Most restorers fancy the big, brawling fighters, but a few are drawn to rarer military aircraft that served as supporting actors
Most vintage-warplane restorers fancy the big, brawling fighters, the superstars of air combat. A few are drawn to rarer military aircraft that served as supporting actors, planes often without charisma, sometimes surprisingly mundane and occasionally flat ugly. One good example: the Fairey Gannet, a huge, obese but effective 1950s anti-sub twin that never went to war. (Had the Royal Navy not replaced Gannets with helicopters in the mid-’60s, many think it might have found its brief niche during the Falklands War.) Yes, it was a twin, though it doesn’t look like one, with two separate Bristol Mamba turbines each driving one of a pair of contrarotating propellers through a common gearbox. Either engine and its prop could be shut down in flight for long-duration ASW patrolling—or, its later-in-life function, airborne early warning—with no perceptible change in the airplane’s handling.
Two Gannets are currently being restored to flying status, one in the U.S. and the other in the UK, and when complete, will be the only ones aloft.
In New Richmond, Wis., aviation enthusiast Shannan Hendricks is refurbishing an unusual dual-control Gannet T.5 trainer—one of only eight built—that last flew on the U.S. airshow circuit in the late 1990s. In 2004 XT-752 started a ferry flight back to the UK but made it only as far as Goose Bay, Labrador, due to mechanical problems.
Last October that Gannet finally found a home in Wisconsin and was air-freighted to its new owner aboard a Antonov An-124. It’s expected to fly on its own sometime in 2012 (you can keep up with its progress at faireygannetxt752.com).
In England a more extensive Gannet renovation is being undertaken by an outfit called Hunter Flying, which restores, maintains and operates the biggest fleet (10 flying, four under restoration) of Hawker Hunters in the world. Their Gannet, XL500, is an AEW version with an unfortunately prominent radome goiter on its belly. Hunter Flying hopes to have its Gannet running by the end of 2012 and requests that if any Aviation History readers have or know of any Gannet tooling, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.