The Gloster Gauntlet was the last RAF aircraft to sport an open-air cockpit in a biplane airframe.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
Gloster Gauntlet origins lay in a Gloster design appearing in the late 1920's for the Royal Air Force and served throughout the 1930's with several local and foreign-based air groups. The aircraft was designed as a fighter and became the fastest such aircraft for the RAF upon the aircraft's inception until unseated by the speedier Hawker Hurricane just two years later. Despite her archaic looks (by 1940's standards), the Gauntlet held her own along several key fronts during World War 2 and became for many-an-airmen their first taste of flight via training. The Gloster Gauntlet holds the distinction of being the last open-air cockpit biplane aircraft used by the Royal Air Force.
Gloster designed, produced and flew the model SS.18 prototype in January of 1929, fitting a Bristol Mercury IIA series radial engine of 450 horsepower and followed this attempt with the similar SS.18A and SS.18B models. The A-model sported a Bristol Jupiter VIIF engine of 480 horsepower whilst the B-model fitted the Armstrong Siddeley Panther III series of 560 horsepower. These developments were further refined with the arrival of the SS.19 prototype and its Bristol Jupiter powerplant. Again, the prototype model was spawned into two other sub-models in the SS.19A and the SS.19B. The A-model saw nothing more changed than its landing gears while the B-model was fitted with the Bristol Jupiter VIS engine of 536 horsepower. By September of 1933, the British Air Ministry liked what they saw in the SS.19 model prototypes and put in an initial production order for 24 of the type to be designated as the Gauntlet Mk I. First flight of the Mk I occurred in October of 1934.
By this time, Gloster Aircraft was absorbed under the Hawker Aircraft Limited (makers of the upcoming Hurricane monoplane) banner and it was deemed that the Gauntlet design should be revised to take on a new simpler wing construction method. As such, the Gauntlet was revised into an Mk II model.
The Gauntlet Mk I made its way into the RAF inventory in May of 1935 with the first user being No.19 Squadron at Duxford and immediately proved herself an upgrade to existing RAF frontline mounts, proving the fastest RAF fighter in service for the next two years until the arrival of the Hawker Hurricane. The Gauntlet was selected to replace the Bristol Bulldog, another radial-engined biplane design introduced back in 1929.
The Gauntlet Mk II appeared in May of 1936 with Nos.56 and 111 Squadrons and ultimately became the most-produced model of the Gauntlet series. The Mk II was powered by the Bristol Mercury VI S2 9-cylinder radial piston engine delivering up to 645 horsepower. Maximum speed was listed at 230 miles per hour with a range of 460 miles and a service ceiling of 33,500 feet. The Gauntlet Mk II featured a rate-of-climb of 2,300 feet-per-minute and could reach 20,000 feet in approximately 9 minutes. No fewer than 221 examples of this mark were eventually produced. Production of all Gauntlets ran from 1933 until 1936.
Despite her bygone-era looks, the Gloster Gauntlet was a stellar design by late 1920 standards and was still a serviceable aircraft well into the late 1930's. Her design was characterized by the staggered equal-span biplane wings featuring double bays and parallel struts. The radial engine powerplant was fitted to the extreme forward of the rounded fuselage powering a three-bladed propeller with coned-over spinner. The undercarriage was fixed with single wheels under the main load of the fuselage and wings. The tail was supported by a single tail wheel. The pilot say in an open air cockpit protected by nothing more than a forward windscreen. Overall. views from the craft were acceptable minus the forward view which was dominated by the long forward fuselage and engine mount. The wings, as well, added another element of obstruction. The empennage remained conventional for the time, sporting a single vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes. Armament was a rather unimaginative pair of 2 x Vickers .303 caliber machine guns synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades.
In 1937, a Gloster Gauntlet was trialed in the nightfighter experiments and became the first aircraft in history to make its way to a target directed solely by ground-based radar. By 1938, the type was showcasing its inherent limitations and replacements came in the form of the Gloster Gladiator, Hawker Hurricane and the almighty Supermarine Spitfire. In June of 1939, the aircraft still remained a primary mount of some RAF frontline units but were inevitably relegated to secondary duties, particularly as trainers for up-and-coming greenhorns. As events in World War 2 ramped up and more modern aircraft became available, all British mainland operational Gauntlets effectively disappeared, leaving a few foreign-based systems still in use. Up to April of 1940, Gauntlets were still being fielded around Palestine while later that year in East Africa, Gauntlets were credited for the downing of an Italian Caproni Ca 133 series bomber as well as taking on limited ground attack sorties.
Some 26 (14 at its peak usage) total Royal Air Force squadrons equipped with Gauntlets, representing the largest operator of the aircraft line. Australia fielded ex-RAF Gauntlets with No.3 Squadron while Denmark used it in its No.1 Squadron Royal Danish Air Force (the latter with 17 systems produced locally under license). Similarly, Southern Rhodesia operated ex-RAF Gauntlets in their No.1 Squadron of the Southern Rhodesian Air Force and South Africa utilized ex-RAF Gauntlets in squadrons Nos. 1 and No. 2 by way of the South African Air Force. Finland became the second largest operator, fielding the Gauntlet in no fewer than five squadrons. These systems were primarily used as trainers and fitted with ski landing gear for the rigors of Finnish winters.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
[ 246 Units ] : Gloster Aircraft / Hawker Aircraft Limited - UK
Australia; Denmark; Finland; Southern Rhodesia; South Africa; United Kingdom
26.41 ft (8.05 m)
32.78 ft (9.99 m)
10.24 ft (3.12 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Gloster Gauntlet Mk II production model)
2,769 lb (1,256 kg)
3,971 lb (1,801 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Gloster Gauntlet Mk II production model)
1 x Bristol Mercury VIS 9-cylinder radial piston engine developing 640 horsepower.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Gloster Gauntlet Mk II production model)
230 mph (370 kph; 200 kts)
33,497 feet (10,210 m; 6.34 miles)
460 miles (740 km; 400 nm)
2,300 ft/min (701 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Gloster Gauntlet Mk II production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 7.7mm Vickers fixed forward-firing machine guns.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Gloster Gauntlet Mk II production model)
SS.18 - Single-Seat Fighter Prototype; fitted with Bristol Mercury IIA series radial piston engine of 450 horsepower.
SS.18A - Based on the S.S.18 model; fitted with Bristol Jupiter VIIF series radial piston engine of 480 horsepower.
SS.18B - Based on the S.S.18 model; fitted with Armstrong Siddeley Panther III series radial piston engine of 560 horsepower.
SS.19 - Single-Seat Fighter Prototype; fitted with Bristol Jupiter series radial piston engine.
SS.19A - Based on the S.S.19 model; change to landing gear.
SS.19B - Single-Seat Fighter Prototype; fitted with Bristol Jupiter VIS radial piston engine of 536 horsepower.
Gauntlet Mk I - Single-Seat Fighter Model; 24 examples produced.
Gauntlet Mk II - Single-Seat Fighter Model; 221 examples produced; based on Mark I model series with subtle improvements.
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