The de Havilland DH.110 was a 1950s two-seat jet fighter of the Fleet Air Arm. The aircraft was originally designed for both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Fleet Air Arm as an all-weather, missile-armed, and high-speed jet fighter. The Admiralty had given a requirement for a Fleet Defence Fighter to replace the de Havilland Sea Venom. The RAF, however, chose the Gloster Javelin, it was a cheaper and simpler aeroplane. Despite this, de Havilland continued with the project, and by the late 1950s the Royal Navy had placed an order and the aircraft entered service with the Fleet Air Arm.
The prototype took to the skies on 26 September 1951 piloted by John Cunningham. The following year tragedy struck. It had been in a high speed turn when it disintegrated at the Farnborough Air Show on 6 September 1952, killing 31 people, including the test pilot and record breaker John Derry and Tony Richards. Due to this incident, modifications were made. In 1955, a further DH.110 was produced, a semi-navalised variant (no folding wings), with it making its first flight that same year.
The aircraft made its first arrested deck landing on the fleet aircraft carrier HMS. Ark Royal in 1957. It was the first true Sea Vixen, named the Sea Vixen FAW. 20 (Fighter all-weather). Later it was later redesignated the FAW.1. In July 1959, the first of over a hundred entered service with the Fleet Air Arm.The Sea Vixen had a twin-boom tail, as used on the de Havilland Sea Vampire and de Havilland Sea Venom.
The Sea Vixen became the first swept-wing aircraft and the first British aircraft to be solely armed with missiles, rockets and bombs. It was armed with four de Havilland Firestreak air-to-air missiles, two Microcell unguided 2 inch (51 mm) rocket packs and had a capacity for four 500 lb (230 kg) bombs or two 1000 lb bombs. It was powered by two 50.0 kN (11,230 lbf) thrust Rolls-Royce Avon 208 turbojet engines; had a speed of 690 mph (1110 km/h) and a range of 600 miles (1000 km).
Interestingly the original design did have the fitting of cannons in its prospectus. Experiments with ADEN cannons were carried out and it was found that their firing caused failure of the mountings due to the force of the recoil. All sorts of ideas were tried but the only solution that worked was to put a baulk of timber in place to absorb this recoil force. Thus the Vixen was also the last British fighter to use wood in its construction! The cannons were soon removed and an all missile armament was developed.
A notable visual aspect of the Sea Vixen is that the pilot's cockpit is offset to the left hand side. The other crew member (the observer) was housed to the right completely within the fuselage, gaining access through a flush-fitting top hatch into his space (known in the service as the "coal hole") which had but a small window.
The FAW 2 succeeded the FAW.1 and included many improvements. As well as the Firestreak it could carry the Red Top AAM (Air to Air Missile), four SNEB rocket pods and the air-to-ground Bullpup missile. An enlarged tail boom allowed for additional fuel tanks, in the "pinion" extensions above and before the wing leading edge, and there was an improved escape system and additional room for more electronic counter-measures equipment. However, the changes in aerodynamics meant that the 1000 lb bomb was no longer usable.
The FAW.2 first flew in 1962 and entered service with front-line squadrons in 1964, with twenty-nine being built and a further sixty-seven FAW.1s being upgraded to FAW.2 standard. The FAW.1 began phasing out in 1966.
The Sea Vixen also took to the skies in the aerobatic role, performing in two display teams; the Simons Sircus (spelt with S) and Fred's Five.
A single Sea Vixen (G-CVIX) continues to fly, putting on displays at numerous air shows. This aircraft is operated by De Havilland Aviation Ltd and can be viewed as a flying exhibit at Bournemouth Aviation Museum at Bournemouth Airport in Southern England. Many other Sea Vixens remain in good condition though do not fly, and are located in a variety of museums, most are based in the UK though a handful are located abroad