsequent production Whirlwinds. Instead of the rather thick (for a high-speed fighter) de Havilland 54409 blades found on L6844 and production Whirlwinds, L6845 used a one-off Rotol blade design of unknown type which resulted in better performance of engine and aircraft at height and no overheating of the starboard engine; this error was to mar the high altitude effectiveness of the Whirlwind and was partly instrumental in shortening the operational life of the type. In mitigation, it has to be said that the effects of compressibility on propellers was only just beginning to be investigated and understood at this time, when already chosen props were hung on the aircraft without proper consideration.
In consideration of the choice of peregrine engines for the Whirlwind, it also needs pointing out that the Peregrine engine itself, though much-maligned, was more reliable than the Napier Sabre engine used in the Hawker Typhoon, the Whirlwind’s successor. Nevertheless, the inflexibility of the Whirlwind’s design in terms of choice of power plant did turn out to be a disadvantage and adversely affected the operational life of the type, especially when Rolls Royce decided to concentrate on development and production of the Merlin and Vulture engines rather than the Peregrine; note that no further Peregrine production was undertaken after the end of 1940. There was a suggestion by Westland that Merlin (or even the later Griffin) engines should be fitted to the Whirlwind, proposed in a letter to Air Marshal Sholto, but it was rejected; Fitting the heavier (30% weightier than the Peregrine) Merlin engine would have entailed such a redesign as to constitute virtually a brand-new aircraft type. Westland subsequently used the design work already undertaken for this idea in developing the Welkin high-altitude fighter***.
Westland Whirlwind Mk I fighter (P7056), "Pride of Yeovil" (pic from Westland Whirlwind Fighter Project at facebook.com):
The Westland Whirlwind was generally well-liked by the pilots who flew it. In service, both RAF squadrons who flew Whirlwinds reported that the aircraft was extremely stable and fast at low altitudes. The undisputable faults of poorer performance at high altitude and high landing speed were, of course, duly noticed and required a degree of flexible adaptation approach when it came to deciding on suitable missions for the Whirlwind. As to the overall performance of the Whirlwind, Moyes (1967) states the following:
“The basic feature of the Whirlwind was its concentration of firepower: its four closely-grouped heavy cannon in the nose had a rate of fire of 600 lb/ minute - which, until the introduction of the Beaufighter, placed it ahead of any fighter in the world. Hand in hand with this dense firepower went a first-rate speed and climb performance, excellent manoeuvrability, and a fighting view hitherto unsurpassed. The Whirlwind was, in its day, faster than the Spitfire down low and, with lighter lateral control, was considered to be one of the nicest “twins” ever built… From the Flying viewpoint, the Whirlwind was considered magnificent.”
Production of the Whirlwind ended in January 1942 with the last Whirlwind delivery also in that month, after completion of the two prototypes and just 114 production aircraft, and the plane remained in service until late in 1943. Ironically, the secrecy behind the Whirlwind project ended only a month after the end of production, when the aircraft was finally announced to the public, despite the fact that the French and Germans knew about the plane before the outbreak of the War. After cancellation of the Whirlwind, Petter campaigned for a Whirlwind Mk II, to be powered by an improved 1010 hp Peregrine engine with a better, higher altitude, supercharger. This came to nothing, however, when Rolls Royce pulled the plug on the Peregrine. It should be noted here that there was an operational so-called “Mk II” Whirlwind, nicknamed the “Whirlibomber” and comprising the conversion of at least sixty-seven Mk I fighters to fighter-bomber configuration merely by fitting bomb racks under the wings; the aircraft could then carry two 250 lb or 500 lb bombs.
One of the last production Whirlwinds (P7110) being flown here by Harald Penrose (pic from Whirlwind Fighter project at warhistoryonline.com):
Initial delays in the supply of Peregrine engines and then, later, the end of Rolls Royce production of the Peregrine at the end of 1940, having never quite got to grips with reliability issues, and the poor performance of the engine at high altitudes combined to make an important factor in the limited numbers and premature demise of the Whirlwind, but not the only one. The landing speed problem was a more minor irritation, and more seriously, a change in RAF priorities with regard to strategy and operations, already mentioned above, did not help the Whirlwind’s longer-term prospects, and as time went on, there were other aircraft that could fulfil the roles that had been designed with the Whirlwind in mind. Put bluntly, the Whirlwind was soon deemed to be an unnecessary aircraft, and notably used three times the amount of alloy as was used to build a Spitfire; twin-engine long-range bomber escort fighters turned out to be an unfulfilled brief. As for the fighter-bomber configuration where Whirlwinds were converted to fighter-bomber status, the RAF were gifted with two fine alternative aircraft, the Bristol Beaufighter and the de Havilland Mosquito, and it was the Mosquito rather than the Whirlwind that was to lead directly to the superb Hornet twin-engine fighter - an aircraft that could be seen as embodying everything that might have ever been expected of the Whirlwind. There is also some worth in comparing the story of the Whirlwind to another, more successful, twin-engined fighter of World War 2, the American Lockheed P.38 Lightning, but the history of the P.38 is beyond the remit of this article.
The first Whirlwinds went to 25 Squadron based at North Weald, at which time the squadron was operating with radar-equipped Bristol Blemheim IF night fighters. Squadron Leader K. A. K. MacEwan flew prototype Whirlwind L6845 from Boscombe Down to North Weald on 30 May 1940 and the following day it was flown and inspected by four of the squadron’s pilots. On 1 August, the prototype was inspected by the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Lord Trenchard. The first two production Whirlwinds were delivered to 25 Squadron in June 1940 for night-flying trials, but it was decided, on the basis that the squadron was already operational as a night fighter unit, that it would be equipped with the two-seat Bristol Beaufighter night fighter.
The first Whirlwind squadron would be 263 Squadron, which was reforming at Grangemouth in Scotland after disastrous losses in the Norwegian campaign. The first production Whirlwind was delivered to 263 Squadron by its commander, Squadron Leader H. Eeles, on 6 July 1940, an immediate problem being the slow delivery of the new planes. The first Whirlwind to be written off was P6966 when, on 7 August, pilot Officer McDermott experienced a tyre blow out on taking off. Having managed to get the aircraft airborne, McDermott was informed by Flight Control of the dangerous state of his undercarriage, and he bailed out of the aircraft between Grangemouth and Sterling. As for the stricken plane, it dived and buried itself eight feet into the ground. Much later, in October 1979, the remains of P6966 were recovered near Grangemouth including the two Peregrine engines and many pieces of the airframe; on examination of these it was noticed that the defective tyre was of incorrect size - designed to fit the Hawker Hurricane, the aircraft type that 263 Squadron was also operating at the time.
On 17 August, the squadron had only five Whirlwinds, none of them serviceable, and it was necessary to supplement the squadron’s strength in the meantime with Hawker Hurricanes just to keep the pilots flying. Despite the urgent need for fighters further south during the Battle of Britain, 263 Squadron remained in Scotland for an undue length of time; Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, in charge of Fighter Command, stated on 17 October that 263 could not be deployed to the south because “there was no room for ‘passengers’ in that part of the world”. This slight against the new fighter resulted in no Whirlwinds experiencing combat in the Battle of Britain, where the type might have proved itself as a useful addition to the RAF at the time if it had been made in sufficient numbers by that time. Finally, 263 Squadron moved south to RAF Exeter and was declared operational with the Whirlwind on 7 December 1940. Initial operations comprised convoy patrols and anti E-boat missions. The first confirmed Whirlwind kill took place on 8 February 1941, with the shooting down of an Arado Ar 196 float plane; unfortunately, the pilot of the Whirlwind was killed when his plane crashed into the sea. From then on, the squadron successfully pitted their Whirlwinds against enemy Junkers Ju 88s, Dornier Do 217s, Messerschmidt Bf 109s and Focke-Wulfe Fw 190s.
Westand Whirlwind MkI fighter (P6969) of 263 Squadron in flight over the West Country in the UK (pic from warhistoryonline.com):
263 Squadron also occasionally carried out day bomber escort missions with the Whirlwind. On 12 August 1941, for example, Whirlwinds formed part of the escort of 54 Blenheims on a low-level raid against power stations near Cologne. Unfortunately, the poor range of the fighters, including the Whirlwinds, meant that they had to turn back near Antwerp, leaving the Blenheims to fend for themselves - ten of these bombers were lost.
Once well-established with their Whirlwind aircraft, 263 Squadron mainly flew low-level attack sorties across the Channel (“Rhubarbs” when against ground targets and “Roadstead” attacks when against shipping). At low level, the Whirlwind proved a match for German fighters, as evidenced by an anti-shipping strike on 6 August 1941, when four Whirlwinds were intercepted by a large formation of Messerschmidt Bf109s. The Whirlwinds claimed three Bf 109s destroyed for no losses.
In September 1941, a second Whirlwind squadron, 137, was formed, specializing in railway targets. The worst losses incurred by 137 Squadron occurred on 12 February 1942 during the Channel Dash, when they were sent to escort five British destroyers, unaware of the escaping German warships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Four Whirlwinds took off at 13.10 hours and soon sighted warships through the clouds about 20 miles (ca. 32 km) from the Belgian coast. They descended to investigate and were immediately jumped by about 20 Bf 109s of Jagdgegeschwader 2. With the odds stacked against them, the Whirlwinds did their best to deal with the enemy fighters, and at 13.40, two more Whirlwinds were sent up to relieve the first four, followed by another two at 14.25; four of the eight Whirlwinds failed to return.
Westland Whirlwind Mk I fighter (pics from airvectors.com):
In the summer of 1942, both 263 and 137 Whirlwind squadrons were fitted with racks to carry two 250 lb (113.4 kg) or 500 lb (226.8 kg) bombs - the “Mk II” conversion Whirlibombers. These undertook low-level cross-channel “Rhubarb” sweeps attacking locomotives, bridges, shipping and other targets. From 24 October until 26 November 1943, Whirlwinds of 263 Squadron made several heavy attacks against the German blockade runner Münsterland, in dry dock at Cherbourg. Up to twelve Whirlwinds at a time were involved in dive bombing attacks carried out from 12,000-5,000 feet (ca. 3,700-1,524 m) during which the planes were met by very heavy anti-aircraft fire. Amazingly, virtually all the bombs fell within 500 yards (ca. 457 m) of the target and only one Whirlwind was lost during the attacks.
The last Whirlwind operation to be flown by 137 Squadron was on 21 June 1943 when five Whirlwinds took off on a “Rhubarb” mission against the German airfield at Poix. P.6993 was unable to locate the target and instead bombed a supply train orth of Rue. While returning, the starboard throttle jammed in the fully open position and the engine gradually lost power. The aircraft made a forced-landing in a field next to RAF Manston and although the plane was a write-off, the pilot walked away unhurt - a surprisingly frequent event given the strength of the Whirlwind. In fact, the placement of the wings and engines ahead of the cockpit allowed the Whirlwind to absorb a great deal of damage, while the cockpit remained relatively intact; the rugged frame of the type gave pilots exceptional protection during crash landings and ground accidents when compared to other contemporary aircraft. Additionally, a Whirlwind with a wounded engine could make it home on just the other power plant. In the same month as their last Whirlwind operation, June 1943, No. 137 Squadron exchanged their Whirlwinds for rocket-firing Hawker Hurricanes.
Whirlwinds of 263 Squadron flying in formation at medium-low altitude over the SWest Country, UK (pic from upload.wikimedia.org):
YouTube video of a Whirlwind squadron in 1943 from British Pathé; the material was unissued and its location and exact date is not known (youtu.be/dWFg3X2FmRg):
No. 263 Squadron, the first and last squadron to operate the Whirlwind, flew its last Whirlwind mission on 29 November 1943; in December of that year the squadron gave up its Whirlwinds and converted to the Hawker Typhoon. On 1 January, the type was declared obsolete. The remaining serviceable aircraft were transferred to No. 18 Maintenance Unit in Dumfries, Scotland, where ultimately, all but two of the surviving Whirlwinds were scrapped after an official letter forbade aircraft needing repair to be worked on. One of the remaining two Whirlwinds (P7048), disarmed and painted blue, was retained by Westland and was granted a certificate of airworthiness on 10 October 1946, with the registration G-AGOI. After being used as a company hack - executive transport for company staff - for a while, this survivor was withdrawn in 1947 and scrapped. The second Whirlwind retiree (P6994), from 263 Squadron, was sent to the US (Navy) for gunnery trials in June 1942, and survived there until at least late 1944, when it was scrapped. Leaving aside these two “oddities”, the (United Kingdom) Royal Air Force was the sole operator of the Westland Whirlwind twin-engine fighter/fighter-bomber and there are no remaining Whirlwinds today.
A superb image - this photo taken from a fine art print version - by artist Gary Eason of a Whirlwind attacking E-boats (pic from render.fineartamerica.com):
It is sometimes tempting to argue that if a plane “looks well” then it is bound to “fly well”, and in terms of aesthetics, the Whirlwind is a beautiful aircraft. At first, I did wonder about the visual dominance of the large engine nacelles and prop spinners on those slender wings, but I soon succumbed to the powerful symbolism of this visual aspect of the design
If one accepts the “looking well” aspect of the Whirlwind, we have to consider the practical flying characteristics and its success or otherwise in service during the War. There were clearly faults in the design of the Whirlwind that proved impossible to fully overcome within a sensible time frame, especially once hostilities had really got underway and air strategy involved moving goalposts away from roles that had been previously deemed ideal for the Whirlwind. There was also resistance, partially justified, to the Whirlwind from the hierarchy up above which did not help matters.
"Westland Whirlwind" by Ian Kennedy (pic from comicartfans.com at cafans.b-cdn.net):
The Westland Whirlwind was fundamentally a fine aircraft albeit its limitations, and its true métier was as a ground-attack aircraft, attacking German airfields, marshalling yards, and railway traffic. In particular the sturdiness and stability of the aircraft provided an excellent gun platform for taking out locomotives, even to the extent that some pilots managed to damage or destroy several locos on a single mission - noting that the guns only had 60 rounds of ammunition each, and the FB Mk II conversion only two bombs over and above the cannon ammunition. The Whirlwind also had success in hunting and destroying German E-boats which operated in the English Channel, and as a low-level fighter, the Whirlwind could match the Bf 109. In conclusion, it does have to be admitted that the Whirlwind was a case of “too little, too late,” with the plane being under-developed and simultaneously delayed and limited in terms of production numbers. Had the Whirlwind entered production in sufficient numbers and seen service at the start of the War, the story of this aircraft might have been very different; A multitude of factors and decisions conspired to commence the downfall of the Whirlwind almost before it could "get off the ground" so to speak, and although it successfully fulfilled its low altitude fighter/fighter-bomber role for much of the War, it was being overtaken by newer aircraft types whose performance, military capability, and ability to fulfill many roles. On a final and more positive note, I leave the reader with a quote by Francis Mason (1969), who says that:
“Bearing in mind the relatively small number of Whirlwinds that reached the RAF, the type remained in combat service, virtually unmodified, for a remarkably long time… The Whirlwind, once mastered, certainly shouldered extensive responsibilities and the two squadrons were called upon to attack enemy targets from one end of the Channel to the other, by day and night, moving from airfield to airfield within southern England.”
*Harald Penrose (1904-1996) had a distinguished career; he was chief test pilot at Westland Aircraft Ltd from 1931-1954, a naval architect and aviation author.
**Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 metres)
Wingspan: 45 ft 0 in (13.72 m)
Height: 11 ft 0 in (3.35 m)
Wing area: 250 sq ft (23 m squared)
Empty weight: 8,310 lb (3769 kg)
***In addition to the suggestion that a Merlin XX-powered Whirlwind might might be possible, other engines were considered as improvement over the Peregrine, including power plants from Vickers and America; even a pusher-type arrangement was suggested.
Note also that the Whirlwind Fighter Project, which began the building of a full-scale non-flying replica of the Whirlwind in 2011-12, is still going and has a current website (see the YouTube video below). In terms of other replicas, plans for a two thirds scale replica for home construction were marketed in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the Butterfield Westland Whirlwind.
YouTube video from the Whirlwind Fighter Project (youtu.be/G0hY_D14):
REFERENCES AND SOURCES USED FOR THE TEXT OF THIS TOPIC IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER OF AUTHOR
DAWA/WFP (undated paper & addenda, c.2011+), Department for Arm-Waving Aerodynamics/ Whirlwind Fighter Project: whirlwindfighterproject.co.uk/arm-waving-aerodynamics/
Goebel, Greg (revised 1 July 2020), “The Westland Whirlwind, Welkin, & Wyvern”: airvectors.net/avwhirl.html
MacGregor, Steve (13 January 2019), “Short-Lived & Largely Forgotten Westland Whirlwind”; War History Online: warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/westland-whirlwind.html
Mason, Francis K. (1969), Royal Air Force Fighters of World War Two, Volume One; Hylton Lacy Publishers Ltd., Windsor, Berkshire.
Moyes, Philip J. R. (1967), “Westland Whirlwind (Profile No. 191)”; Profile Publications, London.
Nash, Ed (6 December 2019), Military Matters Online: militarymatters.online/?s=westland+whirlwind
Osborne, Bob (undated) “Westland Whirlwind: A twin-engine heavy fighter”, An A-to-Z of Yeovil’s History: yeovilhistory.info/westland-whirlwind.html
Tangmere Military Aviation Museum (April 2011), Westland Whirlwind: tangmere-museum.org.uk/aircraft-month/wesgtland-whirlwind
Wikipedia (edited 12 June 2020), Westland Whirlwind (fighter): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westland_Whirlwind_(fighter)