Entering service during 1955 operating from aircraft carriers the type would serve in two crucial roles for the Fleet Air Arm during the Cold War. Firstly in the anti-submarine (AS) then in the
Airborne Early Warning (AEW) role. Able to house a crew of three and with contra-rotating propellers the Gannet would spend nearly 25 years in service and be sold overseas as well.
During World War 2 submarine technology improved to the point that detection became harder and so a dedicated anti-submarine aircraft was essential. It was the Fairey Swordfish that the Fleet Air
Arm originally tasked with the job but this was obsolete and in dire need of replacing. With this in mind during 1945 the Air Ministry issued Specification GR.17/45 which called for an aircraft to
operate from carriers in the anti-submarine role and carry a crew of two, pilot and aerial observer, radar and the ability to carry a range of ordnance to attack the submarine once it had been
The Fairey submission was known as the 'Type Q' and was led by designer H.E. Chaplin. The intended powerplant for this aircraft was the Tweed double-propeller turbine which was produced by
Rolls-Royce. An order for two prototypes was placed on the 12th August 1946. Fairey's design would also be evaluated alongside submissions from Blackburn, B-54/B-88, and Shorts SB.3.
Continuing development of the prototype the decision was made by Fairey during 1947 to replace the Rolls-Royce Tweed with the Armstrong Siddeley 2,950-hp Double Mamba 100 enabling a top speed of
310 mph. The engines would be coupled together to power the contra-rotating propellers. One key advantage of the Mamba engine was the ability to shut one engine down allowing the aircraft to stay
on patrol longer. The wings of the aircraft could be folded in two places so the wing could fold on top of itself.
Before the two prototypes of the new aircraft, now known as the Fairey 17, flew a change in requirements would see the addition of a third crew member, radar operator, and the need for the plane to
add torpedoes to its armament would mean a larger bomb bay was needed. This would mean a third prototype was required and this was ordered on the 19th July 1949. Two months later on the 19th September
flying from Aldermaston the first prototype made its maiden flight with Group Captain R.G. Slade at the controls. This was followed ten months later on the 6th July 1950 by the second prototype.
The next stage for the Fairey 17 was testing and evaluation. During this phase a number of handling problems were discovered and this would lead to the ailerons, elevator and rudder being modified.
However when the third prototype flew on the 10th May 1951, now named the Gannet, as this was significantly different it would require further testing and evaluation. Due to the urgent need for the
aircraft an order for 100 production examples was given priority. In the meantime to fill the gap the Fleet Air Arm would use the Grumman TBM Avenger AS.4 converted for the role.
The first production Gannet AS.1 differed from the prototype with a number of changes to the undercarriage location and improvements to the flaps and tailplane. The engine was still the Double
Mamba 100 with top speed still 310 mph and a range of 690 miles. The Gannet would have no defensive armament and its bomb load of 2,000lb was to consist of torpedoes, depth charges, mines and
rockets. The first example made its maiden flight on the 9th June 1953 before under going testing and carrier trials. It would take a further nineteen weeks until the type entered service when
on the 17th January 1955 No. 826 Squadron, Lee-on-Solent received the first eight AS.1 aircraft. These would join HMS Eagle during June 1955.
With the requirements of the Gannet changing leading to a loaded weight nearly 4,000lb heaver than originally intended a new AS.4 version was ordered on the 7th May 1954, before the AS.1 had even
entered service. The main change was a more powerful 3,035hp Double Mamba 101 which gave a top speed of 299mph with armament being the same as the AS.1. These would begin to enter service during
The Gannet's time performing the anti submarine role was over by May 1966 as the Westland Whirlwind helicopter would replace the type although some of the AS aircraft would be converted for use in
other roles including VIP transport and cargo transport. Two trainer versions of the type were also produced. The T.2 which was an AS.1 trainer and the T.5 which was a AS.4 trainer. Nine AS.4s
would also be converted to ECM.6s (Electronic Counter Measures) aircraft.
The other main role for the aircraft was the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) task which was currently being fulfilled by converted Douglas Skyraiders. This would lead to the Gannet AEW.3 and when the
prototype made its maiden flight on the 20th August 1958 it would look rather different to previous Mks due to the modifications required as a result of the installation of the AN/APS 20 radar. The
first major change saw a radome installed underneath the fuselage to house the radar. This would required the engine to be moved forward and the undercarriage lengthened. The second major change
saw the interior re-designed with a side door replacing the second and third cockpits as the two radar operators would be housed in the fuselage. All these changes saw just over an extra 1,500lb
added to the aircraft when loaded. Top speed was 250 mph with power supplied by the 3,875hp Double Mamba 112. The AEW.3 had no offensive or defensive armament. The new Gannet AEW.3 entered service
on the 1st February 1960 and were reliable in providing extra radar coverage for the Royal Navy's fleet before being replaced by the Avro Shackleton by the end of 1978.
In total 348 Gannets were produced and as well as the Fleet Air Arm it would be brought by three other countries. Australia, Germany and Indonesia and serve with their respective Naval Air Arms.