Fairey Fulmar

Fairey Fulmar Mk II N4062
Role Carrier Fighter
National origin United Kingdom
Manufacturer Fairey Aviation Company
Designer Marcel Lobelle
First flight 4 January 1940
Introduction 10 May 1940
Retired 1945
Primary user Royal Navy
Produced 1940–43
Number built 600
Developed from Fairey P.4/34

The Fairey Fulmar was a British carrier-borne fighter aircraft that served with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) during the Second World War. A total of 600 were built by Fairey Aviation at its Stockport factory between January 1940 and December 1942. The Fulmar's design was based on that of the earlier Fairey P.4/34 that was in turn developed in 1936 as a replacement for the Fairey Battle light bomber. Although its performance (like that of its Battle antecedent) was lacking, the Fulmar was a reliable, sturdy aircraft with long range and an effective armament of eight machine guns.

Design and development

The Fairey P.4/34 was built to Specification P.4/34 as a light bomber capable of being used as a dive bomber, in competition with the Hawker Henley and an unbuilt Gloster design.[1] Despite its high speed of 284 mph,[2] it lost out to the 300 mph Henley (which was eventually ordered as a target tug).

The Fulmar, a navalised version of the P.4/34, was submitted to meet Specification O.8/38 for a two-crew fleet defence fighter. As it was not expected to encounter fighter opposition, high performance or maneuverability was not considered important, but long range and heavy armament were. The provision of a navigator/wireless operator was considered essential for the long, over-ocean flights that would be required.

N1854, the first production Fulmar at Farnborough at the SBAC show on 8 September 1962

Looking much like its sister, the Battle, the Fulmar prototype was aerodynamically cleaner and featured a folding wing that was 16 in (41 cm) shorter than its bomber lookalike.[3] The prototype P.4/34 serial number K5099 first flew on 13 January 1937 at Fairey Aviation's Great West Aerodrome (now covered by London Heathrow Airport), with Fairey test pilot Chris Staniland at the controls.[4][5] After the first flight tests, the tail was revised, being raised 8 in (20 cm).

The first prototype Fulmar, acting as a "flying mock-up",[5] was powered by a 1,080 hp (810 kW) Rolls Royce Merlin III engine. With this engine, performance was poor, the prototype only reaching 230 mph (370 km/h). With the Merlin VIII engine – a variant unique to the Fulmar and with supercharging optimised for low-level flight – and aerodynamic improvements, speed was improved to 265 mph (426 km/h) at 7500 ft (2286m),[6][7][8] which, owing to the desperate need for modern fighters, was considered adequate. As a simple derivative of an existing prototype, the Fulmar promised to be available quickly, and an initial order for 127 production aircraft was placed in mid-1938;[4] the first example flew from Fairey's facility at RAF Ringway near Manchester on 4 January 1940 and the last of 600 Fulmars was delivered from Ringway on 11 December 1942.[9]

Fulmar Mk II, identified by the small additional air inlets on either side of the chin

Fulmar Mk II production began in January 1941,[10] with the first Mk II reaching an operational squadron in March 1941. This mark introduced the more powerful Merlin XXX engine while the airframe was also engineered with several enhancements including provision for a 60-gallon (273 litre) centre-line drop tank, and provision to carry a 250 lb (114 kg) or 500 lb (227 kg) bomb in lieu of the drop tank.[11] Testing of the Fulmar II, at Boscombe Down, in June 1942 showed that the Fulmar could safely drop a 500 lb bomb during 60-degree dives at up to 310 knots.[12] Boscombe Down testing in October 1941 showed that the 60-gallon drop tank extended range to 1,100 miles.[12]

N1854, the first production Fulmar, was later modified to Mk II standard and then "civilianised" as Fairey's hack, G-AIBE. In June 1959, it reverted to service markings and was seen at Farnborough at the SBAC show on 8 September 1962; its last flight was three months later on 18 December 1962. It is now in the FAA Museum, Yeovilton.

During testing, Fulmars were launched from catapults on merchant ships, a convoy defensive plan that was being evaluated at the time.[13]

Fulmar Mk I landing on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, 1941

Operational history

The first squadron to be equipped with the Fulmar was No. 806 Squadron FAA in July 1940, and this squadron began operating from HMS Illustrious shortly afterwards. The Fulmar was not well matched with land-based fighters. The Navy had specified a two-seat machine, feeling that a navigator was needed to cope with the challenges of navigating over the open ocean. As a result, the Fulmar was far too large and unwieldy when it came into contact with single-seat, land-based opposition, as it did in the Mediterranean Theatre. Yet its long range was useful at times, as evidenced in the 1941 chase of the German battleship Bismarck, where Fulmars acted as carrier-borne spotters, tracking and trailing the fleeing battleship.[13]

First seeing action on Malta convoy protection patrols in September 1940, the sturdy Fulmar was able to achieve victories against its far more agile Italian and German adversaries. By the autumn, Fulmars had shot down ten Italian bombers and six enemy fighters, while giving top cover to the Swordfish raid on Taranto.

Fulmars played a prominent role in the ill-fated raid on Kirkenes and Petsamo in July 1941.

By 1942, the Fulmar was being replaced by single-seat aircraft adapted from land fighters such as the Supermarine Seafire or by American single-seat fighters such as the Grumman Martlet. It saw useful service in nighttime roles as a convoy escort and intruder and was used to train crews for the Fairey Barracuda. On the other hand, its flight characteristics were considered pleasant, its wide undercarriage provided good deck handling capacities and it had excellent fuel capacity and range. Fulmars were used in long-range reconnaissance after they were withdrawn as fighters. Most Fleet Air Arm fighter aces scored at least part of their victories in Fulmars; for example, Sub Lieutenant S.G. Orr finished the war with 12 confirmed air victories, as the third-highest scoring pilot in the FAA.

At one time, 20 squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm were equipped with the Fulmar. It flew from eight fleet aircraft carriers and five escort carriers. No. 273 Squadron RAF operated them for some months in 1942 from China Bay, Ceylon, seeing action against Japanese forces during the raid on 9 April 1942;[14] though about half the squadron personnel were Navy. Fulmars destroyed 112 enemy aircraft, which made it the leading fighter type, by aircraft shot down, in the Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War. The Fulmar ended its front line operational career on 8 February 1945, when a Fulmar MK II night-fighter from No. 813 Squadron had a landing accident at the safety barrier on HMS Campania and was written off.[15]

Approximately 100 Fulmars were converted to a night fighter variant, but had limited success in this role.[13]

The Vichy French captured one Fulmar Mk I which force-landed while flying a reconnaissance mission over Senegal in March 1941. The Fulmar was repaired and used by the Group de Chasse I/4.[16]

Some of the early marks of the aircraft were operated from CAM ships.[17]


First production variant powered by a 1,035 hp (772 kW) (1,275 hp at take off)[6] Rolls-Royce Merlin VIII; 8 × .303 Browning Mk.II (750 rounds per gun),[7] 250 built.
Updated variant powered by a 1,300 hp (970 kW) Merlin XXX[6] with a new propeller and the addition of tropical equipment; 8 × .303 Browning Mk.II (1,000 rounds per gun) or 4 × .50 Browning AN/M2 – part of the last batch[7][18] (170 rounds per gun,[7] in other sources specified 370 rounds per gun), some finished as night fighters, one prototype converted from a Mk.I and 350 built.
Mk.II night fighter with an Air Interception AI Mk. IV radar (1 aircraft) or AI Mk.X radar (other); 4 × .50 Browning AN/M2 – about 50 aircraft (other 8 × .303 Browning Mk.II), total was converted from the Mk.II nearly 100 aircraft.[19]


 United Kingdom

Surviving aircraft

Fairey Fulmar at the Fleet Air Arm Museum

The only known survivor is N1854, the Fulmar prototype (and first production Mk I) at the Fleet Air Arm Museum. The only known surviving Rolls-Royce Merlin VIII engine is in a private collection in the UK and came from Fulmar Mk I, N1926.

Specifications (Mk II)

General characteristics



See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. Mason 1994, p. 306.
  2. Thetford 1991, p. 152.
  3. Winchester 2004, p. 85.
  4. 1 2 Mason 1992, p. 287.
  5. 1 2 Lumsden 1990, p. 354.
  6. 1 2 3 Brown 1973, p. 47.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Bussy 2004, p. 0.
  8. Thetford 1991, p. 157: states 280 mph. Note: Almost all British aircraft could use emergency boost to increase the supercharger intake pressure and increase power at low altitude, for short periods of time. The Merlin VIII engine was rated at 1,275 hp at takeoff and the use of overboost would permit this power rating to be obtained in combat, and with this amount of power 280 mph seems feasible.
  9. Scholefield 1998, p. 35.
  10. Brown 1973
  11. Bussy 2004
  12. 1 2 Mason 1998, p. 269.
  13. 1 2 3 Winchester 2004, p. 84.
  14. "History of No. 273 Squadron." RAF History. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  15. Brown 1973, p. 41.
  16. Ovčáčík and Susa 2001, p. 3.
  17. Ireland 2007, p. 75.
  18. 1 2 Bussy 2004, p. 7.
  19. Bussy 2004, p. 37.


  • Brown, David. Fairey Fulmar Mks I & II, Aircraft Number 254. London: Profile Publications, 1973. No ISBN.
  • Brown, Eric, CBE, DCS, AFC, RN., William Green and Gordon Swanborough. "Fairey Fulmar". Wings of the Navy, Flying Allied Carrier Aircraft of World War Two. London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1980, pp. 69–78. ISBN 0-7106-0002-X.
  • Bussy, Geoffrey. Fairey Fulmar, Warpaint Series No.41. Luton, Bedfordshire, UK: Warpaint Books Ltd., 2004. No ISBN.
  • Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War: Volume Two Fighters. London: Macdonald, 1961.
  • Ireland, Bernard. Aircraft Carriers of the World: An Illustrated A-Z Guide To Over 150 Ships. London: Southwater, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84476-363-4.
  • Lumsden, Alec. "Number Three: Fairey Fulmar." Aeroplane Monthly, June 1990.
  • March, Daniel J. British Warplanes of World War II: Combat Aircraft of the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, 1939-1945. Rochester, Kent, UK: Grange Books, 2000. ISBN 1-84013-391-0.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber since 1914. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Fighter since 1912. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1992. ISBN 1-55750-082-7.
  • Mason, Tim. The Secret Years: Flight Testing at Boscombe Down 1939-1945. Manchester, UK: Hikoki, 1998. ISBN 0-9519899-9-5.
  • Ovčáčík, Michal and Karel Susa. Fairey Fulmar Mks. I, II, NF Mk. II, TT Mk. II. Prague, Czech Republic: Mark 1 Ltd., 2001. ISBN 80-902559-5-7.
  • Scholefield, R.A. Manchester Airport. Stroud, UK: Sutton Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0-7509-1954-X.
  • Taylor, John W.R. "Fairey Fulmar." Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
  • Thetford, Owen, British Naval Aircraft Since 1912. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1991. ISBN 978-1-55750-076-2.
  • Winchester, Jim. "Fairey Fulmar." Aircraft of World War II (The Aviation Factfile). Kent, UK: Grange Books plc, 2004. ISBN 1-84013-639-1.
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