FAIREY FIREFLY PP462

     The Fairey Firefly on display at the Shearwater Aviation Museum is one of 236 Fighter-Reconnaissance mk.I (FR 1) versions built for the British Fleet Air Arm. On 1 July 1945, in a bi-lateral undertaking to establish a Canadian Naval Air Arm, the Royal Navy (RN) reformed No. 825 Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Rattray in Scotland and agreed to man the squadron with Canadians. To train the Canadians, 825 Squadron was initially equipped with 12 Fairey Barracuda II's. In November 1945, the Barracudas were replaced with 12 Firefly FR 1's that were permantly given to Canada as part of Britain's war claim settlement. Firefly PP462 was one of the 12 replacement aircraft assigned to 825 Squadron. The squadron was officially transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) on 24 January 1946 in consonance with the commissioning of Canada's first aircraft carrier, H.M.C.S. Warrior. In March, 825 Squadron embarked in Warrior on her maiden voyage to Halifax where PP462 was among the first cadre of Canadian Fireflies to disembark and land on Canadian soil for the first time at RCAF Station Dartmouth on 31 March 1946.

     PP462 was among the first of 29 Firefly FR 1's progressively taken on strength by the RCN between June 1946 and April 1947. As with all the other aircraft received from the RN, PP462 was painted in the Royal Navy "Extra Dark Sea Grey and Dark Slate Grey" camouflage. The Firefly FR 1 was the RCN's first strike-reconnaissance fighter and formed the backbone of Canadian naval aviation during its formative years. In addition to its large chin radiator the other feature, which distinguished the FR 1 from later versions of the Firefly was a canister, housing the radar antenna, suspended under the radiator. An Observer (navigator) in the rear cockpit operated the radar to detect ships and submarines.

     In 1946, the RCN and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) agreed that all naval aircraft would be registered on the RCAF inventory. A RCAF letter (MCHQ 31-5-1, 15 May 1946) stated, "This airframe was received from the Admiralty (H.M.C.S. Warrior) and brought on charge on initial entry" provided the authority to register PP462 on RCAF inventory. The first line entry in PP462's log on 1 June 1946 shows it as being, "Stored in Reserve Eastern Air Command (EAC) Halifax" (It was the custom for all new aircraft received by the RCAF to be placed in storage before being assigned to a squadron). Although it is certain that 825 Squadron used PP462 for training from its arrival in March, it wasn't until 7 October 1946 that EAC paper work officially authorized PP462 to be transferred from storage to 825 Squadron. After an intensive training program both ashore and on Warrior, PP462 embarked on Warrior on 7 November 1946 as one of 825 Squadron's aircraft for the winter cruise to the West Coast (Nov 46-Mar 47). On 19 Mary 1947, PP462 was transferred to 826 Squadron. Ten days later Lt. S.E. Soward scraped PP462's wingtip while landing at Quebec in a cross wind. In April 1947, PP462 was sent to Canadian Car and Foundry where it was painted in the new RCN colour scheme consisting of dark grey upper surfaces and light grey lower surfaces. On 12 July 1947, PP462 was included in the en mass transfer of all naval aircraft from the RCAF to the RCN's inventory. PP462 was assigned to "Storage and Repair" from October 1948 until November 1949 when it was transferred back to 826 Squadron.

     PP462 had been embarked on H.M.C.S. Magnificent with 826 Squadron only three days when, on 19 November 1949, LCdr. T.J. Roberts caught No. 3 wire on landing but couldn't prevent PP462 from veering to starboard and striking the ship's crane aft of the island. PP462 returned to operation with 826 Squadron in February 1950. PP462 was placed in "Storage and Repair" from April 1950 until March 1954 when it was one of nine RCN Firefly FR 1's sold to the government of Ethiopia.

     The former RCN Fireflies were flown by the Ethiopian air force for an unknown period and were eventually disposed of in the desert when they were surplus to their needs. PP462 languished in the desert until 1993 when its return journey to Shearwater began. In 1993, the Canadian Air Attaché to Egypt, while on a visit to Ethiopia, noticed five Fairey Firefly aircraft languishing in the desert. The Attaché observed that the aircraft bore RCN data plates. Further investigation revealed that these aircraft were indeed ex-RCN Fireflies that had been sold to the Ethiopian air force. Through diplomatic agreement the Ethiopian government donated to Canada the two best preserved Fireflies, which were airlifted by Canadian Forces C-130 Hercules to Shearwater and Ottawa. Firefly PP462 was given to the Shearwater Aviation Museum since Shearwater was the Firefly's main base of operations and the Shearwater Aviation Museum has earned an excellent reputation for preserving Canada's maritime military aviation heritage. The second Firefly was given to the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

     Since Firefly PP462's arrival at Shearwater a small, dedicated group of volunteers has slowly been restoring the aircraft to flying condition with some technical assistance donated by local aviation industries. Although the team has spent thousands of man-hours on work that was within their capability, the team periodically has to seek professional assistance for work that is beyond their expertise or in order to comply with federal airworthiness regulations. For example, only a company in Germany had the capability to refurbish and balance the wooden propeller and a company in Texas had the sole experience to repair the Rolls Royce Griffin V-12 engine block. Although some companies are willing to perform their work for free, the museum is required to pay transportation and material costs.

     Although the Shearwater Aviation Museum was awarded a $38, 052 grant by the Millenium Bureau of Canada in 2000, the museum also depends on personal and corporate donations to help defray costs. When fully restored Firefly PP462 will be one of only two Firefly FR-1's in the world capable of flying and provide a tangible example of the firefly's unique role in Canada's proud maritime aviation heritage. The Shearwater Aviation Museum Foundation, the local population and the Canadian Forces support this project, as the Firefly and the distinctive roar of its Rolls Royce Griffon engine were not only a fond community memory but an integral part of their history.