Fairey Flycatcher

Aircraft Profile

Key Facts

Main Role:
Single-seat carrier-based fighter
Tractor biplane
United Kingdom
Current Status:
Out of Service, Out of Production

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Replica Flycatcher ‘S1287’ G-BEYB seen
in May 1992. (photo, Anthony Noble)


To trace the lineage of the Fairey Flycatcher, one has to go back to the Sopwith Sea Scout (later named Tabloid) which won the Schneider Trophy race for England in 1914. The Tabloid was developed into the Sopwith Baby, a rotary-engined biplane of the 1914-1918 war. The Fairey Aviation Co., built a slightly modified version of this aircraft, adding their new patent camber-changing trailing edge flaps, redesigned floats and a square cut fin and rudder. This became known as the Fairey Hamble Baby, of which 48 examples were built. With lessons learned from the Hamble Baby, the Fairey Pintail was designed. This was a fighter-reconnaissance seaplane/amphibian in which the wheeled undercarriage was mounted on a swinging arm and housed within the under surface of the wooden floats. This was the first post-war aircraft to built by Fairey.

Specification 6/22 was issued in 1922 for a deck landing single seat fighter to replace the ageing Nieuport Nightjar. The specification called for an aircraft which could operate as a landplane, seaplane or amphibian. Both Fairey and Parnall developed an aircraft to the specification, named the Flycatcher and the Plover. Small production batches of both were ordered, but in-service experience showed the Flycatcher to be superior, and the Fairey design won all subsequent production contracts.

The Flycatcher had an all-metal tubular steel structure for the front and central portion of the fuselage. The rear part of the fuselage being wood with fabric covering – as were the wings and tail. The rather ungainly and highly sprung undercarriage was interchangeable with floats. The wings had a prominent forward stagger, were single bay and braced by ‘N’ struts. Both the upper and lower planes incorporated the Patent Camber Gear which originated from the Hamble Baby. The first floatplanes and amphibians had wooden floats, but these were found to be unsuitable and Fairey-built metal floats were fitted to later aircraft. The undercarriage originated from the Fairey IIID, where the radius rods ran from the lower ends of the oleo legs to the inverted apex of a “V” strut arrangement. Hydraulic brakes were also fitted to later versions.

Armament consisted of 2 Vickers guns, mounted one on each side of the fuselage, firing through the propeller arc. Four 20 lb bombs could be carried under the lower wings.

The prototype (N163) made it’s first flight from Hamble on 28th November 1922 piloted by Vincent Nicholl. This was powered by a Jaguar II engine, which was replaced by a Jaguar IV in 1923, and then exhibited at the RAF display of that year. The second prototype (N164) was tested as a floatplane by Nicholl at Hamble on 5th May 1923, while the third prototype, an amphibian, (N165) was flown in mid 1923. Two development and production batches, of 9 aircraft total, were built between 1922 and 1923. A total of 192 production Flycatchers were produced between 1922 and 1930, the last being S1418.

The Flycatcher was stable in all axes, had a slow landing speed with excellent shock absorbing qualities and a good view for the pilot. Take off to unstick distance was 363 ft with no flaps, and 190 ft with 8 degrees of flap. Minimum speed with flaps down was only 47 mph. Initial deck landing trials were conducted on HMS Argus in February 1923 and the behaviour of the aircraft was deemed to be exemplary.

The Flycatcher had the responsiveness of the Sopwith Camel and the docility of the Sopwith Pup – a rare combination in one aircraft. The Flycatcher was the Fleet Air Arm’s only fighter until the advent of the Hawker Nimrod in 1932, and it served on all Royal Navy aircraft carriers. Originally these aircraft carriers had fore and aft arrester wires, running along the deck, but these were dispensed with in 1926 and Flycatchers routinely landed using only their brakes to stop the landing run. A Flycatcher was the first aircraft to be tested with transverse arrester wires, using an arrestor hook, in 1930. The Flycatcher was the last aircraft to be able to operate slip flights from the forward hangar below the main deck, being the last Royal Navy carrier aircraft to be able to take-off without the aid of a catapult. Flycatchers were capable of being flown from platforms on the turrets of warships, and were used in this way until about 1932.

Flycatchers were operated by all the Fleet Air Arm fighter Flights: 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407 and 408; thus serving with the Home Fleet, the Mediterranean Fleet and on the China Station.

Another view of ‘S1287’ as it appeared in 1992.
(photo, Paul Chandler)


Requirement Specification: Spec. 6/22
Manufacturers Designation:

Development History:
First Prototype Jaguar II engine. Carrier-deck landing landplane. Arrestor claws on landing gear spreader bar. Later with Bristol Jupiter engine. (N163).
Second Prototype Floatplane version with twin floats. Jaguar II engine. (N164).
Third Prototype Amphibian version with floats incorporating recessed wheels. Bristol Jupiter engine. (N165).
Flycatcher Mk I Production version, with Jaguar III or Jaguar IV engine. Later fitted with hydraulic wheel brakes.
Flycatcher Mk II One-off prototype to N.21/26 for Flycatcher replacement. All-new airframe based on Firefly I. (N216).
Late production example S1286.
(photo, Roy Tassel Collection)
N9678 seaplane taking-off.
(photo, Roy Tassel Collection)


Key Dates:
early 1922    Specification 6/22 issued by Air Ministry
28 Nov 1922    First flight of first prototype
February 1923    Deck landing trials on HMS Argus
5 May 1923    First flight of second prototype on floats
June 1923    First flight of third prototype (amphibian)
late 1923    First production aircraft delivered to No.402 Flight
19 February 1924    First flight of first production amphibian (N9678)
April 1924    Fleet Air Arm officially named
1925    Catapult trails for seaplane version (N9913)
26 November 1929    First night landing on a carrier by a fleet fighter
20 June 1930    Last Flycatcher Mk.I delivered
June 1934    Last two Flycatchers withdrawn from service with No.406 Flight
June 1935    Flycatcher officially declared obsolete


Military Operators

Argentina – Navy (1 Flycatcher Mk.I)
UK – Fleet Air Arm (9 Ship/Shore-based Flights)

Government Agencies


Civilian Operators


N9928 served with No.403 Flight on HMS Hermes
(photo, Charles E. Brown)


Fairey Flycatcher Mk.I (landplane)
Role: Single-seat fighter
Crew: One
Dimensions: Length 23 ft 0 in (7.01 m); Height 12 ft 0 in (3.66 m); Wing Span 29 ft 0 in (8.84 m); Wing Area 288.0 sq ft (26.76 sq m)
Engine(s): One air-cooled, 14 cylinder radial, Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar III or IV of 400 hp (298 kW).
Weights: Empty Equipped 2038 lb (924 kg); Loaded 3,028 lb (1,372 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 116 Knots (133.5 mph, 215 kph) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m); Initial climb 1,090 ft/min (358 m/min); Service ceiling 19,000 ft (5,791 m); Range 311 miles (500 km) at 110 mph (182 kph) at 10,000 ft (3,048 m)
Armament: Two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine-guns in fuselage sides below the cockpit. Four 20 lb (9 kg) bombs could be carried under the lower wings.
Fairey Flycatcher Mk.I (amphibian)
As above except:
Dimensions: Length 29 ft 0 in (8.84 m); Height 13 ft 4 in (4.06 m)
Weights: Empty Equipped 2,571 lb (1,167 kg); Loaded 3,531 lb (1,602 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 113 Knots (126 mph, 209 kph) at 5,000 ft (1,524 m); Service ceiling 14,000 ft (4,267 m)
Fairey Flycatcher Mk.II (landplane)
Role: Single-seat fighter
Crew: One
Dimensions: Length 24 ft 9 in (7.55 m); Height 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m); Wing Span 35 ft 0 in (10.67 m)
Engine(s): One air-cooled, 9 cylinder radial, Bristol Mercury IIA of 480 hp (358 kW).
Weights: Loaded 3,266 lb (1,481 kg)
Performance: Maximum level speed 153 mph (247 kph)
Armament: Two .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.II machine-guns in the fuselage top decking. Four 20 lb (9 kg) bombs could be carried under the lower wings.


Design Centre

Head of Design Team: F. Duncanson
Design Office: Fairey Aviation Company Ltd, Hayes, Middlesex.


Fairey Aviation Co Ltd
(Hayes, Middlesex, UK.)
Version Quantity Assembly Location Time Period
Prototypes 3 Hamble mid 1922-mid 1923
Flycatcher Mk.I 192 Hayes late 1922-late 1930
Flycatcher Mk.II 1 Hayes 1926
Total: 196    

Total Produced: 195 Flycatcher Mk.I + 1 Flycatcher Mk.II

Production List

For the British aircraft see the Fleet Air Arm Aircraft book below.

This view shows the Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN
fitted to ‘S1287’ in place of the original Jaguar IV
engine. (photo, Malcolm Clarke)

More Information


‘British Naval Aircraft Since 1912’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Owen Thetford
Published by Putnam, 1982 ISBN: 0 370 30021 1
* Includes a chapter on the Flycatcher.

‘Fairey Aircraft Since 1915’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by H A Taylor
Published by Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1988 ISBN: 0851778259
* Detailed company history with a chapter on the Flycatcher.

‘The Fairey Flycatcher: Profile No.56’
by Owen Thetford
Published by Profile Publications Ltd, 1965 ISBN: n/a
* Concise well illustrated history of the Flycatcher.

‘British Flight Testing: Martlesham Heath 1920-1939’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Tim Mason
Published by Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1993 ISBN: 0 85177 857 7
* Includes a summary of the aircraft flight testing for Spec. 6/22.

‘Fleet Air Arm Aircraft, Units and Ships 1920 to 1939’ [Order this book from Amazon UK]
by Ray Sturtivant and Dick Cronin
Published by Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1998 ISBN: 0851302718
* Includes individual Flycatcher histories and the Flights that used it.


Aeromodeller March 1946
Air International May 1978
Planes No.8 Summer 1983
Air Enthusiast No.37
Aeroplane Monthly June 1998


Fairey Flycatcher
(Short profile)

wikipedia: Fairey Flycatcher
(Very short profile)

Fairey Flycatcher
(Summary of key data)

Fairey Flycatcher
(Kit review with good summary history)


Flight Simulator Models:
To be added.

Scale Models:
To be added.

Scale Drawings:
See Planes No.8 listed above.

Roy Tassell has a nice 1/36 scale drawing of the Flycatcher Mk.I


To be added.

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