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Foirey Swordfish

More than any other aircraft, the

Swordfish typifies the heroism of the

Fleec Air Arm in WW2. Of course,

this fabric-covered biplane torpedo

bomber, first flown in April 1934 and

which came into use with the Fleet

AirArm in l936,was outmoded

when war brol<e out, but this made its feats all the more notable.The most famous Swordfish exploits are well-l<nown, but worth repeating

in November 1940, 2l aircraft

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flying from HMS lllustrious inflicted

serious damage on ltalian Navy

ships atTaranto,while a May

I 94 I

strike launched from Ark

Royo/ and Victorious disabled the

German battleship Bismorck and rendered its destruction all but unavoidable. February 1942's'Channel Dash' attacl< on German warships, during which all six Swordfish involved were shot down, showed the type's vulnerability, but it continued to prove most effective, especially in the anti-submarine role. Shown here are just four of the 2,392 Swordfish produced, these aircraft, photographed in 1942,

hailing from 785 Squadron at Crail.

Supermorine Spitfire

Surely, the Spitfire is the mosr famous British aircraft of them all. Few other fighters can match its undisputed beauty, nor its symbolism, not to mention its service record. The last Griffon-engined F24s produced afterWW2 were very, very different beasts to the initial Merlin-powered

prototype that flew from Eastleigh on 5 March 1936, so

far-reaching was the development that proved possible of

R.J. Mitchell's original design, and the starisrics tell their own story.A Spitfire l, as flown by the RAF early in the war, had

l,030hp at its disposal, a top speed of 355mph and weighed

5,3321b; a Spitfire F24 developed 2,050hp, could reach 454mph and weighed 9,900lb.When rhe rype arrived with

No l9 Squadron at Duxford during l938,it was far from

being the outstanding fighter it later became, but problems were soon ironed out and successive marl<s proved more

than a match for the Luftwaffe's

Bfl09s and,thanks to further development, Fw 190s. Serving in all theatres, and in roles such as ground attack, army co-operation

and photo recce as well as being a

fighter, the Spitfire's place in history

was assured.The three aircraft

pictured on an interception patrol overTunisia in early 1943 are

led by the'personal' SpitfireVb

(AB502) ofWg Cdr lan Gleed,

CO of 244Wing.

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Hqwker Hurricone

Vickers Wellington

At the time of its maiden flight, from

Brool<lands on 6 November 1935, Hawl<er's

new monoplane fighter offered a quantum

leap over the RAFs biplanes, but by its

service entry

with No I I I Squadron in

December 1937 (some of 'Treble One's' Hurricanes are shown in the accompanying

At the start of WW2, in the absence of four-engined equipment, theWellington spearheaded RAF Bomber Command's initial

daylight offensive against Germany.As casualties mounted, it

became clear that a switch to night operations was desirable,

andWellingtons were able to mal<e a much more effective contribution to the war effort. Notable about the Wellington, the

inaugural flight of which occurred in June 1936, was the use of

image from 1938) it was already clear that

the Spitfire would surpass its performance. Nonetheless, the Hurricane's conservative construction and excellent flying

the geodetic construction method devised by BarnesWallis,the

immensely strong metal 'latticework' meaning that the aircraft

could survive battle damage that would have downed many other types. Production, which totalled over I 1,000, continued

characteristics offered advantages

it was

throughout hostilities, and especially notable variants of the

easier and quicker to produce, hence the type's numerical superiority at the time

  • - basic bomber marl<s (which tool< in aircraft using a variety of powerplants, mainly including the Bristol Pegasus, Rolls-Royce

of the Battle of Britain, it could take a lot of punishment,was easy to maintain and proved a splendidly stable gun platform

Merlin and Bristol Hercules) included radar-equipped derivatives for Coastal Command.

for such roles as army co-operation and

ground attack. Perhaps outdated as a day

fighter by the end of I 940, Hurricanes then gave outstanding service as night fighters, fighter-bombers and cannon-armed ground attack aircraft. Rarely has an aircraft been more unfairly overlooked in favour of another than the Hurricane in relation to the Spitfire, but this will never diminish the

contribution the Hawker aircraft made to

the Allied victory.

Short Sunderlond

Short Brothers became famed for its flying boats during the inter-war years. lts C-Class, or Empire, flying boats built

for lmperial Airways were designed to linl< Britain and the colonies, carrying passengers and mail, and from the first of them, the S23, was born a new machine for the RAF. Firsr

taking to the air on l6 October 1937 (the aircraft shown here, K4774,was the first prototype), the Sunderland came into service the following summer. lt was a Sunderland that carried out Coastal Command\ first U-boat sinl<ing, and the aircraft

performed outstandingly in all its roles

anti-submarine

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warfare, rescue, convoy escort, transport and more. But although remaining Sunderland squadrons were very active in the Berlin Airlift and KoreanWar, the age of the RAF flying boats soon drew to a close.When No 205 Squadron at Seletar,

Singapore, retired its last two Sunderlands in May 1959, an era truly ended.

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Hondley Poge Hqlifqx

Production of the Halifax and its supply to squadrons were hastened by the urgent need for four-engined heavy bombers after the outbreak of hostilities. The first prototype's inaugural flight took place on 25 October 1939; it

was followed by the first production example just under a year later, and

No 35 Squadron received initial deliveries in November 1940. March 194 I saw Halifaxes becoming the first four-engined RAF aircraft to bomb targets

in Germany, and, along with the Lancaster, the type was at the forefront of

Bomber Command's offensive for the rest of the war, both in Merlin and Hercules-powered versions. However,the Halifax also earned its spurs within Coastal Command and as a glider tug,amongst other specialised roles. In

peacetime, ex-RAF examples became civilian workhorses on the Berlin Airlift.

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Brislol Beoufighter

The Beaufighter's predecessor

as a night fighter, the Bristol Blenheim, fought stoically in the early years of WW2 but was

really too slow and vulnerable.

The Beaufighter addressed both of these shortcomings. lts first flight was on l7 July 1939, and the Beaufighter lf was ready for service entry in the late summer

of I 940, taking advantage of

the newly-developed

Airborne

lnterception (Al) radar and posing

a potent threat to Luftwaffe night raiders.Yet it was also effective as

a day fighter in theWestern Desert

and the Mediterranean, and as a long-range fighter with Coastal Command. The latter later also employed rocket and torpedo-armed BeaufighterVls and Xs to

great effect. lt was, meanwhile, in the Far

East where the exploits of Beaufighters

gained the type its best-l<nown nickname,

the Japanese dubbing it the'Whispering Death'.A total of 52 RAF squadrons flew

Beaufighters; the rocket-equipped aircraft in

the accompanying image hailed from No 30 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force.

Howker Typhoon

The Typhoon got off to something of a 'false start' in service. lntended as a standard fighter,

and first flown on 24 February 1940, it tool<

some time for production machines to become available.When they did, initially to No 56

Squadron at Duxford in August-September

I 94 I, they

engine

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or, rather, the type's Napier Sabre

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proved highly troublesome.

The advantages of having 400mph

performance in an RAF fighter for the

first time were negated by the Sabres

lacl< of reliability and poor high-altitude performance. But things got better as

time went on, and using the Typhoon

as a fighter-bomber and ground attacl< aircraft proved far more successful. Typhoons played a substantial part

in theAllied offensive across Europe before and after D-Day, later armed

with bombs of up to 2,0001b and

rocl<ets.

lt did not last long in service

in fact, not

beyond I 945

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theTyphoon had proved a classic

example of mal<ing a sill< purse

out of a sow's ear. Being refuelled

and re-armed in the

photo is an

invasion-striped No 257 Squadron

airc raft.

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de Hqvillond Mosquilo

It is surprising how many great aeroplanes began as private ventures,the Mosquito being one such.An all-wooden light bomber whose speed would be its only defensive weapon might have seemed an odd concept, but the aircraft! qualities soon struck home when the

first example, which took to the air

from Hatfield on 25 November 1940,

was demonstrated. lts Merlin-engined

performance was astounding, and more than .justified the initial RAF order placed earlier that year.Just a year later, No 105

Squadron took on its initial Mosquito lVs.

This was a true'multi-role' aircraft

before the term entered common

usage

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as a bomber, it tormented the

Luftwaffe with its pace and agility at high and low levels, could carry bombs up to and including the 4,0001b'blockbuster',

and was famed for the pinpoint attacks

it could prosecute, but the Mosquito, of which more than 7,700 were produced, was also an outstanding night fighter, target-marker, anti-shipping strikb platform and photo recce aircraft. ln the

photo can be seen two Mosquito lVs of No 105 Squadron.

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Avro lqncoster

Had theAvro Manchester been a success,there mightwell have been no Lancaster.

As it was, the twin-engined, Rolls-RoyceVulture-powered

Manchester was a disaster,

so it was back to the drawing board forAvrol design team headed by Roy Chadwick.

With its four proven Merlins, the Lancaster was rid of most of the problems that

beset its predecessor, and 7,377 would go on to be built, beginning with a prototype

that flew on 9 January 194 l. No 44 Squadron atWaddington became the first Lancaster operator in early 1942, followed by No 97 Squadron, and their low-level

daylight raid on the MAN Diesel works inAugsburg that March was the first of the heroic exploits by'Lancs' and their crews.There followed August 19421 first ever Pathfinder Force operation,the attack on the Mohne and Eder dams by No 617 Squadron in May 1943, and the sinking of the Tirpitz in November l944,to name but three. By the end of the war, I 0 Lancaster crew members had been awarded the

Victoria Cross, and the aircraft itself had been developed to carry bombs as large as

the 22,0001b'Grand Slam'. Some enjoyed a productive second career with Coastal Command, soldiering on until I 954, while the Royal Canadian Air Force kept its maritime patrollers up to 1963.

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Glosiet Meleor

Two'firsts' were achieved by the Meteor

it was the RAF's

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first jet aircraft, and the first (and only) Allied jet that saw accion before the end ofWW2.The experimental Gloster E28l39 had helped prove the concept of a British jet aircraft when it began

tests in l94l,though the Meteor would be a very different beast,

requiring the extra power of a twin configuration. Numerous powerplants were used, the first of the F9l40 prototypes to fly, on 5 March 1943, using Halford H ls, though the Rolls-Royce Welland I equipped the Meteor ls that entered service with No 616 Squadron in july l944.These aircraft began by being used againstV I flying bombs, downing I 3 of them. From the improved

Meteor lll onwards, the Rolls-Royce Derwent became the type's

standard engine, this being gradually uprated for the major F4

and F8 production single-seaters, and variants thereof such as the

NFI I to NFl4 night fighters. Meanwhile,theTT had become the RAF's first jet trainer upon service entry in I 948, reflecting the

onward march of the jet. lt was also flown by l6 overseas nations.

The aircraft in the photo is Meteor F8YZ440,the first of that

marl< to go to the RAF, specifically No 43 Squadron,

in August 1949.

Swiss i{d

de Hovillond Vqmpire

Although it flew not long after the Meteor, in September 1943,

theVampire Fl had to wait until the war was over ro starr irs

operational RAF service, doing so with No 247 Squadron.The

F I and F3 variants did not last long before being superseded

by the FB5 fighter-bomber,which

became the most numerous

marl< of all, and spearheaded the growth of the RAF's front-

line presence in Germany during the early 1950s. Units based in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Far Easc also took onVampires as their initial jet equipment.Two-seatVampires started out with the NF l0 night fighter of 1949, theVampire

Trainer, designated T I I by the RAI following in 1950 and heralding a new dawn for the RAF pilot training scheme. Now, pilots would gain their'wings' on jets at FlyingTraining Schools

before moving on to their Operational Conversion Units.

Vampires also saw service with l6 other nations, the Swiss Air

Force being the last to retire the type, doing so in l990.Two of its FB6s are shown here.

Vickers Viscount

For a long time, no British airliner proved as commercially

successful as theViscount. lt was also a pioneer, being the first

turboprop-powered machine to enter commercial service. The Rolls-Royce Dart-poweredViscount prototype flew

for the first time in July l948.This initialType 630 version,

which started flying for BEA two years later, was far from

perfect

as a 32-seater and possessing less-than-impressive

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performance, the operating economics didnt work. But the improved Type 700, accommodating up to 53 seats, was far more impressive,the prototype (G-AMAV pictured here)

proving fastest in the transport class of the I 953 air race between London and Christchurch, New Zealand,while another stretch produced the 7 I -seatType 800. By then, it was truly a success, even breaking into the US domestic market.The 445th and lastViscount rolled offthe line in

  • 1964 not until the BAe Jetstream beat it in 1990 would

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another British airliner exceed that total.

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English Electric Cqnberro

Alratlcn lilagc! 'oril

There can be no doubt that the Canberra deserves a place in the pantheon of

truly great aeroplanes

and not just truly great British aeroplanes.The twin

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Rolls-RoyceAvon-powered

jet bomber was a quantum leap over everything

that had gone before, being fast, high-flying, agile, versatile and able to deliver an impressive punch. lt was clearly outstanding when the English ElectricAl

prototype got air under its wheels in Roland Beamont's hands on l3 May 1949, proved so obviously capable in testing rhar rhe USAF ordered it as an all-weather interdictor even before RAF service entry of the Canberra 82 in May 195 l,and remained a valuable RAF asset right up until the retirement of its last Canberra PR9s in the summer of 2006.Just over 900 were built in the UK, plus 48 in Australia, and the type served with l5 nations as well as the UK and, in B-57 form, the

USA. Of course, the Canberra had its idiosyncrasies, but 60 years after its first flight it is

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still remembered with enormous affection.Those in the accompanying photograph are B6s

of Nos I 09 and I 39 Squadrons, based at Binbrook

in I 956.

de Hqvillond Comel

The uncharitable might say that few aircraft sum up Britain's lost lead in post-war aircraft development better than the DH 106

Comet.All seemed rosy when the prototype took to the air on 27 )uly l949,thus becoming the world's first jet airliner to fly, and

the Comet I's entry into service with BOAC in May 1952 was a

matter of considerable pride. But there then followed the series of

fatal accidents, the latter two in 1954 the result of metal fatigue, that

killed off its hopes.The aircraft leading the formation shown, G-ALYB was involved in the first of the fatigue-related disasters. Not until the Comet 4 came along in I 958 did the type begin to make any

further inroads into the global marl<et, but

by then the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 had begun to

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clean up.The Comet has lived on,though,

in the RAFi Nimrod

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maritime patrol and ISTAR aircraft, and it is incredible that,60 years after the DH 106 prototype's maiden flight, rhe RAF is waiting to tal<e delivery of the latest variant of this line, the Nimrod MRA4.

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Howker Hunter

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The most beautiful iet aircraft ever builtlVery possibly.The Hunter certainly looked right, and, after early teething troubles, it flew right,

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powered P 1 067

prototype up for the first

time on 20 July 195 I, though the need for

further development delayed the arrival of

the first Hunter F ls with No 43 Squadron

until July 1954, and even then the first mark

was a troubled machine, unable to fire its

gun at high altitudes or high speeds for fear

of causing a flameout.As an interim measure

;,"*.:*' there followed the F2, with an Armstrong

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Siddeley Sapphire turbojet, but then it

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was back to theAvon

in improved

versions

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and Hunter marks that could

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at last fulfil the design's potential, with

. ;v,i.t good performance and longer range'The

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main production Hunter for the RAF was

the F6, on which

were based the ground

attack FGA9 and fighter/recce FRl0.

Two-seatTTs served the RAF from I 958

until l994.The Hunter also proved a great export success, being flown by 2 I

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other nations

indeed, Lebanon has

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just returned its to service! Pictured is a four-ship of FGA9s from No 208

Squadron, RAF, going vertical with

Mount Kilimaniaro in the bacl<ground.

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Bristol Britqnnio

The Britannia finally came along with its Bristol Proreus turboprops when airlines were looking for jets for

long-range services, endured a protracted development

programme punctuated by various problems, and could have sent its manufacturer into banl<ruptcy.The first Britannia (G-ALBO, pictured in BOAC marl<ings) flew in August 1952, but BOAC service entry didn't take

place for anorher five years. ln December 1957, it did

however become the first turbine-powered aircraft to operate services across the North Atlantic. Production

was propped up by RAF orders and a few small deals

with overseas carriers

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alas, it was never

going to be

enough.At least the Britannia en.joyed a long life with British charter operators, one of which, of course, even named itself after the type!

Avro Vulcon

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The huge public interest in XH558 today proves theVulcan! enduring

status as an icon of the ColdWar and of British aviation.The second of the triumvirate of 'V-bombers' to fly, doing so on 30 August I 952, the delta

wing configuration was chosen by designer Roy Chadwick as a means of maximising the aircraft's weapons load, speed and range.That firstAvro Type 698 got airborne initially under the power of four Avons, though production examples, deliveries of which to No 230 Operational Conversion Unit commenced atWaddington in February 1957, would use Bristol Olympus engines. More powerful units were employed on theVulcan 82,which also had a wing of greater span and chord, affording a bigger weapons payload and longer range.The type's role altered substantially over the years, starting out as part of the UK! nuclear deterrent, and finishing up near the end of its service life performing conventional attacks against port Stanley during the

Falklands War'Blacl< Bucl<' missions

the only time, thanl<fully,

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Vulcans were ever used'in anger'.The K2 tanl<ers of No 50

Squadron were the last in service, being phased out in 1984. Shown

is the first production B I, XA889.

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English Eleclric

Lightning

To the Lightning goes the

honour of being the RAF's first fighter able to go

supersonic in level flight

a level of performance

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that demanded rigorous

aerodynamic testing. Roland Beamont made the rnaiden

flight of the English Electric PIA prototype, then with two Sapphire engines,

on 4

August I 954, though the subsequent P I Bs

would be far closer to production configuration

the first of thern became the first British

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aircraft to reach Mach 2, in November l958.The Central Fighter Establislrment at Coltishall got

its first Lightning F ls late in 1959, and No 74

Squadron

in July 1960 - -a new era for the RAF's

fighter force had begun.Thc Lightning's main

handicap remained its short range, despite the

extra fuel tanl<age on thc latcr F3 and F6 marlcs,

but pilots loved its outstanding performance whatever the shortcomings.June 1988 saw No I I

Squadron relinquishing its last Lightnings at

Binbrool<

it was a sad day, and the

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Tornado F3 could never hope to be viewed with such excitement. Pictured here is a Lightning F2 ofNo l9Squadron.

Blockbutn Buccqneer

A Fleet Air Arm requirement (NA39, by which designation the prototypes were known) for a carrier-borne low-level stril<e aircraf! produced the Buccaneer.What Blacl<burn came

up with was an innovative design, involving

such elements as the use of boundary layer

control and a rotating bomb bay. Upon service entry with the FAA in 1962, it was clear that

the Buccaneer S I i Gyron Junior engines were

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inadequate, but the Rolls-Royce Speys of the 52, which arrived in 1965, cured this failing and unlocked the type's potential.The RAF decided

to adopt the Buccaneer when

its F- I I I K

order was cancelled, buying some for itself

and tal<ing on ex- FAA

aircraft. Already

deemed obsolescent,

the type saw combat

with the RAF in the

199 I Gulf War years later, No 208

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three

Squadron retired its last 'Buccs'.The aircraft in this shot is an S I about

to be fired from the bow

catapult on HMS Hermes in 1962.

AIRFIX