Rating died as Firebrand propellor disintegrated

A Firebrand Mk4
A Firebrand Mk4

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Edward Gowing contacted me after seeing Jan Flux’s father’s pictures last week of the crashed Firebrand Fleet Air Arm aircraft at Lee-on-the-Solent during the Second World War.

He points out that those in her father’s photographs were the MkI Firebrand powered by a 2,400hp Napier Sabre, 24 cylinder H section sleeve valve engine which never went into full productiopn.

Edward, of Kirby Road, North End, Portsmouth, says: ‘This was due to the engine’s anticipated serviceability problems on [aircraft] carriers and the requirements of the Typhoon and Tempest fighter production that used the same engine and was given top priority.’

He recalls that the final Firebrand MkIV which did go into limited production, was powered by the 2,500hp Bristol Centaurus 18 cylinder, two-row sleeve valve radial engine as seen in a picture he sent me on the right (top).

He adds: ‘This aircraft was certainly not a Fleet Air Arm fighter, although capable of 350mph and armed with four 20mm cannon, it had a wingspan of 51ft and weighed twice as much as the Seafire which had already been replaced by the beautiful Sea Fury.

‘The Firebrand was in fact a strike aircraft, able to carry an aerial torpedo, eight 60lb rockets or 2,000lb of bombs.

Edward adds that it was unique in being the only post-war military plane to have a wooden four-bladed propellor because the steel-bladed ones were by shattered by an unknown engine vibration. Wood dampens vibrations better than steel.

He continues: ‘I served in the fleet carrier Indomitable in 1951/52 during which we embarked a squadron of these planes and on one occasion a Firebrand missed the wires and hit the barrier, which was not an unusual occurrence.

‘The propellor disintegrated and a large lump boomeranged out over the ship’s side and hit a rating as he passed through a boat space two decks below, killing him instantly.

‘After that, boat spaces were out of bounds when Firebrands were landing.’

Edward says those planes were difficult to land because the long nose obstructed the pilot’s view.

‘After the Seafire and Corsair had the same prolem, it was strange lessons had not been learned.’

Edward also queried Jan’s picture of the Sea Lion seaplane I used on the same day. He believes it was an American Curtis boat which also took part in the 1923 Schneider Trophy because it had an engine set on top of the upper plane and ‘no British biplane ever had that’.