First generation ‘modern’ monoplane fighters – The British Vickers Type 279 Venom

Among the major British manufacturers of aircraft in the 1930s, Vickers (Aviation) Ltd was one of the few that did not seriously consider tendering a design to Specification F.7/30, being fairly heavily committed in other spheres. However, when Specification F.5/34 was issued in 1934, calling for a fighter armed with eight fixed forward-firing machine guns and possessing a performance that included a maximum speed of 239 kt (275 mph; 442.5 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m) and a service ceiling of 33,000 ft (10060 m), the company decided to extend its seven-year old Type 151 Jockey lightweight fighter concept as a private venture initially known as the Jockey Mk II. The F.7/34 requirement was designed to yield an interceptor capable of tackling a bomber flying at 174 kt (200 mph; 322 km/h) at 15,000 ft (4570 m), and among the new features included in the Type 279 an enclosed cockpit, inward-retracting main landing gear units and a new powerplant. As the requirement called for an aeroplane capable of operations overseas in hot climates, Vickers opted for a powerplant based on an air-cooled radial rather than liquid-cooled V-12 engine, and selected the relatively new Bristol Aquila air-cooled nine-cylinder unit, which was of the company’s new sleeve-valve type and rated at 625 hp (466 kW). This drove a three-blade propeller.

Revised wing structure

The Wibault system of metal wing construction with corrugated skinning was finally discarded as being unsuitable as a result of the wing volume needed for the notably advanced machine gun installation, and this enabled smooth Duralumin sheet to be used. The Type 279 retained the same dimensions as the Type 151, together with the same aerofoil sections for the wing and tailplane. Like that of the Type 151, the wing of the Type 279 was of constant thickness and chord to its fairly blunt tips, and carried on its trailing edges outboard ailerons and inboard split flaps. Both the flaps and the actuation system for the wide-track inward-retracting main landing gear units were electrically powered; the tailwheel was fixed. The fuselage was a semi-monocoque structure but, somewhat unusually, of polygonal rather than circular cross section. The cockpit was located over the wing under a Perspex canopy, and was faired by a long turtledeck fairing into the base of the angular fin-and-rudder unit’s leading edge. An unusual feature was the pair of large Perspex transparencies let into the sides of the fuselage to improve the pilot’s downward and lateral fields of vision.

The most singular feature of the Type 279 was its engine mounting which, being enclosed in a long-chord cowling, was hinged to swing sideways as a means of providing access to the engine ancillaries. This demanded that all drives, controls and fuel lines had to be flexible and, although ingenious, the concept was found to be unsatisfactory.

Good but not good enough

The prototype, as a private venture marked PVO-10, was first flown by the company’s most senior test pilot, Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers, at Brooklands on 17 June 1936 with full armament before the specified eight-gun armament had yet been fitted in the prototypes of either the Hawker Hurricane or Supermarine Spitfire. Having flown the Spitfire some three months earlier, Summers was in a good position to express his opinions on the relative merits of the Venom and, in view of the promise held by the Supermarine and Hawker fighters, these were bound to be less than sanguine. Although the Vickers aeroplane was rather smaller than the other prototypes, its bulky and comparatively low-powered radial engine was unable to provide performance comparable with that of the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire prototypes, which were powered by more potent the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engine.

Even so, the Venom performed well on the limited power of the Aquila, achieving a maximum speed of 271 kt (312 mph; 502 km/h) and possessing an excellent rate of climb. The compact radial engine gave the Venom better rates of roll and turn than its longer-nosed competitors with their heavier engines, but it was soon clear the potential power of the Merlin was greater than was likely to be available in the near future from the Aquila, of which only limited development was being undertaken, and there were no other engine types available for installation in so small an airframe.

Constant trouble with the Aquila engine and its ancillary systems prevented the prototype from undergoing full service trials, but Flying Officer Jeffrey K. Quill, who had recently joined Vickers, continued to perform the manufacturer’s trials for some months. The Venom prototype was, nevertheless, scrapped in 1939 after being damaged in a crash.


Vickers Type 279 Venom

Type: fighter

Accommodation: pilot in the enclosed cockpit

Fixed armament: eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers fixed forward-firing machine guns with 300 rounds per gun in the leading edges of the wing

Disposable armament: none

Equipment: standard communication and navigation equipment, plus an optical gun sight

Powerplant: one Bristol Aquila AE3S air-cooled 9-cylinder radial engine rated at 625 hp (466 kW) for take-off

Internal fuel: not available

External fuel: none

Dimensions: span 32 ft 9 in (9.98 m); area 146.00 sq ft (13.56 m²); length 24 ft 2 in (7.37 m); height 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m)

Weights: empty 3,440 lb (1560 kg); normal take-off 4,156 lb (1885 kg)

Performance: maximum level speed 271 kt (312 mph; 502 km/h) at 16,125 ft (7315 m); cruising speed, economical 147 kt (169 mph; 272 km/h) at optimum altitude; initial climb rate 3,000 ft (914 m) per minute; service ceiling 32,000 ft (9755 m); Range 270 nm (311 miles; 500 km)