Aircraft History

Blackburn Shark

The Blackburn Shark was designed to meet British Air Ministry specifications for a torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance aircraft that was also responsible for the Fairey Swordfish. The Shark was a product of Blackburn Aircraft Limited in England, a firm that had specialized in the manufacture of naval aircraft with a reputation of exceptional sturdiness since WW I. It was the last in a series of Blackburn single-engined torpedo carrying biplanes that had been embarked on Royal Navy aircraft carriers since 1918. The wheeled undercarriage could be replaced by two floats with pneumatically operated rudders. A total of 238 Sharks were built for the Royal Navy and served with 820, 821 and 822 Squadrons on board the aircraft carriers HMS Courageous and Furious and as catapult seaplanes on the battleships HMS Repulse and Warspite. However, the Armstrong-Siddely Tiger engine proved to be exceedingly troublesome and in 1938 the Royal Navy replaced all Sharks in operational squadrons with Fairey Swordfish. However, the Sharks continued to serve the Royal Navy in a training and fleet support capacity until 1942.

In 1935, in response to increased tensions in Europe, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) considered it prudent to draw up a Minimum Peace Establishment which included two torpedo-bomber squadrons. On the recommendation of the British Air Ministry the Blackburn Shark was chosen to be the standard RCAF torpedo-bomber. The 1935-36 Defence Estimates provided for nine Sharks to be purchased from Blackburn at a cost of $65,000 each, however, the RCAF incorporated several modifications which included a new Bristol Pegasus engine and a canopy to enclose the open cockpit. A contract to build 17 additional Sharks was awarded to Boeing Canada in Vancouver in 1937.

Mountainous terrain on the Pacific coast rendered the construction of suitable airfields extremely difficult and costly. Indeed, the only well equipped airfield in British Columbia was the Vancouver civilian airport at Sea Island. Because of the rugged country and the abundance of large sheltered inlets and harbours the RCAF decided to commit the aerial defence of Canada's West Coast almost entirely to water-based aircraft, including the Blackburn Shark configured with floats. The Shark was flown by Nos. 4, 6 and 7 (Torpedo-Bomber) Squadrons and provided yeoman service on shipping identification and anti-submarine patrols from RCAF stations at Jericho Beach, Patricia Bay, Ucluelet, Alliford Bay, Seal Cove, Coal Harbour and Bella Bella. In late 1941 the Sharks were gradually phased out of the Bomber-Reconnaissance (BR) role as the twin- engined, biplane Supermarine Stranraer flying boats became available. Wheeled versions of the Blackburn Shark also served at Patricia Bay with No. 111 (Coastal Artillery Cooperation) Squadron and with No.122 (Composite) Squadron, which was primarily used for towing targets.

In August 1939, Eastern Air Command in Halifax requested a land based aircraft to tow targets for both air and anti-aircraft gunners. Shark 526, which was already modified as a target tug, was dispatched to Halifax (civilian airport on Chebucto Road), arriving 7 September 1939. No. 526 was taken on strength of No. 10 (BR) Squadron, which was still flying antiquated Wapiti bombers. Except for a period of approximately four months when loaned to No. 118 (Coast Artillery Cooperation) Squadron in St. John NB, Shark 526 saw a great deal of use as a target tug since pre-war opportunities for live practice for Canadian air and anti-aircraft gunners had been negligible. Shark 526 continued to fly with No. 10 (BR) after the squadron converted to Douglas Digbys and moved to the new land base at RCAF Station Dartmouth in June 1940. No. 526 served at Dartmouth until 22 August 1940 when it was run into a crash tender after which it was shipped to 3 Repair Depot at Jericho Beach for repair then returned to the Western Air Command.

The RCAF began scrapping the Shark fleet during the first half of 1944 with the last Shark written off 13 July. Five Sharks, however, met a more useful and totally unexpected end. HMS Puncher had just been built by the Seattle-Tacoma S.B. Corporation as a Royal Navy (RN) escort aircraft carrier under the American - British "lend-lease" agreement. The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had agreed to provide the ship's company for Puncher with the understanding that the RN would contribute the aircraft and air personnel. After commissioning in Seattle on 5 February 1944, HMS Puncher immediately steamed to Esquimalt BC where she was fitted out with British equipment at Burrard's shipyard. Lieutenant Commander Godfrey, RNVR, Puncher's Commander (Flying) was extremely anxious to have an aircraft to exercise his aircraft handling parties, particularly as there seemed no immediate possibility of aircraft being embarked. His representations were rewarded by Shark 549 being transferred to the RN on free issue. No. 3 Repair Depot just had time to convert Shark 549 from floats to wheels before it was ferried by lighter across Georgia Strait to Puncher on 31 May. While en route to Norfolk VA via the Panama Canal, Captain R.E.S. Bidwell, RCN, Puncher's Captain reported, "This is proving invaluable for training the flight deck party in actually handling planes and it will do everything but fly. We have repaired it and made the engine run".

Four other escort carriers, Reaper, Thane, Patroller and Ranee were fitting out at Esquimalt and Tacoma at the same time and following Puncher's success, Sharks 502, 522, 546 and 550 were issued to these ships after being fitted with wheeled undercarriage. It is highly unlikely that these Sharks ever flew as they were not airworthy, but undoubtedly proved most useful for training. No indication of their eventual fate has been discovered, but since they were free issue and hence no "book value", it is probable that they were unceremoniously given the "deep six" as soon as the carriers' own aircraft or aircraft to ferry were embarked. ( HMS Puncher embarked 40 USAAF aircraft, which included P-61 Black Widow night fighters, in Norfolk VA to be ferried to Casablanca on her first operational mission).

Type: Blackburn Shark III Data (Reconnaissance Version)

Span : 46 ft 0 in (upper) 36 ft 0in (lower) 15 ft 0 in (folded)

Length : 35 ft 3 in (landplane) 38 ft 5 in (seaplane)

Height : 12 ft 1 in (landplane) 14 ft 3 in (seaplane)

Weight Empty : 3,939 lbs (landplane) 4,499 lbs (seaplane)

Maximum Weight : 6,940 lbs (landplane) 7,500 lbs (seaplane)

Cruising Speed : 157 mph (landplane) 148 mph (seaplane)

Service Ceiling : 19,000 ft (landplane) 15,800 ft (seaplane

Range : 829 miles (landplane) 731 miles (seaplane)