For a time in military aviation history there was a particular focus on the "floatplane fighter", an offensive-minded attack design that attempted to maintain the best qualities of a floatplane (sea-based landings and take-offs, operational range) and a fighter (stable gun platform, general performance, maneuverability). In November 1942, with World War 2 already raging, the British Air Ministry developed Specification N.2/42 for this very type of combat aircraft and Blackburn delivered what became the "B.44".
In its earlier B.20 and B.40 projects, both of which were flying boats, the company centered the designs on a retractable hull which could be lowered for landing and raised when flying, thus improving aerodynamic efficiency in the latter action. The concept was proven somewhat through the B.20 prototype (detailed elsewhere on this site) but this aircraft was lost in testing (killing three of its six crew). The B.40 was not developed beyond drawings as interest in the type soon waned on the part of the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The same concept was now driven through a single-seat, single-engine fighter design which could operate near the frontlines in areas where there were next-to-now support systems available - namely wide expanses of ocean where small islands (either natural or man-made) were all that could be had.
Two prototypes were ordered by the Air Ministry and these would be powered by the Napier "Sabre" engine outputting 2,240 horsepower and driving a pair of three-bladed, contra-rotating propellers at the nose. To expedite development, much of the existing work done on the Blackburn Firebrand land-based fighter (detailed elsewhere on this site) was used in constructing the B.44 floatplane fighter. The basic airframe was to have low-set monoplane wings seated ahead of midships. The engine would be positioned at front in the traditional way and the tail would be made up of a single vertical fin and low-mounted, forward-set horizontal stabilizers. As the boat-like hull was built into the fuselage's design (supported / retracted by a system of struts) no complex landing gear arrangement was needed. Two outboard (folding) pontoons were set near the ends of each wing for stability when running on the water's surface. The pilot sat under a framed canopy ahead of midships with the fuselage spine running directly behind his position, the extra internal volume adding fuel stores for longer operation ranges. Armament centered on 4 x 20mm automatic cannons (two fitted to each wing) and provision was to be made for carrying 2 x 500lb drop bombs under the wings.
As the war progressed, and economically-minded "Escort Carriers" proved viable warships for carrying warplanes to-and-fro, the need for the B.44 lessened. Additionally, proven in the actions of the Pacific Theater, the Allies were able to construct air bases at speed in areas where it was not thought possible - providing forward operating areas for future assaults or assault support in general. As such, the B.44 was abandoned after only a full-scale mockup had been completed.
Of particular note in the development of the B.44 floatplane fighter is the lack of faith had by RAF officials in the design with concerns ranging from on-water stability and water spray at the engine and propeller components to general control factors when in flight. The work on the B.44 was not even publicized until the post-war period in 1947.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
Ability to intercept inbound aerial threats by way of high-performance, typically speed and rate-of-climb.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
39.4 ft (12.00 m)
50.0 ft (15.25 m)
13,999 lb (6,350 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Blackburn B.44 production variant)
1 x Napier Sabre IV liquid-cooled inline piston engine developing 2,240 horsepower driving 2 x three-bladed propeller units at the nose in contra-rotating fashion.
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