The Supermarine Attacker is a British single-seat naval jet fighter designed and produced by aircraft manufacturer Supermarine for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA). The type has the distinction of being the first jet fighter to enter operational service with the FAA.
|National origin||United Kingdom|
|First flight||27 July 1946|
|Primary users||Royal Navy|
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Pakistan Air Force
|Number built||182 + 3 prototypes|
|Developed from||Supermarine Spiteful|
Performing its maiden flight on 27 July 1946, the flight testing phase of development was protracted due to several issues, including handling difficulties. The first Attackers were introduced to FAA service during August 1951. Common to the majority of other first-generation jet fighters, the Attacker had a relatively short service life before being replaced; this was due to increasingly advanced aircraft harnessing the jet engine being rapidly developed during the 1950s and 1960s. Despite its retirement by the FAA during 1954, only three years following its introduction, the Attacker would be adopted by the newly-formed Pakistan Air Force, who would continue to operate the type possibly as late as 1964.
The origins of the Attacker can be traced back to an wartime fighter jet project performed on behalf of the Royal Air Force (RAF). Many of the design's key features and performance requirements were stipulated under Specification E.10/44 (the E standing for experimental) issued by the Air Ministry during 1944, which had called for the development of a jet fighter furnished with a laminar flow wing and a single jet engine. In response, British aircraft manufacturer Supermarine decided to produce their own submission, which involved designing a brand new fuselage, complete with bifurcated intakes to provide airflow to the Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine powering the type. This fuselage was mated with the pre-existing laminar flow straight wings which had been designed for the Supermarine Spiteful, a piston-engined fighter that had been intended to replace the Supermarine Spitfire. Prior to the design being officially named Attacker, the aircraft had been originally referred to as the "Jet Spiteful".
As originally intended, the Attacker programme was supposed to provide an interim jet fighter to equip the RAF while another aircraft, the Gloster E.1/44, that was also powered by the same Rolls-Royce Nene engine, completed development. On 30 August 1944, an order for three prototypes was placed with Supermarine; it was stipulated that the second and third prototypes were both to be navalised. On 7 July 1945, a follow-on order for a further 24 pre-production aircraft, six for the RAF and the remaining 18 for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA), was also placed.
Handling problems with the Spiteful prototype delayed progress on the jet-powered version, leading to the pre-production order of 24 being stopped, although work on the three prototypes continued. Due to the delay, the FAA instead procured a batch of 18 de Havilland Vampire Mk. 20s for the purpose of gaining experience with jet aircraft. After evaluating both the Jet Spiteful and the E.1/44, the RAF decided to reject both designs since neither aircraft offered any perceptible performance advantage over contemporary fighters such as the Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Vampire, which were the RAF's first two operational jet aircraft.
Following the design's rejection by the RAF, Supermarine decided to approach the Admiralty with an offer of developing a navalised version of the project. On 27 July 1946, the maiden flight of the type was performed by prototype Type 392 serial number TS409, a land-based version, by test pilot Jeffrey Quill. The Air Ministry issued Specification E.1/45 to cover production aircraft; meeting its various requirements necessitated a range of extensive modifications to be made to the design, including a revised fin and tailplane arrangement, as well as an increased internal fuel capacity. Accordingly, a large external ventral fuel tank was adopted, along with an extended dorsal fin and folding wing tips.
Flight testing was largely conducted at Supermarine's newly-created experimental establishment at the former RAF Chilbolton. The Attacker was found to suffer from several deficiencies. A major design choice was that the aircraft had retained the Spiteful's tail-wheel undercarriage rather than a nose-wheel undercarriage, a configuration that resulted in the Attacker being considerably more difficult to land on an aircraft carrier. According to aviation author Bill Gunston, this tail-dragger undercarriage meant that, when operating from grass airfields, the jet exhaust would create a long furrow in the ground that "three men could lie down in". However, according to aviation periodical Flight, such claims of scorched or ploughed surfaces, even grass, were exaggerated. The Attacker was neither the only nor the first jet aircraft to be equipped with such an undercarriage, both the experimental Heinkel He 178 and several early Messerschmitt Me 262s were so fitted. The chief designer to Vickers-Supermarine, Mr. J. Smith, claimed that testing had validated the performance of the tail-dragger undercarriage as acceptable.
On 17 June 1947, the first navalised prototype, Type 398 TS413, conducted its first flight, flown by test pilot Mike Lithgow; occurring four years after the Meteor had performed its first flight. During November 1949, production orders on behalf of the FAA were received by Supermarine. On 5 May 1950, the first production variant of the aircraft, designated Attacker F.1, performed its first flight; one year later, deliveries of the type commenced.
The Supermarine Attacker was a navalised jet-propelled fighter aircraft, being the first jet-powered aircraft to be introduced into FAA service. While originally designed based upon a wartime requirement for the RAF, it was not introduced until the early 1950s, and had ultimately been developed for use aboard aircraft carriers. For a jet aircraft, the Attacker's design was somewhat unusual, featuring a tail-dragger undercarriage, complete with twin tailwheels, as well as its unswept wing. The flight controls were relatively conventional, being based upon those of the Spiteful. The cockpit was praised for its atypically forward position, which provided an exceptionally good field of view for the pilot.
The Attacker possessed a relatively strong structure, making extensive use of heavy-gauge materials, principally aluminium alloy, which was used in conjunction with a stressed-skin construction approach, supported by 24 closely-spaced stringers and formers. Unusually, the nose featured a lobster-claw structure, comprising laminated aluminium-alloy sheet up to 0.56m-thick at the top and bottom, lacking any stiffening members; it reportedly functioned as armour protection for the pilot and was compatible with pressurisation. The tip of the nose was detachable to accommodate a gun camera or ballast; directly between this alcove and the cockpit is an avionics bay. Aft of the cockpit was the semi-monocoque fuel tank, followed by the engine bay.
In terms of its aerodynamics, the Attacker had an extremely clean exterior, described by Flight as being "perhaps more perfect than any other fighter". The fuselage was designed without any straight lines, while the surfaces of its laminar flow wing and tail did not feature any curves, except for their end caps. The fuselage is shaped to reproduce some of the wing's laminar flow characteristics; the lines of fuselage lines are interrupted only by the faired windscreen of the cockpit and the air intakes positioned on either side of the cockpit. These intakes, which fed air to the engine, were designed with bleeds to remove excess airflow from the boundary layer; reportedly, tests with these bleeds faired-over discovered reduced performance and thrust output.
The design of the wing was largely unchanged from the Spiteful, save for being slightly enlarged due to the larger overall scale of the Attacker. It was furnished with split flaps along the trailing edge, as well as slotted ailerons and an electrically-operated trim tab arrangement. Supported by a single main spar and one auxiliary spar, the wing was bolted directly onto stub spar booms as there was no centre-section. The exterior was flush-riveted and manufactured with considerable care in order that the laminar flow qualities could be accurately achieved. Flight attributed the laminar-flow wing as having enabled the Attacker exceed the maximum recorded speed of the Spiteful by more than 100 mph. However, other reports claim that the Attacker's wing was aerodynamically inferior to the original elliptical wing of the Spitfire, possessing unfavourable characteristics such as a lower critical Mach number, leading to someone[according to whom?] quipping that "they rather should have left the Spitfire wing on the thing".
The Attacker was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Nene Mk. 101 turbojet engine; at the time, the Nene was the most powerful jet engine available in the world, capable of generating up to 5,000 lb of thrust. The engine is supported by a heavy box-section rear spar frame, which is braced both fore and aft to the main spar. As a relatively lengthy jet pipe is used on the Attacker, it was necessary to implement a manually-operated exhaust valve/outlet that is used during startup to prevent instances of resonance and excessive temperatures alike. The exterior skin surrounding the intake features several louvres to regulate engine pressure during startup; these automatically close to seal the engine bay once pressure has sufficiently risen. For safety reasons, the engine bay incorporates a pilot-operated fire extinguisher system. While an automatic fuel transfer system was not originally incorporated, experiences with the initial prototypes encouraged the adoption of such a system.
In terms of armament, the Attacker F.1 was provisioned with an arrangement of four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk. V cannons; at the time, this was viewed as the standard armament for a frontline RAF fighter. These cannon were fired via electronically-operated Maxifiux-Star units. The inboard cannon had a maximum capacity of 167 rounds of ammunition each, while the outboard cannon had up to 145 rounds apiece. External payloads, including two 1,000 lb bombs or four 300 lb rockets, could also be equipped if desired.
During August 1951, the Attacker entered operational service with the FAA; the first squadron to receive production aircraft war 800 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Ford. Following the introduction of the Attacker F.1, two further variants of the aircraft were developed and produced for the FAA. The Attacker FB.1 was a fighter-bomber which differed little from the original F.1 model, except that it was expected to operate as a ground attack aircraft. The third, and last, variant was the Attacker FB.2, which was powered by a more capable model of the Nene engine that was accompanied by various modifications to its structure. On this model, the Supermarine Attacker was furnished with a total of eight underwing hard points, which could carry a pair of 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs or a maximum of eight unguided rockets.
Across the three variants to be adopted by the FAA, a total of 146 production Attackers would be delivered to the service. It had a relatively brief career with the FAA, none of its variants seeing any action during the type's service life with the FAA and being taken out of first-line service during 1954. The type had been replaced in front line squadrons by multiple more capable jet-propelled fighters, including the Hawker Sea Hawk and de Havilland Sea Venom. For several further years, the Attacker remained in service with squadrons of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), the type being finally taken out of reserve service during early 1957.
During the early 1950s, the newly-formed Royal Pakistan Air Force (RPAF; later Pakistan Air Force) sought to acquire jet fighters. A combination of a lack of funds and political pressure that was exerted by British suppliers persuaded the service to acquire a variant of the Attacker, known as the Type 538, which was essentially a "de-navalised" variant of the aircraft used by the FAA.
Only a single squadron was ever equipped with these aircraft, an interceptor unit, No. 11 "Arrows" Squadron; it received its first Attackers during 1953. A total of 36 Attackers had been acquired when "Arrows" Squadron officially converted to the American-built North American F-86F Sabre on 18 January 1956. However, some sources state that Attackers were used by PAF until as late as 1964.
It has been claimed[according to whom?] that the Attacker was regarded as being unsatisfactory by the RPAF, attributing this negative attitude to the type's frequent maintenance problems and a relatively high attrition rate.
- Type 392
- Prototype land version to specification E.10/44, ordered as one of three prototypes on 30 August 1944, one built and first flown 27 July 1946.
- Type 398
- Prototype navalised variant ordered on 30 August 1944, one built and first flown 17 June 1947.
- Type 510
- Prototype with swept wings and tail whose development led to the Supermarine Swift.
- Type 513
- Prototype second naval prototype to specification E.1/45 ordered on 30 August 1943, one built and first flown 24 January 1950.
- Type 398 Attacker F.1
- Production Nene 3 powered variant, 63 ordered on 29 October 1948 and built at South Marston, 50 built as F1 as two were cancelled and the last 11 built as FB.1s. First flight of production F.1 was on 4 April 1950.
- Attacker FB.1
- Last 11 production F 1s were built as FB 1s plus an additional aircraft ordered on 27 March 1951 to replace one aircraft destroyed on a production test flight. The FB1 had been modified from the original design to allow it to carry rocket projectiles or bombs under the wings.
- Attacker FB.2
- Updated fighter-bomber variant powered by the Nene 102, 24 ordered on 21 November 1950, 30 ordered on 16 February 1951 and a further 30 ordered on 7 September 1951, all 84 built at South Marston.
- Type 538 Attacker
- Land based Nene 4 powered variant for the Pakistan Air Force, 36 built with the first delivered in 1953.
- Fleet Air Arm, 146 aircraft.
- Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
Accidents and incidentsEdit
- On 23 May 1950, Vickers test pilot Les Colquhoun was flying the first production Attacker F.1 WA469. He was carrying out high speed tests when during one of the tests the outer portion of the starboard wing folded up and the ailerons became locked. Colquhoun decided not to eject and managed to do a high-speed landing at Chilbolton, in the course of which he used all but the last 100 yards (90m) of the runway and burst a tyre. The intact aircraft was examined so the cause of the incident could be discovered, Colquhoun was awarded the George Medal for his efforts.
- On 5 February 1953, Attacker FB.1 WA535 from RNAS Stretton crashed near Winwick, Cheshire, killing the pilot Mr Roy Edwin Collingwood.
- On 21 July 1953, Attacker FB.2 WP293 (803 NAS) from RNAS Ford, crashed at North Stoke Farm, near Arundel, Sussex, killing the pilot Lieutenant Commander William T R Smith.
- On 10 November 1955, an accident involving Attacker FB.2 WP281, claimed the life of the chief Flying Instructor, Lieutenant Commander Charles James Lavender DSC (see RNAS Stretton).
Following its retirement from service in 1956, Attacker F.1 Serial number WA473 was placed on display on the gate at RNAS Abbotsinch. Completed at VAs South Marston factory in July 1951, it had served with 702 and 736 Naval Squadrons. In late 1961 it was moved to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset, UK.
Data from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aircraft
- Crew: 1
- Length: 37 ft 6 in (11.43 m)
- Wingspan: 36 ft 11 in (11.25 m)
- Height: 9 ft 11 in (3.02 m)
- Wing area: 226 sq ft (21 m2)
- Empty weight: 8,434 lb (3,826 kg)
- Gross weight: 12,211 lb (5,339 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet, 5,000 lbf (22 kN) thrust
- Maximum speed: 590 mph (950 km/h, 512 kn)
- Range: 590 mi (950 km, 510 nmi)
- Service ceiling: 45,000 ft (13,700 m)
- Rate of climb: 6,350 ft/min (32.3 m/s)
- Guns: 4 × Hispano No. 3 Mark 5 20mm Cannon
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- de Havilland Sea Vampire
- Hawker Sea Hawk
- McDonnell FH Phantom
- North American FJ-1 Fury
- Vought F6U Pirate
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