FAIREY FIREFLY

Whilst specifications for a new naval fighter/bomber had been drawn up by the British Air Ministry as early as 1938 to replace the ageing Fairy Fulmar and the Fairey Swordfish torpedo biplane, it was not until late 1942 that any real production commenced.

The Fulmar was seen as underpowered and too lightly armed to fend off the more advanced Luftwaffe fighters and after suffering catastrophic encounters with the Bf 109 and twin-engined fighter/bomber BF110, was quickly withdrawn from frontline service.

The Fairey Swordfish however was still holding its own with its rugged construction and ease of carrier launch and retrieval, going on to play a significant role in the finding and sinking of the  battleship Bismarck and other German attack class destroyers but like the Fulmar, it was hopelessly outclassed in any aerial combat.

The Royal Navy’s carriers had taken aboard marinised aircraft such as the Seafire and US Hellcat with many destroyers also carrying catapult launched Hawker Hurricanes  but they were still without a true long range maritime patrol and attack aircraft.

After an unusually long development program, due largely to the constantly changing operational requirements, the Fairey Firefly finally saw active service when the 1770 Naval Air Squadron aboard HMS Indefatigable received their first Firefly's in July 1944.

A two-seater fleet reconnaissance fighter, like the Swordfish, pilot and observer were positioned in separate stations but this was where any similarity ended.

The Firefly was a low wing cantilever monoplane, featuring an oval-section metal semi-monocoque fuselage and a conventional tail unit with forward-placed tailplane.

Powered by a Rolls-Royce Griffon liquid-cooled piston engine, driving a four-blade Rotol-built propeller, the aircraft’s square tipped all metal wings could be folded manually and were locked in flight mode hydraulically.

It’s heavily constructed wings featured oversized Fairey-Youngman flaps giving in far better handling at the low speeds required for safe deck landing. The four 20 mm cannons buried in its wings made it one of the most heavily armed naval interceptors of the era and its large fuel tanks and drop tank carrying capacity gave it one of the biggest operational ranges.

The primary variant, the Firefly Mk 1 saw action in all theatres of war and was used extensively in armed reconnaissance flights and anti-shipping strikes along the Norwegian coast as well as providing air cover and reconnaissance in the Admiralty's search and eventual sinking of the German Battleship Tirpitz.

Stationed with the British fleet in the Far East, the Firefly saw its role changing from carrier fighter and long range patrol aircraft  to that of shipping and ground attack duties and was repeatedly despatched against Japanese oil refineries and airfields through out the region. It continued in this role until the Japanese surrender.

After the second world war, the Firefly remained in front line operational service with the British Fleet Air Arm and in 1948, 50, Firelfys were purchased by the new Royal Australian Fleet Air Arm and operated from the flight deck of the new Australian Carrier, HMAS Sydney.

During this time, British-built Fireflies were also supplied to a number of overseas nations, including Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, the Netherlands, India and Thailand.

HMAS Sydney had arrived in Australia in May 1949 and the new Squadrons of Firefly's were jointly based aboard and at the Nowra Naval Air Station.

Many of the Firefly's flight systems had been upgraded since its first role out in 1944 including an advanced Rolls-Royce Griffin liquid cooled piston engine, larger onboard fuel tanks and greater underwing bomb carrying capacity.

By Mid 1951, Australia had already joined the Commonwealth/United Nations forces engaged in Korea and HMAS Sydney was despatched to Korean waters with its decks loaded with Firefly's and the new carrier launched strike aircraft, the Seafury.

Their first sorties over Korean waters were in October 1951 and over the next four months, a total of 2366 sorties were to be flown from the Sydney.

During that period, four Fireflys were either lost or damaged beyond repair in operations with one WB393, shot down on 26 October 1951 near Chaeryong, North Korea. With both its pilot and observer surviving the crash and managing to elude North Korean ground forces, a dramatic helicopter rescue was successfully staged to recover the Australian crew under heavy enemy fire.

The RAN Firefly’s were to return three more times to the Korean peninsular and after a cessation in hostilities in 1953, the squadrons returned to the Nowra Naval Airbase to be used as trainer aircraft for the new carrier-launched, Fairey Gannets which had replaced them.

Decommissioned in 1955 the last operational flight of the Fairey Firefly was in March 1966.

All Fairey Firefly Instruments come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.

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