Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Blackburn ‘uglies’

The Blackburn Dart torpedo-bomber was accepted into FAA service during 1923 and the assigned seventy aircraft served until 1935. This aircraft is releasing a torpedo from between its sturdy landing gear supports. 

The early FAA designs produced by Blackburn would have earned a prize for some of the ugliest, un-aerodynamic looking aircraft. The Blackburn Blackburn was intended to operate in a spotter/reconnaissance role, with the high cockpit position providing good visibility on take-off and landing. Two portholes on either fuselage side were used by the Observers. The aircraft joined the FAA in the same year as the Dart but was phased out in 1931.

Two particular aviation Companies (Blackburn and Fairey) played a leading role in the construction of designs specified by the Admiralty at this time. The former concern lent itself, albeit unconsciously, to producing some of the ugliest, if not to say most un-aerodynamic machines ever to take to the air, the Blackburn and the Dart being the designs in question. There were three strands of operational activity to 21 be catered for, namely reconnaissance, and Fleet 'spotting', torpedo/bombing operations and fighters.

The Blackburn Company dominated the scene in this technical respect between the World Wars, producing four distinct designs for the torpedo-dropping role. The Dart entered service in 1923 and was only declared obsolete in 1935. The Napier Lion IIB engine fitted to both the Dart and the Blackburn was housed in a large, blunt-ended cowling and surely contributed to the maximum speed factor of 100 mph for the former. The second and third types intended for torpedo operations - the Ripon and Baffin - bore progressively slimmer fuselages and neat engine mountings, with the latter switching from the in-line Napier Lion to the Bristol Pegasus un-cowled radial that raised maximum speed to 136 mph. The Ripon appeared in 1929 and could lift torpedo or bomb loads extending up to 1,650 Ibs. in total. Maximum speed was 118 mph at 15,000 ft., and endurance was three hours. The design was superseded by the Baffin in 1935, whose air-cooled Pegasus motor was a Company change-over from the Napier Lion. A maximum speed increase to 136 mph and range of 450 miles along with a capacity for a 15761b. torpedo or 1590 Ibs. of bombs, were features of the Baffin.

The final Blackburn design was the Shark, whose Armstrong-Siddeley Tiger VI produced 700 hp to produce a maximum speed of 152 mph, and which also entered service during 1935. However, unlike its predecessors the Shark's planned role was to be expanded from simple torpedo operations to also acting in the spotter-reconnaissance function. This was a clear indication of the Admiralty's continuing desire to possess aircraft that could be operationally versatile, but it was a desire that would result in designs that proved to be partial or even total failures, with tragic consequences for many of their crews. Maximum speed rose to 152 mph, while range was quoted as 625-792 miles, with or without a bomb or torpedo load respectively. The endurance figure was established as being a fraction under five hours.

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