The Supermarine Attacker was the first jet fighter to enter first line service with the Fleet Air Arm, but it was something of a interim design, with wings developed for the piston engined Spiteful, and had a fairly short front line career.
Supermarine began the basic design work on a jet aircraft in June 1944 in response to Specification E.10/44, for a land based RAF fighter. This design was submitted to the Ministry Aircraft Production (as the Supermarine Specification 477) at the end of June.
Supermarine had originally been asked to use the new Rolls Royce RB40 turbojet, which could produce 4,000lb static thrust. This was to be matched with the Type 371 laminar flow wing that had been developed for the Supermarine Spiteful. Supermarine's chief designer, Joe Smith, preferred a smaller engine, and in response Rolls Royce produced the 3,000lb thrust RB41. This engine developed into the Rolls Royce Nene, and after some early problems was able to produce 4,500lb of static thrust.
Supermarine submitted a design that was in some ways a jet version of the Spiteful. It had a new fuselage, with a forward mounted pressurised cockpit, air intakes on the sides of the fuselage by the cockpit and the exhaust pipe at the tip of the tail. It used the Type 371 laminar flow wings, and was armed with the same 20mm wing mounted cannon as the Spiteful.
On 5 August 1944 the Ministry of Aircraft Production gave Supermarine an order for three prototypes, described as 'Jet machines of the Spiteful type'. These were allocated the serial numbers TS409, TS413 and TS416. TS413 and TS416 were to be suitable for naval use.
On 21 November 1945 Supermarine were awarded a new contract for 24 aircraft, six to the E.10/44 specification and eighteen to a new naval specification, E.1/45.
Work on the new aircraft was delayed by problems with the wings, which didn’t perform as well as expected above 400mph. In February 1946 the Admiralty asked for work on the naval version to be suspended, and ordered 18 Sea Vampire F.20s to replace them. The entire order for 24 pre-production aircraft was suspended, but work on the prototypes continued.
The first prototype, TS409, made its maiden flight on 27 July 1946 at Boscombe Down, with Supermarine's chief test pilot Jeffry Quill at the controls. This was the first test flight of a Nene powered engine, and power was limited to 4,300lb thrust. With this engine the aircraft reached 542mph. It was later given a more powerful Nene engine with 5,000lb thrust, and reached 580mph.
The second prototype (TS413) was completed to a modified design. It was given a long stroke undercarriage to allow for the greater stresses of deck landings, lift spoilers and an arrestor hook. The tail fin was reduced in size, and the tailplane made large. Balanced aileron tabs were installed, extra fuel tanks were installed and the air intakes were modified. A Martin-Baker ejection seat was installed.
In its first flight on 17 June 1947 the second prototype suffered from directional 'snaking', making it an effort to fly it straight. This was solved for the second flight by modifying the rudder, and the aircraft then reached 375kts at 20,000ft (Mach 0.823).
After an extensive set of dummy deck landings on land, the aircraft's carrier trials began on HMS Illustrious on 28 October, with M.J Lithgow, Cdr E.M. 'Winkle' Brown and Lt S. Orr all taking part. These trials went well, and Lithgow reported that the average pilot would have no problem landing the Attacker. TS413 was lost in June 1948, and TS409 was brought up to naval standards to all the trials to continue.
On 26 February 1948 Lt-Cdr M.J. Lithgow set a new 100km closed circuit world speed record of 560.634mph in the prototype TS409. This replaced a record that had been set in a Meteor F.4 only 20 days earlier. Lithgow broke his own record in the same aircraft (TS409) on the following day, reaching 564.811mph.
The Attacker wasn’t ordered by the RAF, but in September 1948 the Admiralty ordered 60 Attacker Mk Is, with deliveries to be completed by March 1951.
The third prototype (TS416) didn't make its maiden flight until 24 January 1950. It was the first to use the pressurized cabin, and introduced a number of minor changes suggested by the test flights. These weren't introduced on the Attacker F.1, as the aim was to produce as quickly as possible.
The first production F.1 (WA 469) made its maiden flight on 5 April 1950, with Mike Lithgow at the controls.
The Attacker was exported to Pakistan. The first of these aircraft made its maiden flight soon after WA 469.
The first FB.1, WA529, made its maiden flight on 7 January 1952. This was part of the only export order for the Attacker, despite a significant sales effort. Pakistan ordered 36 Attackers in 1949, and these aircraft were delivered by air, along a route that took around a week on average. The Pakistani Air Force used the Attacker as a fighter bomber, armed with two 1,000lb bombs and eight rockets under the wings.
The Attacker had low mounted tapered wings with straight edges. The fuselage had a circular cross section. The cockpit was ahead of the leading edge of the wings, and the air intakes were on the side of the cockpits. The tail also had straight edges, and there was a slight dihedral on the wings and horizontal tail surfaces. The tip of the wings folded. The Attack used tail wheel landing gear, which proved to be somewhat awkward when used on carriers.
A total of 145 Attackers were built for the Fleet Air Air, made up of 55 F.1s, 6 FB.1s and 84 FB.2s. The last, WZ302, was delivered in 1953.
The Attacker F.1 entered service with 800 Squadron at RNAS Ford in August 1951, making it the first jet fighter to enter front line service with the Fleet Air Arm. At first the squadron operated eight aircraft, but this was increased to twelve late in 1952.
800 Squadron used all three models of the Attacker, and split its time between Ford and the carrier HMS Eagle. It was briefly based on Malta in April 1954, but was disbanded on 1 June 1954 and reformed with the Sea Hawk.
803 Squadron received the F.1 in November 1951, and operated alongside 800 Squadron at Ford and on HMS Eagle. It started with eight aircraft, and ended up with twelve. The squadron also operated on HMS Albion and HMS Centaur, before disbanding on 4 November 1955.
890 Squadron operated the Attacker between January and December 1952, but its main purpose was to serve as a pool for the other two squadrons. It did serve one spell on HMS Eagle, where it was disbanded.
The Attacker was also used by several second line squadrons. The first to get it was 787 Squadron, the trials unit at West Raynham, which received its F.1s before 800 Squadron, and used all three models between then and January 1956.
703 Squadron operated alongside 800 Squadron at Ford, and was another trials unit. This squadron carried out the first deck trials on HMS Eagle. The Attacker served with this squadron until August 1955.
702 Squadron at Culdrose received the Attacker in March 1952 and was used to train piston engine pilots on the new jet fighter. This was a short-lived arrangement, ending in August 1952.
736 Squadron, again at Culdrose, was reformed at the same time that 702 Squadron changed duties, and served as the Advanced Jet Flying School. It became the main training unit for the Attacker. This lasted until August 1954
In February 1953 767 Squadron received the Attacker, which it used to train deck landing control officers
Between August 1955 and February 1956 the Attacker used by 700 Squadron, the Trials and Requirements Unit.
After leaving service with the first and second line units, the Attacker was used to equip the squadrons of the RNVR. 718 Squadron was given the Attacker in April 1955 and was used to train the pilots of 1831 Squadron in the reserve on the new jet fighters.
The Attacker was used by 1831 Squadron at Stretton, 1832 Squadron at Benson and 1833 Squadron at Honiley. This was a short-lived reprieve for the Attacker, and its British service career ended when the RNVR was scrapped in 1957.
The Attacker F.1 was the first version of the aircraft to enter service. It was powered by the Nene 3 engine. In service it had a Martin-Baker ejection seat, could use RATAG equipment and had accelerator hooks in the wheel bays.
Sixty one F.1s and FB.1s were built, split between 55 F.1s and 6 FB.1s.
The Attacker had been designed with the capacity to carry bombs, but without the necessary equipment. It was thus easy to convert it into a fighter bomber to satisfy a Navy requirement. The first FB.1 (WA529) was the 55th F.1, and made its maiden flight on 7 January 1952.
The Attacker FB.2 was the most numerous version of the aircraft. It was powered by a Rolls Royce Nene 102 (originally the Nene 7), had an electric start, could carry six rockets under each wing and had a modified cockpit canopy. The first FB.2 (WK319) made its maiden flight on 25 April 1952, and 84 were built.
Engine: Rolls-Royce Nene 3
Span: 36ft 11in
Length: 37ft 6in
Height: 9ft 11in
Empty weight: 8,434lb
Loaded weight: 12,211lb
Max speed: 590mph at sea level, 583mph at 10,000ft, 561mph at 20,000ft, 538mpt at 30,000ft
Cruising Speed: 355mph
Climb Rate: 6,350ft/min at sea level, 6.6min to 30,000ft
Range: 590 miles (1,190 miles with belly tank)
Service ceiling: 45,000ft
Armament: Four 20mm guns in wings
Bomb load: Eight 60lb rockets or two 1,000lb bombs below wings (FB.1 and FB.2 only)