Westland Wapiti

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The Westland Wapiti was a biplane general purpose aircraft designed to replace the D.H.9A in RAF service. During the late 1920s the RAF was forced to operate on a very tight budget, and so the original 1926 specification for the new aircraft called for a design that used as many components as possible from the D.H.9a. Westland had built over 400 D.H.9As, and so was in a good position to design a suitable aircraft. Their prototype first flew in early 1927, and was entered into a contest at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath.

The new aircraft was a two seat biplane, with two open cockpits and fixed landing gear. Both wings were straight, with the upper wing slightly ahead of the lower.

The Wapiti won the contract, beating seven competitors. The clossest competitor was the all-metal Vickers Valiant, but the Wapiti was able to use a number of D.H.9a spares, then available in large quantities at R.A.F. bases around the world. As designed the Wapiti used the same wings, ailerons and interplane struts as the D.H.9a, but with a new longer wider fuselage. The original design also used the same tail unit as the D.H.9a, but an error during the design process meant that the Wapiti was built 18 inches too short, and so had to be given a much larger fin and rudder.

A total of 517 Wapitis were produced for the RAF between 1928 and 1932. The aircraft was also sold to Australia, China and South Africa. At the time the Air Ministry wanted all of its general purpose aircraft to be named after mammal. Wapiti is another name for the North American Elk. 
 
Service Career

The Wapiti saw most of its active service in the early to mid 1930s. It was used as an “imperial policeman”, serving in India and the Middle East. In 1929 a Wapiti became the first aircraft to fly through the Khyber Pass (during an evacuation of civilians from Kabul).

A total of twenty one R.A.F. and three Indian Air Force squadrons used the Wapiti between 1928 and 1942. By the start of the Second World War only Squadrons No. 5 and 27 of the R.A.F. and No. 1 of the I.A.F. were still flying the Wapiti, all in India. No. 2 squadron of the I.A.F. was briefly equipped with the Wapiti during 1941, but when Japan entered the war in December 1941 all four squadron had replaced their Wapitis.

Only one squadron used the Wapiti in action during the war. No. 104 squadron of the Indian Air Force was formed from No.4 Coast Defence Flight on 1 April 1942 at Dum Dum (west Bengal). The next day the squadron moved to Vizagapatnam (Visakhapatnam), on the east coast of India, facing the Bay of Bengal. This was the exact moment that the Japanese fleet made its one sortie into the Bay of Bengal. While the main attack was made further south, against Sri Lanka, Vizagapatnam also came under attack. On 6 April a Wapiti of No. 104 squadron sighted and shadowed a Japanese force that was attacking a merchant ship. On the following day Vizagapatnam was bombed, and the Wapitis sent up in an unsuccessful attempt to find the Japanese carriers.

The squadron retained its Wapitis until November 1942, by which time it had also received a number of Westland Lysanders and Tiger Moths.

Production Variants

Mk I

Twenty five Mk Is were built to specification F.26/27. They were powered by the Jupiter VI engine and were the only Wapitis to be constructed from a mix of wood and metal, with a metal front to the otherwise wooden fuselage.

Mk  IA

The Mk IA refers to a number of Mk Is given the Jupiter VIII engine. They were used by the R.A.A.F.

Mk II

The Mk II was built to specification F.16/31. Their fuselage was entirely built from metal, using duralumin fuselage members. The wing was also made out of metal, but to the same design as the original D.H.9a wings.

Mk IIA

The Mk IIA was the main production version of the Wapiti, appearing in 1931. It was originally powered by the 550hp Jupiter V.IIIF geared engine, but was also built or modified to use the IX.F and X.FA engines. When powered by the Jupiter X.FA geared, supercharged engine the top speed of the Wapiti rose to 160 mph at 12,000ft. Over 400 Wapiti Mk IIAs were built for the RAF, and it was used by every squadron to use the aircraft.

Mk III

Thirty one Wapiti Mk IIIs were built for the South African Air Force, four at Yeovil and twenty seven in South Africa. The British aircraft used the Jupiter IXF engine, the South African aircraft a Jaguar VI.

Mk IV

The Mk IV was designed for Spain. It was the first design to have the missing 18 inches of fuselage restored. It was to be powered by a 650hp Hispano-Suiza 12Nbis engine. One prototype Mk IV was built.

Mk V

Thirty five Mk Vs were built for the RAF. They used the same engines as the Mk IIA, but featured the long fuselage used on the Mk IV.

Mk VI

The Mk VI was a dual controlled trainer produced during 1932. It was unarmed and was powered by the Jupiter IXF engine.

Mk VII

The Wapiti Mk VII was the original designation for the Westland Wallace.

Mk VIII

The Mk VIII was based on the Mk IV, but powered by a Jaguar VI engine. Four were sold to China, powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Panther IIA engine.

Specification (Mk IIA)

Engine: Bristol Jupiter VIII radial engine
Horsepower: 550hp
Span: 45ft 5in
Length: 32ft 6in
Empty Weight: 3,180lb
Max takeoff Weight: 5,400lb
Ceiling: 20,600ft
Speed: 135mph at 5,000ft
Cruising speed: 110mph at 20,600ft
Range: 360 miles
Climb to 5,000ft: 4.3 minutes
Armament: One 0.303in forward firing machine-gun, one Lewis gun in rear cockpit
Bomb load: 580lb

Squadron Service (with dates)

Squadron

Mk I

Mk IIA

5

 

1931-1940

11

1928

1929-1932

20

 

1932-1935

24

Uncertain

Uncertain

27

 

1930-1940

28

 

1931-1936

30

 

1929-1935

31

 

1931-1939

39

 

1929-1931

55

 

1930-1937

60

 

1930-1939

84

 

1928-1935

501

 

1930-1933

600

 

1929-1935

601

 

1929-1933 (and VI)

602

 

1929-1934

603

 

1930-1934

604

 

1930-1935

605

 

1930-1934

607

 

1932-1937

608

 

1930-1937

1 IAF

 

1933-1941

2 IAF

 

1941

104 IAF

 

1942

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 November 2007), Westland Wapiti, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_westland_wapiti.html

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