The Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company AW27 Ensign was designed to meet the requirements of Imperial Airways for services on their European and Asian ‘Empire’ routes. It was a four engine monoplane with a clean fuselage and a retractable undercarriage. The fuselage (and cabin entry door) were low to the ground to aid passenger entry and exit.
The AW27 Ensign design was a high wing cantilever aircraft, constructed using light-alloys and configured to carry up to 40 passengers on short European routes, or up to 27 passengers on Far-Eastern routes.
It featured a hydraulically operated retractable undercarriage and fixed tailwheel. A crew of five was carried including two pilots sitting side-by-side, a radio operator, a flight clerk and a cabin steward. An additional cabin steward often replaced the ‘flight clerk’ on the shorter European routes.
The prototype AW27 Ensign (G-ADSR) made its first flight on 24th January 1938 from Hamble and at the time, the Ensign was the largest landplane to have been flown in Britain.
Twelve AW27 Ensigns were built, followed by two others constructed as AW27A Ensign II during the early part of the war. Thereafter, production rates were slowed by the greater need for AW Whitley bombers. Aircraft production took place at Air Services Training Ltd on the Hamble rather than the main AW works in Coventry due to the necessity to utilise all available capacity on war work.
Power was initially provided by four Armstrong Siddeley Tiger engines, although eight surviving aircraft were re-engined with Wright Cyclone engines during the war.
Flight trials revealed that the aircraft was underpowered and there were some concerns over engine reliability. Despite this however, the type entered service in October 1938, flying initially on the London – Paris route.
When trialed on the longer-distance route to Australia for example, concern over engine reliability and performance led to the aircraft being returned to the makers for more powerful Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IXC engines to be fitted. Continuing concerns over performance however, led to interest in fitting Wright Cyclone engines but by then the type had failed to show its potential on Imperial Airways routes, especially just before war broke out in September 1939.
Used as transports by the RAF, enemy action resulted in the early loss of three Ensigns whilst still on the ground. Subsequently, two new aircraft were built in wartime with Wright Cyclone engines as the AW27 Ensign 2.
All of the remaining aircraft were then deployed to the Near East and although continuing to suffer from being rather underpowered, the AW27 Ensigns gave valuable wartime service.
At the end of the war, six aircraft returned to the UK from India and Egypt but they were not really adequate for use as post-war airliners and they were finally withdrawn from use in mid-1946.
|AW27 Ensign I||AW27A Ensign II|
|Powerplant||Four 850 hp AS Tiger IXC||Four 950 hp Wright Cyclone GR-1820-G102A|
|Span||123 ft 0 in|
|All up weight||48,500 lb||55,500 lb|
|Capacity||Four crew and up to 40 passengers|
|Maximum Speed||200 mph||208 mph|
|Cruising speed||170 mph at 9,000 ft||180 mph|
|Endurance / Range||860 miles||1,370 miles|
Variants & Number built
|AW27 Ensign I||Four 850 hp AS Tiger IXC. 12 built|
|AW27A Ensign II||Four 950 hp Wright Cyclone GR-1820-G102A. Two built|
No AW.27 Ensign aircraft survive