Blackburn B-24 Skua

The Blackburn B-24 Skua was a carrier-based low-wing, two-seater, single-engine dive bomber/fighter aircraft operated by the British Fleet Air Arm during WW2. It was designed in the mid-1930s.

Designed to specification 0.27/34, the all-metal Blackburn B-24 Skua broke away from the Royall Navy’s long tradition of biplanes with fabric covering: it was Britain’s first naval dive-bomber and the country’s first deck-landing aircraft to have flaps, retractable landing gear and a variable-pitch propeller.

The Blackburn Skua competed with designs from Avro, Boulton Paul, Hawker and Vickers for the naval contract, and two prototypes were ordered in April 1935, the first of which flew at Brough on 9 February 1937, powered by an 840hp (626 kW) Bristol Mercury IX engine.

After appearing in the New Types Park at the RAF Display, Hendon, on 26 June 1937 and the SBAC Display at Hatfield two days later, the prototype was sent to the Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment, Martlesham Heath, for the customary handling trials. Favourable reports were given on the Skua’s handling qualities, and it subsequently carried out gunnery trials at Martlesham and, later, ditching experiments at Gosport.

Orders for 190 Skuas had been placed six months before the flight of the prototype and some sub-contract work was awarded to speed up production. Because all Mercury engines were required for Bristol Blenheims, production Skuas were y,iven the 890 hp (664 kW) Bristol Perseus XII sleeve-valve engine, in which form they became Mk IIs.

The first production aircraft flew at Brough on 28 August 1938 and few modifications to the basic design were required apart from fitting upturned wingtips and a modified tailwheel oleo to cure juddering. The entire production run of 190 aircraft was delivered between October 1938 and March 1940. No mean feat at that period, although the programme was about a year behind schedule.

The first Fleet Air Arm squadrons to receive Skuas late in 1938 were Nos. 800 and 803. for service on HMS Ark Royal where they replaced Hawker Nimrods and Ospreys. No. 801 Squadron aboard HMS Furious was also re-equipped and Skuas also joined No. 806 Squadron, then at Eastleigh, before the outbreak of war.

As a fighter, the Blackburn Skua was already obsolete, but it made its mark in the dive-bombing role early in the war when 16 aircraft from Nos.800 and 803 Squadrons flying from Hatston in the Orkneys, sank the German cruiser Konigsber in Bergen harbour at dawn on 10 April 1940. Although at the very limits of their range all about one Skua returned from this long night flight. The squadrons suffered a severe setback 11 days later, however, losing most of their Skuas during an attack on Narvik.

The remaining Skuas ended their days comparatively peacefully as target tugs and on general training duties.

Maximum speed of Blackburn B-24 Skua was 360 km/h (225 mph or 195 knots). Service ceiling was 6,000 meters (20,000 feet). Range was amounted to 1,350 kilometers. Wingspan was 14.10 meters (46 ft 2 in) and length was 10.80 meters (35 ft 7 in). It was powered by single Bristol Perseus XII radial engine (905 hp or 675 kW).

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