The Blackburn B-37 Firebrand was designed initially against Naval Specification N.11/40, which sought a single seat carrier-borne fighter for short-range interception and fleet protection duties. It was single engined, low-winged all-metal monoplane initially intended as a pure fighter although its early development saw it eveolve into a strike fighter with huge carrying capacity. Power was to be provided by the new Napier Sabre engine, with an armament of four 20mm cannon.
In the event however, the interim Supermarine Seafire fulfilled Naval specification albeit experiencing a relatively high deck landing accident rate. Meanwhile post-war, the fleet protection and intercept role was taken over by the Hawker Sea Fury.
The unarmed prototype Blackburn B37 Firebrand (DD804) first flew at Leconfield with a 2,305 hp Sabre III engine on 27th February 1942. Three Sabre-powered prototypes were then followed by nine Firebrand F.Mk I.
These Sabre powered aircraft featured a slim engine installation to provide the best possible forward view for the pilot when deck landing. This was achieved by installing the radiators in the wing roots, rather than using a chin radiator, as in the Typhoon and Tempest.
The next twelve aircraft were designated Firebrand TF. Mk II and featured an increase in undercarriage track to allow for the carriage of a torpedo on the fuselage centreline. The first Firebrand II (NV636, previously DD810) was flown on 31st March 1943.
These aircraft retained the Sabre engine although at this time the decision was also taken to restrict the supply as they were urgently required for use by the Hawker Typhoon. The decision was therefore taken to redesign the Firebrand around the Bristol Centaurus engine this type was designated Blackburn B45 Firebrand TF. Mk III, or B46 Firebrand TF. Mk IV, V and VA.
The prototype Firebrand III (DK372) was a converted Firebrand II and was flown for the first time on 21st December 1943. The first Firebrand IV (EK601) flew on 17th May 1945.
Protracted development meant that these production versions did not see wartime operational service.
A total of 223 were built, comprising: three prototypes; 9 x Firebrand I, 12 x Firebrand II, 2 x prototypes and 27 x production Firebrand III, 103 x Firebrand IV and 67 x Firebrand V (with some 63 x Firebrand IV converted to this version).
The Firebrand III featured a cut-down rear fuselage with a teardrop canopy. Carrier trials revealed inadequate directional control so the main production version, the Firebrand IV, featured an enlarged fin and rudder. The Firebrand IV also introduced dive-brakes and a two-position torpedo mount. This raised the tail of the torpedo to keep it clear of the ground prior to take off and then lowered it (as the undercarriage retracted) to align the torpedo in flight.
The Firebrand V featured improved controls with larger aileron tabs and an aerodynamically balanced elevator. 7 aircraft were converted to become Firebrand VA, with hydraulically power-assisted ailerons.
Initial deliveries of the Firebrand II were to the Torpedo Development Unit at Gosport and to 708 Sqn at Lee-on-Solent for shore-based trials in September and October 1944.
Most of the Firebrand III aircraft were also retained for trials.
The production Firebrand IV and V were powerfully armed, carrying four 20mm cannon with 200 rounds each and having provision for 2 x 2,000 lb bombs underwing, or 16 x 60lb rocket projectiles and 1 x 18-inch 1,850 lb torpedo carried on the fuselage centreline.
Underwing drop tanks could also be carried, or a 100 gallon long range tank fitted to the torpedo crutches.
The Firebrand served with 813 Sqn at RNAS Ford from September 1945, subsequently embarking on HMS Illustrious and HMS Implacable. Decklandings were described as a 'disaster' by naval avaitor Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown who also claimed it was 'Short of performance'.
827 Sqn also operated the Firebrand V from HMS Eagle although from 1953 onward these squadrons were re-equipped with the Westland Wyvern and the Firebrand was withdrawn from service.
Variants & Numbers Built
|Prototypes||3 aircraft DD804, DD810, DD815 (DD810 rebuilt as NV636)|
|Firebrand F. Mk I||9 aircraft DK363 - DK371|
|Firebrand TF. II||12 with provision for torpedo carriage|
|Firebrand TF.III||2 prototypes and 27 production; Centaurus VI or IX engine|
|Firebrand TF.IV||103 aircraft with larger fin and rudder, and dive brakes. (63 converted to Firebrand V)|
|Firebrand TF. V||67 aircraft with control system improvements|
|Firebrand TF.VA||7 aircraft converted with power-assisted ailerons|
|Total production||3 prototypes plus 220 production aircraft.|
|Firebrand F.Mk I||Firebrand TF. Mk V|
|Powerplants||One 2,305hp Napier Sabre III||One 2,520hp Bristol Centaurus 57|
|Span||50 ft 0 in||51 ft 3.5 in|
|Maximum Weight||13,643 lb||17,500 lb|
|Capacity and armament||Single pilot, Four 20mm Hispano cannon with 800 rounds||Single pilot, Four 20mm Hispano cannon; One 18 in torpedo; provision for underwing carriage of two 2,000 lb bombs or sixteen 60lb rocket projectiles|
|Maximum Speed||353 mph||340 mph (320 mph with torpedo)|
|Cruising Speed||294 mph||256 mph|
|Range||805 miles||740 miles|