Armstrong Whitworth Argosy
The Argosy was designed to meet Imperial Airways 1925 specification for a ‘Middle East’ multi-engine aircraft which could be flown by a crew of two, accommodate twenty passengers and have a range of 500 miles when flying into a 30mph headwind, there were two versions known as the Mk I & II. Unlike modern aircraft, which have production runs of many thousands, commercial aircraft in the 1920s were built in very low volumes.
This aircraft was a large biplane having wooden wings with the fuel tanks situated beneath the upper wing section with power being provided by three 385hp direct drive Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar engines. One engine was accommodated in the nose of the aircraft with the other two being slung either side of the fuselage between the wing sections. The fuselage was box-shaped and constructed of steel tubes with a wooden floor, with the sides, and roof covered in fabric. The tailplane was also of a biplane construction with three fins and rudders. The open pilot’s cockpit was situated well forward above the fuselage.
The twenty passengers were seated either side of a central gangway with opening windows beside each seat. Situated towards the rear of the cabin was a toilet and behind that a baggage compartment, while the freight hold was located under the pilot’s cockpit
This image shows the relative size of people to that of the aircraft.
Also, note the opening windows
Following two years of successful and profitable service, (refer to 'Argosy in Service' below) Imperial Airways ordered four more Argosy planes. These were all MkII versions which were equipped with the more powerful geared Jaguar IVA engine developing 410hp. Other improvements included the fitting of automatic wingtip slots on the top wing and increasing the fuel capacity to 360 imperial gallons (1636.5litres) enough for a flight of 530 miles. These aircraft were delivered in 1929 and were named as City of Edinburgh, City of Manchester, City of Liverpool and City of Coventry. Once these aircraft were in service the Argosy Mk1s were retro fitted with the improved Jaguar IVA engines.
Argosies in Service.
The inaugural passenger carrying service was flown from Croydon, the then main London airport, to Paris on the 26th of July 1926. Later in the year regular flights commenced between Croydon and Brussels and this was followed by services to Cologne and Basle.
Argosy at Croydon on a wet day
From 1929 Imperial Airways started to operate a scheduled mail service from Croydon to Karachi, which at that time was part of India. As speedy transit of mail was the real money maker it was understandably given priority. Depending on the volume and weight of mail any spare capacity also allowed some passengers to be carried, on this route at a cost of £130 each. The Argosy City of Glasgow operated the first leg of the journey by way of Paris to Basle in North West Switzerland.
Because of inter government wrangling the next leg of the journey to Genoa required mail and passengers be transferred to a train. The next stage from Genoa to Alexandria in Egypt was completed by a Short Bros. Calcutta Flying boat. From Egypt a de Havilland Hercules aircraft completed the journey across the desert to Bagdad and then onwards to Karachi along the shores of Persia and Balochistan. It is interesting that such an eclectic mix of aircraft was needed to complete this trail blazing route that took six days to complete compared to the fastest land and sea route of fifteen days; truly the age of intercontinental air travel had arrived!
Two of the four MKII Argosys delivered in 1929 had to be transferred from European duties to fly the air mail route from Cairo to Khartoum. This was made necessary because of the late delivery of the Handley Page 42 airliners specially ordered for this route. The flight to Khartoum, which was a distance of some 1,000 miles, was covered in two days, requiring an overnight stop at Aswan.
The Africa service was not without its problems, first the City of Birmingham suffered an engine failure at Kareima. Later the same aircraft had to make a forced landing outside of the airfield at Aswan. No one was injured but the aircraft was written off, requiring the City of Glasgow to be sent out from England as a replacement. Murphy’s Law now came into play with the City of Edinburgh being written off whilst a new pilot was on type training, again fortunately, no one was injured. These incidents, together with the unplanned transfer of the Argosy aircraft to Egypt, must have made running an efficient European operation very difficult.
After many years of service during which time no passenger had been injured, a tragic accident did occur in March 1933 when the City of Liverpool en route from Brussels to London, caught fire in the air near Dixmude, Belgium. The aircraft descended from around 2,000ft with smoke pouring from it, the fuselage broke in two at about 200ft from the ground and the aircraft crashed, killing all of the three crew and twelve passengers. Air accident investigators discovered that the fire started in the area of the toilet or extreme rear of the cabin and came to the conclusion that it was due to either deliberate sabotage, accidental ignition by a passenger or spontaneous combustion in the baggage compartment.
The Handley Page 42’s were finally delivered for service in Africa towards the end of 1933 allowing the two Argosies to return to service on the European routes, where they all continued to operate until they were finally withdrawn in 1934. The chapter was not quite over because the City of Manchester was sold to United Airways and used by them till 1936 to give joy rides from Stanley Park aerodrome near Blackpool.