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Fairey Barracuda taking off from carrier
Here we see a Fairey Barracuda taking off from an un-named British aircraft carrier somewhere in the Far East
In 1937, the Admiralty identified the requirement for a Torpedo-Bomber- Reconnaissance monoplane. The full specification, S24/37, was issued in January of the following year and shortly thereafter six aircraft companies were invited to submit designs for what was to be primarily a carrier-borne aircraft. By September 1938, it was decided for a variety of reasons that Fairey should remain the sole contender for the contract. The ensuing Fairey Type 100, designed by Marcel Lobelle, was considered to have such excellent potential that an order for 250 machines was made “off the drawing board” in August 1939 – at which time the name Barracuda was adopted. Prototype production slowed as a result of greater priorities elsewhere, however, with the first aircraft not taking to the air until 7th December 1940.
The Barracuda’s crew of three were positioned in tandem beneath a single long canopy with the observer aft of the pilot and a radio operator/air gunner to the rear. Fitted with the Rolls Royce Merlin 30 engine, the Mk1 version was found to be underpowered and thus the Merlin 32, generating an extra 400 hp, was selected for the Mk2, the main production machine. Although the 18-in torpedo was intended to be the Barracuda’s primary weapon, only 16 missions carried such weaponry. Bombs were the favoured ordnance with the aircraft having a payload of up to 1,500 lb. The air gunner was armed with a .303in Vickers machine gun.
The Barracuda entered service in January 1943 with No 827 Fleet Air Arm and first saw action with No 810 Squadron during the Salerno landings. Service in the Pacific Theatre followed in 1944. Notably, the aircraft played a major part in the attack on the Tirpitz on 3rd April 1944 when a total of 44 from HMS Victorious and HMS Furious scored 14 direct hits on the enemy battleship for the loss of three machines. The RAF also operated the Barracuda for a short time with four squadrons so equipped in 1944, and the Royal Canadian Navy took delivery of 12 aircraft in 1946. The Barracuda continued to serve with the FAA until the mid-1950s.
A total of no fewer than 2,607 Barracudas were built. None remain today but the FAA Museum has a considerable amount of wreckage from which in due course it is hoped to resurrect a machine for static display.
The Barracuda served at RAF Tangmere during 1945 with the Central Fighter Establishment, which had absorbed the FAA’s Naval Air Fighting Development Unit in January of that year.
Fairey Barracuda wreckage and recollections
The Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, has amassed a huge amount of Barracuda wreckage over the years, in the hope of gathering enough to rebuild a full aircraft. A plan to restore the Barracuda by the Project Bluebird team in partnership with the Fleet Air Arm Museum was announced last year – see separate story. (Update: as it turned out, after a small amount of work completed by the Bluebird Project, the Fleet Air Arm Museum decided to continue with the restoration in-house – see this post from December 2018 for an update)
It’s worth saying more about the Barracuda ‘bits’ that will make up this project, as much of the material gathered has only rarely been seen by the public – and probably will not be until the project is finished.
The cockpit area of the Barracuda soon to begin restoration
Barracuda DP872 was the 18th Barracuda MkII from the first production batch ordered from Boulton Paul and was delivered in July 1943. In August 1944, DP872 took off from Maydown on a flight to Easthaven, but five miles short of the airfield the Barracuda spun and crashed in a bog known as Blackhead Moss near Enagh Lough. The crew, Sub Lieutenant DH Oxby, Sub Lieutenant FR Dobbie and Leading Airman DAJ Mew were all killed. In 1971, a team from the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the Royal Engineers recovered the wreckage of DP872 and brought it to the museum at Yeovilton. The partial remains of DP872 have been joined by large pieces of LS931, another MkII, which had crashed on the island of Jura. The aircraft had been flown by the CO of 815 Squadron and had gone missing while on a training mission in January 1945. The wreckage was recovered by the Fleet Air Arm museum in 2000.
Smaller parts from many other Barracudas have also been gathered, including some pieces from a rare MkV which had crashed in the Solent. These remains were put on display at Cobham Hall, which houses the Fleet Air Arm Museum’s reserve collection.
The Fairey Barracuda has a reputation as one of the most reviled aircraft of the Second World War, and is seen as symptomatic of the second class equipment the Fleet Air Arm was subjected to when other services received much more suitable machinery. The reputation of this replacement for the Royal navy’s much-loved Swordfish and Albacores can be considered at best that it was ineffective and at worst that it was downright dangerous.
There is no doubt that the Barracuda is an aircraft of contradictions. It was unquestionably flawed, unpopular and troubled throughout its life, but it achieved more than its critics like to admit and was a powerful weapon in the Fleet Air Arm’s arsenal.
The industrial-looking undercarriage that was such a characteristic Barracuda feature
The Barracuda resulted from a specification issued on the 9th November 1937 for a ‘TSR’ (Torpedo-Spotter-Reconnaissance) aircraft to equip the Fleet Air Arm – later changed to TBR (Torpedo-Bomber-Reconnaissance) to reflect the greater emphasis on dive bombing. It was intended to replace a specification that, incredibly, had only been issued some ten months earlier. (Specification 41/36 had been written around the Fairey Albacore biplane, which was no more than an incremental improvement on the existing Swordfish).
The Fairey Type 100 won, beating designs from Hawker, Blackburn, Westland and Supermarine. On the 30th January 1939, the Air Ministry finally contracted Fairey to build two prototypes, and in June 1940, production aircraft were ordered ‘off the drawing board’. A redesign had to take place in 1940 when Rolls Royce suspended all work on the intended powerplant, the air-cooled Boreas. This was replaced with a Rolls Royce Merlin 30 (later upgraded to the more powerful Merlin 32 in the Barracuda MkII).
On the 7th December 1940 at Fairey’s Great West Aerodrome, Barracuda P1767 was taken into the air for the first time, flown by Fairey test-pilot Christopher Staniland.
The unorthodox appearance of the Barracuda in flight
The Barracuda’s development from prototype to operational aircraft was even more tortuous than its birth had been. The programme was marred by handling problems, unexplained fatal crashes, poisoned aircrew and radically different behaviour of apparently identical aircraft. In training, a number of Barracudas and their crews were lost when they failed to pull out of dives, the wings folded while in flight or they simply crashed.
Most worryingly, a series of fatal accidents took place in the first half of 1943. From January, two front line squadrons were working up with the Barracuda MkII and during this process several aircraft were lost from both units during torpedo practice. The incidents were thought to occur during tight turns following recovery from a dive – exactly the kind of evasive manoeuvre that would occur after a torpedo run on a heavily armed ship. The A&AEE and the RAE therefore launched investigations into the possible causes. In most conditions the aircraft handled safely, but when the dive brakes were released during the dive, around two seconds later the nose pitched downward. It was felt that this could be unsafe when manoeuvring violently at low level. Coupled with the rudder over-balancing in sideslipping turns, this explained why Barracudas had been found to dive into the sea, or flipped inverted before crashing. Armed with this knowledge, after July 1943 the number of crashes decreased dramatically.
Further development was carried out as the Barracuda became established in squadron service. The availability of ASV X, which enjoyed better discrimination between targets and more accurate bearing than ASV IIN, was assessed. This improved the Barracuda’s anti-submarine ability. The radar was mounted in the rear fuselage with a ventral blister to allow the antenna to scan, uninterrupted by the airframe. The tests were favourable and it was decided that a quarter of all Barracuda production would be this variant, designated Barracuda TR MkIII.
An entire Barracuda centre-section incorporating the Observer’s cockpit (the square windows under the wing root)
Sir Ernest Lemon, working at the Ministry of Aircraft Production instigated a production ‘group’ for the Barracuda, along similar lines to those used to build RAF heavy bombers. Fairey would be the ‘parent’ company while Boulton-Paul and Westland would be satellite firms. Fairey was made responsible for all design, including production tooling, and scheduling the group’s work, and monitoring the multitude of sub-contractors building individual components for the Barracuda.
In this manner, 2,602 Barracudas were built, 1,192 by Fairey themselves, 692 by Boulton-Paul and 18 by Westland, who left the group to pursue production of Seafires. Their place in the group was taken by Blackburn, which built 700 Barracudas.
In December 1942, 831 Squadron received some MkIs while the squadron’s carrier HMS Indomitable was in the US for a refit. In January 1943, the veteran 827 Squadron at Stretton, after having practised monoplane flight with a Fairey Fulmar, became the first full Barracuda unit with 12 MkIIs. Two months later, 810 Squadron, received Barracudas at Lee-on-Solent. Another battle-hardened squadron, 810 set about working up onshore and aboard HMS Illustrious and would be the first Barracuda unit to see action.
On the 8th June, 810 Squadron embarked on HMS Illustrious. The carrier operated off the Norwegian coast in July, and headed to the Mediterranean the following month to support the Allied landings in Italy. However, apart from anti-submarine patrols during the cruise, 810 Squadron was largely redundant as the Italian fleet surrendered on the first day of operations.
The Barracuda pilot’s sliding canopy
No.8 TBR Wing was formed with 827 and 830 squadrons and from the beginning of 1944, with the Home Fleet the Wing embarked on a dedicated programme of shipping strikes designed to interrupt Germany’s supply train. This campaign was punctuated by strikes on the battleship Tirpitz, which was a constant threat to the crucial Arctic convoys supplying war materiel to the Soviet Union.
Ten Barracudas from HMS Furious took part in the first strike in February 1944, in which a beached transport at Stadlandet was dive-bombed. Despite Messerschmitt Bf109s and Focke-Wulf Fw190s attacking them, the Barracudas escaped without harm. Further raids from carriers in the North Sea were to be carried out over the succeeding months, attacking merchant ships with torpedoes, or dive bombing them.
The battleship Tirpitz was causing immense concern in the Admiralty. As a modern dive bomber capable of lifting a capital ship-killing bomb, the Barracuda was the ideal solution.
Tirpitz had been damaged by midget submarines in September 1943, but it was feared that repairs were nearing completion at Kåfjord in northern Norway, protected by torpedo nets, anti-aircraft batteries, flak ships and smoke generators. Operation Tungsten involved two TBR wings, No.8 (Furious) and No.52 (Victorious) made up of 827 and 830 squadrons, and 829 and 831 squadrons, were to provide the striking force. Meanwhile, Corsairs, Hellcats, Wildcats and Seafires would provide the escort.
A full-scale bombing and air-firing range had been created at Loch Eriboll complete with smoke generators and dummy AA batteries. Repeated practices were carried out, and a full dress rehearsal on the 28th March. The raid was to take place in two waves, with a Barracuda wing in each.
Just after 4am on the 3rd, the Barracudas’ engines were started. The subsequent report from HMS Victorious noted that the crews were ‘brimfull of determination’. The force led by Lieutenant-Commander R. Baker Faulkner of HMS Furious set off for the Tirpitz at low level before climbing to 10,000 ft near the coast. Baker Faulkner used a snow covered valley to cover the approach of the strike force from the South West before plunging on a completely unsuspecting enemy. The Hellcats and Wildcats strafed the Tirpitz and surrounding flak positions, while the Corsairs gave top cover. The Barracudas dived from 8,000 ft, entering their approach at 0529. The TBRs’ fearsomely destructive attack lasted around a minute.
The second strike was already taking off as the first was attacking. The attack was made from around 7,500 ft, and the two columns went into the dive in quick succession. A number of explosions were seen but judging hits was more difficult due to the smokescreen. One Barracuda was hit by AA fire and crashed into a mountain but all others escaped. By the time the aircraft had turned for the fleet, the Tirpitz had stopped firing altogether. Altogether there had been four 1,600 lb hits, four with 500 lb MC, six with 500 lb SAP and one with 600 lb AS.
The same month but over two and a half thousand miles away, the 21st TBR Wing on HMS Illustrious was poised to Sumatra – the port of Sabang, oil storage tanks, the airfield at Lho Nga and other facilities in what was known as Operation Cockpit. On the 19th April at 5.30am, seventeen Barracudas took off from Illustrious accompanied by Douglas SBD Dauntless and Grumman TBF Avenger bombers from Saratoga, and fighters from both carriers. The Barracudas concentrated on the port and when they arrived, it was with total surprise on their side and no Japanese fighters were in the air. They dive-bombed ships in the harbour and, with the escorting fighters strafing the vessels, hits were scored on two merchant ships, two destroyers and an escort ship and large fires in the dockyard were started.
Many further raids were carried out in the Far East and in Northern European waters throughout the rest of 1944 and into 1945. Thousands of tons of shipping were sunk, and more raids took place against the Tirpitz. A number of new squadrons were formed for the light fleet carriers which were being built for service in the Far East. However, the dwindling number of enemy surface vessels towards the end of the war depleted the number of available targets in the aircraft’s intended role. The changed emphasis to shore targets in the Far East theatre meant that it made more sense for the Fleet Air Arm to equip its strike squadrons with Avengers.
Nevertheless, Barracudas served well into the 1950s. Yet no complete examples of this significant and numerous aircraft survive – the restoration will rectify that, in around five years.
Operational history [ edit | edit source ]
British service [ edit | edit source ]
The first Barracudas entered service on 10 January 1943 with 827 Squadron and were deployed in the North Atlantic. A total of 24 front-line squadrons were eventually equipped with Barracudas. From 1944 onwards, the Mk IIs were accompanied in service by radar-equipped, but otherwise similar, Mk IIIs, which were used for anti-submarine work.
The Barracuda first saw action with 810 Squadron aboard HMS Illustrious off the coast of Norway in July 1943 before deploying to the Mediterranean to support the Salerno landings. ⎗] The following year they entered service in the Pacific Theatre.
The Royal Air Force used the Barracuda Mk II, initially in 1943 with No. 567 Sqn. at RAF Detling. In 1944, similar models went to 667 Sqn. (RAF Gosport), 679 Sqn. (RAF Ipswich) and 691 Sqn. (RAF Roborough). All the aircraft were withdrawn between March and July 1945. ⎘] ⎙]
Barracudas were used as dive bombers and played a part in a major attack on the German battleship Tirpitz. On 3 April 1944 (Operation Tungsten), 42 aircraft from British carriers HMS Victorious and Furious scored 14 direct hits on Tirpitz with 1,600 lb (730 kg) and 500 lb (230 kg) bombs at the cost of one bomber. ⎚] ⎛] The attack disabled Tirpitz for over two months. However, the slow speed of the Barracudas contributed to the failure of the Operation Mascot and Operation Goodwood attacks on Tirpitz during July and August. ⎜]
From April 1944, Barracudas of No 827 Squadron aboard Illustrious started operations against Japanese forces, taking part in raids against Sabang in Sumatra (Operation Cockpit). ⎝] The Barracuda's performance was reduced by the high temperatures [N 1] of the Pacific, with its combat radius being reduced by as much as 30%, and the torpedo bomber squadrons of the fleet carriers of the British Pacific Fleet were re-equipped with Grumman Avengers. ⎟]
The Barracuda's primary problem in the Pacific was the need to fly over Indonesian mountain ranges to strike at targets on the eastern side of Java, which necessitated a high-altitude performance which the Barracuda's low-altitude-rated Merlin 32 engine with single stage supercharger could not provide. [N 2] Additionally, carrying maximum underwing bomb loads caused extra drag which further reduced performance over a Barracuda armed with a torpedo. ⎡] However the Light Fleet Carriers of the 11th ACS which joined the BPF in June 1945 were all equipped with a single Barracuda and single Corsair squadron, so by VJ day the BPF had five Avenger and four Barracuda squadrons embarked on its carriers. ⎢]
Barracudas were used to test several innovations including RATOG rockets for takeoff and a braking propeller which slowed the aircraft by reversing the blade pitch.
The Barracuda continued in Fleet Air Arm service until the mid-1950s, by which time they were all replaced by Avengers.
Canadian service [ edit | edit source ]
The Royal Canadian Navy took delivery on 24 January 1946 of 12 radar-equipped Mk II aircraft this was a Canadian designation, in British service these were the Mk. III. The first acquired aircraft were assigned to the newly formed 825 Sqn. aboard aircraft carrier HMCS Warrior. Canadian aircraft mechanics had been trained in the UK during the war serving on British aircraft carriers, notably HMS Puncher and Nabob which along with some Canadian pilots, the RCN crewed and operated for the RN. Warrior paid off in 1948 and returned to Britain along with the Barracuda aircraft.
Fleet Air Arm Museum Fairey Barracuda Restoration
The Fleet Air Arm Museum has embarked on one of the most important restoration projects in British naval aviation history – the reconstruction of a Fairey Barracuda Torpedo/Dive Bomber from a quantity of wreckage. This will fill a major gap in the existing WW2 Fleet Air Arm types, and make an excellent focal point for boosting the profile of the work done by FAA TBR squadrons in the second half of WW2. This included everything from high-profile dive bombing missions against the Tirpitz to flying cover against E-boats during the vital but unglamorous operation to lay a temporary fuel pipeline across the English Channel after the D-Day landings. It served in the North Sea, the East Indies, the Mediterranean and the Western Approaches, as well as acting as a training aircraft and a testbed for tactics and development after the war as well as continuing its role as a frontline carrier strike aircraft.
I am particularly keen to help boost the profile of this wonderful project as I unwittingly missed an opportunity to do so when my book on the aircraft came out last November. Although I had been fortunate enough to photograph the extensive collection of airframe parts collected from wreck sites over decades at one of the periodic public openings of the FAAM reserve collection, the text had been finalised just before the current project got going. The status of the restoration was still unclear at the moment the book was prepared for publication. I therefore missed the chance to reflect the thoroughness and attention to detail going into the restoration, which is a joy to behold. Any aircraft is a collection of thousands of components, and as each of those components is examined, prepared, restored, reconditioned and installed into the project, it tells its own story – in this case with admirable transparency. (And I am also keen to apologise to the FAAM for not including an acknowledgement for the help they provided – there were so many individuals and organisations that provided me with invaluable, selfless assistance, and the omission of the FAAM from that long list was a mistake I regret – I hope this will help make up for it).
No complete Barracuda has survived, despite the aircraft remaining in UK service long after WW2, until 1952 (and, a little known fact, in France until 1953). Unlike its stablemate the Firefly, contemporary the Grumman Avenger, and predecessor the Swordfish, none passed into civil ownership, or lasted long enough in scrapyards to catch the preservation movement’s eye. Moreover, unlike some other types that are extinct in complete form, such as the Blackburn Skua, only the Fleet Air Arm Museum has been saving major components with a view to a possible restoration.
The museum has proceeded gradually towards reconstructing a complete Barracuda since the substantial remains of a Mk.II were recovered in 1971. Barracuda DP872 was ordered from Boulton Paul and delivered in July 1943. It was taken on charge by 769 (Deck Landing Training) Squadron in November of that year. In August 1944, DP872 took off from Maydown on a flight to Easthaven, but five miles short of the airfield the Barracuda spun and crashed in a bog. The crew, Sub Lieutenant DH Oxby, Sub Lieutenant FR Dobbie and Leading Airman DAJ Mew were all killed. In 1971, a team from the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the Royal Engineers recovered the wreckage of DP872 from the bog where it had lain since the accident. The crewmembers were identified and buried together in Faughanvale (St Canice) Church of Ireland churchyard, Eglinton.
For much of that time, the recovered sections of DP872 have been in storage, steadily being added to when other recovery missions brought back material from crash sites. These included LS931 of 815 Squadron which crashed on Jura recovered in 2000, Mk.IIs DR306 and PM870, and Mk.III MD953. In the 1990s, the Museum commissioned Viv Bellamy to reconstruct the nose section forward of the firewall. Little remained of this apart from the engine, with none of the cowling surviving in a remotely useable condition, so it made sense to reconstruct this part of the aircraft in one go as so much new-build was required.
In 2010, the Museum engaged the Bluebird Project to carry out the remainder of the restoration, having by this time acquired enough material to recreate a Barracuda that would be around 80 per cent original. Unfortunately, for various reasons, the association with the Bluebird Project ended before much tangible progress had been made, but by now the FAAM was committed to continuing the restoration to a conclusion. The Museum has acquired an enviable reputation for ‘airframe archaeology,’ with the Vought Corsair and Grumman Martlet projects painstakingly taking the aircraft back to their contemporary paintwork and examining them forensically to discover a wealth of historic detail. The Museum had also been responsible for previous reconstructions from wreckage, such as the Fairey Albacore N4389, although in these cases much of the work was carried out by outside agencies. In the case of the Barracuda, the vast majority will be done in-house.
It is astonishing the extent to which battered, corroded components can be rendered as-new. The skills on display through the regular updates are astounding. In fact, the condition of some of the components beneath a layer or six of dirt and surface corrosion is eye-popping. A rubber inner tube for the tailwheel is perfectly useable. The adjusting mechanism for the rudder pedals spins with buttery smoothness after the parts were dismantled, carefully cleaned and zinc-plated. The Barracuda was very much a semi-monocoque design with the forward fuselage based heavily on a tubular spaceframe structure. Many of these heavyweight tubes, once cleaned and treated, are indistinguishable from new.
This process has also laid bare just what a complicated aircraft the Barracuda was – in many ways, over-complicated. The mix of materials and types of structure in the fuselage is mind-boggling, with tubular framework, pressed sections, castings and built-up riveted parts all linked together. The Barracuda had a lengthy development and suffered from multiple changes to the requirement. It was also designed to be built in modular sections that would be largely completed before being brought together at final assembly. Sub-assemblies built at one factory had to be able to fit those built at another to ensure standardisation across the four companies building Barracudas, and this undoubtedly led to added complexity in the structure.
And little details that speak of the conditions the Barracuda was built under keep coming to light. A green-dyed magnesium rivet that had fallen into the rear fuselage floor area and not been recovered remained where it lay from the time the aircraft was undergoing construction to the present. This was a mass-produced aircraft with production schedules to keep to. No time to go fishing out a dropped rivet.
I would urge anyone with an interest in naval aviation to make regular visits to the project’s Facebook page and donations to help fund it can be made at the JustGiving page here
It’s fascinating to see the aircraft coming along, bit by bit, and possible to see the guts of the restoration in a way that would be impossible from simply looking at the completed airframe – immensely satisfying though that will doubtless be.
The Fairey Barracuda became operational with the Royal Navy during the second World War, operating as a torpedo and dive bomber from aircraft carriers.
It was the first all metal monoplane British torpedo bomber.
In order to operate from small escort carriers, Fairey Barracuda aircraft were fitted with rocket assisted take off.
The Fairey Barracuda Mark III, first flown in 1943, carried a surface sweep radar for use against enemy shipping. This proved especially effective in detecting enemy submarines.
The Fairey Barracuda may be best known for their role in the crippling of the German battleship Tripitz in Kaa Fjord, Norway on April 3, 1944. Despite heavy enemy defensive fire, the 42 aircraft flight scored fifteen bomb hits on the battleship, putting it out of action for three months. Two were lost in the operation.
Fairey Barracuda aircraft became operational in the Pacific Theatre in April of 1944. They were particularly effective when used against enemy positions in preparation for landings on the island of Sumatra.
Some 2,572 of the aircraft were produced making the Fairey Barracuca one of the ugliest mass produced aircraft in the world.
Up close and personal with the Barracuda restoration
I’m indebted to the wonderful team running the Fairey Barracuda restoration at the Fleet Air Arm Museum for allowing me to spend Yeovilton Air Day with them. Thanks to William Gibbs, Lee Howard, Tony Jupp, and Dave Morris, the museum’s curator whose almost childlike enthusiasm for the project is infectious. I was fortunate enough to be able to help arrange the acquisition of a piece of equipment for the restoration (of which more in a later blogpost), which led to the very kind invitation from Dave – naturally, I grabbed the opportunity.
Barracuda Mk.II DP872 (the 18th aircraft built by Boulton-Paul and not, as I erroneously stated in my recent book on the Barracuda, the 16th – happy to correct the error) is undergoing a transformation from the wreckage recovered from a Northern Irish a bog in the early 1970s (with the assistance of material from several other airframes from crash sites and even some items found in a scrapyard) to a complete and fully restored aeroplane. The Barracuda is a vital part of Fleet Air Arm history, and that not one single aircraft remains of the 2,500+ built represents a huge gap in naval aviation heritage. There are other extinct FAA types, but even rarities such as the Blackburn Ripon and Baffin have clung on where the Barracuda didn’t. All that is set to change. If you aren’t following the progress of the restoration on Facebook, I would urge you to do so – seeing the aircraft come together from the inside out is remarkable, and allows the observation of details that won’t be visible when the aircraft is completed. This extends to pencil doodles on structural components that had been covered up since the aircraft was constructed in Wolverhampton in 1943. At times it has a little of the excavation of Pompeii about it – little human details that would have been lost in time.
The main section restored so far, from Frame 11 to the forward bulkhead
The restoration is progressing via a not-dissimilar process to the original construction. A jig was constructed in which to mount the central fuselage frame (which includes ‘outriggers’ to support the inner stub wing and the hinge point for wing folding) which represented the starting point, then and now. The forward fuselage section is being rebuilt from this, and now consists of the frame, the forward bulkhead and the tubular steel structure connecting them and encapsulating the pilot’s cockpit. The original components in their weathered, aged or damaged condition are being steadily reconditioned – straightened, stripped, cleaned, treated – and replaced. Naturally, this takes somewhat longer than simply building from new. Only where a part is too far gone to be useable is it replaced – by an identical one, or something as close to it as it is humanly possible to source or fabricate. A couple of the tubes in the central frame have been replaced, for example, but the original connecting plugs retained. Even replacement isn’t straightforward – some of those structural tubes are, Will told me, non-standard sizes (then or now) and with some highly unusual features. For example, the long, diagonally mounted tubes that extend from the level of the top of the frame at the rear of the pilot’s cockpit to the lower corners of the forward bulkhead, were built to a diameter that matches no known standard, and vary in internal thickness from front to rear.
Nevertheless, the extent to which original fabric, much of it damaged or compromised in one form or another, can be brought back to almost as-new condition is truly astonishing. William Gibbs, the lead volunteer on the project, showed me items such as the starboard undercarriage unit, the great ‘L’-shaped leg unique to the Barracuda, that had been reconstructed almost entirely with original material – the exceptions chiefly being the fastenings. This has now been attached, and the retraction demonstrated. As pointed out by volunteer Lee Howard, this was effectively the first Barracuda undercarriage retraction test since 1953. One of the oleo legs has also been restored, and again is overwhelmingly original. Here, the pitting on the steel upper leg, light but visible, is apparent beneath the protective treatment that has been applied to it, but on some items, even these tell-tale signs aren’t present. The forward bulkhead includes sheet aluminium that to the casual observer might be brand new. Dave Morris confided that this was an area of concern, in that the quality of the work is so good that people might think the team are simply building a replica and passing it off as original. As far as this is concerned, the very open and transparent way in which the restoration is being carried out provides a constant indication of how diligently the project is being conducted.
The restored starboard undercarriage torsion box – just about all original except for the fastenings
Remarkable original 1940s pencil doodles on part of the built-up fuselage frame no.11
A large-scale model donated to the project helps demonstrate what the finished machine will look like, in front of part of the store of components amassed by the project
Astonishing attention to detail on the Barracuda bulkhead – engine controls operated by bicycle chain and Bowden cable
The Barracuda Project needs help to ensure that this important aircraft returns from extinction. One of the most important things the project needs is BA and BSF aircraft nuts and bolts. The project wants to hear from anyone who might have worked in the aviation industry, or has/had a family member who did, and who might have some of these lurking in a cocoa tin in the shed or garage. You can contact the team via their Facebook page
Fairey's interest in missile production had been kept separate from the Fairey Aviation Co Ltd and its subsequent absorption into the Westland Group in 1960. Production was therefore invested in Fairey Engineering Ltd but by 1962 this had been transformed into a 50/50 joint venture with the British Aircraft Corporation (Holdings) Ltd known as BAC (AT) LTD, with offices at 100 Pall Mall, London SW1 and a share capital of £100. This was separate to the BAC Guided Weapons division.
The Fairey company was also involved in the early development of pilotless aircraft which led to the development of radio controlled pilotless target aircraft in Britain and the United States in the 1930s. In 1931, the Fairey "Queen" radio-controlled target was developed, building a batch of three. The Queen was a modified Fairey IIIF floatplane, (a catapult launched aircraft which was used for reconnaissance by the Royal Navy). Apart from installing radio gear the Queen also had some aerodynamic modifications to improve stability, however the first couple of pilotless flights came to quick endings as the drones crashed as soon as they left the catapult launcher on HMS Valiant.
In 1960, Fairey announced an agreement between Fairey Engineering Ltd. and the Del Mar Engineering Laboratories, Los Angeles, California, to distribute a range of subsonic and supersonic towed target systems (RADOP) for air-to-air and surface-to-air guided weapon training in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the Commonwealth and the UK.
The parent Fairey Company and its Australian subsidiary were heavily involved guided weapon development. The Weapon Division of Fairey Engineering Ltd was responsible in the UK for the Jindivik ⎡] Mk 2B Pilotless target aircraft. This had a Bristol Siddeley Viper ASV.8 turbojet, giving a speed of 600 mph (970 km/h) and an operational ceiling in excess of 50,000 ft.
The "Fairey V.T.O" was a vertical take-off delta wing aircraft was designed to explore the possibility of making an aircraft launched from short ramps with low acceleration. Shown for the first time at the Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) Show in 1952, the Fairey VTO Project was used to test the basic configuration of future research craft. Each wing had a large aileron and the vertical fin carried a large rudder. The V.T.O. obtained 900 lbf (4.0 kN) thrust from each Beta nozzle and, for launching, used two solid-fuel boosters of 600 lbf (2.7 kN) each, bringing the total thrust up to 3,000 lbf (13 kN)—obviously more than the total weight. The Beta I rocket had two jets, one of which could be swivelled laterally and the other vertically, according to signals from an autopilot. The resulting mean thrust line could thus be varied to maintain controlled flight at low airspeeds. Fairey carried out many successful tests, the first of which was from a ship in Cardigan Bay in 1949.
Fairey Rocket Test Vehicle 1, formerly known as LOPGAP ("Liquid Oxygen and Petrol Guided Anti-Aircraft Projectile"). The original design can be traced back to the 1944 Royal Navy specification for a guided anti-aircraft missile known as LOPGAP. ⎢] In 1947, the Royal Aircraft Establishment took over development work and the missile was renamed RTV1. Several versions of the basic RTV1 were developed. The Fairey Aviation Company of Australasia Pty Ltd was awarded a contract to build 40 RTV1e rockets. The first of which were completed in early 1954. Components were built by the Royal Australian Navy Torpedo Establishment (hydraulic servo units), EMI (guidance receivers and amplifiers) and the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (magnesium castings). Some parts were also imported from the UK. Assembly was undertaken at Salisbury, South Australia by the Special Projects Division of Fairey. Test firings took place in 1955–56 but by this time the RTV1 was considered obsolete RTV1e was the beam guidance test vehicle. Radar guidance was provided by a radar unit which projected a narrow beam. Different versions of the test vehicle were created and each was concerned with a different aspect of control, guidance, propulsion and aerodynamics of the complete rocket. The RTV 1e was a two-stage liquid fuel rocket used for research and development into problems associated with beam riding missiles. It was fired at an angle of 35 degrees with a maximum altitude of about 12,000 feet. The vehicle was launched by seven solid booster rockets which had a burn time of four seconds, after which the liquid fuel sustainer motor took over.
At the 1954 Farnborough Airshow, Fairey Australia displayed a massive missile, which resembled the RTV-1. The base was formed by a booster unit about 6 ft high and 20 inches in diameter, stabilised by four large and four small fins and housing seven five-inch motors. The main body was about 17 ft in length with a diameter of 10 in. The body was fitted with four wings and four small control vanes.
Fairey Australia also displayed an aerodynamic test vehicle, described as a "three-inch winged round." This was a simple projectile, without guidance to aid investigations into the properties of various wing/body assemblies at high supersonic speeds. The example shown was about 6 ft long, and had a finely finished, white-painted body apparently made of seamless tube. About two-thirds of the way back from the nose was fitted a laminated-wood wing of about two feet span, positioned across a diameter of the body, with a root chord of some 18in and a quarter-chord sweep of about 50 deg.
In April, 1947 Fairey released details of its first guided missile ⎣] It was an anti-aircraft weapon designed for use in the Pacific war but not completed in time for use by the British Army (who originally ordered it) or for the Royal Navy. The Ministry of Supply requested that the work be completed, and the Stooge was the outcome. It had a length of 7 ft 5.5 in (2.273 m), a span of 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m), a body diameter of 17 in, and weighing 738 lb (335 kg), with a warhead. Propulsion was by four 75 lbf (330 N)-thrust solid-fuel main rockets, but initially four additional booster rockets delivering further 5,600 lb thrust accelerated the Stooge off its 10 ft (3.0 m) long launching ramp. Unlike later designs, the Stooge was intended for high subsonic speeds—and limited ranges. The Stooge consisted of two-stage propulsion, an autopilot, radio control equipment with additional ground unit, and a warhead. The Stooge required a launching ramp and transport. The missile was extensively tested at Woomera ⎤]
The Malkara missile was designed in Australia by British and Australian companies. It was a heavy wire-guided missile for deployment from vehicles, light naval craft and fixed emplacements. This weapon replaced the Fairey "Orange William" project for the MoS which would later lead to Swingfire. Fairey Engineering had the sales agency for all countries outside the US, and was also been appointed by the Australian Department of Supply's to assist in the introduction of the Malkara to operational service and to design and produce modifications. The missile was in service with the Royal Armoured Corps, deployed on a special vehicle—the Humber Hornet, made by Wharton Engineering—which carried two rounds on launchers and two rounds stowed. The Hornet could be air-dropped, had a crew of three. For training purposes the Malkara Mk I was used, with a range of some 2,000m (6,600 ft). The operational weapon was the Malkara Mk 1 A, which had a different type of tracking flare, thinner guidance wire, and other improvements to give approximately double the range of Mk 1.
The Fairey Fireflash was an early air-to-air weapon guided by radar beam riding. Developed as "Blue Sky" - a derated version of the Red Hawk missile. It was in service briefly before being replaced by the de Havilland Firestreak.
Green Cheese was a tactical nuclear anti-ship missile for use with the Gannet. Problems with Gannet led to continued development with the Blackburn Buccaneer but it was cancelled.
'Rare' WWII bomber lifted from sea 75 years after crash
The Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber was discovered last summer by engineers surveying the seabed for an electricity cable between England and France.
It is the "only one ever found in one piece" and the "last of its kind in the UK", according to Wessex Archaeology.
It will be displayed at the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset.
The 1943 three-seater plane is believed to have got in to trouble shortly after taking off on a test flight.
Euan McNeill, from Wessex Archaeology, said the plane was in "tremendous condition" despite being on the seabed for 75 years.
"There are no existing examples of Fairey Barracudas that you can go and look at despite there being 2,500 of them in service with the Fleet Air Arm over the years," he said.
"It crashed at quite a low speed in quite shallow water and was intact when it reached the seabed. The vast majority of it is all sat together.
"To find one that hasn't been destroyed by crashing into a hillside or blowing up is remarkable."
The wreckage is expected to take around three weeks to recover. It will then be taken to the Fleet Air Arm Museum, to be studied and used to rebuild a full-size Barracuda.
David Morris, from the museum, said: "We have been for many years collecting pieces.. with the aim to build and create a Barracuda aircraft for our collection.
"There are very few blueprints of the Barracuda plane design available so this wreckage is a huge step forward for our project."
Lost WW2 Aircraft lifted from sea after more than 75 years
This week, specialist divers and archaeologists completed an operation to retrieve the wreckage of a 1943 Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber (believed to be No. BV739) – just in time for the 75 th anniversary of D-Day.
The three-seater plane, part of 810 Squadron Royal Navy Air Station, based at Lee-On-Solent is believed to have got into difficulty shortly after taking off for its test flight before crashing 500m from the coast in Portsmouth.
It was found by National Grid engineers last summer during a seabed survey ahead of the construction of new subsea electricity cable between England and France.
The cable, called an interconnector, will be buried in the seabed and will stretch for 240km between Fareham, Portsmouth and Normandy, France and deliver cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy for UK consumers. The UK government has targeted 9.5 GW of additional interconnector capacity in its Clean Growth Strategy. This is because interconnectors are recognised as a key tool in enabling the flow of excess zero carbon energy from where it is generated where it is needed most.
The Barracuda wreckage is the only one to have ever been found in one piece and the last remaining aircraft of its kind in the UK.
David Luetchford, Head of IFA2 for National Grid said: “Interconnectors are about bringing us closer to a zero-carbon future, but we must also respect the past. An important part of our job is to always have a thorough and sympathetic approach to archaeological finds. Over the course of the project we’ve inspected over 1,000 targets of interest, many of which were found to be unexploded ordnance, not unusual given the history of this location. However, to have found a 1943 Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber is incredible and such a key piece of British history.
It’s not every day you get the chance to play a role in an operation like this and it is very lucky to have found the plane in such a small search area. We surveyed a 180-metre-wide area along the cable route and if we had chosen a slightly different route, there is a good chance the plane would never have been found.”
Work to fully retrieve the plane is expected to take around three weeks in total as experts from Wessex Archaeology are carefully excavating the area around the aircraft and removing large amounts of silt and clay.
So far, one of the wings has successfully been lifted out of the waters and work on the second is currently underway. The remainder of the plane will be recovered by lifting it in sections over the coming days.
Wessex Archaeology lead archaeologist Euan McNeil said: “Our team has been working closely with all those involved to ensure that any risks to heritage assets on the seafloor are mitigated. This aircraft is a rare find and a fantastic opportunity to understand more about a piece of wartime technology.
“We have been undertaking the excavation under a licence from the MoD, and it has taken careful planning to ensure that we lift the remains and any associated material which may have been scattered as it sank – without causing its condition to deteriorate significantly. This has involved excavating the silt around the plane and sieving it for artefacts, then carefully dividing the remaining structure into manageable sections for lifting.
“The recovery of the Fairey Barracuda will aid an ongoing Fleet Air Arm Museum project to recreate what will be the world’s only complete example of this type of aircraft. This will give us a chance to examine a unique lost piece of aviation history”
Once retrieved, the parts will be taken to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset where it will be studied and used to rebuild a full-size Barracuda in the site’s aircraft hangar.
David Morris, Curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy has been working on the project for several years and visited four other Barracuda crash sites to retrieve suitable parts.
He said: “This is an incredible find and a wonderful piece of British history. There are very few blueprints of the Barracuda plane design available so this wreckage will be studied to enable us to see how the plane segments fitted together and how we can use some of the parts we currently have.
“This find is a huge step forward for our project and we can’t wait to get it back to the museum and share our findings with the public.”
The plane’s pilot has been named as SUB LNT DJ Williams who managed to escape the crash and survived WW2.
The team at Wessex Archelogy are currently trying to trace SUB LNT Williams and are keen for anyone with information about the pilot and his family to get in touch on 01722 326867.
Header Image – R: Emma Devlin (National Grid’s IFA2 project), David Morris (Curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy) and Jake Stevens (National Grid’s IFA2 project) – Credit : National Grid