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General Aircraft G.A.L.38 Fleet Shadower

The General Aircraft G.A.L.38 Fleet Shadower was a specialised British patrol aircraft designed before the outbreak of the Second World War.

It was meant to track enemy naval task forces for extended periods of time and transmit their positions via radio.

Despite its unique purpose, the Fleet Shadower proved to be unwieldy and ultimately unsuccessful.

Similarly, the Airspeed Fleet Shadower, which shared the same specifications and design features, also failed to advance beyond the prototype phase.

The G.A.L.38 Fleet Shadower and the Airspeed A.S.39 Fleet Shadower were developed in response to Specification S.23/37, originating from the Royal Navy’s “Operational Requirement OR.52” for an aircraft capable of shadowing enemy fleets during nighttime operations.

Initially, three other companies, namely Percival, Short Brothers, and Fairey Aviation, were also involved in the project.

After evaluating the designs, General Aircraft and Airspeed were selected to construct two prototypes each, with General Aircraft’s contract being finalised on 15 November 1938.

The successful design was required to achieve a speed of 38 knots (70 km/h) at an altitude of 1,500 feet (460 m) for a minimum duration of six hours.

Additionally, the design needed to be capable of operating from an aircraft carrier flight deck, necessitating a folding wing configuration for convenient deck storage.

Furthermore, the aircraft had to provide excellent visibility for the observer and maintain a quiet operation during cruising speed.

The G.A.L.38 and A.S.39 designs shared similarities, featuring high-wing configurations, fixed landing gear, and four small Pobjoy Niagara V engines distributed across the wings to facilitate lift at low speeds.

Both designs included an observer’s position in a glazed compartment located in the nose, as well as a radio operator’s station situated in the fuselage behind the pilot’s cockpit.

The aircraft was outfitted with different components aimed at boosting lift, such as slotted flaps and slotted ailerons, along with split flaps on the low wing sponsons.

The wings had the capability to fold back, pivoting in close proximity to the fuselage, with the assistance of hydraulic power.

As a result of development issues encountered at Pobjoy with the Niagara V, a decision was made to utilize the less powerful Niagara III civil version instead.

The inaugural flight of the first G.A.L.38 Fleet Shadower, also known as the “Night Shadower,” took place on 13 May 1940, equipped with the Niagara III engines.

A remarkable employment of the “propwash” created by propellers directed over the full-span flaps resulted in an impressive minimum speed of 39 mph (63 km/h), enabling the Fleet Shadower to effortlessly hover above an adversary fleet.

During the testing phase, the aircraft encountered some challenges with aerodynamic stability, although not as severe as the issues faced by the Airspeed design, which was ultimately terminated in February 1941.

Substantial modifications were made to the aircraft, and it took to the skies once again in June 1941, this time equipped with the Niagara V engines.

The three tail fins were replaced by a single large fin.

Test flights persisted until September 1941, with the incomplete second G.A.L.38 serving as a source of spare parts. However, in October 1941, the company received instructions to dismantle and discard the second aircraft.

Subsequently, in March 1942, directives were issued to scrap the prototype as well.

The emergence of efficient Air to Surface (ASV) radar during wartime rendered the idea of a fleet patrol aircraft obsolete, leading to its replacement by long-range patrol aircraft like the Consolidated Liberator I.

The Royal Navy decided to terminate the project in February 1941.





36 ft 1 in (11.00 m)


55 ft 10 in (17.02 m)


17 ft 11 in (5.46 m) folded


12 ft 8 in (3.86 m)

Wing area

472 sq ft (43.9 m2)

Empty weight

6,153 lb (2,791 kg)

Gross weight

8,591 lb (3,897 kg)

Max take-off weight

9,458 lb (4,290 kg)


4 × Pobjoy Niagara V,

7-cylinder air-cooled geared radial piston engine,

130 hp (97 kW) each


2-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propellers


Maximum speed

115 mph (185 km/h, 100 kn) at sea level

Cruise speed

94 mph (151 km/h, 82 kn)

Landing speed

73 mph (63 kn; 117 km/h)

Minimum speed

39 mph (34 kn; 63 km/h)


990 mi (1,590 km, 860 nmi)


11 hours

Service ceiling

6,000 ft (1,800 m)

Rate of climb

390 ft/min (2.0 m/s)

Wing loading

20 lb/sq ft (98 kg/m2)


British Aircraft at War, 1939-1945-Gordon Swanborough.

Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War II-Leonard Bridgeman.

National Museum of the Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm Museum.

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