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Fairey Swordfish HS491

Fairey Swordfish

Technical Specifications

The restoration of HS491 is currently in the planning stage

  • On Thursday 16 September 2004 a forty foot long container arrived at the Malta Aviation Museum in Ta' Qali. Inside was the skeletal fuselage and wing parts of Swordfish HS491, which had been purchased by the Foundation from Bob Spence of Canada. Bob is the proud owner of a functional Swordfish Reg No HS554.

  • The Fairey Swordfish, one of the rarest World War II airplanes is awaiting restoration as another long-term project to be undertaken the museum.

  • The restoration of the Swordfish would take about 10 years and cost close to half a million Euro. The museum is extremely grateful to its volunteers who carry out painstaking restoration which commercially costs about 30 Euro an hour.

  • The funding for its acquisition came mainly from a hefty donation by David Dalton, a British flying enthusiast. In addition, the proceeds from the sale of a 1982 Cadillac donated by the late Charles Puglisevich, former honorary consul general of Malta in Newfoundland, went towards the purchase.

  • Only 12 of this type survive worldwide and the Aviation Museum will give its plane pride of place with other aircraft in the Battle of Malta Memorial Hangar.

  • Out of the 12 surviving Swordfish in various stages of restoration, one is in flying condition in Canada, two are in the UK with the Fleet Air Arm and there is another also at the Fleet Air Arm which is being restored to flying condition.

  • The Swordfish the museum will restore had not operated in Malta. The third model ever produced in Britain, the K5934, was delivered to the anti-aircraft cooperation unit in Malta, along with another good number of Swordfish planes.

  • The aircraft is in the very early stages of restoration and the components can be seen in the Air Battle of Malta Memorial Hangar.

Brief History

While it isn't unusual for a lumbering, outmoded anachronism to continue in service (such as fifty year old B-52's soldiering on in U.S. service), few of these had as successful a career as the Fairey Swordfish.

The design dated back to the early thirties when the British Air Ministry issued specification S.9/30 for a "fleet spotter reconnaissance aircraft". The Fairey Aviation Company submitted a privately financed design. Later design improvements led to the designation "Torpedo spotter reconnaissance".

It was a large, slow biplane with a low wing loading, ideal for actions off carrier decks. The structure was largely metal, covered with fabric. The first machine was powered by a Bristol Pegasus IIM air-cooled, nine cylinder radial, developing 635 hp. These were severely underpowered. The next, much improved, prototype used a Pegasus IIIM3 with 775 hp. First flown in 1934, this aircraft exceeded the governments’ demands, so an order was placed for the first 86 production examples in 1935. The first deliveries were made in the following year, further orders continuing well after the beginning of the war.

The versatility of the Swordfish was immortalised in its moniker, the Stringbag. The planes became famous for the attack on Taranto, where the battleship Littorio was sunk and two others were heavily damaged.

In May 1941, Swordfish planes from HMS Ark Royal crippled the Bismarck - a most impressive success for such an old-fashioned aircraft.

The three seat airplane could easily lift off a carrier deck with a standard 18 inch 1,610 lb. torpedo slung between the wheels under the fuselage. It's ungainly looks gave it the nickname "Stringbag", after a type of shopping bag used to carry all manner of things by old English ladies.

In spite of it's seeming lack of sophistication, the Swordfish was to prove excellent in its intended role. Although highly vulnerable to attack by fighter planes, it's low speed and stable stance made it easy to line up for a torpedo attack, coming in from abeam of a hostile vessel, while staying below the level the enemy ships could fire their guns. It's slow flying speed made landings much safer on carriers.....into the wind, the closing speed could be as little as 30 knots.

Because they were helpless against fighters, these airplanes were usually only operated far out sea, where land based opposition could not reach. Swordfish based at Malta were operated at night and were all but invulnerable to the opposition. Starting in 1940, squadrons of Swordfish stationed here had sunk more than a million and a half tons of enemy shipping....a record never to be equalled. Maintenance was a breeze on such a simple design.


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