Aircraft of the Month
The Scimitar was developed from a number of designs by Supermarine in the early post-war years to meet the Admiralty Specification N9/47 requirement for a contemporary naval fighter. A first prototype, the Type 508, made its maiden flight in on 31st August 1951. A second prototype, re-designated the Type 529, followed as did a third, the Type 525, which had swept rather than the straight wings of its predecessors. Further development to satisfy the Navy’s changed specification from dedicated fighter to low-level strike/attack, resulted in the Type 544, and an order for 100 machines was placed in 1954. The prototype Type 544 took to the air in January 1956 with the first production model, the Scimitar, following on 11 January 1957. In August 1957, Scimitars were assigned to a small naval unit at RNAS Ford in West Sussex for evaluation and thereafter entered service with No 803 Naval Air Squadron.
Powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon 202 turbojets of 11,250 lb static thrust each and with an all-up weight of 34,200 lb, the Scimitar was, on its introduction, the most powerful and heaviest aircraft ever to serve in the Fleet Air Arm. Its armament comprised 4 x 30 mm Aden cannons – it was capable of carrying 4 x 1000 lb bombs and a number of other options were trialled including AGM-34 Bullpup missiles, 3in rocket projectiles and even the carriage of a Red Beard nuclear bomb.
All but two of the Royal Navy’s carriers at the time were relatively small and, given the size and weight of the Scimitar, safety margins were tight. Whilst pilots spoke well of the aircraft’s low-level handling characteristics, accidents mounted and operations were often hindered by poor serviceability (at one point, the unenviable ratio of 1,000 maintenance hours per flying hour was experienced). It was therefore not altogether surprising that the 5 existing Scimitar squadrons were relegated to second line duties soon after the Buccaneer entered service in 1962. They were retained until 1996 as ‘buddy’ tankers to top up the underpowered Buccaneer S1 launching with minimum fuel. Thereafter, a few aircraft were employed by the Navy’s Fleet Requirements Unit until 1970.
The original order for 100 Scimitars was subsequently reduced to 76 of which no fewer than 39 were lost to accidents – an attrition of 51% over the aircraft’s service life. There are 3 known survivors; one of which is exhibited at the FAA Museum, Yeovilton, with another soon to be on display at Solent Sky, Southampton.