If you’ve read more than about four articles on this website, you’ll know I do like the aircraft that are a little more…unconventional in appearance. And firmly in that category is the Blackburn F.3.
Like many of these oddball aircraft, it was actually built to very specific purposes that means the design makes sense…kind of.
In 1931 the British Air Ministry issued a specification for a new day-and-night fighter which was extremely exacting. The aircraft had to be capable of a speed in excess of 250mph, be superior to any existing fighter in terms of range, maneuverability, rate of climb and service ceiling, have four .303 Vickers machine guns for armament and a two-way radio.
It also needed to be fully capable of efficient night interception, which required night flying instruments, low-wing loading, flame dampened exhausts on the engine and an unparalleled view for the pilot. The aircraft should also have the Rolls Royce Goshawk engine as the preferred powerplant. This was a development of the tremendously successful Kestrel engine but with evaporative cooling and which would prove to be an issue, but more on that later.
The potential contract for the RAF’s new fighter was, understandably, a big deal and Blackburn, Supermarine and Westland were all selected to build prototypes of their respective designs for consideration. They also all seem to have rather taken the Ministry’s “maximum visibility” clause to heart, as they are a rather strange looking bunch.
For Blackburn the logical way to maximise the aircrafts aerobatic abilities was to build an uneven span biplane, which they designated the Blackburn F.3. And to avoid the issue of the wing obscuring the pilot’s vision, they practically built a mid-wing monoplane and stuck another wing underneath it.
This gave the pilot an exceptional view both above and around him, with the upper wing actually being below his normal line of sight.
The Goshawk engine, with its flame dampened exhaust, was also mounted quite low, allowing the nose to taper off sharply and again giving excellent visibility for the pilot. The steam condenser, which took the place of a conventional radiator, was located in a streamlined enclosure located between the lower wing and the fuselage.
The aircraft was also built to be as small as was possible and still fit the Goshawk, with the F.3 only measuring 27 ft (8.2m) in length and with a wingspan of 36 ‘ 11” (c.11m). The F.3 fuselage was built with what was then the cutting-edge technique of a metal stressed skin, while the wings were fabric covered.
To further assist the pilot with night flying, the fixed landing gear was exceptionally wide-tracked and initially fitted with spats for streamlining.
The prototype was completed in 1934, and in July of that year preliminary taxi trials were carried out. This progressed to ground handling in August, but things were not going well.
The Goshawk engine, of which only twenty would ever be built, was a complete nightmare. Though theoretically capable of producing 660 hp, the engines suffered constant cooling leaks and basically could never be made to work properly.
A further problem with the F.3 was the sheer height of the aircraft, which gave it a high centre of gravity. Combined with the short fuselage, just taxing the aircraft could be somewhat exciting.
Efforts to remedy this were made by removing the wheel spats and switching the tail skid for a wheel, but it proved for nothing. On the 5th of September 1934, an inspection of the F.3 showed that it had cracks and dents on the fuselage skin just from the ground tests. The aircraft had never even flown.
This led to the British Air Ministry cancelling the F.3 and the aircraft was used as an instructional airframe.
As a side note, none of the Goshawk powered aircraft made it close to production, cursed as they were with an engine that failed to work. Instead, the requirement would go on to be filled by the Gloster Gladiator.
Gloster, who were quite happily building what would become their Gauntlet fighter at the time the 1931 specification was issued, ignored it completely, and went about developing the Gladiator by themselves. A wise move, as it turned out, as they produced a competent fighter that would enjoy good export success and even go on to see quite a lot of combat usage during the early years of the Second World War.
Which does raise an alarming thought.
Had the Goshawk actually worked, and the F.3 managed to win its competition (admittedly unlikely, but a possibility) then it is entirely likely that German and Italian pilots fighting over Norway, France, Greece and North Africa in the early years of the war might have gone face to face with this!
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