The Supermarine Scimitar was the first swept wing single seat jet fighter to be produced for the Fleet Air Arm, and was the first FAA aircraft to be capable of supersonic flight and to carry an atomic bomb.
The Scimitar emerged from a long line of development aircraft, starting with experiments in operating on flexible decks.
The line began with the Type 505, a twin engined jet with straight wings and a butterfly tail (instead of having a vertical tail and horizontal control surfaces this just had two control surfaces, angled up quite steeply). This was designed for experiments with a flexible deck system. The idea was to reduce the weight of jet aircraft by removing the undercarriage. They would take off on a trolley and land on a flexible rubber deck. Tests with a Vampire eventually proved that the idea would work, and Supermarine began work on their own design, for a twin engined jet powered by the Rolls Royce Avon. However the idea was soon overtaken by improvements in jet engine power, which made it rather redundant. Supermarine took the experience they gained on the Type 505 and used it on a more conventional aircraft, the Type 508.
Type 508 (VX133)
The Type 508 kept the basic layout of the Type 505, with side by side Avon engines. In order to fit a conventional tricycle undercarriage the wings had to be made thicker, and the wings were made large in every direction to reduce the aircraft's landing speed. The Navy ordered three prototypes, to Specification N.9/47. The first and third were to be given extra instruments for use in experimental flights, the second was to be a service test machine, armed with 30mm cannon. The first two were to be powered by two Avon RA3 engines, each providing 6,500lb thrust. The air intakes were on the side of the cockpit, the jet exhaust pipes on the sides just behind the wings. The Type 508 kept the straight wings and butterfly tail of the Type 508.
The first Type 508 (VX133) made its maiden flight on 31 August 1951, with Mike Lithgow at the controls. This aircraft didn't have powered controls, and the aircraft came close to disaster on a couple of occasions later in the year before this was fixed and powered controls were installed.
Type 529 (VX136)
The second prototype produced to Specification N.9/47 was completed as the Type 529 (VX136). This made its maiden flight on 29 August 1952. It kept the basic layout, with straight wing and a butterfly tail, but carried four 30mm cannon below the engine intakes. Both VX133 and VX136 were used on carrier trials successfully. The Type 529 was damaged during an emergency landing on 19 December 1953, and wasn't repaired as the Type 525 was nearly ready.
Type 525 (VX138)
The third prototype under N.9/47 was completed as the Type 525 (VX138). This aircraft kept the basic fuselage layout, with two side-by-side engines, but used 7,500lb Rolls-Royce RA7 Avon engines. The big difference was the introduction of swept wings. The Type 525 also had a new tail, replacing the butterfly tail of the earlier designs with a fairly standard tail with horizontal and vertical surfaces, all of which were swept back. It had NACA double slotted flaps on the wing trailing edges, and tapered leading edge slots, both in an attempt to provide high lift for carrier operations. The Type 525 was also given blown flaps, in which air from the engines was blown across the wing trailing edge to reduce turbulence. The blown flaps reduced landing speed by 18mph and also improved the controls at low speed.
The Type 525 made its maiden flight on 27 April 1954, with Mike Lithgow at the controls. The Type 525 didn't perform quite as well as expected. The shape of the fuselage and wings limited its speed, and it could only just break the speed of line when in a dive. The Type 525 was lost in a fatal crash on 5 July 1955.
Type 544 (Scimitar)
The production version of the Scimitar was built to specification N.113D. It was developed from the Type 525, and shared the same basic layout, with twin engines with intakes on the sides of the cockpit and jet exhaust pipes on the side of the rear fuselage. This gave it a rather short and squat fuselage. It had swept back wings, and a modified tail, with horizontal tail surfaces that sloped slightly down. The fuselage was designed using the area rule principle, which allowed the Type 544 to break the speed of sound in a shallow dive. It used the blown flaps tested on the Type 525. It had Fairey power-operated controls, the first in a British naval aircraft.
The first prototype (WT854) made its maiden flight on 19 January 1956, with Mike Lithgow at the controls. The second (WT859) and third (WW134) prototypes were completed later in the same year.
WT854 made its first deck landing on HMS Ark Royal in April 1956 and 148 deck landings and catapult take offs had been completed by November 1957. The first production aircraft (XD212) made its maiden flight on 11 January 1957.
The Scimitar went to No.700X Trials Flight at Ford in May 1958 for trials.
On 17 June 1958 Lt-Cdr D.F. Robbins of the Royal Navy Test Squadron at Boscombe Down, flying a Scimitar, set a new London to Malta speed record of 2hr 12min 27.2sec at an average speed of 588.05mph
The first squadron to receive it was 803 Squadron, which began operational training with the type on 3 June 1958. Eight aircraft went to the Mediterranean on HMS Victorious late in 1959. Over the next few years the squadron took the type to Malta, Singapore and Malaya, and on HMS Hermes and HMS Ark Royal. The squadron was disbanded in October 1966.
Second to receive the Scimitar was No.807 Squadron, which re-commissioned with the type on 1 October 1958. The squadron used the type on HMS Hermes and HMS Centaur and took part in an earlier Kuwait crisis. The squadron was disbanded on 15 May 1962.
No.800 Squadron got the Scimitar in July 1959, and used it on HMS Ark Royal, and in the Far East, before merging into No.803 Squadron in February 1964.
No.804 Squadron was the last front line squadron to get the type, receiving it in March 1960. The squadron operated on HMS Hermes and in the Far East, but was disbanded in September 1961.
The Scimitar was also used as a fuel tanker, supporting the Buccaneer S.1 on HMS Eagle in 1964-66, when the Scimitar was operated by 800B Squadron.
The Scimitar was withdraw from front line service when No.803 Squadron was disbanded in October 1966.
The Scimitar was also used by a number of second line squadrons – 700 Squadron at Ford and Yeovilton and 736, 764 and 764B Squadrons at Lossimouth.
The Scimitar was only produced in one version, the F.1. A total of 76 were built at South Marston, while the last 24 from the order for 100 aircraft were cancelled.
Engine: Two Rolls-Royce Avon 202 turbojets
Power: 11,250lb static thrust each
Span: 37ft 2in
Length: 55ft 4in
Height: 17ft 4in
Empty weight: 23,962lb
Loaded weight: 34,200lb
Max speed: 710mph at sea level, Mach 0.97 at altitude
Climb Rate: 12,000ft/ min
Service ceiling: 47,000ft
Range: 1,422 miles
Armament: Four 30mm Aden guns or four Bullpup air-to-ground missiles or four Sidewinder air-to-air missiles
Bomb load: four 500lb bombs or four 1,000lb bombs or twenty-four 3in rockets or nuclear bomb