The Foster-Wikner Wicko GM1 "Warferry".
A little-known light aircraft; pressed into use in WW2.
One of the least-known of British aircraft companies, Foster-Wikner's GM1 was pressed into service as the "Warferry".
Young Australian engineer, Geoffrey Neville Wikner, after dabbling in motor-racing, developed a passion for aviation and started up his own company in Australia in the early 1930s, designing and building a series of promising one-off aircraft and providing kits of parts to build gliders. A replica of his first "Wicko" single-seat "Sports-Cabin" aircraft, VH-UPW, is housed at the Queensland Air Museum. Deciding that prospects for his talents were better in the UK (perhaps inspired by the success of his cousin Captain Edgar Percival) he wound up his fledgling company and moved to England in 1934. He worked on a series of projects for different concerns, most notably for the Miles company, where he had a hand in the design of the cockpits of the Hawcon and Nighthawk. He then did much of the design and actual construction of the little-documented Miles "pusher" aircraft of 1935-36. All this time Wikner was working towards establishing his own company to build his own designs; a false-start was a project to build a low-wing, two-seat racer with a wire-braced wings and undercarriage for the racing driver Donald Marendaz. This was to be called the Marendaz Monoplane. Wikner walked out of the project when Marendaz took all the credit for the design in his initial press release. Without Wikner, Marendaz was unable to finish the aircraft. Wikner then went into partnership with a Mr Victor "Jack" Foster to design and build a two-seat high-wing cabin monoplane to be powered by a Ford V-8 car engine. Another partner was Mr JF Lusty, who allowed the use of the family furniture factory, at Bromley by Bow in London, to be used to manufacture the prototype and as the registered address of the new company. The factory made the famous "Lusty Lloyd Loom" furniture, still going strong today, although the Bromley factory has long-since closed and production moved to the Far East.
At the time, there was a craze for trying to use low-cost motorcar and motorcycle engines to power aircraft. The Carden-Ford adaption of a four-cylinder Ford engine was proving very popular for single-seat home-built projects and it must have seemed logical to use the larger 8 cylinder engine on a more practical two-seat design. Wikner's adaption of the Ford engine used a Pobjoy reduction gear and was called the "Wicko F" and may have given as much as 80 horsepower, but was twice as heavy as comparable aircraft engines. The resulting aircraft was very similar to his Australian cabin aircraft but had two side-by-side seats and was much sleeker, with the engine housed in a pointed nose with a radiator under the fuselage. It had a cantilever undercarriage like the latest Hawker Fury MK II and Gloster Gladiator fighters.
Looking very streamlined, the original FW1 (serial number G-AENU), powered by a modified "Wicko F" Ford V8 engine with a radiator between the wheels. It had fabric-covered wings. It made its first flight in July 1936 from the airfield at Stapleford Tawney.
Called the FW1, it gained the fledgling company a lot of publicity and press coverage but ultimately the Ford engine proved just too heavy and performance was poor. So the aircraft was fitted with a Blackburn Cirrus Minor I engine of 82 horsepower¹. The resulting aircraft (renamed the FW2) was described as delightful to fly and the company went about marketing it (see the advertisement below) and acquired space at Eastleigh airfield, near Southampton, to start production.
Above, an advertisement for the Cirrus powered FW2. None were sold in this configuration. The final fate of G-AENU is a bit of a mystery; it was photographed as late as 1952, the fuselage seemingly intact, by the side of the river in Plymouth <see picture on Air-Britain photo site>.
The next aircraft built by Wikner had the wing skinned in plywood rather than fabric and had the more powerful Cirrus Major engine of 150 horsepower, originally called the FW3, it was entered into the Kings Cup Air Race of 1937 but did not complete the course.² Although the Cirrus engine brand had been around for quite a few years, it had only recently been taken over by the Blackburn Aircraft group and both the Minor and Major engines were new products. The wider aviation community prefered the Gipsy engines of deHavilland, so Wikner fitted the aircraft with a Gipsy Major I (srs I) of 130 horsepower¹. The new design was renamed after the engine - the GM1.
With a Gipsy engine, the price of a Wicko had risen to be close to that of other, more established, manufacturers like Miles and deHavilland. A simple, rugged design; the GM1 lacked some of the refinements customers expected, like folding wings to reduce hangar space. It had the minimum number of instruments and simple "plunger" type throttle controls, rather than throttle-quadrants. Its range of 500 miles was greater than many other aircraft of this class. As a touring aircraft the GM1 was a non-starter, with no space for luggage. So the only real role for the aircraft was as a club trainer. In this regard, the timing could not have been better. The Civil Air Guard scheme had recently been formed and started operating the very month the first GM1 was delivered. This subsidised the training of civilians to fly if they volunteered to serve in the armed forces in wartime, rewarding them with a sizeable grant (worth about three times the average monthly pay at the time) if they gained their flying licence. Thus there was a demand for two-seat training aircraft in the exact class of the GM1 and eight aircraft were completed and sold before the start of the war in September 1939, when all production of civil aircraft was ordered to be halted.
Before the war, Wikner had also designed a simple tandem training aircraft with a wire-braced, low monoplane wing. It looked similar to the American Ryan PT-22 but made of wood rather than metal. He presented it to the Air Ministry with the idea of it being produced in Australia to be used in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. It was not taken up.
G-AFJB, the last surviving Wicko GM1.
Wikner was left with two unsold and unregistered Wicko GM1 aircraft. He converted one into a three-seater in the hope that it could remain in production to be used as a ferry aircraft by the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). He removed the second set of pilot controls and fitted an extra seat in the rear (fitted sideways), this was at the expense of making the fuselage-mounted fuel tank smaller. For the sake of simplicity and ease of construction, the flaps were deleted. It was felt that the landing run was short enough without them. It may have had a tail-wheel fitted rather than the usual tail-skid. This aircraft was impressed directly as HM497. But with the advent of lease-lend, the four-seater Fairchild 24 Argus became available from the USA and was supplied to the ATA instead.
In wartime service, the Wickos usually had their wheel-spats removed. They would become clogged up with mud and grass and had to be removed quite often anyway to service the brakes, so it was easier to just leave them off altogether.
Wikner became an ATA ferry pilot himself, gaining the rank of Flight Captain (equivalent to a Squadron Leader in the RAF). All the registered GM1 aircraft were requisitioned by the authorities (including one that had been sent to New Zealand). Some were used by the ATA, others in a communication role. Wikner's account (see sources listed below) said that all the GM1 aircraft that were impounded were known as "Warferrys", whereas another source (the contemporary "Aircraft of the Fighting Powers") implies the name was only intended to be used by the three-seat development. The records of 24 Squadron, who at one stage were operating three GM1s in the communication role (including the three-seat HM497), seems to indicate that they were all known as "Warferrys". A photograph of HM574 (see top of page) shows it with the name "Wicko Warferry" painted on the fuselage. 24 Squadron relinquished their Wickos for deHavilland Puss Moths in August 1942 (the Puss Moth was usually flown as a two-seater with space for baggage but could be used as a three-seater if required).
There is some confusion about the number of GM1 aircraft built; Wikner's account says that thirteen were built. Yet records indicate only nine GM1 aircraft were registered (not counting the "prototype" G-AENU fabric-winged FW2).
One Wicko GM1 was shipped out to New Zealand where it was registered as ZK-AGN. It was impressed into the RNZAF in October 1939 as NZ580. It was used for communication duties based out of Rongotai (now Wellington International Airport). In November 1942, during bad visibility, it struck a radio mast at nearby Johnsonville and crashed. Luckily there were only minor injuries to the crew. The aircraft was recovered to Rongotai but broken up for spare parts before the end of the year.
Foster-Wikner's workshop at Eastleigh was right next to the new Cunliffe-Owen factory. Wikner's account says that, before he joined the ATA, he devised and built machinery to mould plastic components for aircraft. He reportedly left the company in the hands of his wife to run. The Cunliffe-Owen factory was badly damaged by bombing on the 11th of September 1940. Just what products were made by the company during the war is a mystery (can anyone out there enlighten me?). Presumably space in their workshop and hangar at Eastleigh would have been in demand by the neighbouring Cunliffe-Owen and Supermarine facilities. The company was listed as "Wicko" (rather than Foster-Wilkner) in "Jane's All the Worlds's Aircraft" in 1945 , with its works at Eastleigh and its admin office still at the Lusty Lloyd Loom factory in Bromley by Bow. Wilkner was still listed as the technical director with controlling interest in the company with three members of the Lusty family as directors, together with a Mr N Edgar.
After the war, some of the Wicko aircraft came back into the possession of Wikner. He seems to have combined the airframes of the last two production GM1s (one of them never registered and kept in storage) to produce G-AGPE, which was registered in April1946. The following month Wikner flew back to Australia in a Halifax bomber, taking 18 people along. Read the full remarkable story at <this link>.
Wicko GM1 Specifications
Max Speed: 140 mph (225 kph) at 1,000 ft (305 metres). Cruising Speed: 120 mph (193 kph) at 1,000 ft (305 metres).
Range: 500 miles (805 km). The 3 seat version would have had less fuel giving about half the range.
Span: 31ft 6 inches (9.6 metres). Length: 23ft 8inches (7.21 metres) Height: 6ft 1inch (1.85 metres).
General arrangement of the Foster-Wikner GM1. Note that they often operated with the undercarriage spats removed.
List of Foster-Wikner production.
Construction number: 1 FW1/FW2 Registered as: G-AENU. Originally Wicko F engine, then Cirrus Minor. Stored during the war then passed through hands of various owners. Last photographed by side of river in Plymouth in 1952.
Construction number: 2 FW3/GM1 Registered as: G-AEZZ. Originally fitted with Cirrus Major engine. Entered for King's Cup Air Race 1937, flown by Flt Lt HRA Edwards, it did not complete the race, force-landing near Skegness.² Re-engined with Gipsy Major to become the first GM1. Used by the Cardiff Aeroplane club before being impressed in July 1941 as ES925. Reported to have survived the war, ultimate fate uncertain, may have been acquired by GN Wikner for spare parts for G-AGPE.
Construction number: 3 GM1 Registered as: ZN-AGN (New Zealand). Used by Clyde Engineering, then sold to the Middle Districts Aero Club. Impressed in NZ Air Force as NZ580. Used for communications work. Written off after collision with aerial mast (no fatalities) 26/11/1942.
Construction number: 4 GM1 Registered as: G-AFAZ. Purchased by the Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club at Whitchurch for the Civil Air Guard scheme. Impressed as ES924 in May 1941. Broken up for spares August 1942.
Construction number: 5 GM1 Registered as: G-AFJB. Purchased for the Midland Aero club specifically for use in the Civil Air Guard Scheme. Used by Rolls-Royce for communications work. Impressed as: DR613. The sole surviving Wicko GM1, its full history is told on <this webpage> on the Wicko.com website.
Construction number: 6 GM1 Registered as: G-AFKS. Used as a demonstrator by Nash Aircraft Sales Ltd, who were agents for Foster-Wikner, briefly fitted with a ski undercarriage. Impressed as HM574 in June 1942.Scrapped in 1946.
Construction number: 7 GM1 Registered as: G-AFKU. Sold to Mr Frank L Dean of Cardiff. Impressed as ES947. Used by 24 Sqdn RAF until August 1942. Crashed into sea near Cardiff in November 1942 after hitting a barrage balloon cable. Aircraft was returning to Northolt with two Czech pilots onboard after attending the funeral of another Czech pilot. Passenger killed, pilot seriously injured. - See full accident report at <this link>.
Construction number: 8 GM1 Registered as: G-AFKK. Impressed as ES913 in May 1941, used by 24 Sqdn RAF until August 1942. Does not seem to have survived the war, but fate and date of scrapping unknown.
Construction number: 9 GM1 Registered as: G-AFVK. Impressed as HM499 in October 1941. Reclassified as a non-flying instructional airframe: 4962M. Allocated to Air Training Corp No 1457 Sqdn at York in December 1944.
Construction number: 10 GM1 Never registered and may never have had an engine. Airframe reportedly stored during the war and used to provide spares for G-AGPE
Construction number: 11 GM1 Modified to be 3-seater. Impressed directly as HM497. Used by 24 Sqdn RAF until August 1942. Survived the war, returned to GN Wikner and probably rebuilt to 2-seater GM1 standard. Registered as G-AGPE in April 1946. Scrapped in May 1949.
¹ I've taken the power ratings of the Cirrus Minor I and Gipsy Major I from the authoritative Lumsden's " British Aero Engines And Their Aircraft".
² The Kings Cup Air Race had a tragic accident that year. See <this link> for details.
This website devoted to Australian aircraft has a good article on the Wicko, but the records of individual aircraft are somewhat muddled and disjointed (August 2021).
Aviation Safety website report on loss of ES947 (ex G-AFKU).
Article about Wikner on the Australian Newcastle Herald website.
A very brief view of Wicko G-AEZZ can be seen in this old cine-film of the Shoreham Air Show of 1937. It appears 2 minutes and 11 seconds into the film.
Biography of Wikner on the "A Fleeting Peace" website (scroll down) contains details of his service with the ATA and the Halifax flight to Australia.
A Gallery of photos of Wicko G-AFJB on the Southport & Merseyside Aero club website.
Photos of Wicko GM1 aircraft (mostly of G-AFJB) on the Air Britain Photo Library.
The Wicko story: An article in the April/June 1980 edition of Vintage Aircraft magazine (No 16) written by Geoffrey Wikner himself.
British Civil Aircraft 1919-59 (Volume2): By AJ Jackson, published by Putnams.
British Light Aeroplanes: By Arthur JG Ord-Hume, published by GSM Enterprises, ISBN 10 1870384768. Particularly good at untangling Wikner's association with Marendaz.
Aircraft of the Fighting Powers Volume IV (1943): The way the aircraft is described implies only the modified 3-seater should be called the "Warferry".
Humping the Bluey in Waltzing Matilda: An article in the September 1979 edition of Aeroplane Monthly magazine by Geoffrey Wikner describes the extraordinary adventure of flying Halifax G-AGXA from England to Australia with 19 passengers and crew. The whole article can be read on the Wicko.com site <click here>.
The Aircraft Flown by 24 Squadron - Document on the website of the 24 Squadron Association Blog. Compiled from squadron records.
Aircraft Manufacture in West Essex: A document on the website of the North Weald Airfield Museum (the prototype FW1 was built in Bromley by Bow which was classed as Essex at the time).