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  • Gloster Gladiator Biplane Fighter Aircraft

    The Gloster Gladiator was already made obsolete by the time of its inception, yet the type soldiered on through 1944.

     Updated: 4/4/2016; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

    The Gloster Gladiator was a product of the Gloster Aircraft Company and a design of one Henry Phillip Folland. Achieving first flight on September 12th, 1934, the system was officially introduced into Royal Air Force service in February 1937, ultimately seeing service with over dozen different air forces worldwide. The Gladiator was developed from the earlier Gloster Gauntlet and still sported the preceding type's biplane wing appearance but situated the pilot in an enclosed cockpit. While the Gloster Gauntlet held the distinction of being the RAF's last open-air cockpit biplane, the Gloster Gladiator became the RAF's last biplane fighter design overall and, at the same time, the first RAF fighter to feature an enclosed cockpit. Despite its seemingly archaic appearance, the Gladiator still offered up some surprises for the Allies in the early campaigns of World War 2. A total of 747 examples were ultimately produced included 216 for export.

    Folland worked on translating the existing Gauntlet for Specification F.7/30 and came up with the SS.37 prototype design as a Gloster Aircraft Company private venture. Exterior design of the new aircraft was a mish-mash of elements from two very different eras of aviation. The type still exhibited the biplane wing arrangement similar to that of the Gauntlet - these showcasing single bays, angled struts and wing assemblies staggered and fitted one over the other. The air-cooled radial piston engine was held at the extreme forward of the tubular fuselage, powering a two-bladed wooden propeller system. The undercarriage was fixed with two main single-wheeled landing gears and a single tail wheel unit. The major difference of the new design was that the pilot sat under a glazed canopy within an enclosed cockpit, offering up decent views all-around though the forward and side views remained somewhat limited by the forward engine placement and biplane wing assemblies. The cockpit featured a raised aerodynamic rear fuselage portion conforming nicely towards the empennage. The tail section itself was conventional for the most part, featuring a single vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes to either side. Armament consisted of 4 x .303 caliber Browning-type machine guns with two of these paired on the front fuselage and firing via synchronization through the spinning propeller blades. The remaining two machine guns in the set were fitted to underwing positions on the lower wing assembly. Construction consisted primarily of wood with a canvas covering and was remembered by many-a-Gladiator pilot for her propensity to burn rather quickly when struck by enemy fire.

    After three months of evaluation, the RAF officially ordered the type into production in the summer of 1935. Deliveries of the initial Gladiator Mk I model began in July of 1936 leading up to the first operational units by early 1937.

    With the SS.37 prototype, the Gladiator evolved into four major production forms. This began with the Gladiator Mk I powered its Bristol Mercury IX air-cooled radial piston engine to which some 378 total examples were produced. The Gladiator Mk II followed, this version being fitted with a Bristol Mercury VIIIA air-cooled radial piston engine powering a three-bladed metal propeller. A total of 270 Gladiator Mk II's were produced.

    The Gladiator Mk I and its Bristol Mercury IX series engines developed an output of 850 horsepower. A maximum speed of 257 miles-per-hour was possible along with a range of 444 miles and a service ceiling of 33,500 feet. Rate-of-climb was listed at 2,220 feet-per-minute.

    Navalized versions inevitably took shape, this coming initially in the Sea Gladiator Interim and, later, the Sea Gladiator proper. The Interim model saw 38 examples produced for the Royal Navy, complete with arrestor hook and reinforced airframes consistent with the rigors of carrier operations. The Sea Gladiator proper came in 60 examples, again for use by the Royal Navy. Arrestor hooks were once again fitted as well as onboard provisions for a dinghy. The Gladiator as a Navy component fared better than her land-based counterparts for her slower speeds proved excellent for landing and taking off from Royal Navy vessels. Additionally, the Sea Gladiator was much less likely to encounter the more potent land-based fighter aircraft of the Germans and Italians out over the open sea.

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    Gloster Gladiator Mk I Technical Specifications

    Service Year: 1937
    Type: Biplane Fighter Aircraft
    National Origin: United Kingdom
    Manufacturer(s): Gloster Aircraft - UK
    Production Total: 747

    Structural (Crew Space, Dimensions and Weights)

    Operating Crew: 1
    Length: 27.43 feet (8.36 meters)
    Width: 32.25 feet (9.83 meters)
    Height: 10.33 feet (3.15 meters)

    Weight (Empty): 3,450 lb (1,565 kg)
    Weight (MTOW): 4,751 lb (2,155 kg)

    Installed Power and Standard Day Performance

    Engine(s): 1 x Bristol Mercury IX air-cooled radial piston engine developing 840 horsepower.

    Maximum Speed: 253 mph (407 kph; 220 knots)
    Maximum Range: 340 miles (547 km)
    Service Ceiling: 33,005 feet (10,060 meters; 6.25 miles)
    Rate-of-Climb: 2,220 feet-per-minute (677 m/min)

    Armament / Mission Payload

    2 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns synchronized and firing through propeller system
    2 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns in lower wing (1 to a wing)

    Global Operators / Customers

    Australia; Belgium; China; Egypt; France; Finland; Nazi Germany; Greece; Iraq; Ireland; Latvia; Lithuania; Norway; Portugal; South Africa; Soviet Union; Sweden; United Kingdom

    Model Variants (Including Prototypes)

    SS.37 - Prototype Model Designation

    Mk I - Fitted with Bristol Mercury IX air-cooled radial piston engine of 840 horsepower.

    Mk II - Fitted with Bristol Mercury VIIIA air-cooled radial piston engine.

    Sea Gladiator - Royal Navy Designation; fitted with arrestor gear for carrier-based operations; 38 are regarded as "interim" models whilst a further 60 were produced as base navy models; the latter showcasing internal storage for onboard dinghy.

    J 8 - Swedish Air Force Designation for model Mk I.

    J 8A - Swedish Air Force Designation for model Mk II.