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Fleet Air Arm: Fairey Gannet

The Fairey Gannet was a British carrier-borne aircraft of the post-Second World War era developed for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) by the Fairey Aviation Company in response to the 1945 Admiralty requirement GR.17/45.

It was a mid-wing monoplane with a tricycle undercarriage. The Gannet was originally developed to meet the FAA's dual-role anti-submarine warfare and strike requirement. It was later adapted for operations as an electronic countermeasures and carrier onboard delivery aircraft.

The Gannet AEW was a variant of the aircraft developed as a carrier-based airborne early warning platform.

Image: An Australian Gannet AS.1 on the USS Philippine Sea in 1958.

The Double Mamba engine could be run with one Mamba stopped to conserve fuel and extend endurance for cruise flight. The contra-rotating propellers meant that when only half of the Double Mamba was running there were no thrust asymmetry problems. The Mamba exhausts were situated on each side of the fuselage, at the root of the wing trailing edge. The gas-turbine engine could run on kerosene, "wide-cut" turbine fuel or diesel fuel, allowing the Admiralty to eliminate the dangerous high-octane petroleum spirit required to operate piston-engined aircraft from carriers.

The pilot was seated well forward, conferring a good view over the nose for carrier operations, and sat over the Double Mamba engine, directly behind the gearbox and propellers. The second crew member, an aerial observer, was seated under a separate canopy directly behind the pilot. After the prototype, a second observer was included, in his own cockpit over the wing trailing edge. This addition disturbed the airflow over the horizontal stabiliser, requiring small finlets on either side. The Gannet's wing folded in two places to form a distinctive Z-shape on each side.

The first fold was upward, at about a third of the wing span where the inboard anhedral (down-sweep) changed to the outboard dihedral (up-sweep) of the wing (described as a gull wing). The second wing fold was downward, at about two-thirds of the wing span. The length of the nose-wheel shock absorber caused the Gannet to have a distinctive nose-high attitude, a common characteristic of carrier aircraft.

Tests on the harness restraint system in the Gannet were carried out after a midflight failure due to the release cables binding. The accident itself was the result of an unrelated engine failure, but the primary issue was the failure of the harness quick-release mechanism. A brief report in Cockpit, Q4 1973, concerning the accident: "A Gannet was launched at night from Ark Royal and climbed to 4,000 ft. Shortly afterwards the starboard engine ran down to 60%. Attempts to feather and brake the engine, and a subsequent re-light were unsuccessful and the aircraft was unable to maintain height. (It is considered that the most likely cause of the accident was disconnection of the HP cock linkage).

Both observers bailed out at 1,800ft, but when the pilot, Lieutenant Keith Jones, tried to bail out he could not free himself from the 'Negative g' strap. However, the rest of the harness had fallen clear and so the pilot was committed to a ditching without any restraint from shoulder or lap straps.

Image: The Australian Fleet Air Arm Museum's Gannet on display in 2015

This was successfully accomplished and the aircrew were all recovered safely and uninjured... Although the ditching was successful, the most disturbing factor of the accident, was the inability of the pilot to release himself from 'Negative g' strap..." In 1958 the Gannet was selected to replace the Douglas Skyraider in the Airborne early warning role. In order to accommodate the systems required, the Gannet underwent a significant redesign that saw a new version of the Double Mamba installed, new radome mounted under the aircraft, the tailfin increased in area, the undercarriage lengthened and the weapons bay removed. A total of 44 aircraft (plus a single prototype) of the AEW.3 version were produced.

The RN's first operational Gannet squadron (826 NAS) was embarked on HMS Eagle, and in all, the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm operated 24 squadrons. West Germany bought 15 Gannets in 1958, and Indonesia bought a number in 1959. The Royal Australian Navy purchased 36 Gannet AS.1 Anti-Submarine Warfare aircraft.

We operated them in four squadrons, 724 Squadron, 725 Squadron, 816 Squadron and 817 Squadron, from HMAS Melbourne and the shore base, HMAS Albatross. The Australia AS.1 versipon was 43 feet or 13 metres long, it had a wingspan of 54 feet 4inches, or 16.56 metres; it was 13 foot 9 inches tall (4.19m) and it had a wing area of 483 ft² or 45 m².

It was powered an Armstrong Siddeley Double Mamba turboprop engine and had two contra-rotating 4-bladed propellers, allowing it to fly at a maximum speed of 310 mph or 500 km/h, with a service ceiling of 25,000 ft or 7,600 m for between five and six hours. It was equipped with Ekco ASV Mk. 19 radar, and it could carry up to 2,000lb of bombs, torpedoes, depth charges and rockets. Several Gannets survive in Australia. They can be found at the Camden Museum of Aviation, and at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, at Nowra in New South Wales, at the Queensland Air Museum, and at the Australian National Aviation Museum at Moorabbin in Victoria.


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