Single engine two seat observation, light bomber and fighter aircraft
In 1930 the Belgian Aéronautique Militaire/Militair Vliegwezen was aware that its aircraft equipment was rapidly becoming obsolete. A first tender to replace the Breguet XIX in the observation/bomber role didn’t result in any clear winners and was quickly abandoned. However, for this tender the British aeronautical industry wasn’t invited. Some time later, the Belgian engineer Ernest Oscar Tips, co-founder of Fairey Aviation Company Ltd and Belgian representative for the firm managed to organise a presentation to the Belgian authorities of the Fairey Fox IIM at Evere. The demonstration by Fairey’s test and demo pilot F/L Chris Staniland in Rolls Royce Kestrel powered Fox IIM G-ABFG overwhelmed the Belgian authorities and a first order for 12 Fairey Fox IIM soon followed. Importantly, the initial contract stipulated that each additional order was to be produced in Belgium. Mr. Tips quickly organised the acquisition of land at Gosselies where he installed a production plant of the newly established company Société Anonyme des Avions Fairey S.G.D.A which was ready for the production of the Fairey Fox as soon as 1932.
The Fairey Felix (license production Curtiss D-12) powered Fairey Fox I was designed by the Belgian Marcel Lobelle and was in its time the ultimate in streamline biplane design, which set the standards for all then modern aircraft.
The first prototype Fox (c/n F.573 - later RAF serial J9515) made its first flight on 3 January 1925 in the hands of Norman Macmillan. An initial RAF order of 18 aircraft was mainly used by N° 12 Squadron based at Andover and from early on it was clear that this machine could outperform most of the contemporary fighter aircraft. In 1929 the first prototype of the much-improved Fox IIM made its first flight. This aircraft (c/n F.1138 - RAF registration J9834), contrary to the Fox I had a complete metallic structure (which explains the “M” added to its designation) and was powered by a Rolls Royce F-XIB Kestrel IB engine. It was Fairey’s entry for the RAF’s Specification 12/26 for a single engine bomber, which in the end was won by the Hawker Hart.
The first twelve Kestrel IIS powered Fairey Fox II aircraft for Belgium (c/n F.1639 till 1650) were produced at Fairey’s Hayes factory in the United Kingdom and delivered to the Etablissements Aéronautiques at Evere as of 10 January 1932 by Cpt Guillaume and Adjs Caryn and Verboomen. Soon after official acceptance the Foxes were taken on charge by the Evere based squadron 9/V/1Aé (Dragon). On 8 July 1932 Capt Vanderlinden and Lt Servais in their Fox II were the winners of the Circuit International des Alpes with an average speed of 257.6 km/hr. clearly illustrating the superb capabilities of the new aircraft. At the end of 1932 the Belgian Government ordered a new batch of 28 aircraft including two twin stick Fox IIS trainers (Fairey Gosselies numbers AF-6001 to 6030 - one aircraft being lost on delivery (AF-6015) while one was transferred to Hayes for development work-see below). The first Belgian built Fox II left the Gosselies line on April 21st, 1933 and 28th machine in the following November, all being delivered to the Squadrons of the 1Aé while the two Fox IIS trainers joined the Advance Pilot School at Wevelgem. A single machine (c/n F.1744 – AF-6022) was dispatched to the parent company at Fairey Hayes where it was tested with a 650hp Fairey Prince engine for some time. The aircraft returned to Belgium where it re-entered military service equipped with a Hispano engine.
In the meantime 17 Fox III aircraft powered with a moderately supercharged Rolls Royce Kestrel IIMS engine were delivered between 28 December 1933 and 20 October 1934 (this batch included also a single Fox IIIS twin stick trainer). The first aircraft of this batch (AF-0032) was flown to Fairey Hayes were it was equipped with a 360 hp Armstrong Siddeley Serval air-cooled radial engine as the dual control “Fox-Trainer” (F.1925 – G-ACKH). Once returned to Belgium this aircraft was re-equipped with a Kestrel IIMS of 525 to 600hp at Gosselies in April 1934 thus becoming also a Fox IIIS trainer.
In June 1934 production started of the Fox IIIC where the “C” suffix was referring to “Combat” as the aircraft was intended to perform a secondary light-bombing role. Being essentially similar to the Fox III the “C” model retained the same power plant and armament consisting of two forward firing and one swivelling FN-Browning machine guns. However provisions were made beneath the lower wings to carry light bombs. The most distinguishable change was the introduction of a canopy hinging to starboard over the pilot and one vertically hinging partially covering the observer’s position. This last feature was also retroactively introduced to a number of Fox II and Fox III aircraft between September 1939 and May 1940. Between 12 February and 3 April 1935 Fairey Gosselies produced a first batch of 34 Fox IIIC ‘s followed by 8 Fox IIIC’s powered by a fully supercharged Rolls Royce Kestrel V rated at 600hp at 3.000 m. and 460 hp at 4.500 m. (registered O-300 > 0-307) Finally in October 1935 a batch of four dual control Fox IIICS aircraft optimised for night flying and being equipped with short-wave radio’s were delivered by Fairey at Gosselies.
Already in late January 1934 Fairey had completed a new Fox version wich it designated Fox IV. This new version was created by installing a 775hp Hispano-Suiza 12Ybrs engine and by stretching the standard Fox fuselage by 8 cm to compensate for the heavier engine. Loaned for testing at the parent company at Hayes the machine was further refined by adding the new canopy and streamlined wheel spats. As such the aircraft was tested in the role of long-range fighter being temporarily given the designation Fox VM. Once back in Belgium the spats disappeared and an even more powerful engine was installed, the 830hp Hispano Suiza 12Ydrs. The machine was given the final designation Fox VIR (“R” for Reconnaissance) and was demonstrated to the Belgian authorities in August 1934 after which an order for 24 aircraft was signed. With the creation of the D.A.T. (Défence Aérienne du Territoire) accompanied by the decision to increase the number of fighter squadrons the Fox received a new role, that of two-seat fighter.
Fairey Gosselies was quick to develop a single seat heavy fighter version based on the Fox IVR by adding two more FN-Browning machine guns in the upper wing and placing the radiator further aft in a streamlined bay (not unlike that of the Mustang) that gave the Fox VII its nickname Fox Kangourou (also Monofox). Only two aircraft where produced, one of them (O-136) being used by WWI ace Willy Coppens while he was commanding the two squadrons of Groupe II/2Aé (Cocottes).
Despite the superior performance of the Fox VII, the Aéronautique Militaire Belge ordered 52 aircraft of a simpler modification of the Fox VIR designated Fox VIC (the only difference with the IIIR was the radio-equipment used). The first Fairey Fox VIC was rolled out on 21 September 1935.
Finally in late 1938 the Belgian Government placed yet another order for 15 aircraft of a new variant called the Fox VIII. This version included some minor refinements which didn’t improve much the by now obsolete Fox. The two-bladed wooden propeller was replaced by a Fairey-Reed three blade metal airscrew and later on by a three blade variable pitch Ratier propeller. The guns were removed from the fuselage and replaced by four 7.62 FN-Browning guns in the upper wing. The last Fox delivered (O-185) was handed over to the AéM on May 14th 1939, less than a year before the German invasion of Belgium. In total Fairey Gosselies produced some 191 Foxes two of which for the Troupe d’Aviation Suisse.
In Belgium the Fairey Fox served with the following units:
1° Regiment Aé: 1/I Mouette (Seagull), 3/II Feuille de Houx (Holy Leaf), 5/III Hirondelle (Swallow) and 7/IV Mephisto.
2° Regiment Aé: 5/III Aigle circle blue (Eagle in blue circle) and 6/III Aigle circle rouge (Eagle in red circle).
3° Regiment Aé: 1/I Dragon d'oré (Golden Dragon), 3/I Dragon d'argent (Silver Dragon), 5/III Vautour Egyptien (Egyptian Vulture) and 7/III Flèche ailée (Winged Arrow)
Ecole d’aéronautique: Cacatoés (Cockatoos)
Ecole de Perfectionnement: Pingouin (Penguin)
Unfortunately not a single Fairey Fox has survived to be preserved in a museum. (D.Brackx)