During World War 2 (1939-1945), constant issues in the development of the Blackburn "Firebrand" single-seat, single-engine navy strike fighter (detailed elsewhere on this site) ensured that the type would have an uphill battle in reaching operational capability (indeed it entered service only after the war in 1945 and, in the end, only 220 were acquired by the British Royal Navy (RN)). This led the Blackburn engineering team to pursue an all-new design to shore up the Firebrand's limitations and this work ultimately produced the Blackburn "Firecrest", also recognized under the designations of "B-48" and "Y.A.1". The Firecrest would undertake the same type of carrier-based strike roles envisioned for the Firebrand and also serve the RN's Fleet Air Arm (FAA) if it could prove itself a sounder product.
Air Ministry Specification S.28/43 was established for the development of the Firecrest ("Firecrest" was its unofficial name) and three flyable prototypes were commissioned.
To go along with the "clean-sheet" approach, the design team worked on an all-new wing structure in 1943 promising performance and stability gains. The engine of choice became the Bristol "Centaurus" series and this was set to drive a pair of contra-rotating propellers at the nose. Proposed armament was 2 x 20mm automatic cannons and a bomb load of up to 1,800lb. Both streamlined and lighter-in-weight when compared to the Firebrand, the Firecrest was, at least on paper, already proving itself a better investment.
Like the Firebrand before it, the Firecrest also fought through a troubled development period as it suffered from ever-changing service requirements which worked against the aircraft to the point that only two of the three ordered prototypes were ever flown - and these served as simple data-collecting platforms. The third went on to see life as a strength-testing subject. Before the end, the Firecrest's structure was reworked for the rigors of naval attack operations and the engine was changed to another installation once the contra-rotating propeller quality was dropped. These sorts of revisions naturally affected other components of the aircraft to the point that the design became something of a complicated mess at every turn.
Ground tests finally occurred in February of 1947 though, by this point, World War 2 had been over for some time (mid-1945). A first flight was had on April 1st, 1947 and, in this form, the aircraft featured a relatively deep fuselage and sat its pilot (under a bubble canopy) towards the nose for better out-of-the-cockpit vision (a strong quality to have for carrier-based combat aircraft). The wing mainplanes (with noticeable dihedral) were set ahead of midships and the tail unit consisted of a single fin and low-set horizontal planes. A traditional "tail-dragger" wheeled undercarriage was fitted (retractable). The propeller unit at the nose sported a large spinner. Dimensions included a length of 39.3 feet, a wingspan of 44.11 feet and a height of 14.5 feet. Weight was 10,515lb against a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 15,300lb.
The aircraft carried the Bristol Centaurus 59 series 18-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine of 2,475 horsepower and this driving a five-bladed propeller. Maximum speed was 612 miles per hour with cruising near 215 mph. Range was out to 900 miles and the service ceiling reached 31,600 feet. Rate-of-climb was 2,500 feet-per-minute.
Proposed armament was 2 x 12.7mm M2 Browning heavy machine guns at the wings and support for 8 x RP-3 rockets and 1 x 2,100lb torpedo (under the fuselage) or 2 x 250lb drop bombs (under the wings).
The first prototype was marked "RT651" and ended its days back in the hands of the Blackburn company when the Air Ministry had completed its flying tests (it was later scrapped). The second prototype became "RT656" and was used in structure tests before being scrapped in 1952. "VF172", the third airframe of the lot, soldiered on as a research platform, testing out the intricacies of power-boosted ailerons during 1948 and was sold back to Blackburn the following year only to join her sisters in being scrapped.
Beyond its troubled development phase, the Firecrest was further rendered obsolete with the arrival of the jet age and all-new turboprop technology which promised far greater gains than what the Firecrest could offer - limiting its development to just the three mentioned prototypes. Other similar platforms of the period to reach varying levels of operational success included the Westland "Wyvern" and the American Martin AM "Mauler" and classic Douglas AD "Skyraider" - all detailed elsewhere on this site.