The First Jet To Reach 1000 mph and Why It Never Went Into Production

In 1956 a small, British, delta winged jet smashed the airspeed record and became the first aeroplane to fly faster than 1000 mph in level flight. Sadly it never made it into production, but it’s radical design influenced the Concorde and many other delta wing planes. It was called the Fairey Delta 2.

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Photo by Simon Fitall on Unsplash

Fairey Aviation Company

Fairey Aviation was a British aircraft manufacturer, founded in 1915. They initially built aeroplanes for other manufacturers, but soon started to design their own. During WW1 and through the 1920s biplanes were the norm, but in the late 1930s and throughout WW2 monoplanes were added to their range. Fairey’s list of aircraft included seaplanes, fighters, bombers and reconnaissance types and after WW2 missiles were also added. One of their most well known biplanes was the Swordfish, a torpedo bomber.

Fairey Delta 1

Towards the end of the Second World War, Fairey began looking at delta wing concepts, and started to submit ideas to the Ministry of Supply. Orders were initially given for scale models so testing could be carried out, but in 1947 specification E.10/47 was issued for a full scale aircraft. The Fairey Delta 1, as it became known, first flew in 1951. It was a small, delta monoplane fitted with a single jet engine. The FD1 underwent various flight tests and received numerous modifications, before a landing accident meant it was grounded for two years. The test programme was terminated by the Air Ministry in 1953, but Fairey carried out more trials until 1956 when it was damaged beyond repair.

Fairey Delta 2

By early 1949 Fairey had been asked to look into single engined transonic aircraft, and a new project was started. The Air Ministry issued a new specification ER.103, for what was to become the Fairey Delta 2 (FD2), and ordered two prototypes. From the beginning Fairey designed the FD2 to exceed the required speed of Mach 1, and be suitable as a fighter aircraft. The first completed aeroplane flew in October 1954, but during a flight in November it suffered engine failure and was damaged in the crash landing. The test programme did not resume until August 1955. After some high speed test runs which produced supersonic booms, further testing was refused over the UK, and the FD2 was moved to France and then Norway. In February 1956 the second aircraft flew for the first time. This was soon handed over to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), which used it for their high speed research programme. It was tested for handling, stability and aerodynamic characteristics. Later in the early 1960s, one FD2 was rebuilt as BAC 221, which was used as a test bed for the Concorde.

The Airspeed Record

The development team and the test pilot, Peter Twiss, soon realised that the FD2 was potentially faster than any British aeroplane of the time. The airspeed record in 1955 was 822 mph, which had been set by a North American F-100C Super Sabre. Twiss thought the FD2 could possibly reach 1000 mph, and proposed they go for the record. However, rather than giving support, the Ministry of Supply were not interested, believing guided missiles were the future. Also, Rolls-Royce, the engine supplier, suggested the jet engine may disintegrate at such speeds. Fairey decided to continue and after getting permission to proceed, the record attempt was planned for the Spring of 1956. The measurement equipment included cameras and radar, which were calibrated using Gloster Meteors and DH Venoms. The first few attempts were not counted due to various technicalities, but on the 10th March 1956 the Fairey Delta 2 broke the airspeed record and reached 1,132 mph. This was a massive jump of more than 300 mph and also made the FD2 the first plane to fly faster than 1000 mph in level flight. The record stood until December 1957.

Just a Mirage

Fairey were delighted with the results and soon produced proposals for a number of Delta 2 derivatives. One of these was similar to the FD2, but with a larger fuselage and extra fuel tanks for greater range. Another option was a combat fighter with larger wings which had a projected speed of over Mach 2.26. Of particular interest was Operational Requirement F.155, which was for a two seat fighter that could be equipped with radar and missiles, and reach 60,000 feet in six minutes from take off. On the 1st of April 1957 Fairey were told by the Ministry of Supply that their proposals were the favourite to meet the requirements. However, on the 4th of April the Minister of Defence terminated nearly all fighter aircraft development, and so F.155 was no longer required.

One last chance for the Fairey Delta 2 was at the end of the 1950s when West Germany were looking for a new fighter. Fairey, in collaboration with Dassault and Rolls-Royce proposed a delta wing aircraft that could reach Mach 2, but unfortunately the FD2 derivative was not chosen, and the German Air Force decided on the Lockheed F-104G Starfighter. This was the end for the Delta 2, which had beaten the airspeed record but never went into production.

In May 1958 a small delta wing jet took off in France for it’s first flight, and in October of the same year it reached a speed of Mach 2.2; it was called the Mirage.

I am a Cornish design engineer who likes writing, reading, photography, technology, nature, history, cars, aeroplanes, motorbikes and all things Cornish.

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