Westland Whirlwind (fighter)

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The Westland Whirlwind was a British twin-engined heavy fighter developed by Westland Aircraft. It was the Royal Air Force's first single-seat, twin-engined, cannon-armed fighter, and a contemporary of the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane. It was one of the fastest aircraft when it flew in the late 1930s, and was much more heavily armed than any other. However, protracted development problems with its Rolls-Royce Peregrine engines delayed the entire project and only a relatively small number were ever built. During the Second World War only two RAF squadrons were equipped with the Whirlwind, and despite successful use as a fighter-bomber it was withdrawn from service in 1943.

Contents

Background

The Whirlwind was developed for the RAF in the mid 1930s, following the retirement of biplane fighters. With increased fighter attack speeds creating shorter times for firing on targets, it was decided to improve the amount of armament. Instead of two rifle-caliber machine guns, eight were required. Cannons, such as the 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 which could fire exploding ammunition, offered another type of heavy firepower and requirements were made for aircraft designs which could carry four cannons.

A problem for designers in the 1930s was that most agile combat aircraft were generally small. These aircraft had limited fuel storage and only enough flying range for defensive operations. A multi-engined fighter appeared to be the best solution to the problem of range, but a fighter large enough to carry an increased fuel load might be too unwieldy to successfully engage in combat. Germany and the United States pressed ahead with their design programs, resulting in the Messerschmitt Bf 110 and the Lockheed P-38.

Design and development

Claims made about the Bf 110 interested[clarification needed] the British Air Ministry, which issued specification F.37/35 in 1935 and called for a single-seat day and night fighter armed with four cannon. Six aircraft were submitted in response to the specification, of which three were twin-engined types: the Boulton Paul P.88, the Bristol Type 153A, the Hawker F.37/35 (which was a Hurricane variant), the Supermarine 312 (a Spitfire variant), the Supermarine 313 and the Westland P.9.

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