Fairey Eagle (1938), Falcon (1944).
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The Canard aircraft system had been under investigation in
various countries since 1906. Britain had watched with interest but no action
was taken till 1930 when the Fleet Air Arm took interest in a monoplane version
for fighter/interceptor aircraft. The interest centred around the smaller size
that could be achieved with a more powerful Canard configured aircraft. Various
designs and prototypes were made and flown during the early 1930's culminating
in the Fairey Eagle prototype of 1938.
Further prototypes and pre-production aircraft were under construction when WW2 broke out and all work was slowed on development while production was centred on those aircraft already under production. The aircraft completed were used for further development work and to defend the factory. The Fairey factory finally had a Canard design accepted for full production in 1943 which was the Fairey Falcon.
Started as a private venture in 1939 as a follow on to the Eagle
designs, the Fairey designers were
awarded an Air Ministry specification so that funding could be provided for
continued development. This was cancelled in 1940 as the Air Ministry poured
money into traditional manufacturers and aircraft. The Admiralty stepped in as
the Falcon was exactly the type of small, nimble fighter they required for all
aircraft carrier types. The new type of 'Escort' carrier especially required a
'light' fighter that could operate from their shorter flight decks. First flight
of the Falcon was October 1942. Further development flights followed with the
aircraft showing such promise that a pre-production order for ten aircraft was
placed with Fairey in 1943. Six of these aircraft were sent to 809 squadron for
service evaluation aboard HMS Victorious. They proved extremely useful in
downing the fighters flying air patrol over the Tirpitz so that the bombers
could attack the battleship, putting the Tirpitz out of action for several
months. Accepted for full production, the first production models were assigned
to the new aircraft carrier Implacable which sailed to join the British Pacific
Fleet in late 1944.
Pilots described the acceleration of the Falcon as like having a rocket strapped to their back. In mock dogfights on the long trip from the UK to Sydney, the Falcon consistently outfought and outflew the Corsair and Hellcats aboard the other carriers of the group. Eventually to make them even more useful as fighter bombers, hardpoints were fitted for 2x250lb bombs or drop tanks, plus underwing pylons could be fitted for 6 of the 60lb rocket projectiles. The main gun armament of four 20mm cannon in the nose being superior to the 0.5" Browning machine guns on the Corsairs and Hellcats. Level speeds of 450-460mph were regularly attained with over 500mph in a dive.
Fairey Falcon Mk-2
Several improvements were made to create the Mk-2 Falcon. In active service what had seemed a generous radius of action turned out to be too short. To improve this a new wing was designed that integrated an external fuel tank into the wing. The external hardpoints for extra drop tanks and bombs were kept.
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