Fairey Fox

The Fairey Fox was a British light bomber and fighter biplane of the 1920s and 1930s. It was originally produced in Britain for the RAF, but continued in production and use in Belgium long after it was retired in Britain.

Fairey Fox
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Fairey Aviation Company
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1925
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Belgium View
Peru View
Switzerland View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1926 1945 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Fairey Aviation Company View

In 1923, Charles Richard Fairey, founder and chief designer of Fairey Aviation, disappointed with his Fawn bomber, which owing to the constraints of Air Ministry specifications, was slower than the Airco DH.9A which it was meant to replace while carrying no greater bombload, conceived the idea of a private venture bomber not subject to official limitations, which could demonstrate superior performance and handling. On seeing the Curtiss CR, powered by a Curtiss D-12 V-12 liquid-cooled engine of low frontal area and in a low drag installation, win the 1923 Schneider Trophy race, Fairey realised that this engine would be well suited to a new bomber and acquired an example of the engine and a licence for production.

Fairey commenced design of a bomber around this engine, with detailed design carried out by a team at first led by Frank Duncanson and then by the Belgian Marcel Lobelle. The resultant aircraft, the Fairey Fox, was a single-bay biplane with highly staggered wings, with a composite wood and metal structure. The Curtiss D-12 was installed in a closely cowled tractor installation, with one radiator mounted on the underside of the upper wing, and a second retractable radiator that could be wound in and out of the fuselage as required. Pilot and gunner sat close together in two tandem cockpits, with the gunner armed with a Lewis gun on a specially designed high-speed gun mounting that allowed the gun to be stowed to reduce drag, with the pilot armed with a single synchronised Vickers machine gun. Up to 460 lb of bombs could be carried under the wings, aimed by the gunner whose seat folded to allow use of a bombsight.

The prototype Fox first flew at RAF Hendon on 3 January 1925, piloted by Norman Macmillan, quickly demonstrating good performance and handling. Despite this, there was much resistance to the new bomber within the Air Ministry, with the Fox not designed to an official specification and having several features, such as fuel tanks within the fuselage, that went against official norm, and most importantly, it featured an American engine. (Although Fairey had negotiated a license for the D-12, in the end it built no engines, with 50 engines being imported.) However, on seeing the prototype Fox being demonstrated on 28 July 1925, Air Chief Marshal Hugh Trenchard, the Chief of the Air Staff, announced that "Mr Fairey, I have decided to order a squadron of these machines", thus shortcutting official channels, an initial order for 18 Foxes following.

The Fox entered service with No. 12 Squadron RAF in June 1926. The Fox proved to have spectacular performance, being 50 mph (80 km/h) faster than the Fairey Fawns that it replaced in 12 Squadron, and as fast as contemporary fighters. Such was the performance of the Fox that 12 Squadron was instructed to fly no faster than 140 mph (225 km/h) during annual Air Defence Exercises in order to give the defending fighters a chance. Despite this, no further RAF squadrons were equipped with the Fox, and only 28 were purchased in total, with later aircraft being powered by the Rolls-Royce Kestrel engine and surviving Curtiss engined aircraft being re-fitted with the Kestrel. 12 Squadron, which later adopted a fox's mask as squadron badge in memory of their sole usage of the aircraft, remained equipped with the Fox until 1931, being finally replaced by the Hawker Hart. Foxes remained in use as dual control trainers at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell until 1933.

Two superannuated Fox Mk.Is took part in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from London to Melbourne. One of them occasioned the only fatalities of the race when it crashed in Italy. The other, commanded by Australian Ray Parer (a veteran of the 1919 England to Australia Air Race), had struggled no further than Paris when news came through that the race winner had completed the course. Parer and co-pilot Geoff Hemsworth continued an epic and eventful journey, taking nearly four months to reach Melbourne.

The first Fox IIs entered service with the Belgian Air Force in early 1932 in the reconnaissance role, with one winning the "Circuit of the Alps" race for two-seat military aircraft at the 1932 Zurich Aviation meeting. The Fox continued in production at Avions Fairey at Gosselies for much of the 1930s, forming the backbone of the Belgian Air Force, being used in the pure reconnaissance, reconnaissance-bomber and two-seat fighter roles. Later aircraft were fitted with enclosed canopies and more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Y engines.

Over 100 Foxes were still in front-line service with the Belgian Air Force at the time of the German invasion on 10 May 1940. Although massively outclassed by the aircraft of the Luftwaffe they flew about 75 sorties and even claimed one kill of a Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Role Light bomber
Manufacturer Fairey Aviation
Designer Marcel Lobelle
First flight January 3, 1925 (Mk.I)
Introduction June, 1926 (Mk.I)
Retired 1945 Swiss Air Force
Primary users Royal Air Force
Belgian Air Force
Air Force of Peru

General characteristics

  • Crew: two
  • Length: 30 ft 9 in (9.38 m)
  • Wingspan: 37 ft 11 in (11.56 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 6½ in (3.52 m)
  • Wing area: 362 ft² (33.7 m²)
  • Empty weight: 2,920 lb (1,327 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 5,170 lb (2,350 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Hispano-Suiza 12 Ybrs liquid-cooled V12 engine, 860 hp (640 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 224 mph (195 knots, 361 km/h) at 13,100 ft (4,000 m)
  • Range: 634 mi (551 nmi, 1,020 km)
  • Service ceiling: 32,800 ft (10,000 m)
  • Climb to 16,400 ft (5,000 m): 6.5 min
  • Climb to 19,700 ft (6,000 m): 8.35 min


  • Guns: 2 × forward firing machine guns and 1 × rear gun
  • Bombs: 220 lb (100 kg)

End notes