The Blackburn concern was founded in 1914 by aviation engineer Robert Blackburn as the "Blackburn Aeroplane & Motor Company" and, with World War 1 gripping Europe, the company turned to design, development and construction of its own aircraft for the military sphere. Prior to the war, Blackburn had already built his first aircraft in 1909 and followed this single-engine monoplane with various others in the years leading up to the war. In 1918, the final year of the war, Blackburn revealed perhaps their most famous wartime contribution - the large, twin-engined Blackburn "Kangaroo" three-seat, biplane reconnaissance/torpedo biplane bomber. From this design, a steady stream of torpedo-minded platforms then followed including the post-war Blackburn "Swift" of 1920 and the Blackburn "Dart" of 1921.
The Blackburn Dart was a conventional biplane aircraft with a torpedo-delivery role as primary. The aircraft was accepted into the ranks of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Air Force and saw 118 examples produced across a few notable variants. The Dart also managed export to Japan, Spain and the United States in limited numbers. She was crewed by a single operator in an open-air cockpit, featured a fixed wheeled undercarriage and equal-span biplane wings with parallel struts. The platform was powered by the Napier Lion IIB series water-cooled, 12-cylinder inline piston engine of 450 horsepower. Maximum speed was 107 miles per hour with a range of 400 miles and service ceiling of 12,700 feet. Armament included a fixed, forward-firing 7.7mm Vickers machine gun to engage targets of opportunity. As a torpedo bomber, the Dart could be outfitted with 1 x Mk VIII or IX series 457mm torpedo under the fuselage centerline or 2 x 520lb bombs along hardpoints under the wing. Production of Darts spanned from 1922 to 1928.
With several years of operational service from which to draw upon, Blackburn then took to refining the Dart design for the new British Air Ministry Specification 21/23 - this initiative producing the Blackburn "Ripon" biplane series which went airborne for the first time on April 17th, 1926 in prototype form. The specification called for a torpedo bomber with long endurance qualities and a secondary reconnaissance gathering role. One of the key changes in the Ripon design over the Dart was the inclusion of a second crewmember - a gunner/observer in a rear open-air cockpit. Two prototypes were originally considered - a conventional land-based form and a seaplane complete with floats for water operations. Despite failing in the initial formal evaluation phase even against lesser competitors, the Ripon was re-trialed with a new engine and revised wing surfaces and finally accepted into the inventory of the Fleet Air Arm. She was set to begin her operational service in 1929 with No. 462 Fleet Torpedo Bomber from the deck of the HMS Furious. Some 90 production-level aircraft were ordered.
Initial Ripon production models were designated as "Ripon II" as the two initial prototypes were recognized as "Ripon I". Ripon IIs were given modest defensive armament of 1 x 7.7mm Lewis machine gun on a trainable mount in the rear cockpit. The offensive bomb load was primarily 1 x 457mm torpedo along the fuselage centerline though this could be replaced by up to 3 x 530lb drop bombs under the fuselage and wings. For greater effect, 6 x 230lb bombs could be carried instead.
Some twenty Ripon II forms were produced before the arrival of the definitive "Ripon IIA" which introduced a fixed, forward-firing machine gun (7.7mm Vickers) for the pilot and incorporated metal ribbing into the wing structure for a more durable end-product. Forty Ripon IIA units were produced in all.
The "Ripon IIC" was then introduced and featured all-metal wings and some 30 aircraft of this mark were manufactured. Ripon IICs were powered by Napier Lion X, XI, or XIA series piston engines of 570 horsepower allowing for a top speed of 111 miles per hour with a range of 400 miles and service ceiling of 10,0000 feet. The Ripon IIC could reach an altitude of 6,500 feet in 15.5 minutes.
"Ripon III" designated a one-off prototype form that trialed an all-new tail unit coupled with an elongated forward fuselage. However, this mark was not to be selected for serial production and fell to the pages of aviation history. The "Ripon IIF" became a notable export model sold to Finland - the only other operator of the Ripon series biplanes. At least 26 examples appeared with the Finnish Air Force with the first being produced by Blackburn and the final twenty-five coming under local license production from Finnish Aircraft Factory. Finnish versions utilized a wide variety of powerplants during their years of service, a key differentiating feature of the foreign mark.
Blackburn Ripons in British service were kept as operational frontline torpedo bombers into early 1935 and, despite their over-water capabilities, were generally operated from land bases. By this time, the type was being superseded by the more modern Blackburn "Baffin" which proved essentially the Ripon itself though with a Bristol Pegasus I.MS radial piston engine of 545 horsepower instead of the original's broad-arrow piston fitting. Many existing Ripons (as many as sixty-eight examples) were even upgraded to the new Baffin standard. Baffins first flew in September of 1932 and were formally introduced into service in 1934, operating on into 1941 with 97 produced.
It was with the Finns that the Blackburn Ripon's legacy would truly endure, seeing extensive combat action in World War 2 (1939-1945) during the "Winter War" (1939-1940) and the "Continuation War" (1941-1944) against the Soviet Union. As all-metal, streamlined monoplane fighters with retractable undercarriages and enclosed cockpits were the next evolution of the military aircraft, mounts such as the Ripon eventually succumbed to the changing face of war. The final operational sorties of Finnish Ripons, therefore, took place in 1944, bringing an end to the storied existence of the Blackburn design.
The formal designation of the Ripon was "Blackburn T.5 Ripon".
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