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Fireflash / Sky Blue

Britain's first 'Air to Air' guided missile began in 1947, when Fairey Aviation started development of a missile primarily designed to counter the threat posed by enemy bomber aircraft, although it was also hoped that it could be used against enemy fighter aircraft. This missile program was given the code name 'Blue Sky' so as to not give any indication of the purpose of the project. Only later when the project moved to the trials squadron stage was the missile called 'Fireflash'.

The Fireflash missile consisted of a central unmotored cruciform winged dart which is boosted to maximum speed by two solid-fuel rocket motors attached externally to its forward end. The overall length of the missile and boost combination was 111.75in; missile wingspan, 28.11 in; control surface span, 17.97in; boost centers, 12.26in; boost motor diameters, 6in.

During the boost phase the unguided missile was spun by offset Venturis to minimize dispersion caused by asymmetric thrust. When the motors are "all burnt" an explosive separation device threw off the spent motor cases laterally, leaving the dart to coast towards the target. The four "rudders," indexed at 45 deg to the wings, unlocked at separation and the missile is roll-stabilized by aileronwise rudder deflections to a datum established at launching.

At the time of development, Air-launched Anti Aircraft Missile technology was in its infancy, and none of the 'homing' mechanisms used on modern missile systems had been designed, so, using radar 'lock-on' technology developed during the war, the missile was designed to be a 'beam riding' missile, whereby the host fighter would lock a very narrow radar beam onto the aircraft to be attacked and after launch, the missile would centre itself onto the beam and fly along the beam until it reached the target.

The radar suite on the host aircraft was an X band system using a helical Scan dish, which had a small amount of 'nod'. The scanner pointed down the center line of the aircraft. The dish didn't go from side to side like the usual scanner but rotated (Helical Scan) with a small amount of nod. This, it was fairly evident produced a transmit pattern which had a center-line or beam and a circulatory pattern outside of the main beam. The radar had a capability of up to 10 miles in range but was only intended for use at approximately 5 miles although would be fired at about 2 miles during tests but a bit further (or shorter) in anger as the pilot chose.

The center of the transmission was strong enough to be considered a beam. If there was a target it would clock up as a charge on a capacitor. Then on the next sweep of the scanner it would check to see if the same target was there. If not it was wiped clean. If still there it would enhance the signal. the receiver (which was fitted at the back of the missile - made by Fairey Aviation) would see this beam and could arrange to get itself in the centre of the beam. If the signal was weak it would aim to move into the middle. There were so many different electrical connections in the system that it was evident that it was easily possible to get the wrong set of signals controlling the outer sweeps of the scan. In such circumstances the missile would get the wrong indications and be thrown off the beam instead of moving into the center.

By 1952, the project had developed to the stage that all the design of missile was mostly done and the missile was first flown from a test platform at the Larkhill test area on Salisbury plain.

In 1955, No 6 Joint Services Trials Unit was established at Valley as a lodger unit to undertake trials with the Fairey Fireflash air-to-air guided missile. As an air-launched beam-riding missile, the Fireflash possessed only a limited advantage over fixed gunnery and was destined to never achieve operational status. Intensive trials of the missile were however conducted with the redesignated No 1 Guided Weapons Development Squadron in 1957 with 10 modified Swift F7s acting as their carriers.

By 1957, the air-to-air guided missile, Fireflash, has started full-scale Service trials on the Swift 7. The purpose of these trials is both to work out the tactics for using air-to-air missiles and also to get practical experience in the handling of such weapons. In this way, the entry of the next air-to-air missile, Firestreak, for which substantial orders have been placed, would be made easier.

In 1957-59, the Swift made a name for itself in successful trials of the Fireflash (Sky Blue) air to air missile aboard specially configured, radar equipped Swift F7s at RAF Valley. As a result, some consideration was given to its possible use as a high level bomber destroyer but with the Lightning and Javelin on the horizon the idea was soon abandoned.

The aircraft industry and the taxpayer were forced to recognize long ago that the development of a guided missile was no quick and easy business; and Fairey's weapon division will be remembered for their success in producing die first missile to go into R.A.F. service. Fireflash was developed under a Ministry of Supply contract, and the credit accorded to Fairey's design and production teams must be extended to include Gloster, A.W.A., Hawker, Air Service Training and Vickers Supermarine who, as aircraft contractors, co-operated willingly to expedite the installation of the weapon system in aircraft for trials and operational use. The Ministry's technical establishments R.A.E. at Farnborough and at Westcott, R.R.E. at Malvern and A.R.D.E. at Fort Halstead and at its firing ranges also gave valuable help and technical support in the painstaking research and development needed to create a production weapon system.

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Page last modified: 14-05-2013 19:27:11 ZULU