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Aircraft of the Month

HANDLEY PAGE HAMPDEN

The Handley Page HP52 Hampden was designed by Gustav Lachmann to meet Air Ministry Specification B9/32 for a twin-engined day bomber.  A single HP2 prototype took to the air for the first time on 21st June 1936 and an initial order for 180 Mk1 Hampdens was placed shortly thereafter.  The first production machine flew on 24th May 1938.

Powered by 2 x 980 hp Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines, the Hampden was armed with a fixed .303 in Vickers K machine gun in the nose and one or two in each of the rear dorsal and ventral positions.  It was capable of carrying 4,000 lb of bombs, mines or a single 18 in torpedo.  The crew of four – pilot, navigator/bomb aimer, radio operator and rear gunner – were packed into such a cramped fuselage that the aircraft was designated the “Flying Suitcase”.

The Hampden entered RAF service with No 49 Squadron in September 1938 and a total of 226 aircraft had been supplied to eight squadrons by the outbreak of war a year later.  After the start of hostilities, it proved so vulnerable to Luftwaffe fighters that it was switched from day to night operations and, along with the Whitley and Wellington, was at the forefront of the early bombing campaign against Germany, taking part in the first raid on Berlin in 1940 and the first 1,000 bomber raid on Cologne.  With the advent of new heavy bombers, it was retired from Bomber Command in late 1942 but continued to operate with Coastal Command as a long-range torpedo bomber and maritime reconnaissance aircraft until the end of 1943.  It was in a similar role that Hampdens also equipped the Royal Australian Air Force and latterly the Soviet Navy.  The aircraft was also operated by RAF meteorological flights and the air forces of Canada and New Zealand. A total of 1,430 Hampdens were built, of which 714 were lost on operations.   No machines remain airworthy but two are currently being restored to static display condition – one at the Canadian Museum of Flight in British Columbia and the other at the RAF Museum, Cosford.

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