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Folland Fo.141 Gnat

 

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Developed from the Fo 139 Midge, the Fo 141 Gnat was designed as a light fighter.

 

The private-venture prototype Gnat G-39-2, piloted by Folland's chief test pilot, Squadron Leader E. A. Tennant, first flew at the Airplane & Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down on 18 July 1955. The aircraft was powered by a newly developed 1490kg thrust Bristol Orpheus turbojet.
 
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Folland Gnat Prototype G-39-2 on take off run in 1955
 
The Gnat, being developed in parallel with the Midge, was an improved version of the original fighter design, differentiated by larger air intakes for the Bristol Orpheus engine (the Midge had an Armstrong Siddeley Viper engine), a slightly larger wing, and provision for a 30 mm ADEN cannon in each intake lip.


A more powerful version, rated at 1814kg thrust, was installed on 30 August for the Gnat's debut at that year's SBAC flying display and exhibition at Farnborough.


Six development aircraft were ordered by the Ministry of Supply in August 1955, the first flying on 26 May 1956, and these were used for a variety of trials at Boscombe Down, including firing of the 30mm ADEN cannon, one of which was fitted in the lip of each intake. Evaluation in the ground-attack role was undertaken in Aden, in competition with a modified Hawker Hunter.

 

Although the Royal Air Force had lost interest in the Gnat as a fighter, the Finnish air force took delivery of 13 aircraft in 1958-59. The Finnish Air Force received the first of its 13 Gnats (11 fighters and 2 photo-reconnaissance planes) on 30 July 1958. It was soon found to be a problematic aircraft in service and required a lot of ground maintenance. In early 1957 a licence agreement was reached to allow Valmet to build the Gnat at Tampere in Finland, although in the end none was built.
 
On 31 July 1958, the Finnish Air Force Major Lauri Pekuri, a World War II fighter ace, broke the sound barrier for the first time in Finland at Lake Luonetjärvi with a Folland Gnat.
 
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Folland Gnat Finnish Air Force
 
Gnat F.1 proved initially problematic in the Finnish harsh conditions. Finland was the first operational user of Gnat F.1, and the plane had still many issues yet unresolved. All Gnats were grounded for half a year on 26 August 1958 after the destruction of GN-102 due to a technical design error on hydraulic system, and the aircraft soon became the subject of severe criticism. Three other aircraft were also destroyed in other accidents, with two pilots ejecting and one being killed. Once the initial problems were ironed out, the plane proved to be extremely manouevreable and have good performance in the air, but also to be very maintenance intensive. The availability of spare parts was always an issue, and its maintenance a challenge to the conscript mechanics. The Gnats were removed from active service in 1972 when the Häme Wing moved to Rovaniemi, and when the new Saab 35 Drakens were brought into use.
 
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Two Finnish Gnats on the ground
 
The Finnish Air Force serial codes for Folland Gnat were GN-100 to GN-113 and its usual nickname Nutikka (“Stubby”). Several Finnish Gnat F.1s still survive either as museum pieces or memorials. One airframe, GN-113, is in private ownership.
 
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Folland Gnat Mk.1 (GN-101) K-SIM 04

 

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The Yugoslav government also bought two but the major export order was from India: 40 airframes in various stages of completion were supplied from the UK, and licence-production was undertaken by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd at Bangalore, local production accounting for 175 aircraft. The Gnat entered Indian Air Force service in the spring of 1958, when the Gnat Handling Flight was first formed, and ultimately eight squadrons were equipped.

 

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Although the RAF had not selected the Gnat for service in a front-line role, it did have a requirement for an unarmed, two-seat advanced trainer to replace the de Havilland Vampire T.Mk 11 and to follow the Hunting Jet Provost sections of the all-through jet training programme. Folland undertook a private-venture investigation of the changes necessary to install a second seat and to bring the landing speed down to less than 185km/h. The most significant of these changes was a new wing, increased in area by 3.72sq.m and with additional fuel capacity, which reduced the fuel storage requirement in the fuselage, making room for additional equipment. This became the Folland Fo 144 Gnat

 

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