Supermarine  Scimitar F.1 (XD317)

Supermarine  Scimitar F.1 (XD317)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

The Supermarine Scimitar was an advanced, powerful and a comparatively large aircraft for its day.  It was the end product of a lengthy evolutionary process dating back to 1945 and the Supermarine 505 (a carrier-based fighter project for use on flexible decks - see de Havilland Sea Vampire) which was revised several times, its design becoming successively the Types 508 (a straight-wing, twin engine, retractable undercarriage and a V-shaped tail), 525 (a swept-wing and conventional T-tail design which first flew on 27th April 1954 and crashed on the 5th July 1955 killing the pilot) and 529 (another straight-wing design).  The design finally crystallised in the Type 544 but by that time the Royal Navy had changed the specification and wanted a low level strike aircraft with nuclear capability since the fighter/interceptor role would be fulfilled by the de Havilland Sea Vixen.  Supermarine offered Type 526, which was based on the Type 525, to the RAF but the offer was not taken up.

The first of three Type 544 prototypes flew for the first time on the 20th January 1956 with deck trials starting on HMS Ark Royal in April.  The first two Type 544 prototypes were not particularly representative of the final Scimitar so more trials were undertaken on Ark Royal when the much changed 3rd prototype became available in January 1957.  This prototype was strengthened for the new low-level role together with some aerodynamic changes to the tail-plane and wings, such as flared-out wingtips and wing fences to counter pitch-up effects at high speed and altitude which had been previously encountered with the Supermarine Swift

Built by Supermarine at South Marston XD317 was delivered to the Fleet Air Arm on the 11th November 1959.  XD317 went on to serve with 807 NAS, 736 NAS and 800 NAS.  During 1966 XD317 was with the RAE at Thurleigh for DAX 1 arrester gear intensive trials and the RAE at Farnborough for limited flight trials of TER.  On the 3rd November 1966 went to NASU at RNAS Brawdy and was finally delivered to the museum on the 18th September 1969.

Supermarine  Scimitar F.1 (XD317)

Supermarine  Scimitar F.1 (XD317)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

Eventually the type went into production for the Fleet Air Arm as the Scimitar F.1, as single-seat multi-role aircraft of which 76 were built of the original 100 ordered.   Powered by two Rolls Royce Avon 202 turbojets the first production aircraft flew on the 11th January 1957.   The Scimitar became operational with 803 NAS in June 1958 and three other squadrons later received the type.   Take-off and landing accidents were common on the decks of the small carriers that the Royal Navy were operating at the time.  The Scimitar design included a tail bumper so that the aircraft could be rested on it for take-off, with the nose-wheel high (off the deck) in the air.  The increased angle of attack meant the less powerful catapults of the small carriers could still manage to bring a heavy (and heavily loaded) aircraft like the Scimitar to flying speed.  39 aircraft were lost, overall, from various accidents.  Maintenance was also a problem as the type introduced many innovative features, including fuel flow proportioning and integral main-plane tanks.  It is recorded that at one point the type set a maintenance record of 1000 maintenance hours per flying hour.

Although the Scimitar never saw any action the type was dispatched to the Gulf in 1961 to deter an invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqis.  In 1962 the Scimitar was modified to carry the Bullpup ASM and its striking power was further extended by provision for four Sidewinder AAMs in addition to its four 30 mm cannon.  803 NAS became the last front line squadron to operate the Scimitar in October 1966.  It was superseded in the attack role by the Blackburn Buccaneer; however the Scimitar was retained initially as a tanker to compensate for the early Buccaneer's low engine power.  A Buccaneer could then take off with a minimum fuel load but with a worthwhile weapons load before topping up from a Scimitar once airborne.  The Fleet Requirements Unit (FRU, later FRADU) operated Scimitars, using civilian pilots, from 1965 to the end of 1970.