Gloster Gauntlet Biplane Fighter Aircraft
The Gloster Gauntlet was the last RAF aircraft to sport an open-air cockpit in a biplane airframe.
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Gloster Gauntlet origins lay in a Gloster design appearing in the late 1920's for the Royal Air Force and served throughout the 1930's with several local and foreign-based air groups. The aircraft was designed as a fighter and became the fastest such aircraft for the RAF upon the aircraft's inception until unseated by the speedier Hawker Hurricane just two years later. Despite her archaic looks (by 1940's standards), the Gauntlet held her own along several key fronts during World War 2 and became for many-an-airmen their first taste of flight via training. The Gloster Gauntlet holds the distinction of being the last open-air cockpit biplane aircraft used by the Royal Air Force.
Gloster designed, produced and flew the model SS.18 prototype in January of 1929, fitting a Bristol Mercury IIA series radial engine of 450 horsepower and followed this attempt with the similar SS.18A and SS.18B models. The A-model sported a Bristol Jupiter VIIF engine of 480 horsepower whilst the B-model fitted the Armstrong Siddeley Panther III series of 560 horsepower. These developments were further refined with the arrival of the SS.19 prototype and its Bristol Jupiter powerplant. Again, the prototype model was spawned into two other sub-models in the SS.19A and the SS.19B. The A-model saw nothing more changed than its landing gears while the B-model was fitted with the Bristol Jupiter VIS engine of 536 horsepower. By September of 1933, the British Air Ministry liked what they saw in the SS.19 model prototypes and put in an initial production order for 24 of the type to be designated as the Gauntlet Mk I. First flight of the Mk I occurred in October of 1934.
By this time, Gloster Aircraft was absorbed under the Hawker Aircraft Limited (makers of the upcoming Hurricane monoplane) banner and it was deemed that the Gauntlet design should be revised to take on a new simpler wing construction method. As such, the Gauntlet was revised into an Mk II model.
The Gauntlet Mk I made its way into the RAF inventory in May of 1935 with the first user being No.19 Squadron at Duxford and immediately proved herself an upgrade to existing RAF frontline mounts, proving the fastest RAF fighter in service for the next two years until the arrival of the Hawker Hurricane. The Gauntlet was selected to replace the Bristol Bulldog, another radial-engined biplane design introduced back in 1929.