Home Base: Santa Rosa, CA
Operation: Western USA
Model: Gnat T-1
Wing Span: 22' 1"
Length: 35' 0"
Height: 8' 1"
Max Speed: 525 knots, M 1.3
Gross Weight: 9,000 lbs
Power Plant: Bristol-Siddeley Orpheus 701-01 turbojet
Thrust: 4,620 lbs
Fuel Capacity: 460 gallons with external tanks
Steve Rosenberg's Folland Gnat T-1
Steve Rosenberg is the owner and operator of this Folland Gnat T-1, which is former Red Arrow demo aircraft XR-991 and is available for airshows, flybys and film.
The Folland Gnat was a small, swept-wing British subsonic jet trainer and light fighter aircraft developed for the Royal Air Force, and flown extensively by the Indian Air Force. It was designed by W.E.W. Petter, and first flew in 1955. Its design was such that it could be built without specialised tools by countries that were not highly industrialised.[verification needed] Although never used as a fighter by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the "Gnat T.1" trainer variant was widely used. The Gnat possessed outstanding performance features including a 10,000 foot-per-minute climb rate, and a roll rate in excess of 360 degrees per second. It became well known as the mount for the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team.
The Gnat was the creation of W.E.W. "Teddy" Petter, a British aircraft designer formerly of Westland Aircraft and English Electric. Petter believed that a small, simple fighter would offer the advantages of low purchase and operational costs. New lightweight turbojet engines that were being developed enabled the concept to take shape. One of the hallmarks of the Gnat's design was its compact size. However, to achieve such a size, its systems were closely packed, making maintenance more difficult. Some of its systems were not noted for their reliability and the aircraft suffered from high operating costs. There were also issues that its cockpit was cramped and obstructed the instructor's forward visibility. Furthermore, the limited weapons load and reduced fuel capacity – both designed to reduce overall kerb weight – meant that it could not operate for protracted periods. Despite the shortcomings, the Gnat and its predecessor the Folland Midge were praised by the RAF evaluation and the test pilots. The lower cost of the Gnat, its compact dimensions, as well as "good press" for the aircraft in air shows, were among the factors that prompted a spurt in its export sales.
The prototype first flew in 1955, when it demonstrated performance impressive enough to warrant the manufacture of six test aircraft for the Ministry of Supply. These aircraft were used in a variety of configurations, including the fitting of one with two 30mm cannon to test the aircraft's effectiveness in the ground attack role. However, the British government subsequently lost interest in the Gnat as a possible fighter, deciding instead to employ it as an advanced two-place trainer.
For that role, Folland made significant changes to the aircraft, installing a second seat, a larger engine, a different wing and tail, and revised control-surface installation. The plane entered production with the RAF as the Fo.144 Gnat Trainer (later renamed the Gnat T.Mk1) but not until Folland was taken over by Hawker Siddeley at the insistence of the British government, which preferred to deal with a select few large, industrial groupings, rather than small, private-venture companies like Folland.
In the meantime, however, Folland sold 13 Gnats (the last two of which were reconnaissance versions) to the Finnish government, which kept them in service until 1974. (An interesting side note: The day after the first two Gnats were delivered to Finland, Finnish Air Force Major Lauri Pekuri exceeded the speed of sound in a Gnat, the first time this speed had been achieved by the Finns.) Two Gnats were also sold to Yugoslavia, but the bulk of sales went to India, which purchased 40 airframes in various stages of completion and, under license, built 175 of the aircraft at the Hindustani Aircraft facilities at Bangalore as the Gnat Mk.II "Ajeet."
The Gnat was used by the British Yellowjacks / Red Arrows aerobatic team from 1964 through 1979, when it was replaced by the British Aerospace Hawk T.Mk.1. It was with the Indian Air Force, however, that the Gnat came into its own as a fighter aircraft. During the 1965 war with Pakistan, the Gnat is credited with downing seven Pakistani F-86 (Sabre) aircraft.
In their training role in the UK, Gnats were effective training aircraft for several generations of student jet pilots, and were a common sight in the skies above RAF Valley, UK before their retirement in November 1978. In the USA, a handful of Gnats enjoy continued life as privately-owned sport jets.
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