de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XN685)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XN685)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1/FAW.2 (XN685)  [@ Midland Air Museum]

The two-seat de Havilland Sea Vixen had its origin in the DH.110 design for an all-weather, missile-armed, high-speed jet fighter, which had competed with the successful Gloster GA.5 (later to become the Gloster Javelin) for the RAF’s fighter requirement.   The prototype Vixen flew for the first time on the 26th September 1951 piloted by de Havilland Chief test pilot John Cunningham.   By 1955 the Admiralty wanted, for the Fleet Air Arm, a fighter to replace the de Havilland Sea Venom and so a semi-navalised prototype variant was produced.   Ten development aircraft were ordered, the first DH.110 Mk.20X was a rush job with incomplete carrier modifications e.g.  no folding wings.   This aircraft first flew on the 20th June 1955.   The second prototype, WG240, underwent carrier trials during 1956.   This pre-production aircraft making the first full-stop arrested landing on board HMS Ark Royal on 5th April 1956.

Delivered on the 16th June 1961, XN685 was the second FAW.2 conversion (XN684 being the first) and first flew from Hatfield, Hertfordshire in August 1962.    Flying with 13 Joint Services Trials Unit it was used for Red Top missil [see photograph below] trails at Hatfield and Boscombe down and then undertook Martel missile [see photograph below] trials. With trials completed in February 1966, XN685 was delivered to Chester for conversion to full FAW.2 production standard. XN685 then served with 893 NAS on HMS Hermes in 1968 and later 766 and then 890 NAS until August 1971. This Royal Navy aircraft was then passed to RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, as an instructional airframe. By 1984 XN685 was with the 2 School of Technical Training at RAF Cosford and by 1991 it had moved to British Aerospace's Hawarden apprentice school.   Finally, by 1994, it had arrived at its current home.

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1/FAW.2 (XJ580)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1/FAW.2 (XJ580)  [@ RAF Tangmere]

XJ580 was first flown on the 21st July 1960 and was delivered to the Fleet Air Arm on the 2nd August 1960 as a FAW.1.  First serving with RNAS at Abbotsinch from 16th November 1960 to 17th December 1960, XJ580 went on to serve with a number of units including 899 Squadron, on aboard HMS Eagle and 766 Squadron until being converted to FAW.2 standard.  766 Squadron, with whom XJ580 had an appreciable length of service, was, effectively, the Naval Air Fighter School, and formed the aerobatic team "Fred's Five", using Sea Vixens for aerobatic displays.  Although there is no proof of XJ580 being involvement with this aerobatic team, it is possible that XJ580 was, at one time or another, involved.  XJ580 was the first production conversion from FAW.1 to FAW.2, being sent to Hawarden on 18th December 1963 to undergo a 14 month conversion.  From 18th February 1965 served with a number of shore establishments until March 1970 when XJ580 joined 899 Squadron on HMS Eagle.  On the 31st October 1970 XJ580 was involved in the ceremonial fly past marking the formal handover of the Singapore naval base to the Singapore Government.  On return to the UK in May 1972 the Squadron was disbanded but XJ580 went on to serve with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Llanbedr.  The naval career of XJ580 finally ended in January 1980 when XJ580 was reputed to be the last Sea Vixen to fly in Royal Navy livery.  After trial flights for the Mk.32 refuelling pod (subsequently fitted to VC10 "K" tankers) with Flight Refuelling Ltd at Hurn, XJ580 was purchased by a private company in late 1980 and placed on display at Christchurch.  XJ580 was delivered to RAF Tangmere in 2000 for restoration and permanent display.

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XS590)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XS590)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XS590)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

Known initially by the designation FAW.20, the aircraft was officially named the Sea Vixen later that year and re-designated FAW.1.  The first fully navalised variant flew on the 20th March 1957, equipped with folding wings and Rolls Royce Avon 208 engines, the FAW.1 had a speed of 690 mph and a range of 600 miles.  The pilot's canopy was offset with the observer completely housed within the fuselage, having a small window in his compartment, and gaining access through a flush-fitting top hatch.  In November of 1957 the first FAW.1 was delivered to 700 Squadron, which formed a trials unit (700Y) and tested eight FAW.1s until the unit was re-commissioned as 892 Squadron.  In July 1959 the first FAW.1 entered service with the Fleet Air Arm and the type was issued to three squadrons as replacements for the Supermarine Scimitar in the fighter/interceptor role.  Like the de Havilland Sea Vampire and Sea Venom the Sea Vixen had a twin-boom tail and the type became the first British aircraft to be solely armed with missiles, rockets and bombs and the last British fighter to use wood in its construction.  The FAW.1 was armed with four de Havilland Firestreak  [photograph - below] air-to-air missiles (AAM), two Microcell unguided 2-inch (51 mm) rocket packs and had a capacity for four 500 lb (230 kg) or two 1,000 lb bombs.

Built at Harwarden XS590 was delivered on the 8th March 1966 and entered service with 892NAS at RNAS Yeovilton on the 15th December 1966.  XS590 went on to serve at RNAY Belfast, ASU Brawdy and NASU Yeovilton and with 899NAS before being presented to the Fleet Air Arm Museum in June 1971

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ560)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ560)  [@ Newark Air Museum]

When the FAW.1 entered service it was a very modern and capable aircraft and a supersonic version capable of Mach 1.4+ was on the drawing board when it was cancelled in 1956.  In 1961 two were modified by the installation of additional fuel tanks in forward extensions of the tail booms and these aircraft served as the prototypes for the FAW.2 variant, which were issued to operational squadrons from 1963.  The FAW.2 also included an improved escape system along with additional room for more ECM ( electronic counter-measures) equipment.  These changes meant that the 1,000 lb bombs were no longer be carried, however, in addition to the Firestreak  missiles [see photograph below] the FAW.2 could carry the Red Top [see photograph below] AAM, four SNEB rocket pods and the air-to-ground Bullpup missile.

XJ560 was delivered on the 24th November 1959 as a FAW.1 variant before being later converted to be a FAW.2 variant.   It initially served with 890 Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton and from HMS Hermes, later XJ560 served with 892 Squadron before joining the RAE at Farnborough and then Bedford where it was used to test runway arrestor barriers.   XJ560 arrived at Newark in October 1985.  

 Firestreak missile  Red Top missile  Martel missile

During 1966 the FAW.1 began to be phased out with the FAW.2 which remained in service until 1971.  It was the Admiralty’s intention to replace the FAW.2 with the McDonnell-Douglas F.4 Phantom II, with both HMS Ark Royal and HMS Eagle to be refitted to take the new aircraft.  In the event, due to defence cuts and following the decommissioning of HMS Eagle, only Ark Royal was converted to take the new aircraft.  Total production of the Sea Vixen came to 120 FAW.1s and 30 FAW.2s, 67 FAW.1s being brought up to FAW.2 standard.  

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ571)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ571)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ571)  [@ Solent Sky Museum]

XJ571was delivered to the FAA on the 11th May 1960 as a FAW.1 before conversion to FAW.2 standard.  "Struck off Charge" on the 26th April 1971) XJ571 joined No.1 SoTT Halton  on the 30th May 1971 as an ground based instructional airframe and then to No.2 SoTT Cosford on the 12th May 1979 for the same purpose.  On the 6th December 1984 XJ571 was acquired by the Brooklands Museum with the intension to restore for airframe for flight.  Although the wings were badly fatigued a pair of factory-fresh unused wings were found and eventually fitted, though apparently they lack many items such as the flying surface control units.  XJ571 was delivered to the Solent Sky museum in 2003.

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ494)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.1/FAW.2 (XJ494)  [@ RAF Bruntingthorpe]

XJ494 was built as a FAW.1 in 1959 by de Havilland at Christchurch and was first flown on the 14th April 1959.  Delivered on the 28th April 1959 to Lee-on-Solent for G/I, XJ494 spent most of its active life as a trials aircraft and has an under-nose camera mounting and a cable running down the port boom, leading to what may be a transponder or beacon fairing of some kind on the tailfin. XJ494 did take part in the Martel missile [see photograph above] trials.  On the 11th April 1976 XJ494 was delivered to Farnborough for the Flight Refuelling program for conversion to the D.3 drone standard.  From the 4th December 1963 XJ494 was displayed at Trout Lake, Kings Langley, before going to RAF Bruntingthorpe on the 22nd June 1999 for restoration.

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ565)

de Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2 (XJ565)  [@ de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre]

XJ565 was delivered to the Fleet Air Arm on the 29th February 1960 and was retired (s.o.c ) on the 31st October 1976.  During its flying career XJ565 displayed with "Freds Five", a Sea Vixen Team from 766 Squadron, at the Farnborough Air Display.  In the photograph XJ565 is shown in the markings of 899 Squadron .

In 1972 the last Sea Vixen squadron was disbanded and with it the naval operation of the last de Havilland fighter.  This retirement was considered by many to be premature; the airframes had many years of life left to them, though their weapons systems were becoming increasingly outdated.  The down sizing of the FAA’s carrier force meant that there were no longer enough carriers to take the Sea Vixens and the Phantoms that were coming into service.  A small number of Sea Vixens were subsequently converted as drones, the D.3 standard (the conversion process turned out to be more expensive than expected so only about 5 were eventually converted), and as target tugs, the TT.2 standard.  The D.3 variant was never used in the drone role but was used to train drone pilots in the techniques of flying an aircraft by remote control.  In fact it became the only DH.110 design that was truly capable of supersonic speeds in level flight, thanks largely to up-rated engines and the removal of many non-essential and military fitments.