Supermarine Attacker: From Props to Jets

Supermarine Attacker FB.2

A Rocky Path to the Sky

The Supermarine Attackers story starts in the mid-1940s when the British Admiralty issued a requirement for a jet-powered naval fighter. Supermarine, a British aircraft manufacturer, proposed the Type 392, which later evolved into the Attacker. The design was heavily based on the Supermarine Spiteful, a propeller-driven fighter, and incorporated the Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine.

The first prototype flew on July 27, 1946, but the Attacker faced numerous delays and modifications before finally entering service with the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in 1951. It was too late for the Attacker to participate in World War II, and the rapid advancement of aircraft technology soon overshadowed its capabilities.

Royal Navy Supermarine Attacker F1
The first production Royal Navy Supermarine Attacker F1 in July 1950

The Warrior of the Seas

The Attacker’s operational history was brief yet noteworthy. It served with three FAA squadrons: 800, 803, and 890. The aircraft saw action during the Suez Crisis in 1956, where it performed air patrols and ground-attack missions. However, the Attacker’s tenure was short-lived, as it was replaced by more advanced aircraft, such as the Hawker Sea Hawk and de Havilland Sea Venom, in the late 1950s.

Supermarine Attacker
Flight deck view of the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (R05) in 1952/53. Next to the island Supermarine Attacker FB.2 fighters of No. 800 and No. 803 squadrons are visible, which were the first operational jet fighters of the Royal Navy

Strengths and Flaws

The Supermarine Attacker had several strengths, most notably its speed and performance. With a top speed of 590 mph and a service ceiling of 45,000 ft, it was one of the fastest and highest-flying aircraft of its time. The Attacker’s four 20mm Hispano Mk. V cannons packed a powerful punch, making it a formidable adversary in air-to-air combat.

However, the Attacker was plagued by several significant flaws. Its tailwheel undercarriage, a holdover from its Spiteful lineage, made it difficult to land on aircraft carriers. The short wingspan resulted in limited fuel capacity and endurance, restricting its operational range. Furthermore, the Attacker lacked power-assisted controls and radar, which were becoming standard features in contemporary fighters.

The End of the Line

The Supermarine Attacker was eventually cancelled due to its shortcomings and the rapid evolution of jet-powered fighters. The Royal Navy retired the Attacker in 1957, and it was soon forgotten by many. However, the Attacker did leave a legacy, as it was one of the first jet-powered aircraft to operate from British aircraft carriers. It also laid the foundation for Supermarine’s next project, the famous Scimitar, a more advanced naval fighter with swept wings and improved performance.

Supermarine Attacker F1
Supermarine Attacker F1 ‘WA473 / 102-J’ Sole surviving example Photo: Alan Wilson

Despite its flaws and limited operational history, the Supermarine Attacker remains an important chapter in the development of naval aviation. The lessons learned from its design and service experience contributed to the improvement of future generations of carrier-based fighters. As such, the Attacker’s story should not be forgotten but rather remembered as a stepping stone in the pursuit of technological advancements in aviation.

The second Supermarine Type 398 Attacker (serial TS413)
The second Supermarine Type 398 Attacker (serial TS413)

The Supermarine Attacker, a transitional jet fighter, bridged the gap between propeller-driven aircraft of World War II and the more advanced jet fighters that followed. Despite its brief and relatively unremarkable operational history, it paved the way for the development of more advanced and successful naval aircraft. Today, the Attacker stands as a reminder of the challenges and triumphs engineers and pilots faced during the dawn of the jet age.