Not having received the fame and glory of Spitfire, Lancaster or Mosquito, this rather old-fashioned amphibian still holds a worthy place in the history of British aviation. The name of aircraft designer Reginald Mitchell and the name of the British aircraft manufacturer Supermarine Aviation Works are famous for creating a number of very successful racing hydroplanes and the famous fighter Spitfire. Much less known are their work on flying boats and amphibians, which, however, constitute a very significant part of the creative heritage of Mitchell and the company he heads.
It all started back in 1917, shortly after the arrival of Mitchell on Supermarine. In 1918, he designed the pretty successful Baby Baby Boat. In 1922, it was equipped with a more powerful engine and renamed (apparently for promotional purposes) in Sea Lyon (Sea Lion). This car won the prestigious race for the Schneider Cup, bringing fame to its creator. In addition, Mitchell, who received in 1920 a place as a leading engineer (in British terminology – chief designer) of the company, developed a number of seaplane projects. Some of them were built and tested.
However, in the 1920s, the British aircraft industry was in a state of fainting due to a general economic downturn and a sharp decline in government orders for the construction of aircraft. So Supermarine and Mitchell were very lucky when the Royal Australian Air Force became interested in one of the company’s developments.
Attention overseas customers attracted Sigall (Seagull) – a small amphibious biplane with a wooden fuselage and an engine with a pulling propeller. Australians ordered in 1925 six copies of the machine under the designation Sigall Mk III, which were then intensively exploited in the interests of geological exploration and topography.
Later they wanted to equip warships of the Australian fleet with such machines, but the matter was complicated by the fact that the aircraft were not supplied with equipment for the ejection start and did not have sufficient safety margin for this. Significant rework was required, the result of which was the prototype of the new Sigall Mk V modification with a reinforced glider. The main difference between the aircraft and the predecessor was also the change in the position of the engine: now the propeller has become pushing.
Economic depression and the difficulties associated with it led to the fact that at the end of 1928, the company Supermarine was absorbed by a larger firm Vickers (Aviation) Limited, actually becoming its subsidiary. Now it was called Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Limited. Ten years later, both companies were eaten by the mighty concern Vickers-Armstrong Limited.
But back to our seaplanes. The prototype received the designation N-1. The first flight took place on June 21, 1933. The car was piloted by the Chief Tester (Chief Test Pilot) Vickers Matt Summers. He noted the good flight qualities of the aircraft. The only significant flaw that manifested itself in the first days of testing was the unimportant steering on the ground, due to deficiencies in the chassis design.
On June 26, the car was shown to the public and the press at the British Aviation Aircraft Designers Society (SBAC) air show in Hendon. Summers demonstrated the amphibious flight capabilities by performing a dead loop in a demonstration flight. At the end of the show, the prototype returned to the base at Woolston to continue the tests. After the program was completed, the plane was sent on July 29, 1933 to the Maritime Aviation Experimental Center (MAEE) in Felixstowe for official tests under the auspices of the Ministry of Aviation. Immediately before the flight to MAEE, the designation on board the car was changed to N-2, as it turned out that the Southampton flying boat (also supermarine development) already located in Felixstowe is number N-1.
Meanwhile, the Australian naval command, in whose interests, in fact, the machine was created, began to show impatience, demanding to accelerate the tests and demonstrate the capabilities of the aircraft on the ejection start. On January 19, 1934, the specialists of the company hurried to transfer the N-2 to the Royal Aviation Center (RAE) in Farnborough, where several test take-offs from the catapult were made. The machine was controlled by a PAE tester flight-lieutenant
Tests continued successfully. The plane was well managed and felt great on the water. The report of the company dated February 2, 1934 states: The flying boat showed better water characteristics than any other seaplane. Having a very small size, the aircraft is nevertheless extremely nautical and can be successfully operated with significant sea surface agitation. (.) Maneuverability at low speeds is very good. (.) Landing drawdown is small. There is no tendency to vibrations and rolling when the case contacts the surface of the water.
But minor improvements and alterations still needed. In particular, the hull lines were somewhat modified to give it greater aerodynamic purity. The engine nacelle was turned 3╟ to the left with respect to the central axis of the airframe to compensate for the reactive torque of the propeller.
In August 1934, the Australian government ordered 24 copies of the machine according to the 6/34 specification of its ministry of aviation. And here one involuntarily recalls the assertion that jealousy is one of the driving forces of history: after that, the Ministry of Aviation and the Admiralty in Great Britain began to stir. Sailors suddenly discovered that the strongest combat fleet in the world does not have a modern ejection (as well as near base) reconnaissance aircraft. We decided to urgently explore the prospects for the use of supermarine amphibians in this role. For these purposes, a prototype of Sigall V was used, which remained the property of the company and was not intended to be sent to Australia.
In the spring of 1934 the plane was loaded onto the deck of the carrier Koreijs, heading to Gibraltar. There, the N-2 was temporarily included in the 444th flight (combat unit) and conducted comprehensive tests in conditions close to the combat ones. The lead tester was Lieutenant Commander Caspar John. On the new amphibian, many FAA paratroopers took off. They gave the car a very high rating.
The prototype returned to the metropolis on the Renault cruiser. Trials continued until the end of May. As a result, it was considered necessary to make some improvements, in particular, to change the design of the wing floats to improve the buoyancy of the machine and re-arrange the observer’s workplace. After the end of this lengthy test epic, the Ministry of Aviation finally decided to take N-2 on its balance sheet.
Amphibians assigned the serial number K4797. On January 1, 1935, she arrived at the naval airbase in Lyons-Solent, from where, on board the battleship, Nelson went camping in the West Indies. Soon, another constructive flaw emerged, which almost led to fatal consequences, namely, the absence of a chassis position indicator that was not visible from the cockpit. In one of the flights when landing on the water, the landing gear turned out to be released and the plane turned over. On board at that moment was the squadron commander Admiral Roger Backhouse. Fortunately, the big chief, as well as the pilot, Lieutenant Jago, got off with only a slight fright and a dip in the sea water. The car also did not suffer much and after a small repair it flew again. But, as they say, you cannot escape the fate.
Soon after taking off from the water area of Gibraltar, the plane crashed into an anti-submarine boom and sank. The crew again remained safe and sound, but the career of the first Seagal Mk V ended there.
Accidents did not undermine the reputation of the car, and on April 4, 1935, the Aviation Ministry retroactively released specification 2/35 for a new amphibian and ordered 12 more copies, assigning them serial numbers from K5772 to K5783. Mindful of the incident with Admiral Backhouse, they decided to install landing gear indicators in their cabs. At the same time, the plane from a bird turned into a beast: the name Seagall Mk V was replaced by Walres Mk I (Morzh),
Before proceeding with the construction of the series, Mitchell visited the Admiralty on October 25, where he familiarized himself with the recommendations of the sailors on the new machine: – the interdeck distance on new aircraft carriers will be 19 feet (