Britain’s aviation industry in 1934 largely had the same core concepts as it did during the First World War. Its main line of defence was still the open cockpit biplane, not yet having made the switch to sleek monoplanes that were starting to be developed elsewhere.
The Gloster aircraft company made a slight change to this policy, on the 12th September 1934, when their Gladiator first flew. It was still a biplane, admittedly, but it had a closed in canopy, which was a first for an RAF fighter, as well as other “modern” additions such as landing flaps.
This was an aircraft that flew for the first time on the same day as the Hawker Hind, which was essentially the same design as that of the Hart, which first flew in 1928, so it was quite a leap in design!
By comparison the Gladiator was cutting edge, with a smooth Bristol Mercury radial engine, providing 840 horsepower, combined with ailerons on all four wings for extra manoeuvrability, this really seemed a machine ready for fighting modern wars.
Coming into service in February 1937, the Gladiator was now behind both the Spitfire and Hurricane, which had flown in March ’36 and November ’35 respectively, and both were in service within the following 2 years.
With these new monoplane fighters now coming into production the Gladiator was swiftly moved away from front line service. Though some aircraft remained on squadrons during the “phoney” war and early on in the Battle Of Britain while the backlog in production of the newer fighters was cleared.
The Gladiator’s most famous combat theatre was Malta. They provided air defence for the island in 1940, largely flying against an Italian biplane fighter, the Fiat CR42. As more modern designs became more commonplace, Gladiators were phased out of front line duties.
The Shuttleworth Collection’s Gladiator Mk.1: L8032/G-AMRK, has long been a welcome presence on the UK Airshow Circuit performing in various guises over the years. It is one of only two examples still flying and provides a living example of this wonderful aeroplane, the last of the biplane fighters!