Gnat

The Folland Gnat developed in the late 1950s, at Chilbolton and Hamble, Hampshire was later to see  test flying and production moved to Dunsfold  in 1961.  This followed the takeover of Folland by Hawker.  The Gnat was the Red Arrows’ choice of aircraft until it was later to be superseded by the BAe Hawk – also from Dunsfold.

Gnat possibly at Dunsfold in the T2 Hangar, possibly around 1965
Gnat prototype XM691 (Mike Oliver collection)

The specially installed Orpheus engine and part of the airframe from this particular Gnat XM691 was used in Donald Campbell’s Bluebird K7 World water speed record runs, but later the engine was damaged and replaced in 1967 by a back up engine for the record attempt on Coniston Water that proved fatal .

Photo: Mike Oliver collection
Gnat XM692 at Dunsfold Photo: Mike Oliver collection
Photo: Mike Oliver collection
XM691 and XN326 Photo: Mike Oliver collection
Photo: Mike Oliver collection
XM691 and XN326 Photo: Mike Oliver collection

More on the Gnat.

XM691 Folland Gnat (Mike Oliver collection)

This photograph comes with a story, evocative of a great era in British aviation history, sent in by Andy Lawson:

“In my time as a photographer at Dunsfold, Mike Oliver was ‘ Operations Controller ‘ planning aircraft movements, he also flew me around in our Dove and Seminole ‘ hack ‘ aircraft for photo – sorties.

Before that, he was a Hurricane pilot in WWII involved in the relief of Malta, then a racing driver, then Senior Test Pilot for Follands on the Gnat trainer & Midge fighters – they came to Dunsfold – along with a lot of very skilled people – when Hawker Siddeley took over Follands.

In the attached photo, Mike is flying the prototype Gnat XM691 – of course the Gnat was used by the Red Arrows for years until they moved to the Hawk, another Dunsfold product.

This was taken by Russell Adams using his home made 5X4″ glass plate negative camera, Mike reports he was happy to change plates inverted at 4G !

R.A. was in a Hunter T7 flown by legendary Dunsfold Test Pilot Hugh Merewether, looping alongside the Gnat – which makes me think it was probably the same T7 mentioned at F.A.S.T.

Hugh Merewether gained a lot of medals – and rightly so – for two incredibly brave and skilled crash landings in P.1127’s ( nowadays if something goes wrong the pilot simply ejects, but in those days, and test flying, brave guys brought the aircraft back if at all possible to retain the evidence and work out what had gone wrong ) – Hugh had his engine explode at high altitude over West Sussex; he spotted a gap in the cloud over Tangmere ( a place he knew from fighter days ) and went for it; there’s a famous voice tape of him calmly saying ” I’m going in ( the gap ) now “.

He managed a very high speed ‘ dead stick ‘ landing – this is especially tricky as one is working from a hydraulic reservoir accumulator – you only get so many tweaks on the controls before everything stops responding !

Mike Oliver went from Dunsfold to collect him – no such things as shock or trauma in those days – and found discs, pools of molten metal, in a trail left along the runway by Hugh’s aircraft and the burning engine…”

Gnats at Dunsfold 2014: Photo https://www.flickr.com/photos/wildlife_encounters/

2 Replies to “Gnat”

    1. I came to Dunsfold on leaving the R.A.F. in mid 1962 to join the flight development team of the Folland Gnat Trainer.
      I was involved in calibrating flight instruments and recorders used in the flight testing of the aircraft.
      Our calibration room was at 1st.floor level of the experimental hanger and looked out on to the airfield, so we always had a good view of what was happening .
      I remember seeing the 1st.production model of the P1127–The Kestrel being flown by the Pilots of the Tripartite Squadron. Interesting because the pilots were from the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Air Force and the German Air Force who less than 20 years before had been fighting each other, but were now allies.
      By the time that the Gnats flight tests were finished, the Folland crew were amalgamated with the Hawker team involved in the flight testing of the Harrier.
      I consider it a privilege to have worked with people like Bill Bedford and Dick Whittington (the Gnat Chief Test Pilot.) even if only indirectly.

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