The prototype first flew on 19 September 1949 and made the first deck landing by a turboprop aircraft, on HMS Illustrious on 19 June 1950, by pilot Lieutenant Commander G. Callingham. After a further change in operational requirements, with the addition of a radar and extra crew member, the type entered production in 1953 and initial deliveries were made of the variant designated AS.1 at RNAS Ford in April 1954. A trainer variant (T.2) WN365 first flew in August 1954. The RN's first operational Gannet squadron (826 NAS) was embarked on HMS Eagle. The initial order was for 100 AS.1 aircraft. A total of 348 Gannets were built, of which 44 were the heavily modified AEW.3. Production was shared between Fairey's factories at Hayes, Middlesex and Heaton Chapel, Stockport / Manchester (Ringway) Airport.
By the mid-1960s, the AS.1s and AS.4s had been replaced by the Westland Whirlwind HAS.7 helicopters. Gannets continued as Electronic countermeasures aircraft: the ECM.6. Some AS.4s were converted to COD.4s for Carrier onboard delivery—the aerial supply of mail and light cargo to the fleet.
The Royal Australian Navy purchased the Gannet AS.1 (36 aircraft). It operated from the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne and the shore base HMAS Albatross near Nowra, New South Wales.
Indonesia bought a number of AS.4 and T.5s (re-modelled from RN AS.1s and T.2s) in 1959. Some Gannets were later acquired by various other countries.
West Germany bought 15 Gannet AS.4s and one T.5 in 1958. They operated as the anti-submarine squadron of Marinefliegergeschwader 2 (2nd Naval Fighter Wing) from Jagel and Sylt. In 1963 the squadron was reassigned to MFG 3 at Nordholz Naval Airbase until the Gannets were replaced by the Breguet Br.1150 Atlantic in 1966. During its operations the German Navy lost one AS.4, on 12 May 1966, when a Gannet crashed shortly after takeoff from Kaufbeuren, killing all three crew members.