The Skua was designed to O.27/34, a 1934 specification for a Naval dive bomber, which led to the receipt of five design tenders, from Hawker, Boulton Paul, Vickers for their Type 280, Avro for the Type 666 and Blackburn for the D.B.1. The last of these was the only one of the five accepted for prototype purchase, with K5178 and K1579 being ordered in April 1935. These two prototypes, powered by 840hp Mercury engines, looked sleek against the Navy's fabric covered biplanes.
George Edward Perry's design incorporated flush riveting for it's Alclad construction, a manually folded wing design, and modified Zap flaps which gave a reduced take off run, a stepper landing approach and were designed to act as dive brakes. The first prototype was flown on 9th February 1937 by 'Dasher' Blake, before being passed to the A & AEE for preliminary assessment sometime during the following months.[N 1] Receiving the name Skua in August 1937, the aircraft was then used for handling, performance and armament trials, which revealed few problems. These were quickly rectified, and the aircraft was described as being easy and pleasant to fly. The second prototype was fitted with upturned wingtips to improve the spinning characteristics, and 190 were eventually built to specification O.25/36 as the Skua Mk II, with the first production aircraft flying on 28 August 1938.[N 2]
Upon entering service with 800 and 803 Squadrons aboard HMS Ark Royal in 1938, the Skua became the Fleet Air Arm's first monoplane, and their first aircraft with variable pitch propeller and retractable undercarriage. By the declaration of war, 801 Squadron aboard HMS Furious, and 806 Squadron, were also equipped with the Skua. During the first year of war, the Skuas worked hard and made many gallant attacks on German capital ships. On 26 September 1939, Skuas of 803 Squadron from HMS Ark Royal shot down a Dornier Do 18, the first Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed by Great Britain.
On 10 April 1940, a force of 16 Skuas from 800 and 803 squadrons took off from Haston in the Orkneys and flew 330 miles across the North Sea to Bergan, in order to carry out a dawn raid against the damaged German light cruiser Konigsberg, sinking her with three SAP bombs. Shortly afterwards, Skuas from 800 Sqn shot down five Heinkel He-111s. However on 6 June 1940, an attack by 800 and 803 Sqns against the battleship Scharnhorst resulted in eight Skuas being shot down. It was becoming clear that the basic aircraft was underpowered, and by 1941 the Skua was becoming a target tug and trainer.
The Skua was 35ft 7in (10.85m) long and 12ft 6in (3.81m) high, with a wingspan of 46ft 2in (14.07m). The single 890hp (664Kw) Perseus XII radial engine gave the Skua a maximum speed of 225mph (362 km/h) at 6,500ft (1,980m), cruising speed of 165 mph (266 km/h0 at 15,000ft (4,570m) and an initial climb rate of 1,580ft (482m) per minute. Service ceiling was 20,200ft (6,160m) and range was 760 miles (1,223km0. Empty weight was 5,490lb (2,490kg0, and Maximum take off weight was 8,228lb (3732kg). Armament consisted of four0.202in (7.7mm)Browning M1919 machine guns in the wings, a single 0.303 (7.7mm) trainable Lewis Gun in the rear cockpit plus one 500lb (227kg) bomb under the fuselage and/or eight 30lb (14kg) practice bombs under the wings.
- ↑ The exact date is unknown, but the transfer took place before the aircraft attended the Hendon Air Display on 26th June.
- ↑ The change in designation was necessitated by the use of a sleeve valve Pegasus XII radial in place of a poppet valve Mercury IX, resulting in the nose being increased in length by 30 in. The change in engine was due to the fact that all Mercury engines were required for the Bristol Blenheim.
- ↑ RAF Museum
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Mason, Francis K. 1994. Page 308
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 Gunston, Bill. 1988. Page 20
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 World Aircraft Information Files File 890 Sheet 33 (A-Z of Aircraft:Blackburn B-9 to Blackburn B-25 Roc)
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 Gunston, Bill. 1988. Page 21
- ↑ Mason, Francis K. 1994. Page 309
- Gunston, Bill. The Illustrated Directory of Fighting Aircraft of World War II. Salamander Books Ltd. 1988. ISBN 0 86101 390 5
- Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber since 1914. Putnam. 1994. ISBN 0 85177 861 5
- World Aircraft Information Files Aviation Partwork. Midsummer Books Ltd.