Fairey Spearfish Torpedo / Dive Bomber Aircraft Prototype
Brought to life in 1943, the Fairey Spearfish was only ever completed in five examples due to the end of the war in 1945.
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Fairey Aviation, founded as early as 1915, had been designing, developing and building warplanes since World War 1 (1914-1918) when it took on the charge to fulfill a British military specification for a new torpedo / dive bomber in April of 1943. World War 2 (1939-1945) had been waging for four long years up to now with seemingly no end in sight and the British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) of the Royal Navy (RN) was in the hunt for a modern solution to meet a new demand - particularly in its ever-growing commitment in the Pacific Theater. The specification was named O.5/43 and ultimately answered by Fairey along with competitors Blackburn, Cunliffe-Owen and Folland. The hope by the Admiralty was to have the new aircraft available no later than early 1946.
Fairey returned with two proposed design, one being a single-engined aircraft and the other of a twin-engined configuration. The Admiralty elected for the practicality and familiarity of the former housing and this to house a single Bristol Centaurus engine to which three prototypes were ordered during August of 1943. The aircraft would have to possess good speed and handling over water, proper strength in a full-speed dive and able to withstand the rigors of carrier operations over vast distances - sometimes thousands of miles without any land in view. A crew of two was envisioned to help alleviate the expected workload of the light bomber. In October of 1943, the design was granted the name of "Spearfish".
The initial flight of the first prototype, delayed from the originally selected date by the Centaurus engine of choice, was not recorded until July 5th, 1945. This showpiece example was fitted with the Bristol Centaurus 57 series 18-cylinder radial piston engine of 2,585 horsepower output. However, by this time, the war in Europe had drawn to a close and the Japanese Empire in the Pacific and Far East was falling to the island-hopping campaign of the Allies. The requirement for such a new carried-based bomber dwindled until altogether lost by September of 1945 when the Japanese capitulated.
This left many-a-military-project in limbo or cancelled altogether. The Spearfish program did not suffer either fate though its production contract was no more (envisioned as 150 "TD.Mk 1" production examples). Instead, the three prototypes were allowed completion in a flyable form used in research. These were then followed by a forth prototype which flew in December of 1945 and it, itself, was followed by an order for three more aircraft. To that end, only five were ever really completed and all eventually lost to the scrap heap once their usefulness had ended.
In testing, the Spearfish proved heavy at the controls and required a large turning radius. Despite its Centaurus engine of 2,585 horsepower, it was underpowered for and aircraft of its size. The size was also detrimental for deck handling and storage on space-strapped British carriers. Vision out of the cockpit was more-or-less sound thanks to light framing - though the wing elements and long nose contributed to blind spots consistent with other aircraft of the period.
As completed, the Spearfish sat its two operators in tandem with the pilot in the forward cockpit and his observer/gunner aft. The aircraft exhibited a running length of 45 feet with a span of 60 feet and a height of 16 feet. Wings were straight appendages with clipped tips and mid-mounted along the fuselage sides just under the cockpit floor. The fuselage itself was relatively deep when viewed in the side profile. The engine sat in a forward compartment within a lengthened nose assembly, driving a five-bladed propeller. The tail unit was conventional with a single, rounded vertical fin and low-set horizontal planes. The undercarriage was wholly-retractable and of the "tail-dragger" configuration which saw two main landing gear legs and a tail wheel used. An arrestor hook was added well-aft on the ventral side of the tail, this intended for catching deck wires upon landing. Empty weight was listed at 12,435lbs with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 22,050lbs. The Spearfish was cleared to carry up to 2,000lbs of ordnance through an internal bomb bay - this being either a single torpedo, several conventional drop bombs or naval depth charges as required.
Beyond its bomb-/torpedo-/charge-carrying capabilities, the Spearfish was further armed through 2 x 0.50 M2 Browning fixed, forward-firing, air-cooled heavy machine guns - one to a wing . There were 2 x M2 Brownings also to be fitted into a Frazer-Nash FN95 remote-controlled dorsal barbette for protecting the aircraft's vulnerable "six" from danger. Underwing rails were also to provide fixed hardpoints for up to 16 x RP-3 series rockets for maritime strike.
Published performance specifications included a maximum speed of 300 miles per hour with a cruise speed of 260 miles per hour. Range reach 895 miles with a service ceiling up to 23,600 feet and a rate-of-climb nearing 1,720 feet per minute. The famous American Grumman TBF Avenger - a stalwart throughout the war since 1942 and produced in 9,839 examples - already managed a top speed of 275 miles per hour with a range out to 1,000 miles and service ceiling of 30,100 feet, all the while cleared for carrying 2,000lb of ordnance including a torpedo or drop bombs.
All Spearfish aircraft were later scrapped, bringing an end to their aviation tenure. A high-performance version of the same aircraft saw a short-lived, yet somewhat renewed, life when Specification O.21/44 came about - this calling for a two-seat naval strike platform with a coupled Merlin engine arrangement driving contra-rotating propellers. Like the Spearfish before it, this aircraft was never realized as an operational product.