Blackburn Baffin Torpedo Bomber Aircraft
Fewer than 30 new-build Blackburn Baffins were produced, the rest being conversions of existing Blackburn Ripon biplanes to the improved Baffin standard.
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The Blackburn Baffin was nothing more than a Pegasus-engined evolution of the Blackburn Ripon bomber of the mid-1920s. Both types served the Royal Air Force's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) as a dedicated torpedo bomber and both were of biplane wing designs. The original Ripon first flew on April 17th, 1926 and was adopted by the FAA in 1930, serving into 1935 with 92 examples produced. The Baffin appeared in response to an FAA requirement for a new torpedo bomber biplane with support for 1 x 1,500 torpedo under the fuselage or up to 2,000lbs of conventional drop bombs. Torpedo bombers were lethal additions to any naval air arm and their importance shown through in the many naval battles concerning World War 2 - several grand examples serving as turning points in the conflict (Taranto, Pearl Harbor).
Outwardly, the Baffin retained much of the Ripon's arrangement. The fuselage was squared with slab sides and the engine fitted to a forward compartment. The crew of two sat in a pair of open-air cockpits aft of the upper wing assembly. As a biplane, the Baffin sported an over-and-under wing arrangement for maximum lift while being of mixed metal and canvas-over-wood construction. The empennage consisted of a single rounded vertical tail fin and a set of horizontal planes. The undercarriage was fixed in place and consisted of two single-wheeled main landing gear legs under the bulk of the design and a simple tail skid at the rear.
Power for the Baffin was served through 1 x Bristol Pegasus 9-cylinder radial piston engine developing 565 horsepower which became an improvement over the Ripon's Napier Lion 12-cylinder 570 horsepower installation. As such, performance of the new aircraft could be improved to a certain extent. Maximum range was 490 miles (over the Ripon's 400 miles) with a service ceiling up to 15,000 feet (compared to 10,000 feet) and flight time endurance of approximately 4.5 hours. Rate-of-climb was better than previous encountered with the Ripon, reaching 600 feet-per-minute (compared to approximately 420 fpm).
While primarily a bomber as designed, the Baffin was given standardized offensive and defensive machine gun armament. The pilot (in the forward cockpit) managed a single 7.7mm Vickers air-cooled machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing mount. The rear crewmember was given a 7.7mm Lewis air-cooled machine gun on a trainable mount to protect the aircraft's vulnerable "six". This was a defensive configuration taken from the bloody fighting between monoplanes, biplanes and triplanes of World War 1, making the Baffin - and her related kind - something of hybrid aircraft attempting to evolve into the metal age of flight. As a bomber, the Baffin could be outfitted with a single torpedo slung under the fuselage or 1,600lbs of conventional drop bombs in its place underwing. In this way, the aircraft could be called upon to engage all manner of surface warships through use of the torpedo and land-based targets/warships via a balanced external bomb configuration.
The Baffin was initially realized in the T.5J Ripon Mk V company prototype of which two were produced as private ventures by Blackburn - each further designated as the "B-4" and "B-5" prototypes. These emerged from internal testing to help improved the Ripon line as a whole - the B-4 was fitted with an Armstrong Siddeley Tiger engine while B-5 was given the Bristol Pegasus. The Pegasus-powered prototype appeased Blackburn engineers and allowed for a clear decision, ultimately used to convince the FAA of their new torpedo bomber product. In 1933, the FAA commissioned for 26 new-build airframes and 38 existing Ripons were converted to the new, more powerful standard. Baffins were officially received into the FAA inventory in January 1934 (with No. 812 Squadron) and, in 1935, the existing stock was again bolstered by the addition of another 26 Baffin-converted Ripon airframes bringing total Baffin strength to 90. It was no surprise that Baffins were then used to replace the outgoing Ripons then in service - 68 total Ripons were eventually modified to the Baffin standard. The only Baffin production mark of note became the "Baffin Mk I" although three new-build airframes were completed with a Bristol Pegasus II.M3 series engine of 580 horsepower and granted the new designation of Baffin "T.8A".
In all, four FAA squadrons went to sea with Baffin aircraft - No. 810, No. 811, No. 812 and No. 820. The Royal New Zealand Air Force became the only other operator of the type and this across No. 1 Squadron, No. 2 Squadron and No. 3 Squadron - though through ex-FAA aircraft, not new-build airframes. British Baffins served from the decks of the HMS Courageous, HMS Furious, HMS Glorious and HMS Eagle carrier, giving good service for their short time aloft - the operational career of FAA Baffins lasted only two years before the series was given up for the Fairey Swordfish and Blackburn Shark series. The last FAA Baffin was fielded into December of 1936 so none were available by the time of World War 2.
The Royal New Zealand Air Force took delivery of ex-FAA Baffin airframes the following year, receiving some 29 examples. While in service into World War 2, the RNZAF utilized the aircraft initially as dedicated trainers for new generations of upcoming airmen though these were then later pressed into frontline service when the situation in and around Australia grew critical due to Japanese expansion in the Pacific. None reportedly saw direct combat in during the period and existing mounts were replaced by incoming American Lockheed Hudson twin-engined reconnaissance/bomber aircraft. Hudsons proved strong in their given role and saw some 2,941 examples produced. The last operational Baffin served up to 1941, officially bringing an end to the Ripon legacy through the newer Blackburn development.