Gloster Gladiator Mk I and II


Although designed with an innovative wing layout that bestowed maximum lift for take-off and climb, while simultaneously reducing drag for high-speed flight, the Grebe was not particularly revolutionary when it first emerged from the firm's Sunningend, Cheltenham, factory in August 1923. With an entirely traditional wood and doped fabric structure, it was a single-bay4 biplane powered by a 400hp Armstrong-Siddeley Jaguar fourteen cylinder, two-row radial engine5, carried two externally mounted synchronised Vickers .303in machine guns with 600 rounds apiece, had a ceiling of 23,000ft attainable in 20 minutes, and could reach 152mph in level flight. Therefore, although possessed of lively performance and frisky handling, in its concept and construction it differed little from the later generation of fighters that had flown in The Great War of 1914-18. Nonetheless, for its 34-year-old designer, Henry Philip Folland, the type had the distinction of being his first genuinely significant fighter design project since joining the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company two years previously. For the RAF it was its first all-new post-war fighter, rapidly displacing the Sopwith Snipe in squadron service, and was warmly received by the pilots who flew it.
Small companies that go on to achieve great things often owe their vitality to the vision of one individual, and the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company was one such. Its very existence was due to one Harry Burroughes, who had founded it on 5th June 1917. Two years earlier the Aircraft Manufacturing Company (Airco) had been looking for a subcontractor to help with the production of components for its DH2 fighter and had selected Cheltenham based H.H. Martyn & Co, which possessed a well-equipped woodworking factory and a reputation for excellence in the field of architectural engineering. Burroughes formed Gloucestershire to take over this sub-contract work, renting Martyn's production facilities for the purpose. By 1918 the company was also producing 45 new Bristol Fighters per week for the British and Colonial Aeroplane Company. When, at war's end, H.H. Martyn struggled to find work back in its own field, Gloucestershire capitalised on its position and, despite the almost overnight cancellation of production orders, bravely elected to remain an aviation company.

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As for Folland, he was the son of a stonemason. Born in Cambridge, England, on 22nd January 1889, his engineering and design expertise had its origins in his days as an apprentice with the Lanchester Motor Company of Birmingham, starting in 1905. Once fully indentured he had then moved briefly to the Swift Motor Company before becoming a draughtsman for the German automotive concern Daimler in the latter part of 1908, during which time his nascent interest in powered flying machines had begun to grow – possibly because of the first flight in the UK of a heavier-than-air aircraft in October of that year.6 But his signature work up to this point was the brilliantly successful SE5 scout aircraft, which he had designed in 1916 while working for the government-owned Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough, and which, in the hands of aces such as Albert Ball and James McCudden, had reigned supreme as a dogfighter until the end of the war. The following year, 1917, he had accepted the post of chief designer with the Nieuport & General Aircraft company, immediately embarking on the design of the Nighthawk fighter (an aerodynamically good design bedevilled by engine reliability issues). When that company folded in 1921, and Folland had received his appointment to the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company, he had brought with him his design assistant, Howard Preston, a specialist in the then relatively new science of airframe stress.
Now, as 1924 dawned, the duo began to evolve the Grebe into something more potent. The unreliable Armstrong-Siddeley Jaguar engine, which not only had a poor power-to-weight ratio but also displayed an alarming propensity to burst into flames in the air, was replaced by a lighter and more powerful normally aspirated nine-cylinder Bristol Jupiter Mk VI powerplant developing 455hp, and aerodynamic improvements included more streamlined fuselage contours, together with revised ailerons and tail surfaces (the Grebe's fin and rudder had been a virtual copy of those of the SE5), while the twin Vickers Mk 1 .303in machine-gun armament was now buried in troughs in the lower forward fuselage sides. In addition, Preston strengthened the aircraft's internal structure with new bulkheads and discarded the plywood engine firewall in favour of one formed from mild steel. Overall, these modifications, which reduced form drag for only a modest increase in weight, slightly improved the aircraft's handling and significantly enhanced the aircraft's climb performance, particularly at lower altitudes. The new fighter, now christened the Gamecock in line with Gloucestershire's policy of allocating avian names to its fighter designs, first flew in February 1925 and 108 examples were eventually built. These would serve with no fewer than six squadrons of the RAF (including 43 Squadron, which adopted the nickname "The Fighting Cocks" in homage to its new fighters) and various flying training units, as well as squadrons of the Finnish Air Force.

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