Armstrong-Whitworth A.W.650/660 Argosy
Known affectionately as the “whistling wheelbarrow”, the Argosy originated in a 1955 Air Ministry specification for a medium-range transport aircraft capable of lifting a cargo of 25,000 lbs. Initially conceived as a twin-engine aircraft, it did not attract any immediate interest from the Royal Air Force (RAF), but Armstrong-Whitworth persevered with a version for the civil market, eventually settling on a four-engine design with sideways-opening cargo doors front and rear, and the cockpit mounted on top of the main cabin. Riddle Airlines of the United States became the launch customer, but within two years the company had lost the contract the Argosies were acquired for, and the aircraft were reposessed by Armstrong-Whitworth for distribution to other airlines.
To save on development costs, Armstrong-Whitworth had used the wing from the Avro Shackleton, but this proved to be inefficient leading to development of the improved A.W.660. This version attracted significant RAF interest, eventually culminating in an order for 56 aircraft to replace the Vickers Valetta in the transport role. Most of the RAF’s Argosies were withdrawn as part of the rationalisation of the air transport fleet in 1975, but a small number soldiered on in the calibration role until replaced by Hawker Siddeley Andovers in 1978. Argosies continued to operate commercially, including in New Zealand where they operated the air-bridge to the Chatham Islands. The last Argosy to fly was Safe Air’s ZK-SAE, on 30 September 1990; it is now well looked after by the Argosy Trust and on display close to Woodbourne Airport.
First flight: 8 Jan 59 (c/n 6651, G-AOZZ)
Production: 71, at Bitteswell, UK
First delivery: 22 Jun 61 to Riddle Airlines (c/n 6655, N6504R)
Last delivery: 1 Apr 64 to the Royal Air Force (c/n 6798, XR143)
Variants: A.W.650 Argosy 100 - initial version powered by 4 Rolls-Royce Dart 101s (10 built); A.W.660 Argosy 200 - improved version featuring redesigned wing (61 built). A modified version of the A.W.660, with the front-loading door removed, clam-shell style rear doors and a radar nose, served with the RAF as Argosy C.1. In-service modifications were made to Argosy E.1 for navaid calibration (11 aircraft). A planned version for navigation training, the Argosy T.2, was abandoned after one conversion.