Folland / Hawker-Siddeley Gnat Fighter / Trainer Aircraft
The Folland Gnat proved a handful with the Indian Air Force, taking advantage of the technologically superior Pakistani F-86 Sabres.
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The Folland Gnat was a swept-wing, jet-powered fighter of British origins appearing in the middle of the 1950's. Designed as a light-weight, cost-effective aircraft with impressive performance specifications, the diminutive Gnat proved a better success on the export market than it did as an indigenous creation for the United Kingdom. Design of the Gnat - derived from the Folland private venture Fo.139 "Midge" prototype of 1954 - was handled by aircraft engineer W.E.W. "Teddy" Petter with the Gnat prototype achieving first flight on July 18th, 1955. Advances in turbojet design technology was now reaching more advanced levels, providing for improved engine longevity and smaller size while still benefitting in the category of performance compared to previous offerings. Initial performance testing was promising and the Gnat project was forwarded by the Ministry of Supply to include six further test aircraft. Construction of the all-metal aircraft was such that it could be relatively easily produced by any interested operator. The fighter was declined by the Royal Air Force a modified two-seat trainer was accepted instead. The Gnat entered RAF service in 1959.
The Gnat featured all-swept wing surfaces and a clean fuselage design. Cockpit placement was forward of the fuselage design featuring a two piece glass canopy. Trainer versions featured an elongated cockpit position with two seats in tandem for student and instructor. Intakes were mounted to either fuselage side, feeding the single jet powerplant. Trainers varied in using a different powerplant, wings and empennage section. The empennage was dominated by a single vertical tail fin and conventional tailplanes. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement featuring two main landing gears and a nose gear. Performance of the F.Mk 1 was impressive - considering it was all subsonic - provided for by the single Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus 701-01 series turbojet engine delivering some 4,705lbf. Maximum speed could top 695 miles per hour while a range of 500 miles was possible. A rate-of-climb of 20,000 feet per minute ended with a service ceiling of 48,000 feet. Standard armament for the base Gnat was modest, consisting of 2 x 30mm ADEN cannons. Lethality could be increased somewhat by the addition of 18 x rockets or 2 x 500lb bombs held underwing.
In practice, despite their low cost, proved to quite the needy aircraft with maintenance costs to boot. Its smallish size worked against it in terms of maintenance personnel needing to reach and repair various internal components. The aircraft suffered from limited range and limited armament potential, severely restricting its serious use as a front-line performer. These limitations ensured a limited production run spanning several decades of service though still delivering a memorable history. To drive home the point, the fighter version of the Gnat was not even utilized by the RAF - it found better success on the export market, particularly in operations under the India banner.