Kemble Airfield has many interesting residents. The local aviation company, Delta Jets, is better known for it’s fleet of Hawker Hunters, but it also owns this Hawker Siddeley Gnat T.1, XP502. Currently, the Gnat is located on the old airfield ‘signal square’ , a relic of the early days of flying, when a pilot would join the circuit overhead, and look down at the square, to see which runway was in use (shown by means of black ‘dumbell’ markers) and even confirm WHERE he was - the two-letter code for Kemble, KM, has not long been removed. XP502 is in spurious ‘Red Arrows’ markings, to commemorate the fact that Kemble was the home of the ‘Reds’ for nearly 15 years, from 1969 to 1983; the last four years of which had seen the Gnats supplanted by the BAe Hawk. Indeed, the Postmaster at nearby Cirencester sometimes still gets mail addressed to ‘The Red Arrows, RAF Kemble’ – it is carefully forwarded to their present home at RAF Scampton.
The Gnat was designed by W.E.W. ‘Teddy’ Petter and was the outgrowth of another Folland design, the lightweight fighter known as the Folland Midge. Although neither the Midge nor the single-seat Gnat were adopted by the Royal Air Force, a development, the two-seat Fo.144 Gnat Trainer, was finally ordered on the 7th January, 1958 as the Hawker Siddeley Gnat T.1 (the Folland concern having been taken over by Hawker Siddeley in 1959), and intended as an advanced trainer to lead into the English Electric Lightning, yet another aircraft which had been designed by W.E.W. Petter!
XP502 was the very first Gnat to enter service with No 4 Flying Training School (7th November, 1962; construction number FL.517), and served with this unit until 1978. Withdrawn from use, it became an instructional airframe at RAF St Athan in South Wales, before, finally, being auctioned off.
The Gnat proved to be a highly manoeuvrable aircraft, and the ‘Reds’ predecessors, the ‘Yellowjacks’ showed just how suitable it was for display flying. Many of the Gnats used by the ‘Red Arrows’ had the infamous ‘Fuse 13′ modification, whereby that particular fuse was removed, to allow maximum roll rate via the now uprated ailerons. This gave rise to the famous Gnat ‘twinkle roll’ . The ‘Fuse 13′ modification was rescinded in 1972.
Gnats are regularly seen on the European air show circuit, as a popular ‘jet warbird’, but were also the ‘stars’ of a 1991 feature film, ‘Hot Shots’, a parody of ‘Top Gun’! The film, which showed the Gnats painted as US Navy aircraft, featured Charlie Sheen and Lloyd Bridges.
The single-seater fighter version of the Gnat would actually see action in its Indian version, which was licence-built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Indian Air Force Gnats fought against Sabres, Mirage III and MiG 21s of the Pakistani Air Force in both the 1965 and 1971 conflicts, and were quite successful, being extremely agile, hardhitting and presenting a miniscule target to the opposition.