Reconnaissance / Light Bomber Aircraft
Nearly 1,000 examples of the Fairey III series aircraft were built for a dozen operators from World War 1 onwards.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
The British war effort of World War 1 (1914-1918) brought about many new aircraft developments. Fairey Aviation was one contributor to the endeavor and began operations in 1915 while based at Heaton Chapel, Ringway. On September 14th, 1917, a first flight was recorded for a new reconnaissance biplane design christened the "Fairey III" in response to a British Admiralty (Navy) request for a new carrier-based reconnaissance/light bomber (Specification N.2(a)). The type was adopted for service in the war's final year of 1918 and 964 of the type would be constructed. Amazingly, the aircraft would become one of the few designs to be born during the fighting of World War 1, survive the interwar years and still see service into World War 2. This was a quality usually seen with the larger, more expensive warships of the navy than any one aircraft for they proved more expensive to replace. The final Fairey III forms were not retired from service in 1941.
The Fairey III began life as prototype N.10 and the aircraft was evaluated through a wheel-based and floatplane form. These appeared with a single Sunbeam Maori engine of 260 horsepower. The Navy ordered the aircraft in both of the evaluated designs as the Fairey III as 50 of the wheeled IIIA modesl with 60 of the IIIB floatplane models. These aircraft would see some operational service by the end of World War 1 in November of 1918. The arrival of the IIIC model, which followed more closely the lines and dimensions of the IIIA, limited IIIB production to just 28 units. 36 IIC models followed and were powered by the Rolls-Royce Eagle series engine of 375 horsepower.
As designed, the Fairey III was a conventional biplane aircraft of the period. It featured the requisite upper and lower wing assemblies joined through parallel struts and cabling. The engine was held in a forward compartment and drove a two-bladed wooden propeller in a puller configuration. The nose was well contoured to promote basic aerodynamics. The pilot sat behind and just under the upper wing assembly with his observer to his rear - both in open-air cockpits. The fuselage then tapered to the empennage to which a vertical tail fin and applicable tail planes were added. The primary difference between the two marks were their undercarriages. The wheeled form included a pair of wheeled main landing gear legs while the floatplane derivative featured floats in place of these legs - allowing for operation from water.
Armament included a single .303 Vickers machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing mounting to be managed by the pilot. The observer was given a trainable .303 Lewis machine gun in the rear cockpit. When outfitted as a bomber, the aircraft carried up to a 500lb conventional drop bomb payload under the wing assemblies.
Following the wartime IIIA and IIIB models were the post-war IIIC, IIID and IIIF variants. The IIIC, as described earlier, was outfitted with the Rolls-Royce Eagle engine of 375 horsepower and saw production peak at 36 units. The IIID followed suit or substituted the Eagle engine with the Rolls-Royce Napier Lion of 450 horsepower. This mark saw 227 examples produced and essentially became the first major production mark of the line. The IIIF models were the definitive Fairey IIIs and powered by the Napier Lion engine line across several subvariants including three-seat versions incorporating a third crew member. Metal understructures and metal skin was now being introduced in the design. Hundreds of F-model marks were produced including 291 of the Fairey IIIF Mk III. All carrier versions featured folding wings for improved storage aboard the space-strapped British Royal Navy carriers and later models could have their wheeled undercarriages switched to the floatplane format as required.
The Fairey III was used extensively by the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and Fleet Air Arm (FAA) through the IIIA, IIIB, IIIC and IIIF models. Fourteen RAF squadrons operated the Fairey III at some point as did five FAA squadrons. Foreign operators proved plenty and included Australia (air force), Argentina (navy), Canada, Chile (air force and navy), Egypt, Greece (air force and navy), Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, the Soviet Union (evaluation only) and Sweden. Argentina operated a Fairey III until 1942 before retiring the line. By this time, the aircraft were outfitted with Armstrong Siddeley Panther engines. Others gave up use of the type during the 1930s and into the very early 1940s. By World War 2, British Fairey IIIs were relegated to lesser roles, replaced by more modern types. A few Fairey IIIs operated under civilian ownership.