Folland Fo.141 Gnat
|FIGHTER, ATTACK, RECON, TRAINER||Virtual Aircraft Museum / United Kingdom / Folland|
Perhaps the most widely known of the RAF's jet trainers as a result of its outstanding performances in the hands of the pilots of the Red Arrows aerobatic team, the diminutive Folland Fo.141 Gnat was designed originally as a light fighter, as recounted in the entry for the Midge. The private-venture prototype Gnat, piloted by Folland's chief test pilot, Squadron Leader E. A. Tennant, flew at the Airplane & Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down on 18 July 1955. The aircraft's newly developed 1490kg thrust Bristol Orpheus turbojet was also airborne for the first time and a more powerful version, rated at 1814kg thrust, was installed on 30 August in readiness for the Gnat's debut at that year's SBAC flying display and exhibition at Farnbo-rough. 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 which was ordered subsequently as the Hunter FGA.Mk 9. 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 and these remained in service until 1972 when they were replaced by Saab Drakens. Two of the Finnish aircraft were fitted with camera noses for fighter reconnaissance duties. 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.
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 3.72m2 and with additional fuel capacity, which reduced the fuel storage requirement in the fuselage, making room for additional equipment. The forward fuselage was increased slightly in length, the tail surfaces enlarged, and outboard ailerons and conventional inboard flaps replaced the inboard ailerons of the fighter version. Power was to be supplied by a 1919kg thrust Orpheus 100. A Ministry of Supply design study contract was awarded in the autumn of 1956 and in August 1957 a batch of 14 pre-production Fo.144 Gnat Trainer aircraft was ordered, the first flying on 31 August 1959. It became clear, however, that no production order would be placed while Folland remained outside the major manufacturing groupings which the government favoured; thus the company was taken over by Hawker Sidde-ley Aviation, becoming its Hamble Division. Contracts for 30, 20 and 41 aircraft were awarded in February 1960, July 1961 and March 1962 respectively. The last production Gnat T.Mk 1 flew on 9 April 1965 and was delivered to the RAF on 14 May, in the all-red scheme of the Red Arrows team. The Central Flying School, then at Little Rissington, first in troduced the type in February 1962 but the major operator was No. 4 Flying Training School at Valley, which took its first aircraft on strength in November 1962 and which, in 1964, introduced the Gnat to the formation aerobatic scene, operating five all-yellow Gnats known as the Yellowjacks. The team reformed as the Red Arrows in 1965, under the control of the Central Flying School, and its Gnats were withdrawn finally at the end of the 1979 display season, to be replaced in 1980 by the British Aerospace Hawk T.Mk 1. No. 4 FTS retired its Gnats on 24 November 1978.