Armstrong Whitworth Atalanta

While the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy did not differ appreciably in appearance from the airliners that appeared soon after World War 1, the next few years were to see a remarkable transformation, and one of the first of this new generation of British airliners was the Armstrong Whitworth A.W.15 Atalanta. Ordered by Imperial Airways for its services in South Africa and between Karachi and Singapore, the A.W.15 (or A.W.XV) was developed in response to a requirement calling for the ability to carry a 3,000 lb (1361 kg) payload, maintain 9,000 ft (2745 m) with one of its four engines stopped, and cruise at 115 mph (185 km/h). An obvious necessity with these routes was an ability to use small airfields at high altitudes in hot countries, and a range of 400-600 miles (644-966 km) was needed. Only nine passengers and a crew of three were stipulated, a considerable amount of payload space being allocated to mail. Later in its career, seating accommodation of the A.W.15 was raised to 17 passengers.

The first Atalanta (G-ABPI) flew on 6th June 1932, and appeared at the first SBAC Display at Hendon on 27th June, going to Martlesham Heath for tests on 11th July and receiving its certificate of airworthiness in August. The remarkable speed with which this was achieved reflects the soundness of the basic design, and all eight Atalantas for Imperial Airways had been certificated by April 1933.

The first service was flown from Croydon, to Brussels and Cologne, on 26th September 1932, and other routes followed. G-ABPI was severely damaged in a forced landing at Coventry on 20th October 1932, while in the manufacturers' charge for modifications, and the aircraft's individual name 'Atalanta' was transferred to the fourth aircraft (G-ABTI) which had a sufficiently similar registration to avoid press questions! The accident was caused by fuel starvation, but the aircraft was repaired and re-appeared christened 'Arethusa'.

G-ABPI left Croydon on 5th January 1933, on its proving flight to Cape Town, arriving on 14th February. Three more Atalantas joined it at the Germiston base in South Africa, for service between Cape Town and Kisumu, originally to replace de Havilland D.H.66s, but they were too small for the traffic and therefore complemented the older aircraft. A proving flight to Australia in June 1933 attracted considerable interest but no order, QANTAS choosing instead the D.H.88, but on 1st July 1933 the first Atalanta (G-ABPI and then named 'Arethusa') inaugurated the first direct air mail service between London and Karachi, where on arrival the mail was delivered to Indian Trans-Continental Airways. A second aircraft for Indian registry arrived soon afterwards and the two, plus two British-registered Atalantas, operated a Karachi-Calcutta service, later extended to Rangoon and Singapore.

Three Atalantas were lost before World War 2; the remaining five were taken over by BOAC and in March 1941 were impressed into RAF service, based in India. They were later handed over to the Indian air force's No. 101 GR Squadron at Madras and used for coastal reconnaissance work, being armed with a single machine-gun operated by the navigator. One Atalanta was destroyed in a crash landing, and the last patrol was flown on 30th August 1942, after which the four survivors were withdrawn from service.

Power Plant: Four 340 h.p. Serval III
Span: 90 ft 0 in
Length: 71 ft 6 in
Height: 14 ft 0 in
Weight (All-Up): 21,000 lb
Max Speed: 156 m.p.h.
Cruise: 118 m.p.h.
Stall Speed: 51 m.p.h.
Range: 640 miles
Crew: 3
Passengers: 9-17