The Fairey Hendon holds a unique place in the history of the Royal Air Force, a place that has largely been overshadowed by the events at the end of the 1930s and the fevered introduction of newer designs. Nevertheless when the Hendon first flew in 1931 it was one of the most advanced night bombers in the world and would be the RAF’s first ever operational all-metal monoplane design.
The Hendon emerged as an answer to Air Ministry specification B.19/27 issued in the late 1920s which called for a new heavy night bomber to replace the older types then in service. For British aircraft manufacturer Fairey, their resulting design was a radical departure from the types of aircraft it was used to building. Until then Fairey had largely concentrated on designing and building single engine biplanes. The new design was neither of those things and it is this inexperience that probably delayed the Hendon’s entry in to service.
The prototype aircraft first flew in November 1931 and was later designated as Hendon Mk.I. Powered by Bristol Jupiter radial engines that were soon deemed inadequate the decision was then taken to re-engine the aircraft with Rolls-Royce Kestrel III engines similar to those powering Hawker’s series of biplane fighters and light bombers such as the Nimrod and Hind. The prototype flew with the new engines for the first time the following year but this meant that testing more or less had to begin again thus further pushing back the service entry of the aircraft.
Finally, in 1936 construction began on the production model designated by the RAF as the Hendon Mk.II. The production aircraft was powered by a pair of 600hp Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI engines that gave it a top speed of 155mph at 15,000ft and a range of around 1,360 miles. Unfortunately the technological edge the aircraft could have held had been greatly eroded by the time it entered service with even the latest biplane fighters being faster than it. Even under the cover of night it was vulnerable it being a somewhat lumbering brute with a curious habit of flying tail high and this coupled with its large fixed undercarriage meant pilots often remarked of its resemblance to a wheelbarrow when in flight.
The Hendon Mk.II could carry a 1,660lb bombload split between a bomb bay in the lower fuselage and two underwing racks. To put this in to perspective Fairey’s own single engined Swordfish torpedo-bomber could carry 1,610lbs of weapons and that was already in service with the Royal Navy when the Hendon joined the RAF’s ranks. Defensive armament comprised three .303in (7.7mm) machine guns; one each in trainable mounts at the front, dorsal and tail positions.
With more sophisticated aircraft either already in production or on the drawing board the plans for a large acquisition soon fell by the wayside and in the end only 14 aircraft were completed and these equipped just one operational unit, No.38 Squadron, and one flight that was subordinate to No.115 Squadron. Plans were already in place to address the problems of the Hendon in 1936 with production intended to switch to 62 Hendon Mk.IIIs complete with, among other improvements, 695hp supercharged Kestrel VI engines and powered turrets. With the threat of war with Nazi Germany looking increasingly likely the RAF felt it had little time to waste on developing the Hendon especially when the far more capable Vickers Wellington was on the verge of entering service.
Thus the Hendon was consigned to just two years in RAF service with No.38 Squadron trading in its aircraft for Wellingtons in November 1938 – barely a year after the last aircraft rolled off the production line. This unloved aircraft was not missed by its crews and to all but the most avid aviation enthusiast the RAF’s first all-metal monoplane is something of an enigma.
- Crew: 5
- Role: Heavy Night Bomber
- Maximum speed: 155 mph at 15,000 ft
- Range: 1,360 miles
- Service ceiling: 21,400 ft
- Rate of climb: 940 ft/min
- Length: 60 ft 9 in
- Wingspan: 101 ft 9 in
- Height: 18 ft 8 in
- Empty weight: 12,773 lb
- Loaded weight: 20,000 lb
- Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI V12 piston engine. 600hp each.
- Defensive Armament: 3× .303 in (7.7 mm) trainable MGs in nose, dorsal and tail turrets.
- Offensive Armament: 1,660 lbs of bombs