Gloster Grebe

The Gloster Grebe was developed from the Gloster Grouse (an experimental aircraft later developed as a trainer), and was the Royal Air Force's first post First World War fighter aircraft, entering service in 1923.

Gloster Grebe
Class Aircraft
Type Fighter
Manufacturer Gloster Aircraft Company
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1923
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1923 1938 View
New Zealand 1923 1938 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Gloster Aircraft Company 133 View

In 1923 Gloster modified a Gloster Sparrowhawk fighter trainer with new wings to test a layout proposed by chief designer Henry Folland, combining a thick, high lift section upper wing and a thinner, medium lift lower wing, with the intention of combining high lift for take-off with low drag. After the Grouse demonstrated that the new layout was a success, the British Air Ministry placed an order for three prototype fighters based on the Grouse (and therefore derived ultimately from Folland's Nieuport Nighthawk fighter of 1919), but powered by a 350 horsepower (260 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar III radial engine, as the "Nighthawk (thick-winged)".

The first of the prototypes (Gloster built a fourth machine as a company owned demonstrator), by now known as the Grebe I, flew during May 1923. The performance of these prototypes during testing at RAF Martlesham Heath was good, and the Air Ministry decided to order the type into production as the Grebe II, this having a 400 horsepower (300 kW) Jaguar IV engine.

Like the Sopwith Snipe it replaced, the Grebe was a single-seat, single-engined biplane of fabric-covered wood construction. The fuselage had ash longerons and spruce stringers joined to plywood formers, while the single-bay wings (which had a considerable overhang outboard of the struts), had fabric covered spruce spars and ribs. Two synchronised .303 in (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns were mounted on the fuselage top decking.


  •     Gloster Grouse : Experimental aircraft.
  •     Grebe Mk I : Single-seat fighter prototype, 4 built.
  •     Grebe Mk II : Single-seat fighter aircraft.
  •     Grebe (Dual) : Two-seat training aircraft.

Grebes entered service with the RAF during October 1923 when a single flight of 111 Squadron re-equipped with the new fighter. The Grebe was popular in RAF service, being much faster than the Snipe that it replaced, and was also very agile. One problem with the Grebe was that it suffered from wing flutter, owing to the large overhang outside the interplane struts, which led to all RAF aircraft being modified with additional Vee-struts supporting the outer upper wing. Another problem was the Jaguar engine, which was heavy and unreliable, being prone to in-flight fires.

A total of 133 Grebes were produced, including the four prototypes, 108 Grebe II single-seat fighters and 21 two-seat dual-control trainers. Grebes were retired from the RAF in 1929, replaced in part by the Gloster Gamecock, which was in essence a developed Grebe, (Gloster fighter design, from Nighthawk to Gloster Gladiator was essentially evolutionary).

Two Grebes were modified for suspension beneath the R33 airship on a 'trapeze' for "parasite" trials.

The Grebe was developed into the Gloster Gamecock fighter, which also entered production for the RAF.

A single Grebe was given to New Zealand by Sir Henry Wigram, and subsequently another two Grebes were acquired by the New Zealand Permanent Air Force, fore-runner of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, entering service in March 1928 and serving more than 10 years until the mid-1938. The two survivors were used as instructional airframes until destroyed in 1943–44.

Role Fighter
Manufacturer Gloster Aircraft Company
Designer Henry Folland
First flight 1923
Introduction 1923
Retired RAF 1931, RNZAF 1938
Primary users Royal Air Force
Royal New Zealand Air Force
Number built 133
Developed from Gloster Grouse
Variants Gloster Gamecock

General characteristics

  • Crew: one, pilot
  • Length: 20 ft 3 in (6.17 m)
  • Wingspan: 29 ft 4 in (8.94 m)
  • Height: 9 ft 3 in (2.82 m)
  • Wing area: 254.0 ft² (23.60 m²)
  • Empty weight: 1,720 lb (780 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 2,614 lb (1,189 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar IV 14-cylinder air-cooled two-row radial engine, 400 hp (298 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 132 knots (152 mph, 245 km/h)
  • Service ceiling: 23,000 ft (7,000 m)
  • Wing loading: 10.3 lb/ft² (50.4 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (0.25 kW/kg)
  • Climb to 20,000 ft (6,100 m): 23 minutes
  • Endurance: 2 h 45 min


  • Guns: 2×0.303 inch (7.7 mm) Vickers machine guns

End notes