The Blackburn Aircraft Company 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 evolve 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 Vickers 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 RAF Leconfield, with a 2,305 hp Sabre III engine, on 27th February 1942. Three Sabre-powered prototypes were then followed by nine Blackburn 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 Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest.
The next twelve aircraft were designated Blackburn B37 Firebrand TF. Mk II and featured an increase in the undercarriage track to allow for the carriage of a torpedo on the fuselage centreline. The first Blackburn 37 Firebrand TF. Mk 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 taken therefore, to redesign the Blackburn Firebrand around the Bristol Centaurus engine this type was designated Blackburn B45 Firebrand TF. Mk III, or Blackburn B46 Firebrand TF. Mk IV, V and VA.
The prototype Blackburn B45 Firebrand III (DK372) was a converted Blackburn B37 Firebrand II and was flown for the first time on 21st December 1943. The first Blackburn B46 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 Blackburn Firebrand aircraft were built, comprising three prototypes, 9 x Blackburn B37 Firebrand I, 12 x Blackburn B37 Firebrand Firebrand II, 2 x prototypes and 27 x production Blackburn B45 Firebrand III, 103 x Blackburn B46 Firebrand IV and 67 x Blackburn B46 Firebrand V (with some 63 x Blackburn B46 Firebrand IV aircraft converted to this version).
The Blackburn B45 Firebrand III featured a cut-down rear fuselage with a teardrop canopy. Carrier trials revealed inadequate directional control so the main production version (the Blackburn B46 Firebrand IV), featured an enlarged fin and rudder. The Blackburn B46 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 Blackburn B46 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 Blackburn B37 Firebrand II were to the Torpedo Development Unit at Gosport and to 708 Squadron at Lee-on-Solent, destined for shore-based trials in September and October 1944. Most of the Blackburn B45 Firebrand III aircraft were also retained for trials.
The production Blackburn B46 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 Blackburn Firebrand served with 813 Squadron at RNAS Ford from September 1945, subsequently embarking on HMS Illustrious and HMS Implacable. Deck-landings with the aircraft were described as a 'disaster' by naval aviator Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown, who also claimed it was 'Short of performance'.
827 Squadron also operated the Blackburn B46 Firebrand V variants from HMS Eagle, although from 1953 onward, these squadrons were re-equipped with the Westland Wyvern and the Blackburn B46 Firebrand was withdrawn from service.
Variants & Numbers Built
|Prototypes||3 aircraft DD804, DD810, DD815 (DD810 rebuilt as NV636)|
|Blackburn Firebrand B37 F. Mk I||9 aircraft DK363 - DK371|
|Blackburn B37 Firebrand TF. II||12 with provision for torpedo carriage|
|Blackburn B45 Firebrand TF.III||2 prototypes and 27 production; Centaurus VI or IX engine|
|Blackburn B46 Firebrand TF.IV||103 aircraft with larger fin and rudder, and dive brakes. (63 converted to Firebrand V)|
|Blackburn B46 Firebrand TF. V||67 aircraft with control system improvements|
|Blackburn B46 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|