Forgotten Aircraft: Fairey Hendon

F Hendon 1

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.

F Hendon 4

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.

F Hendon 2

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

F Hendon 3


Forgotten Aircraft: Avro Lincoln

Lincoln - Lanc successort

The Avro Lancaster is an aircraft that has earned itself a glorious place in the annals of aviation history. It was a superb night bomber in its basic form and in its many modified forms it was able to undertake a wide variety of specialist missions including carrying the 22,000lb Grand Slam bomb; the largest conventional weapon dropped from an aircraft in World War II. Given the scale of this legacy it is not surprising therefore that the immediate replacement for the Lancaster has gone largely forgotten.

Work on a heavily upgraded Lancaster actually began in 1943 but the changes became so numerous that it warranted its own in-house designation by Avro as the Type 964 and this was followed by the Royal Air Force who named the aircraft the Lincoln (continuing the tradition of naming bombers after British and Commonwealth cities). The new bomber featured a redesigned wing with increased span and aspect ratio balanced out by a lengthened fuselage. Power came from four of the proven Rolls-Royce Merlin engines in their Merlin 85 guise that produced 1,750hp each. The new airframe coupled with these engines allowed the aircraft to fly faster, higher and further than the Lancaster B.I that was still the mainstay of the RAF bomber force.

Perhaps the most significant improvement over the Lancaster came in the form of defensive armament. Gone were the .303 machine guns that proved too short in range and lacking in punch especially when facing the heavily armed Junkers Ju88 and Messerschmitt Bf110 night fighters with their long ranged cannon armament. The Lincoln was instead given four heavy machine guns mounted in pairs in the nose and tail turrets while the dorsal turret was given a pair of 20mm cannons. The tail position had the capability to utilize a primitive air-intercept radar to aid with targeting during night combat; a system that was first used quite successfully on the Lancaster. Offensive armament came in the form of a maximum 14,000lb bombload although it was not beyond the realm of possibility to modify the airframe for some of the Lancaster’s special roles such as the 22,000lbs ‘Grand Slam’ bomb. The Lincoln had an improved Mark IV H2S blind bombing radar that was fitted to some later Lancasters.

Lincoln 1

Delays in the aircraft’s development as a result of technical and material difficulties meant that the aircraft’s expected in-service date kept getting put back. The first prototype made its maiden flight in June 1944 with a second prototype complete with defensive armament flying in November 1944. Production was initiated on the first of a predicted 2,254 airframes shortly after but by then there were those in the Air Ministry questioning the wisdom of such a large order. The war in Europe was now strongly in favour of the Allies and the RAF’s Lancasters and Halifaxes were striking with increased impunity (and increasingly in daylight hours for greater accuracy following the achievement of Allied air superiority). Therefore the advantages offered by the new Lincoln were no longer such a high priority so plans were made for the aircraft to be made available for the Tiger Force; the RAF’s detachment expected to transfer to the Pacific theatre to join the fight against Japan. More delays both with the aircraft and Tiger Force itself meant that again the Lincoln missed its baptism of fire in World War II when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.

Lincoln 5gDespite the original plan for the 2,354 airframes, only 537 were completed with production split between Avro and several sub-contractors which was common with wartime aircraft production. Not being able to make its mark on World War II the aircraft was relegated to an almost transitionary role in that it provided the RAF with a link in performance between World War II-era propeller driven bombers and the new Canberra jet bombers. There were two variants that served in the RAF these being the B.I and the B.II. These were essentially the same aircraft but differed in their powerplants with the B.II being fitted with American-built Packard Merlins to ease the pressure on Rolls-Royce production. Performance was identical and the designation change was for bureaucratic purposes only.

The Lincoln would eventually see combat with the RAF firstly bombing rebel Yemeni tribesmen from bases in Aden in 1947. In Malaysia the aircraft flew against Communist insurgents beginning in March 1950. The Lincolns lacked the technology necessary to carry out precision attacks deep in the jungle and with the aircraft’s impending obsolescence the RAF was unwilling to upgrade them. Instead traditional visual bombing techniques were used with mixed success. With very little anti-aircraft weapons available to the insurgents the Lincolns were free to fly as low as 5,000ft when carrying out attacks where they achieved quite accurate results when armed with just a single 4,000lb bomb. The aircraft also carried out strafing attacks against terrorist camps often with the support of single engined aircraft.

Lincoln 5eThe Lincoln is perhaps best known for its role in Kenya where the aircraft fought against the Mau Mau tribesmen where its design heritage resulted in a case of mistaken identity by British journalists who wrongly reported that they were Lancasters not Lincolns. The Lincolns were used to bomb Mau Mau positions in a somewhat confused operational plan. The RAF were trying to destroy the insurgents as per their mission in Kenya but the British government insisted that all bombing missions be preceded by leaflet drops warning of the impending attack in order to limit civilian casualties. The nomadic Mau Mau tribesmen often simply moved their tribe and their weapons away from the target which meant the Lincoln’s primary contribution to the campaign was to blow very large holes in the Kenyan countryside. However when actual strongholds or bases were located a single engined type would fly in and mark the target for a pair of Lincolns that would then carpet bomb the area. Despite the operational difficulties encountered such as ill-prepared base facilities and the problem with dust in the engines (eventually necessitating new dust filters to be fitted) the Lincoln was a powerful weapon available to the British.

The only ever combat loss of a Lincoln occurred on the 12th March 1953 when Avro Lincoln RF531 was shot down by a Russian MiG-15 over East Germany. The aircraft was exercising the RAF’s right to fly through the air corridors to Berlin when it was intercepted and fired upon. The entire crew were killed in the resulting crash and it sparked the practice of further flights by RAF and USAF aircraft to Berlin and back carrying live rounds in their defensive armament thus increasing the chances of further incidents in what was already a very tense situation.

Lincoln 5fThe last Lincolns were withdrawn from RAF service in 1963, the aircraft forever lived in the shadow of its Lancaster forebear and the new futuristic jet bombers such as the Canberra and Vickers Valiant. It did serve a useful purpose however in that it meant that the leaner post-war RAF had a new-build aircraft that incorporated all the lessons of that conflict even if those lessons were now somewhat irrelevant in the conflicts the RAF found itself. Perhaps the biggest contribution the Lincoln had to the RAF was to provide a design basis for the far more successful Avro Shackleton series of maritime patrol and airborne early warning aircraft the latter of which remained in RAF service until 1991.

  • Role: Strategic Bomber
  • Crew: 7 (pilot, flight engineer/co-pilot, navigator, wireless operator, front gunner/bomb aimer, dorsal and rear gunners)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 85 V piston engine, 1,750 hp each
  • Maximum speed: 319 mph at 18,800ft
  • Cruise speed: 215 mph at 20,000 ft
  • Range: 2,930 miles empty. 1,470 miles with full bombload.
  • Service ceiling: 30,500 ft (9,296 m)
  • Rate of climb: 800 ft/min (245 m/min)
  • Length: 78 ft 3½ in (23.86 m)
  • Wingspan: 120 ft (36.58 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 3½ in (5.27 m)
  • Wing area: 1,421 ft² (132.01 m²)
  • Empty weight: 43,400 lb (19,686 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 75,000 lb (34,020 kg)
  • Maximum take-off weight: 82,000 lb

Blackburn Beverley C.1

Beverley landing rough

The Blackburn Beverely was a high wing transport aircraft designed to operate in the most austere locations throughout the British sphere of influence in the 1950s and 1960s. Its somewhat ungainly appearance was the result of its unique internal layout that was designed to maximise its carrying options with a compartment located in the tail boom for additional passenger seats and for use in dropping paratroopers. The aircraft was one of the few large aircraft designed in the late 1940s to have a fixed undercarriage. This reflected its requirement to operate from rough and semi-prepared airstrips with the undercarriage being very sturdy and resilient to the hard landings it could expect under these conditions.

Blackburn Beverley InternalPower came from four Bristol Centaurus 18-cylinder rotary engines fitted with reverse pitch propellers each developing 2,850hp each. This was sufficient to pull the Beverley along at a comfortable 173mph and to a top speed of 238mph with a service ceiling of 16,000ft. The boom section could carry up to 36 people on rearward facing seats or 30 fully equipped paratroopers. The seats were positioned this way as it was deemed safer for the occupants if the aircraft crashed during landing or take-off. Interestingly, RAF Comet transports were configured this way also but it was unlikely they would be expected to operate off the kinds of airstrips that the Beverley would be expected to. The main freight bay could be configured to carry another 94 people if needed or alternatively a wide variety of heavy equipment could be carried. Access to the cargo area was through two large removable clamshell doors at the rear beneath the tail boom. In the paratrooper insertion role the aircraft could unload troops through these doors while the paratroopers in the tailboom jumped through a hatch in the floor. During the course of it’s career Beverley’s carried trucks, fuel drums, drilling equipment, helicopters and disassembled aircraft including the fuselage of a Canberra bomber.

The ungainly looking aircraft entered service with the RAF’s No.47 Squadron on the 1st March 1956 and eventually a total of 47 aircraft would serve across five squadrons plus an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) providing crew training for the type.

  • No.30 Squadron  (April 1957 – September 1967)
  • No.34  Squadron  (October 1960 – January 1968)
  • No.47 Squadron (March 1956 – October 1967)
  • No.53 Squadron (February 1957 – June 1963)
  • No.84 Squadron (May 1958 – September 1967)
  • No.242 OCU (???1957 – ???1967)

During the course of its career the Beverley changed very little. A single aircraft, XB249, was retained by Blackburn for a series of tests that included the fitting of Rocket Assisted Take Off (RATO) bottles to reduce the take off distance even further but these were never fitted operationally. The aircraft primarily served in the Middle and Far East theatres where its rough field performance was essential. A regular location for the Beverley to operate out of was RAF Khormaksar in Aden where it was tasked with resupplying local garrisons; an extremely dangerous task given the poor runway facilities the heavy aircraft often encountered. In these areas the aircraft was painted in a sand/brown scheme but with the cockpit area painted white in an effort to keep the internal temperature down for the pilots.


The Beverley also has the distinction of being the only RAF aircraft to have flown missions during (but not in support of) the Vietnam War when aircraft from No.34 Squadron flew humanitarian supplies into South Vietnam following heavy flooding in the region. When asked by their USAF counterparts what tactics the RAF would use to avoid getting fired on by the Viet Cong forces they are reported to have responded that since the Viet Cong have never seen anything as ugly as the Beverley before they will probably spend so long wondering how it can fly that they wont have time to shoot it down. This kind of remark was actually meant with a lot of  affection.

The aircraft was finally retired in 1967 being replaced by Andovers in some cases and C-130 Hercules in others. The retirement came as the RAF’s commitments to the last corners of the Empire also came to an end and so no real replacement aircraft with the same capabilities was sought.

  • Crew: six (two pilots, flight engineer, navigator, signaller, air quartermaster)
  • Payload: 44,000 lb (20,000 kg) for 200 mi (322 km
  • Length: 99 ft 5 in (30.3 m)
  • Wingspan: 162 ft (49.4 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 9 in (11.8 m)
  • Wing area: 2,916 sq ft (270.9 m²)
  • Empty weight: 79,234 lb (35,950 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 82,100 lb (37,240 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 135,000 lb (61,235 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Bristol Centaurus 173 18-cylinder radial engines, 2,850 hp (2,130 kW) each
  • Performance
    Maximum speed: 238 mph (208 kn, 383 km/h)
    Cruise speed: 173 mph (150 kn, 278 km/h) at 8,000 ft (2,400 m)
    Range: 1,300 mi (1130 nmi, 2092 km) with standard 29,000 lb (13,154 kg) payload
    Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,900 m)
    Rate of climb: 760 ft/min (3.9 m/s)
    Wing loading: 28.2 lb/ft² (137 kg/m²)
    Power/mass: 0.138 hp/lb (228 W/kg)
    Takeoff roll: 1,340 ft (410 m)
    Landing roll: 990 ft (300 m


Gloster Javelin


The Gloster Javelin was a tailed delta winged all-weather fighter that served in the Royal Air Force from 1956 to 1968. It emerged as a result of Operational Requirement OR.227 which outlined the performance the aircraft was to have. It was to be capable of achieving 525 knots in level flight at an altitude of 40,000ft and would feature a radar set from the outset (most nightfighters to that point had radar fitted later such as the Gloster Meteor). Armament comprised of the standard quadruple 30mm cannons which was how nearly all fighters in the RAF were equipped towards the end of the war as this was seen as being the best balance between hitting power and weight considerations. More revolutionary however was the equipping of four air-to-air missiles.

Gloster produced a delta winged design which was becoming quite fashionable in the West in the late 1940s thanks in no small part to captured German technology. Very quickly Gloster realized that their new aircraft was going to be a heavy design and this saw the engines changed from Rolls-Royce Avons to Rolls-Royce Sapphires. The prototype aircraft called the GA.5 first flew on November 26th 1951 but testing proved extremely troublesome with severe vibration troubles as a result of the hight T-tail. This would be an ongoing problem the engineers at Gloster would have to address but not before the death of one of the test pilots. Gloster pressed on however and when the RAF settled on the design the aircraft entered service in 1956. Nevertheless the aircraft was continually developed throughout its life as experience grew.

Apart from the trainer variant all fighter versions of the Javelin had the designation FAW (Fighter All Weather).

The original production version was powered by Sapphire Sa.6 engines rated at 8,000 lbf (35.6 kN thrust) each. Radar came in the form of the British AI.17 that could be used to train the four 30 mm ADEN cannons in the wings. The tailplane was electrically-operated but this proved unsatisfactory. 40 were produced to this standard but because many of the aircraft’s handling problems had not yet been ironed out they were flown under a plethora of restrictions.

The FAW.2 saw the replacement of the British AI.17 radar with the more capable AI-22 (the British version of the American APQ-43 system). The fitting of the new radar required the nosecone to be enlarged giving the new version a tubbier look at the front. Power to the tail was now hydraulic and a total of 30 were manufactured.

T 3

With there being no real training aircraft capable of simulating the new sophisticated aircraft a dual-control trainer version was produced. This dispensed with the radar and included a bulged canopy for improved instructor visibility. The loss of the radar seriously upset the balance of the aircraft necessitating a lengthened fuselage and all moving tailplane to compensate. The aircraft retained the four cannons as its primary armament but had to be trained in the traditional method with there being no radar. The T.3 served with No.228 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Leeming.

The FAW.4 was essentially a FAW.1 with the original AI.17 radar set but featured vortex generators on the wings for improved stall characteristics; something that had plagued the aircraft since the prototype as a result of the high T-tail. Additionally the all-moving tailplane of the T.3 was fitted for improved control at higher speeds. It was one of the first widely distributed variants serving in a total of six squadrons.

The FAW.5 was a FAW.4 but with a revised wing design that allowed it carry more fuel thuis extending range for interception missions over the North Sea if necessary. More importantly however it was the first version to finally have provision for four missile pylons. Although a step closer to meeting the requirement in which the aircraft was born the pylons were never fitted operationally.

33 FAW.2s with the American AI.22 radar were reworked to feature the new wing of the FAW.5 and this produced the FAW,6. Again the aircraft now had the provision for four air-to-air missiles but these were never fitted in service.

The FAW.7 was the mark where the aircraft finally matured into the aircraft it was meant to be. Introducing new Rolls-Royce Sapphire Sa.7 engines with 11,000 lbf (48.9 kN) thrust each, a powered rudder and extended rear fuselage the aircraft dispensed with two of the four 30mm ADEN  guns that had been in previous marks but finally added four Firestreak air-to-air missiles. A FAW.7 conducted the type’s first missile firing in June 1960. A large number of FAW.7s were ordered but the early introduction of the FAW.8 version meant a large number were delivered directly in to storage.


Now that the Javelin finally had its long overdue missile armament the next step was to fit the Sapphire Sa.7 engines with reheat raising thrust to 12,300 lbf (54.7 kN). This made it a more capable interceptor at high altitude but at take off the fuel pump couldn’t deliver fuel fast enough to power the afterburner and resulted in an actual loss of power. Therefore the pilot was restricted to only using reheat at 20,000ft and above. Aerodynamically the aircraft featured a new “drooped” wing leading edge and auto-stabilizer that went a long way to improving handling.

The FAW.9 was the definitive version of the aircraft and a total of 118 FAW.7s were converted to this status by fitting the revised wing and engines of the FAW.8. First flying in 1959 the Javelin was already beginning to show its age compared to the new supersonic designs being developed in the US and the USSR. It was still a potent bomber destroyer however but retained the Firestreak missile which was being replaced by the more capable Red Top air-to-air missile on the Lightning and Royal Navy’s Sea Vixen.

(GALLERY) Gloster Javelin FAW.9 XH903 at the Jet Age Museum, Gloucester


44 FAW.9s were modified to undertake the relatively new practice of air-to-air refuelling by the fitting of a large refuelling probe which perhaps appropriately looked more like a Javelin than the aircraft itself. Later the aircraft were modified again to carry underwing drop tanks extending operational range further.

De Havilland DH.91 Albatross


The DH.91 Albatross is one of the most attractive aircraft to have ever served with the Royal Air Force yet it has largely been forgotten thanks in no small part to the fact only two ever served in RAF markings. The DH.91 started life thanks to an Air Ministry requirement for a transatlantic mail plane. De Havilland opted for a sleek looking monoplane design powered by four De Havilland Gypsy Twelve engines each of which produced 525hp. In order to keep weight down much of the aircraft was constructed out of wood with only weight supporting spars being metal. The wooden body was constructed of plywood and balsa in a sandwich configuration (ply-balsa-ply). De Havilland repeated this method of aircraft construction with the Mosquito which became one of the finest aircraft of World War II.


Although born out of a requirement for a mail plane De Havilland was quick to realize the potential as an airliner and designed a 22 seat passenger version. Of the seven airframes completed two were built as mail planes and the rest were in the passenger configuration. The aircraft entered service with Imperial Airways (later BOAC) in 1938 but after less than a year the Second World War broke out. This would be fatal to De Havilland’s ambitions with the type. The Air Ministry wanted warplanes and De Havilland was briefly committed to building frontline aircraft of competing companies. As the war turned against Britain and France in 1940 De Havilland actually found itself building combat versions of its Tiger Moth trainer to help repel an expected German invasion. Under these conditions the Albatross was effectively dead in terms of production.


For the Albatross the war brought a change of owner for the two mail planes as they were impressed in to RAF service as communication aircraft. Their main function was to act as couriers between Britain and Iceland under the banner of No.271 Squadron. This was a tough job for the two aircraft and their crews with severe weather, rough landing conditions and the threat of German aircraft and surface ships being a constant worry. Ultimately it would prove too much for the aircraft and both were lost in landing accidents at Reykjavik; the first on the 11th August 1941 and the second one on the 7th April 1942. Unfortunately none of the seven aircraft built survive today.


Crew: 4 (pilot, copilot, radio operator and steward)
Length: 71 ft 6 in (21.80 m)
Wingspan: 105 ft 0 in (32.01 m)
Height: 22 ft 3 in (6.78 m)
Wing area: 1,078 ft² (100.2 m²)
Powerplant: 4 × de Havilland Gipsy Twelve (525 hp each)
Maximum speed: 195 kn (225 mph, 362 km/h)
Cruise speed: 183 kn (210 mph, 338 km/h)
Range: 904 nmi, (1,040 mi, 1,675 km)
Service ceiling: 17,900 ft (5,455 m)

Forgotten Aircraft: Supermarine Swift



Given the success of the Spitfire in World War II many people had high hopes for Supermarine in the post war years that they could follow up this success but with a jet powered design. The Swift can trace its origins to the Type 510 which first flew in 1948 and after a series of redesigns the first true Swift F.1 was ordered in to production in 1951 at the height of the Korean War. Experience in Korea against the MiG-15 had shown the Swift would struggle with its unreliable engine and it’s troublesome handling. In fact it would not have even entered production in its F.1 guise had it not been for the government’s insistence that a British swept wing jet fighter be put in to service as soon as possible.


Efforts were made to address these problems in the succeeding versions. The F.2 featured an additional pair of ADEN guns bringing the total to four but this exacerbated the problems further with the weapons’ additional weight. To give the engine more guts compared to the MiG-15 a primitive afterburner was fitted to the Rolls-Royce Avon engine producing the F.3. This was never adopted operationally but served as an instructional airframe for ground crews to gain experience with afterburner technology. The afterburner equipped Swift F.4 did enter operational service with the RAF and featured a number of improvements but the aircraft’s handling was still quite lacklustre especially at high altitudes.

swift_courtBy 1957 the concept of using the Swift as a fighter was falling out of favour especially as the Hawker Hunter (an aircraft ordered in to production as a fail-safe against the Swift which everyone wrongly assumed would be superior) was proving a far more vice-less and more capable design. Therefore the aircraft’s nose was lengthened to accommodate cameras giving birth to the Swift FR.5 tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Many would argue that this version exonerated the design as it proved quite adept in the role and is best remembered for it even winning a major NATO reconnaissance competition in 1959 against aircraft from every member nation. The FR.5 equipped three squadrons in RAF Germany in preparation for a Soviet advance across the Rhine.

Two further variants were built but neither entered frontline service. One was an unarmed reconnaissance version designated PR.6 but was cancelled because of development problems with the engine. Perhaps the most optimistic variant was the Swift F.7 which featured an air intercept radar in the nose and was armed with four Fairey Fireflash air-to-air missiles. Neither the F.7 nor the Fireflash entered service but both went a long way to developing the technology that would lead to the Firestreak and Red Top missiles.


Swift armed with Fireflash missiles

This was never a great aircraft and will forever sit in the shadow of the near-universally loved Hawker Hunter. It did provide a useful low level reconnaissance capability however and would lay the foundation for a number of more successful ventures in aerospace defence technology. It did make a brief cameo in the 1954 British film Conflict of Wings where it visits an air base in Norfolk that is the setting for the movie. The pilot of the Swift openly mocks the home squadrons De Havilland Vampires calling them antiques compared to his new mount. The last aircraft served as ground instructional airframes in the early 70s.



Forgotten Aircraft: Fairey Battle

65991FFD_5056_A318_A8262370B6EFBB7CThe Fairey Battle was a single engined light bomber that was operational at the start of the Second World War. As such it played a large although somewhat unsuccessful role in the RAF’s efforts to blunt the advance of the German forces. The aircraft was conceived in the days when there was a belief that bombers could be built fast enough to outrun enemy fighters. Unfortunately every advance that made bombers faster could also be applied to fighters and so the fighter always had an advantage. It was however an improvement over the previous Hawker Hart and Hind biplanes that it replaced.

Power came from the same Rolls-Royce Merlin engine as the Spitfire and Hurricane but was heavier and therefore not as fast (top speed was 257mph) or nimble. The aircraft had just two guns; a single .303 machine gun in the starboard wing for straffing and a single .303 in the rear of the cockpit for defence. For offensive operations the aircraft could carry four 250lb bombs internally and two 500lb bombs on external hardpoints.


The aircraft has been mired by the savagery at which the Germans destroyed them. The aircraft proved disappointing but recently military historians have put more blame on the way the aircraft was used rather than the design itself. They were used as level day bombers which left them incredibly vulnerable. Had the aircraft been used more like the remarkably similar and infinitely more successful Il-2 Shturmovik of the Soviet Air Force then it might have proven more useful.

Before it was withdrawn from frontline service in 1940 however it did achieve its greatest claim to fame – this was the first RAF aircraft to shoot down a German plane in the war when on 20th September 1939, a Luftwaffe Bf109 fighter was shot down by Sgt. F. Letchard during a a patrol over France.


  • Role: Light Day Bomber
  • Crew: 3
  • Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin II liquid-cooled V12 engine, 1,030 hp (768 kW)
  • Maximum speed: 257 mph (223 kn, 413 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4,600 m)
  • Range: 1,000 miles
  • Service ceiling: 25,000 ft
  • Length: 42 ft 4 in (12.91 m)
  • Wingspan: 54 ft 0 in (16.46 m)
  • Height: 15 ft 6 in (4.72 m)
  • Wing area: 422 ft² (39.2 m²)
  • Empty weight: 6,647 lb (3,015 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 10,792 lb (4,895 kg)
  • Armament:
    1× .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine gun in starboard wing
    1× .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine gun in rear cabin
    4× 250 lb (110 kg) bombs internally
    500 lb (230 kg) of bombs externally