X-Files: FAIREY F.D.2/BAC 221

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In today’s Sydney Flyer article we are delighted to welcome back author Anthony Coleiro and the most recent instalment of his X-Files series. For those of you not aware, Anthony has already written 131 articles under the ‘X-Files’ series for the club magazine, with this one making it 132. What a record!

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As far back as 1946 the Fairey Company was experimenting with delta-winged, rocket-powered aircraft capable of vertical take-off.  Initially experiments were with pilot-less scale models.  In 1947, all this experimentation resulted in a piloted aircraft called the F.D.1.  Following successful test flights the Ministry of Supply ask Fairey if these aircraft could fly supersonically.  Fairey took up the challenge along with English Electric, who also submitted an aircraft to investigate flight control problems at transonic and supersonic speeds up to Mach 1.5 at altitudes between 36,000 and 45,000 feet.

The aircraft that Fairey produced was a Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.5 powered single-engined, needle nose delta-winged aircraft of aluminium construction and its nose could droop, including the cockpit, by 10º to give its lone pilot a better view on take-off and landing.  In 1950 a contract was signed to produce two of these aircraft plus a static test airframe, but it was not until the end of 1952 before work began on these aircraft as Fairey was heavily committed to the production of the Gannet, a ship-borne anti-submarine strike aircraft.

On 6 October 1954, the first aircraft flew at Boscombe Down now powered by an Avon R.A.14. in a flight lasting 25 minutes. A number of successful flights were made before the aircraft was damaged in a landing accident due to hydraulic failure, which prevented the landing gear from extending.  It was not until the following year before it flew again.

The design purpose of the aircraft was achieved in October 1955 when it went supersonic.  Flight after flight the speed was gradually increased when in November that year a speed of Mach 1.56 (1,654 km/h!) at over 36,000 feet was achieved.

FAIREY F.D.2 and BAC221

A month after the second prototype had begun flight trials, the lure of breaking the absolute speed record was too great; on 10 March 1956 the record that was previously held by the North American Super Sabre in August of the previous year was shattered by the then biggest margin ever seen piloted by Peter Twiss.  The aircraft achieved a speed of 1,822 km/h assisted by an afterburner at 38,000 feet over a 15.6 km course.  At that altitude, the F.D.2 had to be guided by radar to stay on course for the speed runs to be valid and progress was monitored through telescopes.  Two passes of the course were required and fuel was so critical that ignition of the afterburner was timed to the second for each pass so that there would be enough fuel to return.  From take-off to touch down, the entire exercise logging only another 24 minutes on the airframe.  With this record in hand, Great Britain now held the triple crown for speed, being the fastest on the land, sea and now the air.

After extensive research work with both aircraft, the first prototype was delivered to the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC).  BAC gave the aircraft a completely new wing, flight control surfaces and long undercarriage legs along with other minor design alterations.  It now became known as the BAC 221.

The new wing was fitted to flight trial a new concept, the ogival wing following wind tunnel testing in the National Physical Laboratory Mach 2.0 wind tunnel. This wing was the basis for the Anglo-French Concorde.  The F.D.2 was seen as the ideal aircraft at the time capable of exploiting the wing.  These days the thorough testing of wing designs can be done through computer modelling, but back in the day, such things did not exist. 

The ogival delta wing plan form was considered optimal for high-speed flight to mitigate the extreme rise in drag at such high speeds.  The BAC 221 flew for the first time with its new wing on 1 May 1964 at Filton.

The aircraft was a flying laboratory, fitted with cameras, sensors and covered in woollen tufts to carefully monitor every aspect of flight and airflow patterns.  The experiments concluded that even though the BAC 221 was only capable of a speed of Mach 1.6, the handling characteristics should remain the same for the Concorde’s projected speed of Mach 2.2.  The aircraft was flown by the two lead test pilots of the Concorde to become familiar with the flying characteristics of the wing.

Having achieved their objective, the two aircraft were retired from duty and both of the aircraft, the F.D.2 and the BAC 221 are preserved and their legacy, the Concorde, carried on proving the concepts studied so long ago until their unfortunate, untimely retirement following the tragic loss of F-BTSC of Air France on 25 July 2000 when it smashed into the Paris suburb of Gonesse, killing all onboard along with 4 people on the ground after a catastrophic failure.

Top view of the Corcorde highlighting the ogival wing


The Illustrated Ency. of Aircraft
Orbis Publication

British Prototype Aircraft
Ray Sturtivant

Australian Flying
June 1964
Warrington Publishing Co P/L

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the World’s Commercial Aircraft
William Green Gordon Swanborough

Boys Book of the Air
E. Leyland & T.E. Scott-Chard

Concord – The Complete Inside Story
Brian Trubshaw

Anthony Coleiro

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