Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Boulton-Paul Defiant

During the Battle of Britain, the Hawker Hurricane got the most German kills and the more glamorous Spitfire was tops in the PR department, but there was another significant player in the skies over Britain during those tense times. That other player was the Boulton-Paul "Defiant".

The Defiant started out as a good idea in theory (it had a top-mounted turret with 4 .303 machine guns that could fire rearward so as to wipe out German fighters attacking from the rear.) It wasn't so good, however, if they attacked from the front or top or bottom or anywhere except from the rear, so the Germans caught on pretty quickly and the Defiant soon began being thought of as mostly a failure.

This was far from true, however. It simply was being used in the wrong place at the wrong time. Later, it started being used at night against German aircraft during the London Blitz, with devastating results. Ok, maybe not "devastating." But it did it's part. Moral: don't call a duckling ugly until it matures.

See a film about the Defiant's manufacture, and also see it in action here.

Also on that page (if you go to watch the movie) is a more complete description of this fighter aircraft and its specifications, printed as a comment to the movie.


  1. How stupid to omit forward guns!

  2. One thing I've learned in 20+ years in the aerospace business: there are few "perfect" planes/spacecraft. In every case, you have to make trades, sometimes with things that, in hindsight, seem foolish in the extreme, but were considered necessary during design/production.

    Every once in a great while, something comes along that defies all logic by being nearly perfect for a given task (even if it would be useless doing something else - SR-71 is a fantastic craft unless you're looking for a dogfighter, for instance). Largely, though, the conditions that they fly in (which can rarely be entirely duplicated in testing) often demonstrate the limitations in the original thinking even if it seemed the right thing to do on paper.

    Truthfully, most failures and design flaws can be traced back to incomplete, vague, poorly thought out, even stupid original requirements/specifications.

  3. We've been here before....

    I can't let you get away with perpetrating the myth that the Defiant was a roaring success at anything. It wasn't even much liked as an air-gunnery target-tug, the role in which it was least unsuccessful.
    They were such a lame duck if attacked, that the only way they could be even remotely successful was when they were unseen, in the dark.
    As soon as another night-capable fighter was available (Bristol Beaufighter, Bristol Blenheim, De-Havilland mosquito...) the defiants were relegated to places where they were unlikely to be shot at. Like being target tugs. And trainers. And flying testbeds for radar and other technology.

    It's fair to point out that in their early career, one squadron armed with defiants shot down a surprisingly large number of germans. This success ended very quickly, just as soon as the germans figured out that they were helpless if attacked from in front or from below.

    Back in my youth I remember building a model kit of one, an Airfix 1:72nd scale. I hung it from my ceiling on a thread, like all the other planes I'd built.
    One morning, I found it on the fvloor, broken. I swear that damn Fritz in the Fokke-Wulf 190 was smirking.

  4. Stephanie mentions the SR-71.
    An interesting piece of trivia.. (interesting to me, anway) is that it still holds the record for the fastest New York/London flight.
    Well, it cheated a bit, it crossed the start line already travelling rather rapidly, at 80,000feet. But the time from the imaginary gate over NY to the imaginary gate over London, even with a slow-down to suck fuel from a tanker, was 1 hour 56 minutes.
    (Concorde did it in 2 hours 53 minutes. With passengers)
    But... on the way home the SR-71 did London-Los Angeles in 3 hours and 47 minutes.

  5. @ soubriquet

    I LOVE the SR-71 (personal favorite plane) and hate the politics that retired her. Graceful, beautiful AND functional, possibly the creation of Skunk Works I most admire.

    BTW, regarding trivia, the term "unobtainium" was used to describe the hard to obtain but essential material that made her possible: titanium. At the time, we had very little while U.S.S.R. had titanium (which is hard and strong, but light - and brittle) in abundance.

    Titanium is so readily obtained there that Russian subs use titanium. I've been told by someone knowledgeable in the USN Sub forces, that U.S.S.R. subs are technically stronger but can only do deep dives so many time before they must be retired because titanium can only be compressed so hard so many time before it stops bouncing back.

  6. I own a titanium spork.

    I wish I could claim I hewed it out of the hull of a russian submarine, but that would be a lie.

    When intelligence sources first suggested that the russians were building pressure-hulls out of titanium, u.s navy analysts rejected the idea, on the grounds that the u.s. lacked the ability to form and weld titanium sections on such a scale, and they assumed the russians would have inferior technologies.

  7. The SR-71 is one of my favoutites too. Ever since the 1970s when that transatlantic record was broken, by a plane visiting the Farnborough Air Show.
    I'm fascinated by the fact that they flew higher and faster than anything else, that their crews were on the edge of being astronauts, that the airframes leaked fuel like sieves at ground level, but tightened up when heated to searing temperatures in flight.
    A close relative of mine was involved in mission tasking and analysis, they were flying operational missions some time after they were officially retired.

    Oh. Sorry Max, off-topic discussions again. let me see... "The SR-71 would have been even more awesome if it had been fitted with a turret".
    The turret used on the Boulton-Paul Defiant was actually quite a good turret. Too heavy for the B-P D, but pretty good when fitted to later twin-engined aircraft.

  8. No, that's fine. The Blackbird was at the top of my list too. Sexy-looking-wise, that is -- I didn't know what material it was made out of. I thought painted fabric like the hurricane.

  9. One can never truly "own" a spork. It is such an independent animal. A distant relative of the knoon, of course.

  10. I have a set of titanium darts. Why? Dunno.

  11. Adullamite on guns: "stupid to omit them."

    Amen, brother.



Related Posts with Thumbnails