Naval First Flights December 1 – The Fairey Albacore

Looking through the record books for notable aviation anniversaries, I stumbled across a couple of lesser known Royal Navy types that had their first flights on or around this date. The fist of which is the unconventional Fairey Albacore. This design flew for the first time on the 12th December 1938.

15_002567 Fairey Albacore

The family resemblance is clear with on the face of it some similarities with the more famous Swordfish form Fairey. The Albacore was built as a torpedo bomber and was unusual, being a biplane design with an enclosed cabin, something still fairly rare at the time. Flying two years after the Swordfish, it was intended to be a replacement for the older design, though in practice the Swordfish would remain in prominent service through to VE day with many famous missions.

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Much like the Swordfish and other british radials of the time, the Albacore was Bristol powered, with a single Bristol Taurus providing a little over 1,000hp. This power gave the Albacore a top speed of 160mph and a cruise speed of 140mph. The Albacore entered service in 1940 and remained less popular than the Swordfish, being less manoeuvrable than the older machine. Ultimately they spent a lot of time in the Mediterranean theatre where they saw some success. Notably, a squadron of Albacore’s were involved in an (unsuccessful) attempt to sink the Tirpitz battle ship.

Fairey  Albacore

Eventually the less popular design was retired, largely in favour of the Barracuda in 1943. The Royal Canadian Air Force did take on some Albacores and even used them during the Normandy invasion in 1944 (with the notable distinction of being the last biplane to see active service for the RCAF).

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There were 800 Albacore airframes built (compared to more than 2,000 swordfish) and only one now remains. The sole example is part of the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton and currently resides in their well known Cobham Hall storage hangar. I remember the Albacore well as a towering presence in the WW2 hangar of the museum for many years when I was younger. The colour photographs here are from a visit to Cobham hall in late 2018, while the archive shots are directly linked to the San Diego Air and Space museums’ Flickr (a wonderful archive for such photographs). The museum’s example was built up from the wrecks of two airframes, N4389 and N4172.

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