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GANNET ECM.6 / AS.4

Fairey Gannet ECM.6 / AS.4 XA460 in the Ulster Aviation Society hangars. Image: Mark J. Cairns

Image: MARK J. CAIRNS

History of the Fairey Gannet

The Fairey Gannet ECM.6 / AS.4 aircraft stands out as one of the most distinctive and capable types to have ever served in the Fleet Air Arm. Notably, it holds the honour of being the only military contract won by the renowned Fairey Aviation Company after the Second World War.

 

Developed to meet a Royal Navy requirement in 1945, the Gannet emerged as a groundbreaking carrier-based, turboprop-powered, anti-submarine, hunter-killer aircraft, engineered to withstand the demanding conditions of naval operations.

With the Cold War underway and the Soviet submarine fleet expanding rapidly, the Gannet played a crucial role in countering this threat.

 

Equipped with then state-of-the-art electronic detection equipment, it possessed the capability to detect, mark, track, and, if necessary, engage enemy submarines using a variety of weapons, including bombs, depth charges, rockets, and air-launched acoustic torpedoes.

One of the most distinctive visual features of the Gannet was its power plant, the innovative Armstrong Siddeley Double Mamba engine.

 

This arrangement consisted of two gas turbine engines mounted side by side in the aircraft's nose, sharing a common gearbox while operating independently. Each engine powered its own coaxially mounted, contra-rotating propeller.

 

Another advantage of this unique power plant was its ability to operate on kerosene and even diesel fuel, offering enhanced safety and reduced reliance on refined aviation fuels.

This power configuration ensured the Gannet had ample power for carrier operations, with the added reassurance of two engines during extended ocean patrols.

 

Pilots could conserve fuel by shutting down one engine, albeit at the cost of reduced maximum speed, but this extended the aircraft's loiter capabilities.

 

Typically, pilots would alternate engine usage during long patrols, running each engine for approximately an hour before switching to the other. The front propeller was driven by the engine mounted on the port side.

Fairey Gannet 768 on the runway

Image: ADRIAN BALCH

The Gannet's design boasted yet another unique feature: its bi-folding wing system. This clever engineering enabled the aircraft to operate safely and be stored on the relatively small aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy.

 

Engaging the wing unfold mechanism not only prepared the wings for flight but also automatically connected all flight control systems, hydraulic connections, and fuel pipes to the main system, eliminating the need for ground crew intervention.

Testimonies from operational experiences highlight the Gannet's exceptional ruggedness. In one remarkable instance, an aircraft lost the outer sections of both wings following an extreme manoeuvre. Nevertheless, the Gannet managed to safely return to its home carrier, demonstrating the aircraft's durability and further endearing it to its crews.

The Gannet proved to be an extraordinarily resilient and highly effective anti-submarine aircraft, equipped with an impressive array of offensive ordnance. It could engage submarines on the surface or underwater, even when they tried to evade its relentless pursuit.

 

The aircraft earned the admiration of both air and ground crews alike, leading to the production of 348 Gannets. Beyond serving with Britain's Fleet Air Arm, the aircraft also found its way into the naval forces of Australia, Germany, and Indonesia, further solidifying its reputation as a formidable asset.

Fairey Gannet T.2 XA522 demonstrating at Farnborough in Oct 1955

History of UAS' Fairey Gannet XA460

Currently under heavy restoration in our second hangar, XA460 has been a long-term project for the UAS volunteers.

FAIREY GANNET XA460 was delivered to ARDU (Aircraft Receipt and Dispatch Unit) Anthorn on 3rd October, 1956 and was immediately placed in storage, in its plain AS.4 spec.

It transferred between AHU (Aircraft Handling Unit) Abbotsinch and AHU Culdrose before finally joining 849HQ training flight at Culdrose on 4th February, 1969, three years after its creation and delivery. It was coded 446/CU here.

XA460's career has been punctuated by numerous technical issues: 

• January 1961 — port engine failed to restart after being shut down in flight

• November 1961 — smoke was detected in the cockpit

• October 1962 — tractor struck the starboard wing

• November 1962 — venting fuel on take-off

• December 1965 — port engine seized in flight

Despite its spotted service life, XA460 was selected for conversion to an ECM.6, transferring to NARIU (Naval Air Radio Installation Unit) Lee-on-Solent on 27th November, 1962.

Following its conversion, XA460 was deployed to 831 Squadron at Watton, where it was coded a 397. However, technical issues continued and the port engine seized completely in December 1965.

It returned to Lee-on-Solent on 31st May, 1966 to behind its restoration back to AS.4 standard spec, however it remained unused until 5th April 1967 when, due to a Fairey Gannet shortage it was assigned back to 849HQ flight at Brawdy and given the code 768/BY.

Restoration of Fairey Gannet XA460 at the UAS

Fairey Gannet XA460 Twin Propellors at the Ulster Aviation Society

Image: MARK J. CAIRNS

Fairey Gannet XA460 contra-rotating Propellers from a Double Mamba engine

Three canopies on and starboard wing restoration on the Fairey Gannet XA460. Image: Mark J. Cairns

Image: MARK J. CAIRNS

Three canopies on and starboard wing restoration on the Fairey Gannet XA460

Image: ADRIAN BALCH

In 2022, the UAS' Gannet restoration team carefully refitted all three cockpit canopies

Image: STEPHEN HEGARTY

In 2022, the UAS' Gannet restoration team carefully refitted all three cockpit canopies

The refurbished main instrument panel in the Fairey Gannet, back in the pilot's cockpit

Image: STEPHEN HEGARTY

The refurbished main instrument panel in the Fairey Gannet, back in the pilot's cockpit

Fairey Gannet’s missing elevator tips from scratch! 

Image: STEPHEN HEGARTY

UAS' Volunteer, Billy McCall has been designing and manufacturing the Fairey Gannet’s missing elevator tips from scratch! 

UAS' Volunteer, Billy McCall has been designing and manufacturing the Fairey Gannet’s missing elevator tips from scratch! 

The UAS acquired an ASV Mk.19 radar which is currently on display alongside XA460.

Image: STEPHEN HEGARTY

The UAS acquired an ASV Mk.19 radar which is currently on display alongside XA460

The enormous gearbox which allowed the side-by-side Mamba engines to drive the common-axis contra-rotating propellers

Image: STEPHEN HEGARTY

The enormous gearbox which allowed the side-by-side Mamba engines to drive the common-axis contra-rotating propellers

New Airfix model of Fairey Gannet XA460

Airfix are working during 2023 on an upcoming 1:48 Gannet AS.4 model that will include an XA460 livery

Airfix are working during 2023 on an upcoming 1:48 Gannet AS.4 model that will include an XA460 livery
 

Details from: https://uk.airfix.com/products/fairey-gannet-14-a11007

UAS' Fairey Gannet's Restoration Team

Fairey Gannet XA460 original Restoration Team (2019) at the Ulster Aviation Society —  [L-R]: Lloyd Pollock, Stephen Hegarty, David Jackson [Team Leader], Anne McIlveen, Alan Moller, Billy McCall and David Mellon.  Many other volunteers who've worked on the project are not pictured (See List in main page's text). Image: Alan Jarden

Numerous volunteers at the UAS have worked on the Fairey Gannet XA460 restoration over the years, with the team led by David Jackson.

His amazing Gannet team has consisted of the following volunteers: 

Isaac Allen, Richard Beckwith, Michael Colligan, Teddy Colligan, James Doran, Joe Fairley, Ben Gibson, Stephen Hegarty, Alan Moller, Michael McAleese, Billy McCall, Brian McCann, Cyril McCosh, Anne McIlveen, David Mellon, Tommy Moore, Terry Neil, Lloyd Pollock, Matthew Reel, Ray Spence, Leo Tweedy, Glynn Williams.

Video drama of the Gannet Wing-tip snapping…

Image: MARK J. CAIRNS

Video of the Fairey Gannet's rudder being re-fitted

Fairey Gannet collected from Doncaster in late 2011

Manufacturer: Fairey

Model: Gannet ECM.6 / AS.4

Registration: XA460

UAS Location: Hangar 2
UNDER RESTORATION
Gannet-Lineart-Transparent.webp
Served with: 849HQ Culdrose, 831 Sqn,
Maximum Speed:  310 mph
Engine: 1 × Armstrong Siddeley ASMD.1 Double Mamba coupled turboprop  2,950 shp (2,200 kW) equiv.
Propellors: Contra-rotating, 8-blade Rotol propellor
Service Ceiling: 25,000ft
Endurance: 5-6 hours
Ordnance: Up to 2 Tons of bombs, torpedoes, depth charges and rockets using Ekco ASV Mk.19 radar
Length & Height13.11m x 4.19m
Wing Span: 16.56m
Production: 1953-1978
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