Fairey Firefly IIM
Single engine single seat fighter aircraft
In 1928-29 the Belgian Aéronautique Militaire (AéM) fighter force consisted of a mix of Nieuport Delage NiD29C1 and Avia BH21 aircraft, which by then were considered obsolete and only good enough “to train the pilots until new more modern equipment arrived”. Boosted by the driving force of the first “air minded” and newly appointed Commander, General Gillieaux, the AéM Belge rapidly drew the specifications for the acquisition of a new fighter aircraft which was to replace both obsolete types in service. For evaluation purposes, three Avia BH33 and three Nieuport Delage NiD 72C1 were acquired in 1929 which were distributed amongst the several fighter squadrons to be tested out. However by the time the evaluation commission had reached its conclusion both “new” aircraft already were considered obsolete as technology evolved very rapidly. A new competition was organized in January 1931 for which 5 candidates participated, the Belgian Renard Epervier, the French Morane MS222 and the Dewoitine D.27, the British Bristol Bulldog II and the Czech Avia BH33E. In May 1930 the D27 and the BH33E were withheld as winners of the competition. Meanwhile, in June 1930 General Gillieaux and his staff witnessed a demonstration of the new Fairey Firefly IIM by Fairey test pilot Chris Staniland at the Hendon airshow. The Belgians were more than impressed and Fairey quickly reacted by sending over the Firefly IIM to Evere airbase again piloted by Staniland. Some 18 pilots of the two fighter Groups were offered to try out this new design at Schaffen and Nivelles. What followed was a rather controversial selection of the Firefly outsider notwithstanding the fact that the unit price was considerable higher than the other two selected candidates.
In November 1930, a first contract was concluded with Fairey for the delivery of 45 Firefly’s at a unit price of 850.000 Bfr. As the contract included a clause wherein was stipulated that a maximum of Belgian labour should be employed for the assembly of the Firefly’s, only the first 25 were built at the company’s factory at Hayes near London (U.K.). All remaining Fly’s were produced at a newly established subsidiary under British/Belgian management, the Société Anonyme Belge Avions Fairey at Gosselies.
The first five Fairey Firefly IIM’s were handed over to the Aéronautique Militaire Belge at Evere on July 30th, 1931 followed by twenty more Hayes produced machines by September 1931 (c/n F-1489 till F-1513/ AéM Y-1 till Y-25) . All aircraft were tested by the Evere based Établissements
d´Aéronautique (Ets Aé) (Technical Services) before delivery to the fighter units. The first aircraft of the same contract's 20 remaining Firefly's but constructed at Gosselies was delivered on 26 February 1932 (c/n AF 5001 till AF 5020/ AéM Y-26 till Y-45)). A second contract for 20 more fighters had already been signed one month earlier (c/n AF 5021 till AF5041 / AéM Y-46 till Y-65). To cope with the high attrition rate a third contract was signed in 1933 for 17 more Firefly's (c/n AF 5042 till AF 5058 / AéM Y-66 till Y-82), followed in 1936 by five more machines (c/n AF 5059 till AF 5063 / AéM Y-83 till Y-87).
Squadron 1/I/2Aé (Comète/Comet) was the first unit to re-equip with the Firefly as of May 1931 followed by sister squadron 2/I/2Aé (Chardon/Thistle) - both units being based at Schaffen. Each squadron received 20 aircraft (15 + 5 spares), a full complement being reached by the end of 1931. In 1932, both units of the 2nd Group: Squadron 5/II/2Aé (Red Cocotte Rouge) (becoming 3/II/2Aé in 1935) and Squadron 7/II/2Aé (White Cocotte Blanche) (Becoming 4/II/2Aé in 1935) also re-equipped with the British fighter.
With the introduction of the Firefly in the fighter units, the number of accidents and incidents dramatically increased. As it was established that most accidents occurred while performing aerobatics the AéM promptly reacted by creating within the framework of the Pilot School at Wevelgem a Centre de Perfectionnement (Pingouin/Penguin)(Operational Training Centre), which was among others, equipped with some Firefly’s. The result was a considerable reduction in the number of accidents.
In 1935 N° 1 Squadron (Comète) of Schaffen and N° 3 Squadron (Cocotte Rouge) of Nivelles both had formed an aerobatic demonstration team which stunned the public during the very popular large pre-war air shows.
Already toward the end of 1936 it became obvious that biplane aircraft were something of the past and even the sleek Firefly rapidly became unable to fulfil its military task. Because of the changing political atmosphere it was not easy for the Belgian Government to find a Firefly replacement. Although a very promising Belgian design, the Renard R.36 (comparable to the Hawker Hurricane) was soon to be available, the Belgian Government decided to acquire only marginally better Gloster Gladiators for N° 1 Squadron (Comet) in 1937 and Hawker Hurricane’s for N° 2 Squadron (Chardon) in 1939. A few months before the war N°s 3 and 4 Squadrons (Cocottes Rouge and Blanche) finally could exchange their Firefly’s for Fiat CR.42 biplanes. The 55+ remaining Fairey Firefly IIM fighters were transferred to the Ecole de Pilotage, l’Ecole de Tir and the Etablissements d’Aéronautique while a small number was grouped within Fairey Fox Squadron 6/III/2Aé (Epervier Circle Rouge/Sparrowhawk in Red Circle). Most were destroyed or captured during the German invasion of Belgium but 19 Fairey Firefly’s survived and were used as point defence fighters at Montpellier-Fréjorgues (F.) or were stored at Bordeaux-Merignac (F.). Following the signature by France of the Compiègne Armistice Convention on 22 June 1940 all these machines were turned over to the German Armistice Commission at Chalon-sur-Saône on 28 November 1940.
Unfortunately not a single Firefly is preserved anywhere in the world. (Daniel Brackx)