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Blackburn Iris

The Blackburn Iris was a British three-engined biplane flying boat of the 1920s.

Although only five Irises were built, it was used as a long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft by the Royal Air Force, where it equipped a squadron for four years, being used to carry out a number of notable long-distance flights.

The final version of the Iris, the Iris Mark V was developed into the aircraft that replaced it in Squadron service, the Blackburn Perth.

In 1924, the British Air Ministry issued Specification R.14/24 for a long-range reconnaissance flying boat for the Royal Air Force.

To meet this requirement, Blackburn Aircraft proposed the R.B.1 (Reconnaissance Biplane 1), designed by Major John Douglas Rennie, who as Chief Technical Officer worked with John Cyril Porte at the Seaplane Experimental Station, Felixstowe.

The R.B.1 was a three-engined, three-bay biplane.

The equal-span wings were of mixed wood-and-metal construction, with ailerons fitted to both upper and lower wings and floats fitted under the wingtips, while the aircraft had a large biplane tail (with a span of 30 ft (9.14 m)) with three fins and rudders.

The aircraft’s hull had a wooden structure covered in plywood, with a V-bottom with two steps to give good water handling.

Three 650 hp (485 kW) Rolls-Royce Condor III water-cooled V12 engines driving four-bladed propellers were mounted in individual nacelles between the wings.

It carried a crew of five, with two pilots sitting side by side in a cockpit forward of the wings, with nose and dorsal gun positions mounting Lewis guns on Scarff rings, with provision for a further two guns which could be operated through portholes in the rear fuselage.

Bomb racks under the wings could carry up to 1,040 lb (470 kg) of bombs.

The prototype R.B.1, with the designation Iris I, and with the serial number N185, made its maiden flight from Blackburn’s factory at Brough on 19 June 1926, being delivered to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Felixstowe the next day, being fully tested during July and August.

Wooden hulls were prone to soaking up large quantities of water when kept afloat for long periods of time, so Rennie designed an all-metal hull for the Iris, constructed of duralumin before the Iris first flew. 

N185 returned to Brough in March 1927 when it was fitted with the new metal hull, together with more powerful engines and an additional gunner’s position in the tail, becoming the Iris II.

On 12 August 1927, shortly after being redelivered, the Iris II started, along with the prototype Short Singapore I, an experimental metal-hulled Supermarine Southampton, and the prototype wooden-hulled Saunders Valkyrie, a 3,000 mi (4,800 km) tour of Scandinavia and the Baltic.

The Iris performed well on the tour, particularly compared to the Valkyrie, which suffered much heavier water soakage than expected as well as engine problems, and the Air Ministry issued Specification R.31/27 for an improved version of the Iris, to act as a long-range supplement to the smaller Southampton.


R.B.1 / Iris I

Prototype, wooden hull and mixed construction wings, powered by three 650 hp (485 kW) Rolls-Royce Condor III engines, One built.

R.B.1A / Iris II

The Iris I with a new, all-metal hull and three 675 hp (503 kW) Rolls-Royce Condor IIIA inline piston engines.

R.B.1B / Iris III

Five-seat long-range maritime reconnaissance flying boat for the Royal Air Force.

Metal hull and wings.

Powered by three 675 hp (503 kW) Rolls-Royce Condor IIIB inline piston engines, Four built.

R.B.1C / Iris IV

Conversion of the Iris II with three 800 hp (600 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Leopard III radial piston engines.

R.B.1D / Iris V

This was the final variant.

Three Iris Mk IIIs were fitted with 825 hp (615 kW) Rolls-Royce Buzzard IIMS piston engines.





67 ft 4.75 in (20.5423 m)


97 ft 0 in (29.57 m)


25 ft 6 in (7.77 m)

Wing area

2,461 sq ft (228.6 m2)

Empty weight

19,301 lb (8,755 kg)

Max take-off weight

29,489 lb (13,376 kg) 

Fuel capacity

906 imp gals (1,088 US gal; 4,119 l) in 3 tanks above each engine


3 × Rolls-Royce Condor IIIB V-12 water-cooled piston engines,

675 hp (503 kW) each


4-bladed fixed-pitch propellers


Maximum speed

118 mph (190 km/h, 103 kn)


4 hours 54 minutes

Service ceiling

10,600 ft (3,200 m) 

Rate of climb

630 ft/min (3.2 m/s)

Wing loading

11.8 lb/sq ft (58 kg/m2)


0.0699 hp/lb (0.1149 kW/kg)



3 × .303 in (7.7 mm) Lewis guns,

1 mounted forward and two aft in open cockpits


Up to 2,000 lb (910 kg) of bombs

Military User’s

Royal Air Force

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