The Fairey Delta 2, or FD2, represents a significant chapter in the history of British aeronautics.
A prominent research aircraft, the FD2 broke numerous records during its operational lifetime, pushing the boundaries of aviation technology.
Developed by Fairey Aviation Company in the early 1950s, it not only served as an experimental platform for high-speed flight but also paved the way for the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) 221, a critical link in the development of the iconic Concorde.
The most notable aspect of the FD2’s design was its utilisation of the delta wing.
The term ‘delta’ refers to the Greek letter that this wing configuration closely resembles, forming a broad, triangular shape. The FD2’s delta wings were extremely thin, tapering to a sharp point at the aircraft’s rear.
This was a significant deviation from the conventional swept-wing designs of the time.
The delta wing configuration provided several key benefits.
The large wing area allowed for better internal fuel storage, resulting in increased range. More significantly, the delta wing design provided stability at high speeds and high altitudes, maintaining its lifting characteristics at a wide range of speeds.
This was especially beneficial for supersonic flight, which the FD2 was designed to achieve.
An equally striking feature of the FD2 was its droop-nose. This was designed to improve the pilot’s visibility during landing.
At supersonic speeds, the aircraft was flown with the nose in a ‘neutral’ position. But for takeoff and landing, the nose could be lowered to provide the pilot with a better field of view.
The droop-nose concept was initially met with scepticism, primarily due to concerns about complexity and reliability.
However, the design proved to be highly effective, not only in the FD2 but also in subsequent aircraft such as the Concorde.
The FD2’s fuselage was long, and slender, and featured a distinctive needle nose.
This design minimized drag, enabling the FD2 to achieve its record-breaking speeds.
The aircraft’s structure was predominantly made of aluminium alloy, a choice driven by the need for both lightness and strength.
Powering the FD2 was a single Rolls-Royce Avon RA.14R afterburning turbojet engine.
This powerful engine, along with the aircraft’s streamlined design, was integral to the FD2’s ability to sustain supersonic speeds.
The FD2 had a tricycle undercarriage, with a single wheel on each unit.
This configuration improved stability during takeoff and landing. The cockpit was pressurized and air-conditioned, with a Martin-Baker ejection seat for the pilot’s safety.
The canopy was designed to slide backwards to allow the pilot to enter and exit the aircraft.
The journey began in response to a 1947 Air Ministry Specification for a high-speed research aircraft.
The Fairey Aviation Company, renowned for its naval aircraft, embarked on the project with a revolutionary concept: the delta wing configuration.
This was an innovative and daring approach in an era when straight and swept-wing designs dominated the aviation landscape.
After several years of meticulous design and refinement, the FD2 prototype, dubbed “WG774”, made its maiden flight on October 6, 1954, piloted by Fairey test pilot, Lt Cdr Peter Twiss. From the onset, the FD2 exhibited impressive performance characteristics and confirmed the promise of the delta wing design.
Like all pioneering ventures, the FD2’s development faced significant challenges. The FD2 encountered instability at high speeds, necessitating extensive testing and subsequent modifications.
Engine performance was also a recurring issue, requiring continuous troubleshooting and refinement to maximize power output and reliability.
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The biggest setback came on 4 March 1956, when a second prototype, “WG777”, suffered a catastrophic structural failure during a demonstration flight, leading to the loss of the aircraft.
This event necessitated a rigorous examination of the aircraft’s design and triggered significant modifications to enhance its structural integrity.
Following the WG777 incident, Fairey engineers strengthened the FD2’s wing structure and made several other necessary modifications to increase the aircraft’s overall performance and safety.
These changes proved to be successful when, on 10 March 1956, Peter Twiss flew the modified FD2 to a new world airspeed record, achieving a top speed of 1,132 mph (1,821 km/h) or Mach 1.72.
The FD2 continued to serve as a testbed for high-speed flight research well into the late 1950s.
One of the surviving FD2s, WG774, was modified into the BAC 221 in 1960 to test the “ogee” delta wing design, a crucial element in the development of the iconic Concorde.
Air Speed Record
March 10, 1956, marked a significant milestone.
It was on this day that the FD2 piloted by Peter Twiss etched its name into the record books, forever transforming the landscape of aviation speed records.
In the early dawn of March 10, 1956, Peter Twiss, a seasoned test pilot, climbed into the cockpit of the FD2, setting off on a flight that would mark a new chapter in the quest for speed.
With its sleek design, the FD2 was designed to push the boundaries of speed, and on this fateful day, it did just that.
Flying over a preset course along the Sussex coast in the United Kingdom, Twiss pushed the FD2 to its limits.
After a high-speed run at an altitude of approximately 38,000 feet, the aircraft reached a stunning top speed of 1,132 mph (1,821 km/h) or Mach 1.72.
This incredible speed shattered the existing airspeed record by over 300 mph, making the FD2 the first aircraft to exceed 1,000 mph in level flight.
The record-breaking flight was a pivotal moment in aviation history.
It underscored the potential of the delta-wing configuration for high-speed flight and opened up new possibilities for supersonic aviation.
This record was not just a testament to the FD2’s design, but also to the expertise and bravery of test pilots like Peter Twiss.
Their willingness to push these experimental aircraft to their limits provided invaluable data for engineers and significantly contributed to the advancement of aviation technology.
The achievement also instilled a great sense of national pride.
Coming at a time when the world was gripped in the race for supersonic dominance, the FD2’s record-breaking flight put Britain at the forefront of aviation innovation.
The BAC 221 was a modification of the Fairey Delta 2 (FD2), a British supersonic research aircraft.
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It was a crucial milestone in the development of the Concorde, the world’s first supersonic commercial airliner.
Let’s delve into the details of the BAC 221 and understand its unique contributions to the world of aviation.
The transformation of the FD2 into the BAC 221 was primarily driven by the quest to understand and perfect the delta-wing configuration for supersonic flight.
The FD2’s speed record and performance had demonstrated the potential of delta wings, but there was still much to learn about their behaviour, particularly at the lower speeds necessary for takeoff and landing.
With this goal in mind, the Bristol Aeroplane Company (BAC) took one of the surviving FD2 aircraft, “WG774”, and modified it into the BAC 221.
The aircraft took to the skies for the first time in its new form on May 1, 1964.
The most significant change in the BAC 221 was the alteration of the wing design. The FD2’s thin, triangular delta wings were replaced with an ‘ogee’ or ‘ogival’ delta wing shape.
This new wing shape, which featured a curvature on the leading edge, was considered for the design of the Concorde.
The ‘ogee’ delta wing was designed to provide better handling characteristics at both low and high speeds, thus addressing a key challenge in the development of the Concorde.
This new design was also more efficient at cruising speeds, which was crucial for a commercial airliner.
Other changes in the BAC 221 included a new forward fuselage that was more than 10 feet longer than that of the FD2 and a larger vertical stabilizer to offset the changes in aerodynamics caused by the new fuselage.
The BAC 221 flew numerous test flights to provide data on the ‘ogee’ delta wing’s performance. The valuable data collected from these flights significantly influenced the design of the Concorde, particularly its wing design, and played a crucial role in the development of the world’s first supersonic passenger jet.
The Fairey Delta 2 shines as a symbol of innovation and engineering prowess. Its groundbreaking design, coupled with its impressive performance, marked a significant leap in the quest for speed and aerodynamic efficiency.
The FD2’s airspeed record set a new benchmark in aviation history, while its design elements found their way into later aircraft designs, most notably the Concorde.
Its direct descendant, the BAC 221, furthered its legacy by playing a pivotal role in the development of supersonic commercial aviation and today, the FD2 remains a reminder of the daring spirit and technical prowess that defined the mid-20th-century era of aviation.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 51 ft 7.5 in (15.74 m)
- Wingspan: 26 ft 10 in (8.18 m)
- Height: 11 ft 0 in (3.35 m)
- Empty weight: 11,000 lb (4,990 kg)
- Gross weight: 13,884 lb (6,298 kg)
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Avon RA.14R with only one reheat setting, later replaced with an RA.28 as used for speed record, 10,000 lbf (44 kN) thrust
- Maximum speed: 1,300 mph (2,092 km/h, 1,100 kn)
- Range: 830 mi (1,336 km, 720 nmi)