Fairey Seafox - United Kingdom, 1937
Detailing the development and operational history of the Fairey Seafox Navy Reconnaissance Floatplane.
Entry last updated on 5/1/2015; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Fairey Seafox served the British Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm across sixty-six total examples.
Since 1917, Fairey Aviation Company delivered many-an-aircraft for British Royal Navy service and this relationship spanned from World War 1 (1914-1918) to World War 2 (1939-1945). In 1932, the Air Ministry delivered Specification S.11/32 calling for a floatplane aircraft to serve aboard Royal Navy light cruisers through the Fleet Air Arm (FAA). Fairey responded with what became the "Seafox" and two prototypes followed with the first arriving in 1936. First flight was recorded on May 27th, 1936.
The aircraft was designed around a seaplane configuration, its undercarriage consisting of twin floats for water landings while launching was accomplished by onboard catapults (recovery would be by way of shipboard crane). The Seafox was not intended as a fleet protector as much as reconnaissance platform, serving gunnery crews aboard the cruisers and increasing their ranged accuracy as a result. When pressed into war, British light cruisers would be charged with hunting down enemy participants and any long range vision from above was of particularly value.
The Seafox employed a biplane arrangement as well as a metal understructure which was reinforced for the rigors of catapult launching. Simple fabric covered the wings and tail surfaces to produce a light design and manufacture-friendly product. A strut network fixed the floats to the underside of the fuselage. The aircraft required a crew of two and seated the pilot in an open-air cockpit aft of the forward-mounted engine while the observer was shielded from the elements under a canopy aft of the pilot. The engine of choice became the Napier "Rapier" VI series 16-cylinderair-cooled piston model of 395 horsepower output and performance figures included a maximum speed of 125 miles per hour, a service ceiling up to 9,700 feet, and a range out to 440 miles. Armament was largely defensive (and optional) - a single 7.7mm Lewis machine gun being fitted for the rear observer. Some Seafoxes were later modified with underwing racks for carrying 4 x 20lb light bombs or marking flares.
The Seafox was introduced for service in April of 1937 and went on to stock the inventories of some eleven Fleet Air Arm squadrons. Beyond the two prototypes completed, total production netted 64 aircraft. None were exported though British Seafoxes served with Australian and New Zealand naval forces for a time. In practice, the type proved itself highly serviceable but were noted for such failings as underpowered engines (which also suffered from cooling issues) and tricky handling - however these limitations could be overlooked in a time of total war.
When Britain declared war on Germany, total Seafox strength numbered thirty-two and the line was immediately pressed into active operations against German naval targets. Seafoxes played a role in the hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic to which this enemy vessel was eventually chased by the British Navy into neutral Montevideo, Uruguay before being scuttled in December of 1939. Beyond that, Seafoxes served the FAA well in subsequent war years - providing much needed over-the-horizon eyes-in-the-skies. Some were present in the evacuation of Crete during 1941 and their type was in force up until about 1943 when more modern products were ultimately adopted by the FAA.