THE FAIREY FIREFLY IN CANADIAN SERVICE

The Fairey Firefly was a two place, carrier-borne fighter introduced in late1943 to replace the Fairey Fulmar in the Royal Navy. It remained in production until 1955 at which time 1,712 aircraft had been produced. During WWII, the Firefly was mainly used as a flak-supression [1] aircraft and strike fighter. In that sense, it was a logical choice for post-war Canadian naval aviation whose plans called for a strike-reconnaissance aircraft.

On 1 July 1945, in a bi-lateral undertaking to establish a Canadian Naval Air Arm, the Royal Navy reformed No. 825 Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Rattray in Scotland and agreed to man the squadron with Canadians. To train Canadian crew, 825 Squadron was initially equipped with 12 Fairey Barracuda II's. In November 1945, the Barracudas were replaced with 12 Firefly FR I's that were permanently given to Canada as part of Britain's war claim settlement.

The squadron was officially transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) on 24 January 1946 in step with the commissioning of Canada's first aircraft carrier, HMCS Warrior. In March, 825 Squadron embarked in HMCS Warrior on her maiden voyage to Halifax where on 31 March 1946, the Fireflies disembarked and landed for the first time on Canadian soil at RCAF Station Dartmouth.

Twenty nine Firefly FR I's were progressively taken on strength by the RCN between June 1946 and April 1947. As with all the other aircraft received from the RN, the Firefly FR I was the RCN's first strike-reconnaissance fighter and formed the backbone of Canadian naval aviation during its formative years. In addition to its large chin radiator, the other feature, which distinguished the FR I from later versions of the Firefly was a canister, housing the AN/APS-4 radar antenna, suspended under the radiator. An Observer/Navigator in the rear cockpit operated the radar to detect ships and submarines.

FIREFLY (AS 5) SPECIFICATIONS

Crew: Pilot and Observer. The Observer's seat was offset to the port side and the Observer faced forward.
Engine: One 2,250-hp Rolls-Royce Griffon 74 V-12, liquid cooled, piston engine
Weight: Empty 9,674 lbs., Max Takeoff 16,096 lbs.
Wing Span: 41 ft. 2 in.
Length: 37 ft. 11 in.
Height: 14 ft. 4 in.
Maximum Speed: 386 mph at 14,000 ft (618 km/h at 4,300 m)
Cruising Speed: 220 mph
Ceiling: 28,400 ft.
Range: 1,300 miles (1,722 km) when fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks
Acquisition began:  November 1945
Retirement began: November, 1950
Struck off charge : March 1, 1954

PAINT SCHEMES

The operational Fireflies as a whole, displayed a variety of British and Canadian camouflage paint schemes between early 1946 and late 1951, when the last of them were replaced by Avengers. There were seven main Firefly RCN finish and markings configurations. The paint schemes and markings are beyond the scope of this web document so anyone who wishes to know more about this topic is referred to either of the two books listed at the bottom of this document.

FIREFLY MARKS

Fireflies used both Roman numerals and Arabic numerals in their variant designators. To avoid confusion, FR I  means Roman numeral ' I '  and not FR capital  letter ' I '. FR IV is Roman numerals IV. The I in T I is Roman numeral ' I '. 
If an aircraft was a new design and postwar, then it received an Arabic number ( ie -  the postwar Tempest T.5 conversions). The Tempests prior to the end of the war all remained as Roman numeral 'V'. If the Tempest was designated as T.V during the war then it would have remained T.V even for new production aircraft after the war.  (The Spitfire seems to be the only exception to this).

The RCN operated five marks of Firefly. A total of sixty-four machines was brought on charge, the numbers of each mark being as follows:

FR I       (29)    Strike-reconnaissance fighter
FR IV    (13)    Strike-reconnaissance fighter
AS 5      (18)    Anti-submarine warfare version
T I           (4)    Unarmed trainer
T 2          (2)    Armed trainer - remanufactured from two FR I's

FR I

The FR I,  initially acquired by the RCN, differed in one major respect from its predecessor, the F I.  It was fitted with  the AN/ APS-4 ship and submarine detection radar. This equipment comprised of  a transmitter-receiver housed in a bomb-shaped cannister and slung beneath the engine cowling and a junction box, control panel, and indicator assembly that was located forward of the Observer's seat in the rear cockpit. A radar repeater scope was also fitted to the Pilot's forward starboard cockpit. Above the radar indicator in the Observer's cockpit was the tuning head for the TR 5206 (referred to as ARI 5206) HF radio equipment, while below it and toward the port side was the AN/APN-1 radio altimeter. The Canadian FR I's were also fitted with a four channel TR 5043 (SCR 522) VHF radio, located on a shelf directly behind the Observer's seat. In the Canadian machines, this space was also shared with the AN/APX-2 IFF equipment and a battery-driven emergency intercom.

The twenty-nine RCN Firefly FR I's were progressively brought on charge on four separate occasions. Most of them, twenty-one, were placed on the Canadian register on 1 June 1946 - two months after they had arrived in Canada aboard HMCS Warrior. Seven more were added on 25 November; more came on charge eighteen days later, and the final FR I to be used by the Canadians was taken on strength on 10 April 1947. Thus, by mid-April of 1947, all of the RCN's FR Is had been received.

Fireflies were in continuous use with the Canadian Navy's 826 Squadron  until the summer of 1950, at which time they were replaced by TBM-3E Avengers and put into storage. They were finally disposed of four years later, the strike-off-strength date being 1 March 1954.

firefly_fr_ia.jpg
FR I. The AN/APS-4 radar is not attached to the rail beneath the engine on this aircraft. (Photo by Robert Blakeley. DND/PAC #PA-136510)
FR IV

The FR IV differed from the FR I in several obvious respects. The wings were clipped to improve the rate of roll; the beard radiator was replaced by coolant radiators in forward extensions of the leading edges of the stub planes; and a filet was added to the fin to improve stability. The AN/APS-4 transmitter/receiver  was relocated in a fairing beneath the starboard wing, while a fuel cell (also detachable) was contained in a similar fairing beneath the port wing. The use of the more powerful Rolls-Royce Griffon 74 engine in the FR IV improved the maximum speed by 32 mph at sea level; in addition, service ceiling was raised from 28,000 to 28,400 feet, although range remained the same.

Although the first flight of a production Firefly FR IV took place on 25 May 1945, the initial delivery to the Royal Navy was not realized until 29 September 1946. A total of 160 were built, the last one being delivered from the factory on 9 February 1948. The Mark IV had a relatively brief career with the RCN. The first machine, destined for cold-weather testing at the RCAF's Winter Experimental Establishment based at Namao, Alberta, was brought on charge on 12 February 1948. The balance of the complement, twelve aircraft in all, were taken on strength on 24 May 1948, the same date that the RCN re-equipped with the Sea Fury FB II. It's important to know that the FR IVs were on temporary assignment to Canada pending the availability of the AS 5. On 12 January 1949, the remaining nine of these aircraft were returned to Britain (three had ditched off Magnificent).

firefly_fr_4a.jpg
Firefly FR IV. Note that the bar beneath the engine for the AN/APS-4 radar has been removed and the radar transmitter/receiver has been relocated in a fairing beneath the starboard wing . (Photo by Robert Blakeley. DND/PAC #PA-136510)
AS 5

The first production Firefly AS 5 made its maiden flight on 12 December 1947 and the initial delivery of an AS 5 to the Royal Navy took place on 9 January 1948. Just over a year later on 16 February 1949,  the AS 5 was taken on strength by the RCN. It remained in operational service until November of 1951, at which time it was replaced by the AS 3 Mk 1 Avenger. The mark was officially struck off strength on 2 February 1953.

With the AS 5 came a modified role and a corresponding variation in the electronics suite. The major addition was the installation of the AN/CRT -1A sonobuoy system.  The sonobuoys, which possessed an approximate transmitting range of ten miles, were slung in three clusters of four each on racks underneath the mainplanes and beneath the fuselage. A sonobuoy receiver rod antenna projected downward from the bottom of the starboard stub plane. The sonobuoy receiver was located in the shelving aft of the Observer's seat, which swivelled to permit operation of the AN/APS-4 equipment (still positioned forward of the seat) or the sonobuoy receiver. Behind the sonobuoy receiver, in order of appearance and proceeding rearward, were the AN/APX-2 IFF transponder-interrogator responsor; a carbon pile regulator and a transformer that powered the British-made generator which in turn ran the American AN/APS-4 radar; an LF AN/ ARC-5 navigation radio or, alternatively, ZBX (AN/ARR-2) homing radio; a radio compass amplifier and circuit breaker fuse panel; and finally, the remote compass transmitter.

In this Mark, the cannons were deleted and the ports in the leading edges of the wings were blanked off. A major improvement to appear during the Mk 5 production run was the installation of power folding wings. All the previous Fairey Marks had manually folding wings.

Crowsnest Magazine, Christmas 1949 edition,  reported on testing the use of rocket assisted takeoff .

"Firefly AS 5 aircraft of 825 Squadron (18 Carrier Air Group) used rocket assisted take-off gear for the
first time on November 9, 1949 at the RCN Air Station, Dartmouth, N.S. Known as RATOG  (Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear) to the airmen, it was used to get an aircraft airborne in the shortest time and with the shortest length of take-off run possible. Rockets are attached to either side of the fuselage in pairs in such a way that force is applied to the aircraft in a forward and upward direction. Best performance reported was that of Lieut. (P) G. H. Johnson, with Lieut. (0) J. M. Steel in the rear cockpit, who gained 1,000 feet altitude within a very few seconds.

Further RATOG trials were conducted aboard  HMCS Magnificent as part of flying exercises during her cruise to the West Indies. The rockets can be fired one on each side or two on each side, depending on the amount of thrust required. Both combinations were tried by a number of 825 Squadron pilots, with the conclusion that four rockets were the minimum required to obtain a suitable acceleration.- PO  F.J.M."

firefly_fr5.jpg
Firefly AS 5. Externally there was little difference between this variant and the FR IV. The most notable distinction being the blanked-off cannon ports in the leading edges of the wings. (DND/DNS #1355 via Al Baltzer). 
T I

The T1 was an unarmed, two-seat, dual-control Pilot conversion trainer that differed from the F I from which it was derived in having a rear (Instructor's) cockpit raised 12" above the normal position in order to improve vision by its occupant in landing. The first of September 1947 witnessed the inaugural flight in Britain of a production Firefly T Mk I, the first of thirty-four to be built (or, more correctly, modified from Mk I airframes). On 24 May 1948, four T 1s were added to the RCN's aircraft complement, along with the Firefly Mk IV and the Sea Fury.

firefly_t1_trainer_a.jpg
T I trainer. (DND photo via Bill Wheeler)
T 2

Around the end of March of 1949, the RCN sent two FR Is to Fairey Aviation of Canada for conversion to T 2s. The Firefly T Mk 2, outwardly similar to the T I, was a gunnery (tactical weapons) trainer that carried a single 20-mm cannon in each wing and synchronized gyro gunsights in each cockpit. . By the end of February 1950, both conversions had been completed.

rrp3/firefly_t2a.jpg
T 2 at HMCS Shearwater. The blister for the port side gun on the trailing section of the wing is difficult to see but it's there.  (From the collection of Leo Pettipas)

COCKPIT LAYOUTS

firefly_fr1_cockpit_152293_s.jpg Pilot's cockpit of a Firefly FR I. This is a forward and starboard view. Note the slave display for the AN/APS-4 radar just to the right of the grip on the control column.  Click to enlarge. (Photo by Robert Blakeley. DND/PAC #PA-152293)
firefly_t1_cockpit_152285_s.jpg The somewhat spartan instructor's cockpit of a T I trainer. Click to enlarge. (Photo by Robert Blakeley. DND/PAC #PA-152285)
THE AIRCRAFT'S SHORTCOMINGS

The type's shortcomings were legion to those who were closely familiar with it. This aircraft type was difficult to maintain and did not respond well to the American style of deck-landing that the Canadians were in the process of adopting. Because of its 2½-hour endurance, it could not be used for long-range patrols. It also lacked adequate all-weather performance.  In order to maintain proper weight and balance, the Observer had to be less than a certain prescribed weight. His constrained field of view hindered effective visual search, an important function in airborne ASW work.

The Firefly had provision for a removable suite of three alternate equipment combinations for the Observer, who could either operate the radar, or carry out long-distance radio communications, or monitor sonobuoys. The aircraft could only do any two out of these three functions. In fact, the number of sonobuoys and smoke markers the Firefly could accommodate was so limited that Sea Fury fighters—whose designated purpose was fleet defence, not anti-submarine work—had to be armed with them on occasion to allow completion of the sonobuoy-laying pattern!

To top it all off, the Firefly had no “growth potential”. The foreseeable challenges of airborne anti-submarine warfare called for ever more specialized electronic equipment and an additional crewman to operate it, and the Firefly had room for neither.  No sooner had the type been taken on strength than the Navy was searching for a replacement.

END OF LIFE

Fireflies did not disappear from the Shearwater base as soon as Avengers were taken on strength. For example, in mid-January of 1951, some nine months after the Avengers arrived, Fireflies along with Sea Furies put on a cannon and rocket-firing display at the newly opened air-to-ground firing range at Chezzetcook, east of Dartmouth.  They were still operating from HMCS Magnificent in May of 1951, which may have been the last time they went to sea before their retirement in November of that year; and a source published in October of 1951 observed that ". . . a number of Fairey Firefly V's, are being held in operational reserve."   In fact, the Firefly was not finally and officially struck off charge until March 1, 1954 when the last of the lot was sold to Ethiopia.  It goes without saying, however, that the type was not active up until that point, or even on "operational reserve". It has been noted that "the 'Struck off' dates are apt to be misleading if not placed in perspective. The Services have frequently placed aircraft in storage pending final disposition and this tends to indicate that the type was in active use longer than was actually the case.

When the Avenger was introduced into the Royal Canadian Navy to replace the Firefly, the two existing anti-submarine squadrons, Nos. 826 and 825 were operating the Fairey Firefly Marks FR I and AS 5, respectively The last time Fireflies went to sea aboard HMCS Magnificent, the Navy's sole aircraft carrier of the day, was during the late summer and fall (August 22 to November 25) of 1950. The squadron embarked during this cruise was 825 with its Firefly AS 5's. In the meantime, 826 Squadron was ferrying the newly acquired Avengers to HMCS Shearwater, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, a task which it had actually commenced in the spring of that year shortly after the Government announced that the Avenger was to succeed the Firefly. By late summer, 826 Squadron possessed a full complement of unmodified Avengers. The next time the Magnificent put to sea in early February of 1951, her complement of anti-submarine aircraft, 15 in all, was made up entirely of Avengers. The Canadian public was formally introduced to the Avenger in the summer of 1950, when an air show was staged at Shearwater. As a major attraction, TBM's, Fireflies, and Sea Furies fired depth charges, cannon, and rockets at a mock submarine. The Firefly was now gone from the skies above the Halifax-Dartmouth area but it was still on strength with 880 Squadron until retirement in November of 1951.

DISPOSAL

When the Fireflies camne to the end of their service life with the RCN, many of them found their way into foreign air arms. The FR IVs went back to the RN, from whom they had been leased, in January 1949.  Most of the AS 5s were sold back to Britain in October 1952 after having been retired from active duty in the RCN the previous November.  However, they were officially struck off charge on 27 October 1952. Four others were struck off strength and sold to the Dutch in early February 1953.  In 1952, four FR Is were sold to Denmark where they were modified for target-towing.  In March of 1954, nine FR Is, three T Is and the two T 2s were purchased by Ethiopia for $100,000.00. (Note: In his book “The Fairey Firefly in the Royal Canadian Navy,” Leo Pettipas states on p. 106 that “one FR IV/AS 5” was among the group that was sold to Ethiopia.  This is incorrect (L. Pettipas, personal communication, 2009); see preceding sentence.

The only airworthy Fairey Firefly existing in Canada today is an AS 6, an example in the collection of the Canadian Warplane Heritage. That Mark did not serve with the RCN but it was acquired from the Camden Air Museum in Australia. In 1993, a Firefly FR I  (PP462)  was repatriated from Ethiopia. Today it is being restored  by a group of volunteers at the Shearwater Aviation Museum. Plans are to return it to flying condition.

More Firefly Information
Detailed Listing of Firefly Electronics Suite
Production Information 
AS 6 Restoration
Other Photos
You Tube Video #1 - Firefly Startup 
You Tube Video #2 - Firefly in Action
The complete story of the Fairey Firefly in Canadian service cannot be told in a single web page, especially the operational information. To understand the aircraft's entire history, it's recommended to read the book " The Fairey Firefly In The Royal Canadian Navy" by Leo Pettipas. Soft covered, 8.5" x 11"; 109 pages; 1987.  ISBN 0-9692528-1-1.

In addition there are two other books which offer comprehensive coverage of the Firefly's paint and markings schemes. The first is "RCN Aircraft Finish and Markings 1944-1968" by Patrick Martin. (contains 49 colour profiles). The second is "Early Aircraft Paint Schemes in the RCN, 1946-1952" by Leo Pettipas. All three books are available for purchase from the Shearwater Aviation Museum Gift Shop.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Flak suppression is the technique of destroying flak batteries from the air.
 
 


Credits and References:

1) Leo Pettipas <lpettip(at)mts.net> Associate Air Force Historian. Air Force Heritage and History 1 Canadian Air Division.
Winnipeg, Manitoba.
2) "The Fairey Firefly in the Canadian Navy" by Leo Pettipas
3) White paper "Early Cold War Anti-Submarine Warfare Development in Canada" by Leo Pettipas.
4) Ernie Cable <erncar(at)ns.sympatico.ca> Associate Air Force Historian. Excerpt from Avenger notes.
5) Specs:  http://www.military-aircraft.org.uk/bombers/fairey-firefly-as5.htm
6) Shearwater Aviation Museum - Firefly  http://www.shearwateraviationmuseum.ns.ca/aircraft/firefly.htm
7) Shearwater Aviation Museum - Firefly  http://www.shearwateraviationmuseum.ns.ca/exhibits/firefly.htm
8) AS 5  Specifications  http://www.warbirdalley.com/firefly.htm
9) Patrick Martin <104655(at)telus.net>
 

Back To Table of Contents
Sept 06/10