Aircraft of the Month
The Westland Wapiti was a two-seat biplane designed by Arthur Davenport in 1926 to Air Ministry Specification 26/27 that sought to provide a replacement for the Airco DH9A in RAF Service. In order to save money, the specification called for the use of as many components as possible from the DH9A and, Westland, a company that had been a prime contractor for the DH9A thus had a major advantage over its competitors. The Wapiti prototype first took to the air on 7th March 1927 and was entered into a contest at the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath against seven other contenders. The design won the competition and an initial order for 25 Mk1 variants ensued.
The Wapiti MkI was fitted with a 420 hp Bristol Jupiter engine whilst the main production version, the MkIIA, was powered by a 550 hp Jupiter. Armament comprised one .303in forward firing Vickers machine gun and one Lewis gun Scarff-mounted in the rear cockpit, and a bomb load of 580lb could be carried.
The aircraft entered service with No 84 Squadron in Iraq in June 1928 and thereafter through until the late 1930s served in the Middle East and India where it was widely used for “imperial policing” in the army co-operation, bomber and reconnaissance roles. Wapitis of No 20 Squadron escorted Victoria troop carriers during the evacuation of civilians and children from Kabul to Peshawar in December 1928, and at the same time became the first aircraft to negotiate the Khyber Pass. It is also of note that on 3rd April 1933, the Wapiti MkV prototype and a Westland PV-3 became the first aircraft to fly over Mount Everest. At the pinnacle of its service, the aircraft equipped 8 RAF squadrons in India, 4 squadrons in Iraq and 10 Auxiliary squadrons in the UK. It was also operated by the air forces of four other countries and a small number of machines were sold to the Chinese Government.
A total of 558 Wapitis were produced in the UK with a further 27 built under licence in South Africa. The sole surviving airframe is on display at the Indian Air Force Museum at Palam. UK-based Auxiliary Air Force squadrons regularly used RAF Tangmere for summer camps as exemplified by the visit of No 600 Squadron in August 1930.