Westland Wyvern (VR137)

Westland Wyvern (VR137) [@ Fleet Air Museum]

The Westland Wyvern was a single-seat carrier-based multi-role strike aircraft based upon the Air Ministry Specification N.11/44.  Initially it was to be powered by the Rolls Royce Eagle 24 cylinder H-block piston engine [photograph - right] but the specification insisted that the airframe design should also be able to take a turboprop engine (which was seen as the power plant of choice for naval aviation in that it would provide higher speeds while keeping the range of a piston-powered airplane) as and when a suitable power plant was available.  Specification F.13/44 was a parallel version for the RAF for which Hawker submitted the P.1027 design, a development of the Tempest.  However the RAF variant was cancelled in 1945 when it was decided that all future fighter aircraft should be jet power

The first of six prototypes, type W.34, flew for the first time on the 12th December 1946.  Of conventional design, an all metal fuselage, with a tail-wheel undercarriage and low cantilever double-folding swept and tapered wings fitted with both Youngman flaps on the inner wing section and conventional flaps on the outer section.  Most noticeable was the large eight-blade contra-rotating propeller.  The original prototype aircraft was lost on the 15th October1947 when the propeller bearings failed in flight.  From prototype 3 onwards the aircraft were complete with their intended armament of four Hispano 20 mm cannon in the wings and the ability to carry a single torpedo under the fuselage or 31,000 lb selection of bombs and/or 16 rockets under the wings.  Late 1947 also saw the cancellation of the Eagle engine so the Armstrong-Siddeley Python power plant was adopted rather than the Rolls Royce Clyde.  This decision added at least two years to what became a ten year development program.

Westland Wyvern engine

Westland Wyvern (VR137) Westland Wyvern (VR137)

Westland Wyvern (VR137) [@ Fleet Air Museum]

The TF.1 was the pre-production variant and seven of the original ten contracted for were built.  These were followed by the original production version the TF.2 (W.35) of which 14 were built including three prototypes.  The definitive version was the TF.4, latter to be re-designated the S.4, and 96 were built by Westland including eleven which started as TF.2s.  The T.3 (W.38) was a two-seat trainer conversion and only one was built (VZ739).

VR137 was the seventh and last TF.1 pre-production aircraft to be built by Westland at Yeovil.  Built in 1947 to the Air Ministry Specification N.11/44 VR137 as never flown.  The power plant is the very rare Rolls Royce Eagle 24 cylinder H-block piston engine.  After being used as a training aid at the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, VR137 was purchased by the Historic Aircraft Preservation Society in early 1966 and arrived at the Fleet Air Museum in late 1970.

Westland Wyvern (VR137)

Westland Wyvern (VR137) [@ Fleet Air Museum]

After carrier trials which started on the 21st June 1950 the Wyvern entered service with the Fleet Air Arm from May 1953 and were withdrawn from service by 1958.  While in service Wyverns equipped 813 Naval Air Squadron, 827 Squadron, 830 Squadron, and 831 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm.  Squadron 813 was the last Wyvern squadron to disband on the 22nd April 1958.

From September 1954, during 813’s first tour of duty with Wyverns in the Mediterranean on board HMS Albion, many Wyverns suffered (some were lost off the bows) from flameout during catapult launches due to fuel starvation from the high G forces involved on lunching.  The problem was not fixed until March 1955 and it resulted in the tour being cut short when 813 was left off at Malta due to the high operational losses.  In fact, Lt. B. D. Macfarlane made history when he successfully ejected under water after his Wyvern had ditched on launch and been cut in two by the carrier (thanks John for your “comic” memories).

Wyverns saw active service in Operation Musketeer with 830 Squadron, operating from HMS Eagle, during the 1956 Suez Crisis.  They mounted the first attack on the 1st November 1956 by attacking Egyptian airfields near the canal. A total of 79 sorties were flown by the 6th November when the operation was called off.  Two Wyverns were lost, at least one to ground fire.

As the largest prop-driven single-seat airplane to go aboard Royal Navy carriers the Wyvern was not easy to fly. 33 Wyverns were lost to all causes during its four year operational career.  Its range was so limited that it needed a large centreline fuel tank in addition to the wing tanks, which meant it could not carry a torpedo, and when it was carrying enough fuel to have an adequate range; it could not get off a carrier deck even with a catapult while carrying its maximum ordnance load.  The Wyvern never lived up to the potential expected of it and all of the airframes, except VR137, were melted into scrap during 1959.  However, the Wyvern holds the distinction of being the only Royal Navy turboprop-powered aircraft to see combat.