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 The Gnat was the Red Arrows’ choice of aircraft until it was later to be superseded by the BAe Hawk – also from Dunsfold.
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 .
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…”