The Folland Gnat was a swept-wing, jet-powered fighter of British origins appearing in the middle of the 1950's. Designed as a light-weight, cost-effective aircraft with impressive performance specifications, the diminutive Gnat proved a better success on the export market than it did as an indigenous creation for the United Kingdom. Design of the Gnat - derived from the Folland private venture Fo.139 "Midge" prototype of 1954 - was handled by aircraft engineer W.E.W. "Teddy" Petter with the Gnat prototype achieving first flight on July 18th, 1955. Advances in turbojet design technology was now reaching more advanced levels, providing for improved engine longevity and smaller size while still benefitting in the category of performance compared to previous offerings. Initial performance testing was promising and the Gnat project was forwarded by the Ministry of Supply to include six further test aircraft. Construction of the all-metal aircraft was such that it could be relatively easily produced by any interested operator. The fighter was declined by the Royal Air Force a modified two-seat trainer was accepted instead. The Gnat entered RAF service in 1959.
The Gnat featured all-swept wing surfaces and a clean fuselage design. Cockpit placement was forward of the fuselage design featuring a two piece glass canopy. Trainer versions featured an elongated cockpit position with two seats in tandem for student and instructor. Intakes were mounted to either fuselage side, feeding the single jet powerplant. Trainers varied in using a different powerplant, wings and empennage section. The empennage was dominated by a single vertical tail fin and conventional tailplanes. The undercarriage was of a tricycle arrangement featuring two main landing gears and a nose gear. Performance of the F.Mk 1 was impressive - considering it was all subsonic - provided for by the single Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus 701-01 series turbojet engine delivering some 4,705lbf. Maximum speed could top 695 miles per hour while a range of 500 miles was possible. A rate-of-climb of 20,000 feet per minute ended with a service ceiling of 48,000 feet. Standard armament for the base Gnat was modest, consisting of 2 x 30mm ADEN cannons. Lethality could be increased somewhat by the addition of 18 x rockets or 2 x 500lb bombs held underwing.
In practice, despite their low cost, proved to quite the needy aircraft with maintenance costs to boot. Its smallish size worked against it in terms of maintenance personnel needing to reach and repair various internal components. The aircraft suffered from limited range and limited armament potential, severely restricting its serious use as a front-line performer. These limitations ensured a limited production run spanning several decades of service though still delivering a memorable history. To drive home the point, the fighter version of the Gnat was not even utilized by the RAF - it found better success on the export market, particularly in operations under the India banner.
Gnats played a major combat role in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak conflicts serving with the Indian Air Force. The diminutive aircraft proved a handful for the larger, even superior, Canadair F-86 Sabres (license-production North American Sabre jets). Kills attributed to the Gnat were mostly Pakistani Sabres and eventually earned the Gnat the appropriate nickname of "Sabre Slayer". Its capabilities and relative small size no doubt played up to the advantage of the Indian pilots, able to out maneuver the Sabres and strategically set themselves up for a quick cannon burst. India claimed seven Pakistani air-to-air kills by Gnats in the 1965 conflict alone. By 1978, the Gnat in Indian service had reached her technological end and was removed from service in favor or newer warplanes. HAL of India produced at least 175 Gnats locally and received at least 40 more from Folland.
A single Gnat piloted by Indian Air Force Squadron Leader Brij Singh Sikand landed in a Pakistani airfield. Though the airfield was abandoned, the aircraft was still captured by Pakistan and eventually put on display at the Karachi-based Pakistan Air Force Museum.
The Gnat was produced in a handful of variants with total production running just 449 aircraft. Production was predominantly handled by Folland in the United Kingdom and by HAL (Hindustan Aircraft, Limited) of India. Variants included the original Fo.141 Gnat as a single-seat jet fighter. This served as the Gnat F.Mk 1 for Finland while becoming the HAL production Gnat in India (via license production). The Fo.144 Gnat became the base designation for the modified two-seat trainer, appearing in its Gnat T.Mk 1 designation (after Folland's acquisition by Hawker-Siddeley) when in service with the Royal Air Force. HAL went on to produce the HAL Ajeet (meaning "Invincible" or "Unconquerable") as an improved Gnat F.Mk 1. and complimented the type with the HAL Ajeet two-seat advanced trainer derived from the RAF Gnat T.Mk 1 but with extensive modifications.
The United Kingdom, India, Finland and Yugoslavia became the only operators of the Gnat. The United Kingdom operated the Gnat trainer model for the Royal Air Force and was selected to perform with the Red Arrows acrobatic team from 1964 through 1979. Finland operated 13 Gnat fighters - two were reconnaissance versions - beginning in July of 1958 through 1974 while Yugoslavia received just two Gnats for evaluation purposes. Finnish operation of Gnats were plagued with technical issues and accidents that forced the aircraft to be grounded for a time. Eventually, the aircraft were proving too costly to maintain and were given up in favor of the Swedish Saab 35 Drakens. Finnish Air Force Major Lauri Pekuri was credited as being the first Finn to break the speed of sound in a Gnat.
The United Kingdom retired her Gnats in 1979, replaced on the Red Arrows team by the British Aerospace Hawk T.1A aircraft. In addition to its "Sabre Slayer" monniker, the Gnat enjoyed the nickname of "Pocket Fighter" as well.
Status Retired, Out-of-Service
Production 449 Units
Folland Aircraft - UK / Hindustan Aircraft Ltd (HAL) - India
Finland; India; United Kingdom; Yugoslavia
- Close-Air Support (CAS)
- Advanced Training
29.72 ft (9.06 m)
22.15 ft (6.75 m)
8.83 ft (2.69 m)
4,850 lb (2,200 kg)
8,885 lb (4,030 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Folland / Hawker-Siddeley Gnat F.Mk 1 production model)
1 x Bristol Orpheus 701 turbojet engine developing 4,520 lb of thrust.
715 mph (1,150 kph; 621 kts)
50,033 feet (15,250 m; 9.48 miles)
1,181 miles (1,900 km; 1,026 nm)
20,000 ft/min (6,096 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Folland / Hawker-Siddeley Gnat F.Mk 1 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 30mm ADEN internal automatic cannons.
2 x 500lb conventional drop bombs OR 18 x 3" rockets for ground attack sorties.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Folland / Hawker-Siddeley Gnat F.Mk 1 production model)
Fo.141 - Base Fighter Model Designation.
F.Mk 1 - Base Single Seat Fighter Design.
HAL Gnat - Indian license-production of F.Mk 1 model.
HAL Ajeet - Single-Seat Fighter; based on the F.1 model.
HAL Ajeet (Trainer) - Two-Seat Trainer used by India; based on the HAL Ajeet.
Fo.144 (Trainer) - Two-Seat Trainer Model Designation.
T.Mk 1 - Fo.144 trainer in service with RAF.
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.
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