The Saturday Air Mail is never short of weird aircraft, civil and military. Meet the Vickers 161.
"This plane is not actually weird, if it was 1916! But in 1931, it was plenty strange, " - wrote Mysterious Bill. Quite right you are, Bill! Let's open the Virtual Aircraft Museum article to learn about this bomber killer.
In the mid 'twenties, the British Air Ministry found attractive the possibility of the 37mm COW (Coventry Ordnance Works, developed as early as in 1918 and tested in the Airco D.H.4 - L.K.) gun for use against bombers. Accordingly, Specification F.29/27 was issued calling for a single-seat dedicated bomber-interceptor armed with this large and heavy weapon.
The specification called for the gun to be mounted in a fixed position to fire forward and upward at an oblique angle of at least 45°. Provision was to be made for oversize and automatically-fed ammunition clips totalling 50 shells, the entire COW gun mechanism had to be easily accessible to the pilot and steadiness as a gun platform was a prime requisite.
Vickers submission to this Specification, the Type 161, was extraordinary in that it reverted to the long-abandoned pusher biplane formula with tail surfaces carried by booms. Despite its archaic configuration, however, the Type 161 embodied some advanced features and became the subject of a single-aircraft Air Ministry contract.
An unequal-span two-bay biplane with comparatively high aspect ratio wings with duralumin plate and tube structure, it had a metal mono-coque nacelle, accommodating the pilot to port and the COW gun to starboard, which was faired into the upper wing and raised above the lower wing by splayed N-type struts. The 530hp Bristol Jupiter VIIF nine-cylinder radial carried at the rear of the nacelle drove a four-bladed propeller, aft of which was a curious, long tapered cone which, intended to promote directional stability, was supported by struts from the tubular tail-booms and the tailplane.
The Type 161 was flown for the first time on 21 January 1931, and after provision of a broader-chord rudder, it flew extremely well, arriving at Martlesham Heath in September 1931 for official evaluation. Development was discontinued when official interest in promoting the quick-firing COW gun lapsed - but not before Westland presented another, much more conventional prototype built to the same F.29/27 specification, the COW Gun Fighter:
Special thanks to Nico Braas (LetLetLet website)
Read about early gun aircraft: