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Blackburn Skua (B-24)

United Kingdom (1938)

Detailing the development and operational history of the Blackburn Skua (B-24) Twin-Seat, Single-Engine Dive Bomber / Fighter Aircraft.

 Entry last updated on 10/24/2017; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©

  Blackburn Skua (B-24)  
Picture of Blackburn Skua (B-24) Twin-Seat, Single-Engine Dive Bomber / Fighter Aircraft

Both a fighter and a dive bomber, the Blackburn Skua excelled only in the latter for the British Fleet Air Arm during the early fighting of World War 2.

The Blackburn "Skua" (B-24) was a pre-World War 2 naval (carrier-capable) two-seat, single-engine dive bomber / fighter design of Britain. The aircraft was designed by G.E. Petty and first-flew in prototype form on February 9th, 1937, saw series introduction in November of 1938 and fought on until 1941 by which time it was made obsolete as a frontline solution. It continued in second-line roles up until March 1945 and the war in Europe ended that May. A total of 192 Skua aircraft were built for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) of the British Royal Navy for service in the war (notable as its first monoplane fighter).

The Skua was born from Air Ministry Specification O.27/34 of 1934 and was of an all-modern design for its time (biplanes with open-cockpits were still the relative norm for the FAA). Metal skinning was used throughout its construction and an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage was featured along with the aforementioned monoplane wings. The engine was set conventionally at the nose and drove a three-bladed propeller unit. The tail unit was comprised of a single, rounded vertical fin and low-mounted stabilizers. The crew of two were seated in tandem (back-to-back) under a lightly-framed canopy.

Armament-wise, the aircraft was completed with a battery of fixed, forward-firing 7.7mm Browning machine guns in the wings and the rear operator managed a single 7.7mm Vickers K machine gun on a flexible mounting. In this way, the aircraft held a quality more akin to a heavy fighter than a high-performance fighter mount. There was also a provision to carry a 250lb or 500lb bomb along fuselage centerline for the dive bombing role (integral air brakes helped in the action). Each wing could also be outfitted with racks for up to 8 x bombs of smaller diameter.
After its successful testing and evaluation phase, the aircraft was brought into service with the 800 Naval Air Squadron in late-1938. The type then found its way aboard British Royal Navy carriers heading into 1939 so, when war broke out in September of 1939, the Skua was on hand in useful numbers and pushed into service by the FAA.

Despite their classification as fighters, Skuas performed poorly in the dedicated fighter role due to their design being underpowered and heavy but they excelled in the dive bombing role for which they were also designed. A shortage of modern fighters by the British forced the type to see more combat in the dedicated fighter role despite their being outclassed by German types like the Messerschmitt Bf 109 series. Nevertheless, Skuas were credited with shooting down the first German aircraft of World War 2, this on September 25th, 1939 (a Luftwaffe Dornier 18). Skuas were then pressed into service for the Norway Campaign where their dive bombing capability was put to good use and several enemy ships were claimed (including KMS Konigsberg sunk by three direct hits).

Beyond this action, the series operated in all of the early fronts involving British navy warplanes: the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean. More and more they were pressed into the escort role for other bomber types and it was not until 1941 that better alternatives became available - namely the Fairey Fulmar and the Hawker Hurricane. As such, the Skua was relegated to secondary roles of trainer and target tug until the end of the war in 1945.

A true unsung hero of the early-going for the British in World War 2, no fewer than 27 Fleet Air Arm squadrons were equipped with Skua fighters. The Royal Air Force (RAF) also operated a contingent as part of the Anti-Aircraft Co-operation force.

There were only two variants of the Skua line built, Skua Mk.I and Skua Mk.II. The former covered two prototypes outfitted with Bristol Mercury engines. The latter were production-quality, in-service aircraft carrying Bristol Perseus engines in revised cowlings. The Blackburn "Roc" (detailed elsewhere on this site) was a notable Skua offshoot that introduced a fully-powered, multi-machine-gun turret over the rear fuselage (as in the Bolton Paul Defiant fighter). One-hundred thirty-six of these were made.

Performance-wise, the definitive Mk.II model had a maximum speed of 225 miles-per-hour and cruised near 185 mph. Range was out to 435 miles and the service ceiling reached 20,200 feet. Rate-of-climb was 1,580 feet-per-minute.
Blackburn Skua Mk.II Specifications
National Flag Graphic
United Kingdom
Year: 1938
Status: Retired, Out-of-Service
Type: Twin-Seat, Single-Engine Dive Bomber / Fighter Aircraft
Manufacturer(s): Blackburn Aircraft - UK
Production: 192
Supported Mission Types
Ground Attack
Close-Air Support
Airborne Early Warning
Electronic Warfare
Aerial Tanker
Passenger Industry
VIP Travel
Business Travel
Special Forces
Crew: 2
Length: 35.60 ft (10.85 m)
Width: 46.26 ft (14.10 m)
Height: 12.47 ft (3.80 m)
Empty Weight: 5,512 lb (2,500 kg)
MTOW: 8,267 lb (3,750 kg)

Installed Power
1 x Bristol Perseus XII air-cooled radial piston engine developing 890 horsepower and driving a three-bladed propeller unit at the nose.

Standard Day Performance
Maximum Speed: 227 mph (365 kph; 197 kts)
Maximum Range: 435 mi (700 km; 378 nm)
Service Ceiling: 20,210 ft (6,160 m; 3.83 mi)
Rate-of-Climb: 1,580 ft/min (482 m/min)

4 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns in fixed, forward firing mounts.
1 x 7.7mm Lewis OR Vickers K medium machine gun on flexible mounting in rear cockpit.

1 x 500lb conventional drop bomb under fuselage centerline.
8 x Smaller-diameter bombs (conventional or practice) at underwing hardpoints.

Operators List
United Kingdom

Series Model Variants
• Skua - Base Series Name
• Skua Mk.I - Prototype models with Bristol Mercury engine; two examples, differing in nose section.
• Skua Mk.II - Fitted with Bristol Perseus engine; revised nose section; 190 examples.