During April, 2011, a British Folland Gnat, joined the inventory of Estrella Warbirds Museum and is currently undergoing restoration to become a static display.
The Fo.141 Gnat was a British all-metal fighter and trainer designed by Folland to be small and economical, yet capable of high performance. Derived from the even-more-diminutive Fo.139 Midge prototype, the Gnat possessed outstanding performance features including a 10,000 foot-per-minute climb rate, and a roll rate in excess of 360 degrees per second.
The prototype first flew in 1955, when it demonstrated performance impressive enough to warrant the manufacture of six test aircraft for the British Ministry of Supply.
Condition as received, prior to restoration.
These aircraft were used in a variety of configurations, including the fitting of one with two 30mm cannon to test the aircraft's effectiveness in the ground attack role. However, the British government subsequently lost interest in the Gnat as a possible fighter, deciding instead to employ it as an advanced two-place trainer.
For that role, Folland made significant changes to the aircraft, installing a second seat, a larger engine, a different wing and tail, and revised control-surface installation. The plane entered production with the RAF as the Fo.144 Gnat Trainer (later renamed the Gnat T.Mk1) but not until Folland was taken over by Hawker Siddeley at the insistence of the British government, which preferred to deal with a select few large, industrial groupings, rather than small, private-venture companies like Folland.
In the meantime, however, Folland sold 13 Gnats (the last two of which were reconnaissance versions) to the Finnish government, which kept them in service until 1974. (An interesting side note: The day after the first two Gnats were delivered to Finland, Finnish Air Force Major Lauri Pekuri exceeded the speed of sound in a Gnat, the first time this speed had been achieved by the Finns.) Two Gnats were also sold to Yugoslavia, but the bulk of sales went to India, which purchased 40 airframes in various stages of completion and, under license, built 175 of the aircraft at the Hindustani Aircraft facilities at Bangalore as the Gnat Mk.II "Ajeet."
The Gnat was used by the British Yellowjacks/Red Arrows aerobatic team from 1964 through 1979, when it was replaced by the British Aerospace Hawk T.Mk.1. It was with the Indian Air Force, however, that the Gnat came into its own as a fighter aircraft. During the 1965 war with Pakistan, the Gnat is credited with downing seven Pakistani F-86 (Sabre) aircraft.
In their training role in the UK, Gnats were effective training aircraft for several generations of student jet pilots, and were a common sight in the skies above RAF Valley, UK before their retirement in November 1978. In the USA, a handful of Gnats enjoy continued life as privately-owned sport jets.
The Gnat was armed with two 30 millimeter Aden revolver-type cannon, firing from the outer edge of the air intakes. While this arrangement might have suggested that the Gnat would be prone to engine flameouts from muzzle gas ingestion, that did not prove to be the case, suggesting that the muzzle system had been carefully designed to deflect the gases out to the sides. The Gnat also had two stores pylons for drop tanks, 225 kilogram (500 pound) bombs, or unguided rocket pods.
The Gnat prototype was refitted with an up rated reproduction Orpheus engine to put on flight displays at the Farnborough air show that year. While the RAF had no requirement for such a machine, the government wanted to encourage Folland in their work, and so the British Ministry of Supply (MoS) ordered six prototypes of the full-development aircraft for evaluation.
The evaluation Gnats were powered by the production-spec Bristol Orpheus 701 turbojet with 20.1 kN (2,042 kgp / 4,502 lbf) thrust. Most of the test flights were conducted in the UK, though ground-attack trials were performed in Aden (now Yemen). The report from the RAF evaluation generally praised the Gnat's performance, but there were criticisms of its flight-control systems, and there was no consensus that the Gnat was what the RAF needed. The Gnat fighter never served operationally in Britain, though the MoS did order two more Gnats on top of the original order for six.
However, the good press given the Gnat opened the way for export sales. Two were sold to Yugoslavia for evaluation, and thirteen were sold to Finland. The Finnish Gnats were delivered in 1958 and 1959, with two of them configured for reconnaissance, with noses carrying three 70 millimeter cameras. Finland operated its Gnats until 1972.