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Saro SR-A/1: the British Flying Boat Jet Fighter That Even Had the U.S. Intrigued
In our last item regarding a flying boat built by the British Saunders-Roe Company (Saro), we told the story of the cuddly-looking but equally awful deathtrap, the Lerwick. An anti-submarine and patrol airplane so terrible at its job that it would have never even been deployed if not for the RAF being desperate.

Saro SR-A/1: the British Flying Boat Jet Fighter That Even Had the U.S. Intrigued

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Based on the Lerwick alone, you'd probably be inclined to think nothing of value ever left the Saro factory floor. But you'd be wrong. the Saro SR.A/1 was in many ways the polar opposite of the Lerwick. A fast, agile, and maneuverable jet-powered flying boat fighter that even the Americans couldn't help but be intrigued by. It was perhaps the last time a non-American military force ever considered using flying boats for anything other than cargo transport.

At the end of the Second World War, a badly battered but not defeated British Royal Air Force was left to sift through the spoils of war of their defeated Axis foes. Among the debris and wreckage throughout Europe and Asia, the British and Americans, among others, found what would be the key to their future. From Germany, the Allies had gained control of top secret Luftwaffe jet engine technology. Though primitive even by the standards of a decade later, this tech far outclassed anything the Allies were operating in the spring of 1945.

In the Pacific Theater of the war, the British found an affinity for something different. They noted how the Imperial Japanese Navy utilized seaplanes, (I.e, flying boats with ship-like hulls, or float planes with pontoons for landing gear), to great effect against the Allies even up to the very end of the war. In particular, the Nakajima A6M2-N, a float plane modification of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, fascinated the British.

But it was only when the Saunders-Roe Company (Saro for short) put two and two together that the idea for a flying boat jet fighter materialized. Between 1929 and 1964, Saro was responsible for building some of the largest and most capable civilian and military flying boats in history. That is, apart from the abysmal Lerwick. It made all the sense for Saro to take on this kind of project. Its result, the SR.A/1, or just A/1 for short, at the very least, looked like a million Great British pounds.

In truth, Saro had been working on the concept for a twin-engine, jet-powered flying boat since at least 1943 under Air Ministry specification E.6/44. The design routinely found itself sidelined from more lucrative funding in favor of aeronautical projects more pertinent to defeating Germany. Once this was achieved in May 1945, it was thought Saro's new concept, dubbed the SR.44 at the time, could see combat against Imperial Japan in the Pacific Theater. Of course, this never happened. The type wouldn't take off for the first time until two years later, on July 16th, 1947.

With dimensions of 50 feet (15.24 m) in length, a 46-foot (14.02 m) wingspan, and just under 17 feet tall, the A/1 was somewhat larger than most contemporary land-based jet fighters. Especially in terms of length, fighters like the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star and Gloster Meteor fit somewhat comfortably in the shadow of the Saro A/1. As a true-to-form flying boat, the A/1's lower half is almost indistinguishable from the hull of a boat.

If not for its wings, the only indicator of what this vehicle might be from a distance would be the trademark large front air intake. Even then, it looks more like some sort of prototype speed boat than it does an RAF fighter with said wing omission. Powering this beast on the water were twin Metropolitan-Vickers F.2 axial flow turbojet engines. Dating back to 1941, they were the first British jet engines to use an axial flow compressor. As such, it was also the first jet-powered seaplane in the world.

With 3,850 lbs (17.1 kN) thrust each to play with, the Saro A/1 had a theoretical top speed of 512 miles per hour (824 km/h, 445 km). More or less in line with the performance of the few WWII jets that flew, if just a touch slower. But compared to newer land-based jets coming from Britain, France, the U.S., and the Soviets, it was remarkably tame. The small, armor-laden cockpit was also somewhat of a chore to see out of.

Despite all of these flaws, The Saro A/1 attracted not only the RAF but also the United States Navy, which was trying to solve the problem of jet-powered takeoffs from aircraft carrier decks at the time. Sadly, both parties opted to pass on the design. The type was again briefly considered at the onset of the Korean war in 1950.

But again, that resulted in little more than lip service. All three SR/A1s built were retired in 1951. Today, the last surviving A/1 is on display at the Solent Sky Aviation Museum in Southampton, in Southern England.

Check back soon for more from Sea Month here on autoevolution.


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