Blackburn B.36 / B.37 / B.45 / B.46 Firebrand
Originally designed to Specification N.11/40 as a single-seat carrier-based figh-ter, powered by the Napier Sabre liquid-cooled engine. Owing to the unavailability of the Sabre engine, a new specification, S.8/43, was drawn up to provide for the Bristol Centaurus air-cooled engine. At the same time the requirements of the specification were broadened to include a strike role, carrying a torpedo, bombs and/or rockets.
The unarmed B-36 prototype was first flown by February 27th, 1942 with a Napier Sabre III, a 24-cylinder H-type inline engine, followed by nine Firebrand Is powered by 1,718kW Napier Sabre III engines. These were followed by 12 TF.II powered by similar engines but able to carry a 457mm torpedo.
Blackburn was forced to re-engine their design and settle on the Bristol Centaurus VII 18-cylinder radial piston powerplant. This redesign also forced a rethinking in the intended roles of the Firebrand. Along with its fighter duties, the Firebrand was now envisioned to double as a strike platform capable of delivering bombs, rockets and a 457mm torpedo. The new design was fitted with lengthened wings and appropriate munitions provisions in the form of pylons. The resulting product became the model - achieving first flight on March 31st, 1943 - and entered production as the B-45 TF.Mk II. The TF.Mk II was limited to just 12 production examples.
An attempt at improving the Firebrand line came in the form of the 1,878kW Bristol Centaurus IX radial engined TF.Mk III model. This "improved" design revealed flaws in low-speed flight thanks to poor rudder control and a tremendous amount of torque output from the new engine. A first flight was achieved on December 21st, 1943 and further testing resulted in the deaths of two test pilots along with months of re-evaluation before the Firebrand was even successfully test-landed on a carrier deck. Despite the successful landing, the aircraft was deemed too dangerous for use as a production aircraft. As such, this particular Firebrand model was dropped from production contention. 27 TF.III were built.
Model B-46 became the true improved Firebrand as the TF.Mk IV model, first flying on May 17th, 1945. A new engine - the 2500-hp Bristol Centaurus VII or IX engine - was allocated to the TF.Mk IV as well as a revised tail with increased surface areas. Dive brakes were installed on both the upper and lower wing assemblies for improved control. The TF.Mk IV became the first quantitative and somewhat definitive Firebrand in production with 102 examples produced. Performance specifications included a top speed of 350 miles per hour with a listed cruise speed of 289 miles per hour. Range was equivalent to 1,250 miles when fitted with drop tanks. A rate-of-climb of 2,600 feet-per-minute was possible with a service ceiling of approximately 28,500 feet. At least 40 of these aircraft were later converted to the newer TF.Mk 5 standard.
In Sep-tember 1945, Fleet Air Arm No 813 Squadron was equipped with the Firebrand IV.
The TF.Mk 5 followed the TF.Mk IV into service with horn-balanced elevators and other refinements to improve manoeuvrability. Production only lasted through 68 examples (plus about 40 TF.4 converted to the later standard). The improved TF.Mk 5A finished the Firebrand line to which total production amounted to 193 examples, lasting from 1943 through December 1947. The 5A had powered ailerons and the torpedo crutch was hinged to rotate the weapon into the minimum-drag attitude after takeoff.
Cannon armament was the standard firepower for the Firebrand, consisting of 4 x 20mm Hispano Mk II series cannons mounted in pairs on each wing. The Firebrand could carry a single 1,850lb 18" Mark XVII series torpedo running centerline under the fuselage or 2 x 1,000lb bombs under the wings - one to a wing pylon.
The Firebrand served with the United Kingdom's Royal Navy (RN) Fleet Air Arm (FAA). The FAA squadrons utilizing the type were the 700, 703, 708, 736, 738, 759, 764, 767, 778, 787, 799, 813 and the 827 Naval Air Squadrons. The Blackburn Firebrand was officially operated by the British Royal Navy from 1943 through 1953 before facing retirement from operational status.