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The Whitley Bomber

Recently, I unexpectedly came upon the story of a guy who I suspect was a relative of mine. He appears to have been on the design team of one of the early WWII twin engine bombers. It was the first “modern” British bomber, and had the distinction of being the first with all-metal stress skinned construction and included for the first time a power operated gun turret. History tells us that it also had the distinction of being the first aircraft to bomb Germany as well as Italy. The aircraft buffs would have already recognised this as the Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley, which was commonly referred to as the “Whitley bomber”.

However, before I had time to bask in the glory of what my long lost relative achieved, the writer went on to call it “one of the stupidest aeroplanes ever built… the first Whitley flew in March 1936 and graduated into immediate obsolescence. It was slow, virtually unmanoeuvreable, pitifully underarmed and handled like a truck…” (FLAK,True stories of the men who flew in World War Two, by Michael Veitch). Well, that is how one pilot described it!

Lancaster Bomber at War Memorial Canberra

Such is life! We would like to think that we will be remembered for our positive accomplishments, but history seems to make its own choices. The Whitley may have been a failure, but did that make Mr Whitley a failure? NO! The difference between success and failure is the ability to get up just one more time than you fall down. I would like to believe that Whitley didn’t give up but continued to contribute to some of the more successful airframes of that era like the Wellington, Halifax or Lancaster!

The same applies to you. You may have made some mistakes, and may even have a name for being a failure, but you are only a failure if you choose to give up. As my father always used to say, “Anybody that hasn’t made a mistake hasn’t made anything”. To create anything is to take a risk, but you cannot be defeated until you stop trying!

Chaplain Ian Whitley

2 comments to The Whitley Bomber

  • Robert Jamieson

    The Whitley was not a failure. My father was a crew member and was one of the few who survived a full thirty missions on that plane. It paved the way for the more advanced bombers later in the war. The main technical issue was the angle of the wing. They should have used flaps and flattened out the wing angle, which gave it it’s characteristic nose down attitude.

  • Ian

    The Whitley bomber was successful because of the adaptability and perseverence of the crews in difficult times and immediate needs. The Whitley Bomber was the first of a whole new era of aircraft, which as you say, was the stepping stone to further progress.

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