5 of the Fleet Air Arm’s best aircraft

We often talk on Key.Aero about the various successful aircraft of the Royal Air Force over the years, but what about other branches of military aviation?

The Fleet Air Arm, founded in 1924, is the branch of the Royal Navy which deals with naval air power. Whether from land or at sea, the aircraft operated by the Fleet Air Arm have historically contributed to many of Britain’s significant naval operations. So, what are some of the best aircraft to have flown with the Fleet Air Arm in their 97 years?

5. Hawker Sea Hawk

Type/role: Single seat jet day fighter

Manufacturer: Hawker aircraft/Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft

In service: 1953-1983

Maximum speed: 600 mph

Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Nene 103 centrifugal-flow turbojet engine

The Hawker Sea Hawk was never considered to be a considerable advancement on the de Havilland Vampire or the Gloster Meteor. However, it was certainly considered to be an improvement on many of the naval aircraft in use at the time of its introduction, and so it was subsequently adapted for naval operations. Entering into operation with the Fleet Air Arm in 1953, the Hawk was well-liked within the naval service, its primary role being an intensive ground attack aircraft for most of its active lifespan. The Sea Hawk didn’t have a particularly long active lifespan, being replaced by the likes of the Vickers Supermarine Scimitar. In total, the production number ran to 520.

4. Fairey Fulmar

Type/role: Carrier-based reconnaissance/fighter aircraft

Manufacturer: Fairey Aviation Company

In service: 1940-1945

Maximum speed: 272 mph

Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 30 V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine

During World War Two, you may assume that the highest scoring fighter in the Fleet Air Arm would have been something along the lines of the Supermarine Seafire. You would, in fact, be wrong however, as the highest scoring fighter was indeed the Fairey Fulmar. Despite being unable to catch the imaginations of the general public, the Fulmar was fondly regarded amongst the population of the Fleet Air Arm. Yes, it was considered ‘sluggish’, but it was reliable, sturdy and had a large range. The first Squadron to be equipped with the Fairey Fulmar was No. 806 Squadron, who commenced operations from the HMS Illustrious. Most famously, the aircraft was known for its involvement during the 1941 chase of the Bismarck, when multiple Fulmars were used as carrier-borne spotters, playing a crucial role in tracking the movements of the ship as well as performing an attack upon the vessel.

3. Hawker Sea Fury

Type/role: Naval fighter-bomber

Manufacturer: Hawker Aircraft

In service: 1947-1953

Maximum speed: 460 mph

Powerplant: 1 × Bristol Centaurus 18 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine

In May 1943, a design was proposed in response to a specification for a lighter version of the Hawker Tempest. This design was that of the Hawker Fury, a monoplane fighter whose design would go on to be modified to perform as a naval aircraft fighter. With this modification, the Hawker Sea Fury was born. After two prototype attempts, it was concluded that the Sea Fury would be the ideal ground-attack aircraft, and thus entered service in 1947. By 1950, with its folding wings and perfected design, the Hawker Sea Fury was the Fleet Air Arm’s leading single-seat fighter and played a crucial role in the Korean War especially.

2. Grumman Avenger

Type/role: Torpedo bomber

Manufacturer: Grumman

In service: 1942-circa 1960

Maximum speed: 278 mph

Powerplant: 1 × Wright R-2600-8 Twin Cyclone 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine

Initially known as the ‘Tarpon’ amongst its operators in the Royal Navy, the Grumman Avenger was an American-made torpedo bomber that first flew in 1942. Eventually, the British began to refer to the aircraft by its American name: The Avenger. One of the most famous operations to involve the Grumman Avenger was the Battle of Midway, during which it played a crucial role.

1. Fairey Barracuda

Type/role: Carrier-based torpedo/dive bomber

Manufacturer: Fairey Aviation

In service: 1943-circa 1955

Maximum speed: 240 mph

Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin 32 V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine

As the first of its type to be made entirely of metal, the Fairey Barracuda was originally designed with the intention of being a replacement for the Fairey Albacore biplanes. Across its entire time serving with the Fleet Air Arm, the Barracuda was used for various missions such as attacking surface vessels and conducting anti-submarine patrols. Initially designed as torpedo bombers, like many aircraft of the time, it soon became apparent that the Barracuda was more suited to a different role: dive bombing. Despite being powered by the Merlin engine, it became evident that this engine didn’t have the power to handle the weight of a torpedo during flight. Additionally, the powerful Youngman flaps doubled as excellent air brakes, the usage of which was an integral part of dives. As such, the Barracuda spent most of its operational days as a dive bomber.