The Fairey Firefly U.9 was the designation given to forty Firefly Mk.5s converted to serve as pilotless target drones starting in 1956. The first Firefly drone, the U.8, had been produced by converting un-needed Firefly T.7s, but by the Ministry of Supply placed an order for forty extra drones the supply of T.7s had run out. Fairey offered to fill the order by converting forty older Firefly FR.5s.
The U.9 used the same radio-controlled Mk.8 Type H automatic pilot as the U.8, but the different aerodynamic characteristics of the FR.5 and T.7 meant that some fine tuned had to be carried out. One FR.5 was used to test the control gear, before the first fully converted U.9 made its maiden flight on 13 December 1956.
Most of the U.9s were used by No.728B Squadron, the Pilotless Target Drone unit, which received 33 of the 40 produced. This squadron was formed on 13 January 1958 at Stretton, close to Fairey's flight test airfield, but in the next month moved to Hal Far, on Malta. The first pilotless flight on Malta came on 8 July 1958.
The U.9 was used to test the Armstrong Siddeley Seaslug ship-to-air missile, fired from the missile ship HMS Girdleness. These tests lasted for three years, and during that time the Firefly drones were joined by Meteor drones in July 1959 and Canberra drones in May 1961. In November-December 1958 the U.9 was also used as a target for the air-to-air Firestreak missile, fired by Sea Venoms of No.893 Squadron on HMS Victorious.
Towards the end of 1961 the last few drones were shot down by ship-borne anti-aircraft guns. The final Fleet Air Arm flight by a Firefly came on 29 November 1961, and saw the drone destroyed by the guns of HMS Duchess. No.728 Squadron didn't last much longer, disbanding on 2 December 1961.
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