Friday, April 20, 2012

Invaders and Hornets

Sometimes, I get photos that are a complete mystery. That would be the case with this 8x10 glossy that I picked up a while ago at a flea market...and the seller had no idea of where it came from. There are no markings on the back. But a mixed gathering of Royal Navy Sea Hornets and a U.S. Navy JD-1 Intruder is certainly a curiosity, and hints of an interesting story to tell.

The Sea Hornet on the far side of the Intruder, aircraft 534, also appears in this 1954 photo from Wikimedia Commons which notes that it is an F Mk. 20 operating with No 728 Fleet Requirements Unit, based in Hal Far, Malta, hence the "HF" tail code. Could Hal Far be the scene shown here?

Originally designated the DH.103, the Sea Hornet was a derivative of the RAF's Hornet fighter, which had started out as an in-house attempt at de Havilland to develop a long-range fighter for the Pacific theater. Based on the Mosquito design, the Hornet was primarily a wooden airplane, using a mix of balsa wood and spruce plywood, with some metal structure mixed in (the tail was metal, as were the wings' lower skins). The naval version didn't make it into production in time for the war, only entering service in 1947. The standard F.Mk 20 version saw 77 (some sources say 79) airframes built. The Sea Hornet's career lasted ten years, with the last one being retired in February, 1957.

As for the Intruder, after the war, about 150 A-26s were transferred to the Navy, which redesignated them as JD-1, for use as general transports, target tugs and, in the case of a few of them, drone directors.

This photo also shows an interesting contrast...many A-26s have survived the years, while there are no known complete Sea Hornet airframes, partly owing to the temporal nature of wood. However, there is an effort to build a new aircraft, using the original drawings and what few pieces that have survived. The project's website is here.

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