The Blackburn Shark was a carrier-borne torpedo bomber.
It was originally known as the Blackburn T.S.R., standing for torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance, in reference to its intended roles.
The Shark was the last of Blackburn’s biplane torpedo bombers.
The prototype Shark performed its maiden flight on 24 August 1933, the first production aircraft was introduced to service during the following year.
It was operated by the Fleet Air Arm, Royal Canadian Air Force, Portuguese Navy, and the British Air Observers’ School.
By 1937, the Shark was already approaching obsolescent and replacement by the more capable Fairey Swordfish began during the following year.
Despite this, numerous aircraft continued to be operated during the Second World War, largely being confined to secondary roles away from the front lines, such as training and target tug duties.
Despite this, Sharks were repeatedly deployed in frontline roles during events such as the Dunkirk Evacuation and the Japanese invasion of British Malaya.
During 1945, the final Sharks were withdrawn from service.
The Blackburn T.9 Shark has its origins within the early 1930s as a private venture by the company.
Originally known as the Blackburn T.S.R., standing for torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance, it was designed in conformance with Air Ministry Specification S.15/33, which sought a combined torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm (FAA).
Blackburn was not the only company that opted to pursue this requirement; Fairey Aviation designed the TSR 1, a forerunner to the highly successful Fairey Swordfish that was active during the Second World War.
The T.S.R. represented a substantial departure from Blackburn’s previous naval aircraft designs, as the design team had opted to eliminate almost all use of streamlined bracing wires in favour of slanted struts.
Despite this change, the wings were still foldable to ease stowage; a hydraulic wing-locking mechanism was incorporated to speed up folding/unfolding actions.
Further measures to improve deck handling included the adoption of a tracking tail and pneumatic wheel brakes.
The design process had been aided by operational experienced gained from the Blackburn Baffin.
Features, such as the camber-changing flaps and fuselage construction, were derived from earlier prototypes.
Initially, the design of the T.S.R featured open cockpits, which were heated by a exhaust pipe muff.
It had a crew of three, with the pilot seated in the first cockpit while the observer/wireless operator and gunner sharing the second cockpit, although longer range missions would sometimes be flown with only a crew of two.
A prone position for bombing missions was also provisioned for, which included a watertight hatch and a hinged course-setting bomb sight.
The bomb fusing controls were placed within reach of both the pilot and observer positions; ammunition was stowed in ten ammunition pans within the gunner’s cockpit.
Armament consisted of one fixed, forward-firing .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine gun, plus a .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers K machine gun or Lewis Gun mounted on a Scarff ring in the rear cockpit, with provision for a 1,500 lb (680 kg) torpedo or equivalent bombload carried externally.
The fuselage was strengthened to withstand catapult launches and divided into watertight compartments.
Structural elements included stainless steel tubular spars and light alloy ribs; similar materials were used for the entire tail section save for the Alclad-plated fin.
The majority of the flying surfaces had fabric coverings; the wing tips were detachable as to allow their easy replacement if damaged.
The main fuel tanks were not integral to the structure; instead, two detachable tanks composed of duralumin were carried in separate watertight compartments forward of the pilot, housing up to 182.5 gallons of fuel.
The aircraft had a range of 623 miles normally, but this could be extended to 1,130 miles via the use of a cylindrical tank, attached to the torpedo crutches, that was capable of holding up to 150 gallons of additional fuel.
On 24 August 1933, Blackburn’s B-6 prototype, powered by with a 700 hp (520 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IV engine, made its maiden flight at Brough.
Following the completion of manufacturer trials, during which the engine was enclosed in a long-chord cowling, this prototype was delivered to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at RAF Martlesham Heath for an official performance evaluation on 26 November 1933.
During the following year, after the conclusion of testing at Martlesham, it was transferred to Gosport ahead of deck landing trials onboard the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous.
These having been deemed successful as well, the prototype was taken up by the Directorate of Technical Development.
During August 1934, Blackburn received an initial production order for 16 aircraft to be produced for the FAA.
One month later, limited production had already commenced.
During October 1934, the name Shark I was officially sanctioned; around this time, a series of modifications were implemented, the most visible of which was a lengthened engine cowling that enclosed the exhaust collector ring.
Amongst the modifications needed was for the aircraft to be convertible to a seaplane configuration, thus the prototype was overhauled and outfitted with twin floats equipped with shock absorbers.
In this configuration, early test flights were conducted at Brough during April 1935; a successful series of sea trials took place at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment Felixstowe.
Blackburn was issued contract No. 334315/34 in conjunction with the new Specification 13/35. I, along with the additional contract No. 510994/35 to Specification 19/36, which was issued in January 1937.
Even more contracts soon followed, leading to the rate of production exceeding that of numerous preceding Blackburn aircraft.
During a three-year production run, a total of 238 Sharks were delivered to the FAA, comprising 16 Mk I (Tiger IV), 126 Mk II (760 hp/567 kW Tiger VI) and 95 Mk III (760 hp/570 kW Tiger VI).
The Shark III differed from prior models in several respects, the most apparent of which was the addition of a glazed cockpit canopy and three-bladed Rotol wooden propellers.
Late on in production, assembly from components produced elsewhere took place at Blackburn’s new factory in Dumbarton, Scotland, after which the completed airframes were transported by road to the Clyde for flight testing.
Shark Mk I
Two or three seat torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft for the Royal Navy.
Powered by a 700 hp (500 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Tiger IV radial piston engine.
Shark Mk II
Two- or three-seat torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft for the Royal Navy and RCAF.
Powered by a 760 hp (570 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Tiger VI radial piston engine.
Shark Mk IIA
Two- or three-seat torpedo bomber, reconnaissance floatplanes for the Portuguese Navy.
Powered by a 760 hp (570 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Tiger VIC radial piston engine. Six built.
Shark Mk III
Two- or three-seat torpedo bomber, reconnaissance aircraft for the Royal Navy.
Fitted with a glazed canopy and dual controls for crew training.
Powered by an 800 hp (600 kW) Bristol Pegasus III radial piston engine.