Exploring the flight envelope-The Fairey Delta 2

By Wilie Bodenstein

The Fairey Delta 2 or FD2 was not only the first British aircraft to exceed 1000 mph, flying faster than the sun moves across the sky, it also broke the World Air Speed Record on 10 March 1956 raising it to 1,132 mph (1,811 km/h) or Mach 1.73. The Delta 2 held the absolute World Air Speed Record for over a year. It continued to be used for test flights and was allocated to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in 1958.

Photo © Mick Lobb/commons.wikimedia.org

The Delta 2 was a supersonic research aircraft produced by the Fairey Aviation Company in response to a specification from the Ministry of Supply for a specialised aircraft for conducting investigations into flight and control at transonic and supersonic speeds. Key features of the type include the adoption of a delta wing and a droop-nose.

On 6 October 1954, WG774, the first FD2 to be completed, conducted its maiden flight flown by Fairey test pilot Peter Twiss. On 15 February 1956, WG777, the second Delta 2, performed its maiden flight from RAF Boscombe Down. Piloted by Twiss, the aircraft proceeded to reach transonic speeds during this first flight.

Photo © RuthAS/commons.wikimedia.org

During August 1955, the Delta 2 transitioned between subsonic and supersonic flight without any use of reheat. During early flight testing, Twiss came to realise that the Delta 2 would be capable of speeds above 1,000 miles per hour and proposed that it be flown on with the aim of breaking the current air speed record, which had then been held since 1955 by a North American F-100 Super Sabre. However, Fairey found the Ministry of Supply unsupportive with the organisation adopted the prevailing belief being that manned military aircraft would soon be replaced by guided missiles. The firm had great difficulty in obtaining permission for the attempt.

Photo © commons.wikimedia.org

In order to reduce the risk of another competitor beating them to it, preparations had to be carried out in a short space of time and in great secrecy. On 10 March 1956, the Fairey Delta 2 broke the World Air Speed Record. Never before had the record ever been raised by such a vast margin. The achievement had also made the Fairey Delta 2 the first aircraft to exceed 1,000 mph (1,600 km/h) in level flight.

The FD2 was also used as the basis for Fairey's submissions to the Ministry for advanced all weather interceptor designs, culminating in the proposed Fairey Delta 3 to meet the F.155 specification. The FD3 never got past the drawing-board stage.

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