Fairey Fulmar History

The Fairey Fulmar was the Fleet Air Armโ€™s first eight-gun fighter. Although slower than land-based German adversaries, it performed useful service against the Regia Aeronautica (Italian air force).

By 1938 the British Admiralty felt a pressing need for more modern fighter, one mounting eight machine guns like the Hawker Hurricaneย and Supermarine Spitfireย aircraft then coming into service. However, unlike the land-based fighters, Fleet Air Arm requirements necessitated inclusion of a second crew member to act as navigator. This was deemed essential for ensuring that the aircraft could safely return to a carrier at night or in bad weather. It was recognized from the onset that the basic attributes of the new machine would be range and firepower, not speed.

In 1938 a Fairey design team under Marcel Lobelle took the existing P.3/34 light bomber prototype and converted it into a two-seat fighter. The new Fulmar prototype first flew on 4 January 1940, exhibiting many fine qualities. It was manoeuvrable, easy to handle, and functioned well on the deck. But as anticipated, the added weight of a second crew member rendered its performance somewhat disappointing. Nevertheless, the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) needed an immediate replacement for its aging Blackburn B-24 Skuaย and Blackburn B-25 Rocย aircraft, so the craft entered production that year.

The first squadron to receive the Fulmar I was No 806, in July 1940 โ€“ after an uncommonly rapid service trials programme โ€“ and a month or two later this squadron had become operational aboard HMS Illustrious. In the Mediterranean theatre, the Fairey Fulmar fought extensively during the defence of Malta. In all, the Fulmar served fourteen FAA squadrons, despite the modest numbers built. These comprised two hundred and fifty Mk Is with 1080 hp Merlin VIII engines, and three hundred and fifty Mk IIs powered by the 1,300 hp Merlin 30 and incorporating equipment for operation in tropical climates.

The Fairey Fulmarโ€™s somewhat slow speed was considered no great disadvantage while tangling with lower-powered Italian aircraft, and its heavy armament made it lethal to enemy bombers. Despite the useful armament and range, the Fulmarโ€™s performance was well below that of contemporary land-based fighters. In an attempt to improve performance a new version, the Fairey Fulmar II, was introduced in 1943, featuring the more powerful Merlin 32 engine. It was used with some success on night convoy escort and night intruder duties during the middle war years, but was superseded in the carrier-based day fighter by the Supermarine Seafireย aircraft and other single-seat types from 1942 onward. Despite its sometimes sluggish performance, the Fairey Fulmar performed well on balance and frequently under trying circumstances.

Fairey Fulmar Specifications
Aircraft Type:
wingspan: 46 ft, 4 in
length: 40 ft, 2 in
height: 10 ft, 8 in
empty: 7,051ย lb
gross: 10,200ย lb
Power plant:
1 ร— 1,080ย hp Rolls-Royce Merlin VIII liquid-cooled in-line engine
maximum speed: 272ย mph
ceiling: 27,200ย ft
maximum range: 780ย mi
8 ร— 0.303 in calibre machine guns
500 lb of bombs
Service dates:


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