Armstrong Whitworth
AW27 Ensign

A four engine monoplane airliner that was, at the time of its first flight, the largest landplane yet flown in Britain.
Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign G-ADSX Imperial Airways Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign G-ADSX 'Ettrick' photographed at Croydon Airport.


The Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign was designed to meet the requirements of Imperial Airways for services on their European and Asian ‘Empire’ routes. The Ensign 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 Ensign, a high wing cantilever aircraft constructed using light-alloys, was designed to carry up to 40 passengers on short European routes and up to 27 passengers on Far-Eastern routes. It featured a hydraulically operated retractable undercarriage and fixed tailwheel. A crew of five was carried – two pilots sitting side-by-side, a radio operator, a flight clerk and a cabin steward. An additional cabin steward replaced the ‘flight clerk’ on the shorter European routes.
The prototype (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 built as AW27A Ensign II during the war although production rates were slowed by the greater need for AW Whitley bombers.  Production took place at Air Services Training Ltd on the Hamble rather than the main AW works in Coventry
Power was initially provided by four AS 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, the type entered service in October 1938, flying initially on the London – Paris route. When trialled on the long-distance route to Australia however, concerns over engine reliability and performance led to the aircraft being returned to the makers. More powerful Tiger IXC engines were fitted. Continuing concerns over performance led to interest in fitting Wright Cyclone engines but the type had failed to show its potential on Imperial Airways routes before war broke out in September 1939.

Used as transports by the RAF, enemy action resulted in the early loss of three Ensigns on the ground. Subsequently, two new aircraft were built in wartime with Wright Cyclone engines as the Ensign 2. All of the remaining aircraft were then deployed to the Near East and although continuing to suffer from being rather underpowered, the 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 were withdrawn from use in mid-1946.
Armstrong Whitworth AW27 Ensign G-ADSW AW27 Ensign G-ADSW 'Eddystone' being recovered after a landing accident whilst in RAF service.


                                  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