Vickers Wellesley Light Bomber Aircraft
Introduced in 1937, only 177 of the serviceable Vickers Wellesley bombers were produced - the line was given up as soon as 1944.
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The Vickers Wellesley was one of two aircraft submitted by the Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd company to fulfill Air Ministry Specification G.4/31 of 1931 calling for a multirole/general purpose torpedo bombing platform - the second being the Type 253 biplane. The Type 253 biplane was eventually realized as a flyable prototype form and 150 of the type were ordered. Vickers then proceeded to work as a private venture on the Type 246 which was more in line with the light bomber role against no standing requirement. A first flight followed on June 19th, 1935.
Due to the promising nature of the Type 246 design, the order for the Type 253 was reduced and ended with a sole example being completed. The Type 246 managed a better return with 96 being contracted for production set to begin in March 1937. Air Ministry Specification 22/35 of 1935 was written to satisfy the Type 246's procurement.
Adopted as the "Wellesley", the finalized aircraft was a gangly creature. It featured two separate cockpits for its crew of three, creating a "double-hump" shape along the fuselage spine. A radial piston engine was fitted to the front of the fuselage with a single-finned conventional tail unit held aft. The wing mainplanes were straight appendages, mounted low along the fuselage sides. The aircraft used a "geodetic" airframe construction approach (designed by Barnes Wallis) which was intended to promote a stronger airframe. The wheeled undercarriage (in "tail dragger" configuration) was retractable but only through a manual process. The bomb load was to be carried in panniers held under the wings so as to not disrupt the special construction of the fuselage.
Power was from a Bristol Pegasus XX serial radial piston engine of 925 horsepower. Performance specifications included a maximum speed of 228 miles per hour, a range out to 1,220 miles, and a service ceiling of 25,500 feet. Cruising speeds were in the 180 miles per hour neighborhood.
Standard defensive armament was a single .303 caliber Vickers machine gun fitted to the starboard side wing in a fixed, forward-firing mount. A .303 caliber Vickers K machine gun was fitted on a trainable mount in the rear cockpit. The bomb load totaled 2,000 pounds.
The initial production models were known as Wellesley Mk I and these were delivered to the Royal Air Force's squadron No. 76 during April of 1937. By May of 1938, 177 total aircraft were delivered. Three specially-modified Wellesleys were used to set a world distance record on November 5th, 1938, traveling from Ismailia, Egypt to Darwin, Australia. The Wellesley Mk II differed only in that it had a single-piece cockpit canopy offering better streamlining.
Vickers delved into other related models that included the Type 289 serving as an engine testbed, the Type 291 as a "blind flying" model, the Type 292 which numbered three aircraft and were the ones used in the RAF's Long-Range Development Flight program mentioned above, the Type 294 for its reinforced wing elements, and the Type 402 experimental platform.
When Britain declared war on Germany in September of 1939, the Wellesley was still available in number though it was clear the aircraft was of an obsolete type. By this time, they were primarily based in the Middle East and ended up taking sorties over East Africa against Italian targets. Their range was an exceptional quality for bombing though the line was highly susceptible to Italian intercepting biplane fighters in the theater as the British bombers flew largely unescorted to this point in the war. The Wellesley maintained some value in raids and general reconnaissance work that continued into September of 1942. The line was retired in full during 1944. At least three Wellesleys were sold off to the Egyptian government to serve the local air force. Another notable operator became the South African Air Force.
Despite their limited production numbers, the Wellesley and her crews were able to provide some useful service in the early going of World War 2.