Fairey Firefly TT.1 – Pacific warrior turned target tug

By: shortfinals

Sep 02 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War, warbird


Focal Length:24mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

The Fairey Aviation Company had long been known for their naval aircraft. Their Flycatcher fighter biplane had served the Royal Navy for many years, and the company was always happy to contend when any official specification was issued by the Admiralty for a new Fleet Air Arm aircraft. However, in the late 1930s the British naval authorities decided to behave in an illogical manner (and not for the last time, I might add). Having ignored the imminent arrival of the Hurricane and then the Spitfire into RAF service, they plumped for yet another biplane, the Sea Gladiator, from Gloster, and then finally selected Fairey to build the first FAA eight-gun monoplane fighter. Fairey chose to hand the project to Marcel Lobelle (of Fairey Battle fame), a Belgian designer who came up with a machine that was powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin and armed with 8 x .303 Browning machineguns (like the Spitfire and Hurricane). What the Fairey Fulmar, as it was called, also had was a Naval Observer, to do the navigation! This weight penalty in structure and crew finished the Fulmar as a high performance fighter.

When the time came to replace the Fulmar, you would have thought that their Lordships (of the Admiralty, of course) would have learnt their lesson. No! Fairey’s came up with a perfectly respectable fleet fighter, built to Specification P.4/34, which they called the Firefly (they had already built a biplane fighter of the same name). Still saddled with a two-man crew, the company decided on Rolls-Royce’s new Griffon IIB engine of 1,730hp, which was pulling new generation Spitfires around the sky at close to 400 mph; the Firefly Mk 1 managed only 316 mph (slower than a Mk 1 Hurricane!)

Still, despite these handicaps, the new fighter proved to have a powerful punch, with 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon and 8 x 60lb rocket projectiles – ideal for attacking ground targets, or shipping strikes. Fireflies took part in shipping strikes in Norwegian waters, and the raids on the German battleship, ‘Tirpitz’.  Later, the British Pacific Fleet used Fireflies from the carriers HMS Indefatigable and HMS Implacable to attack targets in Sumatra, and even the Home Islands of Japan. The second crewman also came in useful when anti-submarine versions were designed, post-WW2. The Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy both operated Fireflies, and the Fleet Air Arm took them to war in Korea, where they were used to strike at targets both north and south of the 38th Parallel. Other users included the Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service (Marine-Luchtvaartdienst), and the Ethiopean Air Force (bought second-hand from the Canadians). I remember taking a call in my room at the Addis Ababa Hilton, in the middle of the night, and being offered a pair of VERY used Fireflies – it turned out that a) one of them had a tree growing through it, and b) the gentleman concerned didn’t actually OWN the aircraft – but that’s  another story!

Here we can see a Firefly TT.1, in storage at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire. It was originally manufactured in 1944 as ‘DT989’, an FR.1 (Fighter/Reconnaissance version), but was converted to a target tug, as many were after the end of WW2, in this case at Fairey’s Heaton Chapel works, near Ringway Airport, Manchester. It was exported to Sweden, where a company called Svenska Flygjanst AB provided target-towing facilities for the Swedish Armed Forces, using a total of 16 Fireflies (hence the all-over yellow scheme of SE-BRG). Since it represents the early generation Firefly (the second generation machines, such as the AS.5, have radically different tail profiles, chin contours and wing shapes) it will, undoubtedly, be ‘deconverted’ back to its original form by its new owners, the Aircraft Restoration Company at Duxford. I am really looking forward to the day when we will, eventually, see a genuine WW2-era Firefly on the airshow circuit






3 comments on “Fairey Firefly TT.1 – Pacific warrior turned target tug”

  1. The Firefly also has nicely folding wings I thought. Nice photo of an aircraft awaiting restoration, too 🙂


    • Thanks very much! It’s a little dark, because of the area of the hangar which is being used for storage, but the aircraft is, basically 90% complete, even though it is in parts. Another, less complete, Firefly was recovered at the same time, which will either become a ‘static’ airframe, or a ‘spares bin’. I can’t wait to see this one in the air!


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