The Armstrong Whitworth Atlas was designed by a team led by John Lloyd, chief designer of Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, as a replacement for the DH.9A and Bristol Fighter as an army co-operation aircraft for the RAF, in parallel with the related aircraft, the Ajax and Aries. The Atlas was intended to meet the requirements of Specification 20/25.
The prototype Atlas (G-EBLK) was built as a private venture, first flying on 10 May 1925. It was delivered to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A & AEE), Martlesham Heath, where it was evaluated against the Bristol Boarhound, de Havilland Hyena, Vickers Vespa, and Short Chamois. It proved superior in performance and handling and was recommended for production.
While the performance was generally good, the prototype could not be sideslipped steeply, and this resulted in a redesign where sweptback metal wings, with differing wing section, were fitted. When tested again, the Atlas was found to have lost its good handling, having dangerous stall characteristics. The Atlas had already been ordered for service, however, and suffered a number of accidents during takeoff and landing in the first few months of operation until modified with automatic slats and increased sweepback. This cured the poor handling.
The production Atlas had a steel tube fuselage with fabric covering with single-bay swept metal wings. It could be fitted with a hook under the fuselage to pick up messages and could carry a 460 lb (210 kg) bombload under the wings.
Atlas in Hellenic Naval Aviation
In 1928 two Atlas were ordered for the Hellenic Naval Aviation, which arrived in Hellas in July 1929. At the same time, built under license, ten additional aircraft in State Aircraft Factory. The Hellenic built Atlas differed from the corresponding British, as they had wooden structure wings, did not had slats and the Jaguar engines were modified with placing gear reduction and larger propellers.