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Gloster Gauntlet

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The Gauntlet was the last opened cockpit fighter used by the Royal Air Force and made history by becoming the first aircraft to intercept another by the use of radar, with a small number still in RAF service at the beginning of the Second World War. Sold overseas, the Gloster Gauntlet was used by the Finnish Air Force during the Winter War.

Quick Facts
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First flight
July 1933
Entered service
25th May 1935
Total built

Front view
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Side view
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Rear view
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With the Air Ministry looking to replace the Bristol Bulldog fighter, Specification F.20/27 was issued, Gloster submitted their 450-hp Bristol Mercury powered SS.18 design and this made its maiden flight in January 1929. Further development continued, with the SS.18A powered by a 480-hp Bristol Jupiter VIIF and the SS.18B with a 560-hp Armstrong Siddeley Panther III engine being developed. These were then followed by the SS.19 powered by a Bristol Jupiter VIIF and the SS.19A and SS.19B fitted with the 510-hp Bristol Mercury VIS.2 engine.

It was the SS.19B fitted with a 640-hp Bristol Mercury VIS.2 engine that would be ordered under Specification 24/33 as the Gauntlet and the prototype made its first flight in July 1933. The Gauntlet Mk I was a single-seat opened cockpit biplane with fixed landing gear and tail wheel with a top speed of 230 mph, a range of 460 miles and a service ceiling of 33,500 ft. Armament would consist of two 0.303-in Vickers machine-guns. With its biplane design drag was always going to be an issue, but Gloster took a lot of care to make sure the Gauntlets design would suffer as little as possible. This being achieved meant that when the type entered Royal Air Force service it was said to be the best fighter in the world.

The 17th December 1934 saw the first of twenty four production Gauntlet Mk Is fly, with deliveries of the type beginning five months later on the 25th May 1935 when No. 19 Squadron based at RAF Duxford began to be equipped with the aircraft, replacing their Bulldog Mk IIAs.

During 1934 Hawker Aircraft had purchased the Gloster Aircraft Company, this led to the only other production variant the Gauntlet Mk II being built inline with Hawker's methods. This was the only difference to the Gauntlet Mk I, with top speed, range, service ceiling and armament being identical.

At the height of its service with Fighter Command 14 squadrons were equipped with the Gauntlet. Its most notable achievement happened on the 8th November 1937 when three Gauntlets from No. 32 Squadron, with assistance from Bawdsey Manor, achieved the first radar-controlled airborne interception when they were guided to a civil airliner over the River Thames.

By the time the Second World War (1939 - 1945) started in September 1939, UK based Gauntlets had been relegated to meteorological duties, performing these for the last time on the 6th December 1939. No. 616 Squadron based at RAF Leconfield were the last UK based squadron to operate the type before they began to be re-equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire in October 1939. In the Middle East the type would still be used as a frontline aircraft by the Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force until late 1940.

Gauntlets would also be used by the Finnish Air Force when 25 ex-RAF examples were delivered during 1940. These would see service for five years and were used during the Winter War (1939 – 1940), with the 18th February 1945 seeing the last Finnish Gauntlet fly. 17 examples would also be built in Denmark though these would not see any combat.

In total 246 aircraft were produced.

Technical Details

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Top Speed Range Service Ceiling Armament
Gauntlet Mk I 230 mph 460 miles 33,500 ft two Vickers machine-guns
Gauntlet Mk II 230 mph 460 miles 33,500 ft two Vickers machine-guns


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(C) = Cockpit only exhibit. (F) = Fuselage only exhibit. (R) = Remains of an aircraft.

No known examples currently on public display in the UK.

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