The B-24 Skua was a shipboard two-seat fighter / dive bomber designed to meet Air Ministry Specification O.27/34.
It was an all-metal (duralumin) low wing stressed-skin monoplane with wings that folded to the rear around an inclined hinge just outboard of the undercarriage legs. The undercarriage itself was retractable during flight whilst the crew sat under a long glazed cockpit enclosure with the rear gunner positioned in line with the wing trailing edge.
The two prototypes (Skua I K5178 and K5179) were powered by an 840hp Bristol Mercury IX engine and the type was equipped with landing flaps that also served as dive brakes. Two main watertight compartments were also incorporated into the fuselage to provide buoyancy if the aircraft were to be forced down onto the sea.
The 2nd prototype Blackburn B-24 Skua I K5719 with lengthened nose and turned-up wingtips.
The first prototype (K5178) flew for the first time on 9th February 1937 with the second (K5179) flying on 4th May 1938. The second prototype incorporated turned-up wingtips and a lengthened nose and both of these features were adopted for the 190 production aircraft which were all designated as Skua II.
Production aircraft made use of the 890 hp Bristol Perseus XII engine as it had been decided to reserve Mercury engines for installation on the Bristol Blenheim aircraft.
An air to air view of production Blackburn B-24 Skua IIc L2889 & L2874 of 803 Sqn in May 1939.
Armament comprised four forward-firing 0.303 Browning machine guns in the wings and a defensive Lewis gun, fired from the rear cockpit. The bomb load, when operating in the dive bomber role, was a single 500 lb bomb carried in a recess below the fuselage and between the undercarriage legs. For training purposes eight 30 lb practice bombs could be carried below the wings.
As a type, the Skua was found during trials to be 'pleasant and easy to fly and to land' and although outclassed as a fighter, it proved effective as a dive bomber, notably in the sinking of the cruiser Koningsberg at Bergen in April 1940.
The first production Skua II (L2867) was flown on 28th August 1938.
The need for a shipboard dive bomber was sufficiently urgent that almost all of the 190 production aircraft were deliveredto 800 Sqn and 803 Sqn during 1939 for service on HMS Ark Royal. 801 Sqn also operated the type on the carrier HMS Furious.
Fifteen Blackburn B-24 Skua IIs ranged on a carrier deck in October 1940.
The Skua is credited with being the first British type to shoot down an enemy aircraft in air combat during the Second World War, the victim being a Dornier 18 flying boat shot down on 25th September 1939.
A number of aircraft were lost during the Norwegian campaign but the type continued in operational service in the Mediterranean theatre until 1941.
After this, the type was used mainly for advanced training and target-towing with late production aircraft being delivered as target tugs from the outset. The last Skua in service was struck off charge in March 1945.