The Fulmar was a two-seat Fleet fighter armed with eight 7.7mm Browning machine-guns, four in each wing. It was unusual for a two-seater in having no rear-mounted gun for the observer/radio operator. The prototype flew for the first time on 4 January 1940 and by the latter part of the same year early production Mk Is were firmly in action. A total of 250 853kW Rolls-Royce Merlin VIII-powered Mk Is were built, followed by 350 969kW Merlin 30-powered Mk IIs. During its career, which lasted until the end of the war, it performed many roles including those of escort fighter, convoy protection and reconnaissance, but with the introduction of the faster Supermarine Spitfire its main carrier-borne day-fighter role was substituted for the less demanding night-fighter role.
| MODEL||Fairey "Fulmar" Mk.I|
| ENGINE||1 x Rolls-Royce "Merlin" VIII, 805kW|
| Take-off weight||4853 kg||10699 lb|
| Empty weight||3955 kg||8719 lb|
| Wingspan||14.14 m||46 ft 5 in|
| Length||12.24 m||40 ft 2 in|
| Height||4.27 m||14 ft 0 in|
| Wing area||31.77 m2||341.97 sq ft|
| Max. speed||398 km/h||247 mph|
| Ceiling||6555 m||21500 ft|
| ARMAMENT||8 x 7.7mm machine-guns|
|A three-view drawing of Fulmar II (1280 x 974)|
Essentially, the Fulmar was the P.4/34 light bomber reconfigured as a two-seat, carrier-based fighter/reconnaissance aircraft. Any criticism of the Fulmar for being too large and have for a fighter should be leveled at the British Admiralty rather than the manufacturers, since it was the former who specified a carrier-based fighter large enough to accommodate a navigator. Unlike their American and Japanese counterparts, it seems that the British Admirals did not believe that a pilot would be able to find his way back to his aircraft career without the assistance of a navigator.
This was, and still remains, one of the most underrated aircraft to have ever served with the Fleet Air Arm. It may not have had the performance of land-based planes, but it was just good enough and available at the right time when the Fleet Air Arm needed it the most. The Blackburn Skua was hopelessly outclassed as a fighter by 1941 (slower than a Stuka!), the Hawker Sea Hurricane would not be available in sufficient numbers until late 1941, while the Grumman Martlet/Wildcat would not be in service until 1942 and the FAA order had to take a backseat to the USN, and the Supermarine Seafire would not be available until 1943!
From 1940-1942 in the critical Mediterranean theatre, it would be all up to the Fulmars. And they performed most magnificently given all their limitations.
The UK produced some fine aircraft during WWII, the Supermarine Spitfire, the Short S.25 Sunderland, and the Avro 683 Lancaster just to name a few. Unfortunately the Fairey Fulmar is NOT among these fine airplanes. It lacked speed and maneuverability and its climb rate, at 1320Ft/Min, was 1000Ft/Min less than the Gloster Gladiator it was intended to replace. The 600 or so manufactured were a waste of 600 perfectly good Merlin engines. When the Royal Navy had Lend Lease F4Fs available, why fool with this “wormed-over” Fairly Battle? (Is the presence of an onboard navigator THAT necessary? Not!) The Fulmar spent most of its time in the Mediterranean, so if it managed to score any fighter verses fighter victories, it must have been against Fiat CR.32s and CR.42s, (even the Fiat CR.42 biplane could out run it). I doubt many Fulmars were flown over the Italian mainland; those Italian kids were pretty good at throwing rocks.
It is weird to think how slow and bureucratic the moves in British naval forces were during the WW II. Reading about their aeroplanes, it makes one feel that they were going blindfolded to USA and Japan who fielded monoplanes and dedicated single seat naval fighters well before war. Britain had e.g excellent prototype in Gloster f.5 34 with eight machine guns and great handling to bring out a fighter with radial engine. With torpedo bomber they messed the Barracuda up with changing specifications leading to overweight and underpowered thing. Had they have sense, they would have altered Hood to big carrier like Japanese did with Akagi Kaga etc. Decent aeroplanes from big carriers could have had Bismarck destroyed as well likewise the pocket battleships.
A good naval aircraft that fulfilled the fighter role perfectly well when it was most needed.
A shame that its multi-role potential was under-explored, and it wasn't tested with the more powerful Merlin 32.
The Fulmar was actually little more than the Fairey P,4/34 light bomber, re-modeled as a two-seat carrier-based fighter. Nevertheless, in 1940 the FAA fighter pilots were happy to get these because they actually represented a major advance over the Blackburn Skuas, Blackburn Rocs and Gloster Sea-Gladiators they had been issued hitherto!
The Fulmar had a very high kill ratio and massive amounts of firepower with 1000RPG ammo/gun. It was highly optimized for low altitude performance, and with overboost (5min combat rating) it had a top speed of about 260-270mph at 2000 ft.
|Leo Rudnicki, 21.07.2009|
The Admiralty self-fulfilled the myth that ship-board naval fighters would never compete with land-based fighters. The Martlet/Wildcat came as a pleasant surprise, the Zero a bit of a shock. A properly defined naval air doctrine came late to the FAA.
The Fulmar's real problem was that it was too much airframe for one rather small engine - a circumstance inherited from its ancestry as the P.4/34 light bomber. Their Lordships' insistence that a fighter needed a navigator was not unrealistic, however, and it is worth considering a turret-less Boulton Paul Defiant (particularly the Mk.II) as an indication that a purpose-built single-Merlin fleet fighter could have had a better performance. Better yet, imagine such an aircraft powered by the Bristol Hercules, using a landplane equivalent of the Aichi E16 as a gauge.
Always had a soft spot for this aircraft, I seem to favour underdogs. I've read that a few were fitted with a rear gun as a makeshift defence & some even carried large bundles of toilet paper that would be hurled out of the rear seat to try & confuse any fighters on it's tail.
Do you have any comments about this aircraft ?
FACTS AND FIGURES
© The Fulmar had essentially the same
engine and armament as the early
Spitfires, although it was a lot
heavier and carried an extra
© The Fulmar Mk II had a Merlin 30
engine with nearly 300 more
horsepower. Despite this, it was only
16km/h faster than the Mk I.
© The relatively light armament of eight rifle-calibre
machine guns and the slow top speed of
the Fulmar allowed many German and Italian
bombers to get away with limited damage.