Supermarine Swift FR.5 (WK277)

Supermarine Swift FR.5 (WK277)  [@ The Newark Air Museum]

Nene engineTogether with the Hawker Hunter the Swift was intended to replace the Gloster Meteor in the air defence role within RAF Fighter Command.  Together with the Hunter the Swift was ordered into ‘super-priority’ production for the RAF Fighter Command.  Built to specification E.38/46 the first prototype, VV106 (type 510), flew for the first time on 29th December 1948 and was the first British jet aircraft with swept wings and a tail-plane.  Powered by the large Rolls Royce Nene turbojet engine (photograph - right) (as used in some variants of the Vampire) meant that the Supermarine Attacker fuselage of the type 510 was larger than that of the HunterLater on it was fitted with an arrestor hook and as the type 517 it carried out various carrier trials with HMS Illustrious.  In the process it became the first swept-wing jet to both land and take-off from an aircraft carrier (two years ahead of the Americans).  When Handley Page was designing the Victor they decided to test their crescent-shaped wing and T-tail design on a smaller aircraft, so a Swift (now type 521) was purchased.  Known as the YB.2, or HP.88, and coded VX330 it was lost in an accident on the 26th August 1951.

WK277 was originally constructed as an F.4 in May 1955 and delivered to the RAF on 26th May 1955 but was subsequently converted to a fighter reconnaissance FR.5 variant.  It later served with 2 Squadron of the RAF as part of the 2nd Tactical Air Force in Germany.  WK277 was given the maintenance serial number 7719M on the 9th May 1961 and dispatched to 2 SoTT, RAF Cosford, as an instructional airframe on the 9th November 1961.  There was a plan to convert the aircraft to a jet car in an attempt to break the world land speed record.  Thankfully for the sake of the aircraft this plan was not realised and it arrived at Newark in 1969.  WK277 is one of the only four Swifts to have been preserved, an F.4 (WK275) in Herefordshire, an FR.5 (WK281) in the museum at RAF Tangmere and an F.7 (XF114) at the Solent Sky museum, Southampton.  Delivered to the RAF on the 14th March 1957, XF114 is apparently in good condition and is the only Swift capable of becoming a flying aircraft again.  Interestingly a number of Swift airframes went to Australia for Operation Buffalo, being placed at various distances from a detonating atomic bomb.  I wonder if they survived?

The second prototype, VV119, first flew on the 27th March 1950 and was designated type 528.  Later on it was fitted with an afterburning Nene engine, a lengthened nose, a kinked wing leading edge, a tricycle undercarriage, a larger fuselage diameter (to accommodate the afterburning tailpipe) and re-designated the 535.  It flew for the first time on the 23rd August 1950.  The 541 was a pre-production model of the Swift and it was powered by a prototype Rolls Royce Avon engine, the AJ.65 turbojet.  Two 541s were produced with the first, WJ960, flying on the 1st August 1951 while the second prototype, WJ965, made its first flight in July the following year.  One hundred were ordered in 1950 and another 100 from Short and Harland in 1952.

Supermarine Swift FR.5 (WK281)

Supermarine Swift FR.5 (WK281)  [@ RAF Tangmere]

WK194 was the first Swift F.1 production variant (20 built) and it flew for the first time on the 25th August 1952.  Powered by an Avon 108 turbojet engine, without reheat, it was armed with two ADEN 30 mm cannon and had a fixed tailplane.  Eventually the type entered RAF service with 56 Squadron on the 13th February 1954 and so became the first swept-wing RAF aircraft in the process.  Unfortunately the F.1 was found to be unsuitable for its primary role of high-level interception, being prone to tightening in turns and suffering frequent high-altitude flameouts as a result of shock waves entering the air intakes when the cannon were fired.Swift cockpit

The next variant was the F.2 (16 built) and it first flew in December 1952.  Although basically an F.1 with two extra ADEN 30 mm cannons fitted and a cranked wing, the modifications needed to create the extra room for the ammunition in itself introduced dangerous handling characteristics into the variant.  Entering RAF service on the 30th August 1954 with 56 Squadron, both variants of the Swift were operate from RAF Waterbeach.  Unfortunately, although it had a similar performance to the American F.86 Sabre, the Swift developed a poor and dangerous serviceability record.  Three aircraft were lost, WK209 and WK213 in non-fatal accidents, WK208 in a fatal crash.  In February 1955, with just over one year in service, the Government abandoned the Swift fighter in favour of the Hawker Hunter.  It was intended for the F.3 to form a second Swift squadron.  It was similar to the F.2 but with reheat from its Avon 114 engine.  Although 25 were built none of them were issued to an operational squadron and they were mostly used as instructional airframes.

Although most of the intended 39 F.4s were built only 8 were flown as the intended fighter due to the fact that the reheat could not be lit at high altitude.  The F.4 was identical to the F.3 but with a variable incidence tailplane.  WK198 was the F.4 prototype, first flown in May 1953, and during its development it set a number of records.  On 5th July 1953 it set point-to-point records for London-Paris of 669.3 mph and 664.3 mph.  On 25th September 1953 at Tripoli in Libya it set a world air speed record of 737.3 mph.  The Swift thus became the last British production aircraft to hold this record.  The photo shows an F.4 procedures trainer cockpit section at the Solent Sky museum, Southampton.

In an attempt to save the programme the Swift was adapted for the low-level fighter-reconnaissance role, three F.95 cameras being installed in a lengthened nose, and as the FR.5 (type 549) it equipped 2 and 79 Squadrons of the 2nd Allied Tactical Air Force in Germany.  The prototype, XD903, first flew on the 25th May 1955 and the variant entered RAF service in February 1956.  Sixty-two FR.5s were produced, 35 being converted from the Swift F.4 airframes.  Armed with two Aden cannon it was fitted with a 220 gallon ventral fuel tank, a saw-tooth leading edge on the wing and was powered by the afterburning Avon 114 engine.  Despite the fact that a number of FR.5s were lost in accidents it became popular with its crews since it could absorb the punishing treatment on its airframe due to the very hostile low altitude environment in which it flew.  The Swift was the winner and runner-up in the NATO 'Royal Flush' reconnaissance competitions of 1957 and 1959.  It was replaced by the Hunter FR.10 in 1960.

Supermarine Swift FR.5 (WK281)

Supermarine Swift FR.5 (WK281)  [@ RAF Tangmere]

Built by Vickers Armstrong, WK281was delivered to the RAF on the 5th November 1956 and joined 79 Squadron, RAF Gutersloh, West Germany in April 1959.  WK282 was operated in the tactical fighter reconnaissance role until January 1961 when the squadron converted to the Hunter FR10.  Given on the 31st January 1961 the maintenance serial number 7712M at RAF Church Fenton, WK281 but “struck off charge” on the 7th March 1961 and transferred to an ATC squadron at Uxbridge for ground instructional use.  From 1967, WK281 was placed on display at several different RAF stations before being moved to RAF Hendon in 1989 and subsequently loaned to the museum at RAF Tangmere in 1994.

The PR.6, an unarmed strategic reconnaissance variant, was abandoned due to problems with the reheat on the Avon engine before completion of the prototype (type 550).  The F.7 (14 built) was the first RAF fighter to be fitted with AAMs (air-to-air missiles).  With an extended nose cone for the radar it was armed with the Blue Sky (Fairey Fireflash) AAM but no cannon.  Powered by the Avon 716 it also had its wingspan extended by three feet.  This variant never saw operational service with the RAF but it was used by the Guided Weapons Development Squadron at RAF Valley from 1957 to November 1958 for guided weapons trials.