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The Folland Gnat was a small, swept-wing Britishmarker subsonic jet trainer and light fighter aircraft developed for the Royal Air Force, and flown extensively by the Indian Air Force. It was designed by W.E.W. Petter, and first flew in 1955. Its design was such that it could be built without specialised tools by countries that were not highly industrialised. Although never used as a fighter by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the "Gnat T.1" trainer variant was widely used. The Gnat became well known as the mount for the RAF Red Arrowsmarker aerobatic team.

The Gnat also achieved export success, particularly with Indiamarker, the largest foreign operator who manufactured the aircraft under license. India then developed the HAL Ajeet, a modified and improved variant.

Design and development

The Gnat was the creation of W.E.W. "Teddy" Petter, a British aircraft designer formerly of Westland Aircraft and English Electric. Designed to meet the 1952 Operational Requirement OR.303 calling for a lightweight fighter, Petter believed that a small, simple fighter would offer the advantages of low purchase and operational costs. New lightweight turbojet engines that were being developed enabled the concept to take shape. Petter 's first design resulted in the private venture Folland Midge which had a short lifespan, but served as a proof-of-concept design.
A privately owned Folland Gnat.
The Midge first flew on 11 August 1954 but was destroyed in a crash on 20 September 1955. The Gnat, being developed in parallel with the Midge, was an improved version of the original fighter design, differentiated by larger air intakes and provision for a 30 mm Aden cannon in each intake lip.

One of the hallmarks of the Gnat's design was its compact size. However, to achieve such a size, its systems were closely packed, making maintenance more difficult. Some of its systems were not noted for their reliability and the aircraft suffered from high operating costs. There were also concerns that its cockpit was cramped and obstructed the instructor's forward visibility. Furthermore, the limited weapons load and reduced fuel capacity – both designed to reduce overall kerb weight – meant that it could not operate for protracted periods . Despite the shortcomings, the Gnat and its predecessor the Folland Midge were praised by the RAF evaluation and the test pilots in the 1955 Gnat Flight Development Team that included a pilot from India. The lower cost of the Gnat, its compact dimensions, as well as "good press" for the aircraft in air shows, were among the factors that prompted a spurt in its export sales.

Operational history

Royal Air Force

Gnat T1 on display in 2009
Although the Gnat was evaluated by the RAF in 1958 as a possible DH Venom replacement but the Hawker Hunter was the eventual winner of the fly-off competition. Although RAF interest waned in its possible use as a fighter, the Gnat was modified to meet the 1957 Trainer Specification T.185D that called for an advanced two-seat trainer that could transition pilots between the current DH Vampire T 11 and operational fighters such as the English Electric Lightning. After review of Folland's proposals, an initial contract for 14 modified Gnat trainers was issued in 7 January 1958.The Folland Fo.144 Gnat Trainer served in the RAF as the Gnat T.Mk 1. It was notable as the demonstration aircraft of the Red Arrowsmarker aerobatic display team between 1964, when the team was formed, and 1979, when it was replaced by the Hawk T.1A.

When the RAF replaced and sold off its Gnat T.1 trainers, many were bought by private collectors and subsequently appeared (along with some single-seat Gnats) in the Charlie Sheen movie Hot Shots!.

One of the few remaining Gnats in the UK has recently been restored to flight status at Bournemouth Airportmarker, in Southern England. G-NATY (formerly XR537) is the only genuine former Red Arrowsmarker Gnat on the European display circuit. The aircraft can be viewed at the De Havilland Aviation hangar at Bournemouth Airportmarker in Dorset, southern England. Like many ex-military jet aircraft, there is one (G-FRCE) based at North Weald Airfield in Essex.


The Finnish Air Force received the first of its 13 Gnats on 30 July 1958. It was soon found to be a problematic aircraft in service and required a lot of ground maintenance. Finland considered license manufacturing the aircraft but decided not to. On 31 July 1958, the Finnish Air Force Major Lauri Pekuri broke the sound barrier for the first time in Finland at Lake Luonetjärvi with a Folland Gnat.

All Gnats were grounded on 26 August 1958 for six months after the destruction of GN-102 due to a technical error, and the aircraft soon became the subject of severe criticism. Three other aircraft were also destroyed in other accidents. The Gnats were removed from active service in 1972 when the Häme Wing moved to Rovaniemi, and when the new Saab 35 Drakens were taken into use.


Indo-Pakistani War of 1965

Serving primarily with the Indian Air Force, the Gnat is credited by many independent and Indian sources to have shot down seven Pakistanimarker Canadair Sabres (licence-built F-86s) in the 1965 war. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) claims only three Gnat victories over F-86s in air to air combat, while two Gnats were downed by PAF fighters. During the initial phase of the 1965 war, an IAF Gnat, piloted by Squadron Leader Brij Pal Singh Sikand, landed at an abandoned Pakistani airstrip at Pasrurmarker and was captured by the PAF. Two F-104 Starfighters forced the Gnat down. This Gnat is displayed as a war trophy in the Pakistan Air Force Museum, Karachi. After the ceasefire, one Pakistani Cessna O-1 was shot down on 16 December 1965 by a Gnat.

Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

The Gnats were used again by India in the Bangladesh Liberation War against Pakistan. The most notable action was the Battle of Boyra where the first dogfights over East Pakistan (Bangladeshmarker) took place. The IAF Gnats downed two PAF Canadair Sabres in minutes and badly damaged one. The Pakistan Air Force claims that one Gnat was shot down, which was proved incorrect. Another notable dogfight involving a Gnat was over Srinagarmarker airfield where a lone Indian pilot held out against six Sabres, scoring hits on two of the Sabres in the process, before being overwhelmed. Gnat pilot Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon was posthumously honoured with Param Vir Chakra (India's highest gallantry award), becoming the only member of the IAF to be given the award.

"Sabre Slayer"

By the end of 1971, the Gnat proved to be a frustrating opponent for the technically superior Sabres and had lived up to its Indian Air Force nickname of "Sabre Slayers" since all its combat "kills" during the two wars were against Sabres. The Canadair Sabre Mk 6 was widely regarded as the best dogfighter of its era. Tactics called for Gnats taking on the Sabres in the vertical arena, where they were at a disadvantage. Moreover, because the Gnat was lightweight and compact in shape, it was hard to see, especially at low levels where most of the dogfights took place. Apart from air defence operations, the aircraft performed multiple roles in the Bangladesh Liberation War, being used in anti-shipping operations, ground attack, bomber/transport escort and close air support with "devastating effects" on the PAF. The success of the indigenously produced Gnats against the more sophisticated Pakistani-flown planes was viewed as a significant achievement.

The IAF were impressed by the Gnat's performance in the two wars, but the aircraft had problems including hydraulics and unreliable control systems. To address these issues, the IAF issued a requirement for an improved "Gnat II" in 1972, at first specifying that the new version was to be optimized as an interceptor, but then expanding the specification to include the ground-attack role. Over 175 of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-built licensed version, the Ajeet ("Unconquerable"), were produced in Bangaloremarker, while about 40 were purchased directly from Folland.

Gnats served in India from 1958-1978, and several remain in use in private hands. Some IAF Gnats, one of which had participated in the 1971 war in East Pakistan (present day Bangladeshmarker), were presented to the Bangladesh Air Force.


  • Fo.141 Gnat : Single seat lightweight fighter aircraft.
    • Gnat F.1 : Single-seat lightweight fighter version for Finland and India. This was also built in India under license as the HAL Gnat.
    • HAL Ajeet : Single-seat Mark. 2 development of the Gnat F.1
    • HAL Ajeet Trainer : Two-seat tandem trainer version for the Indian Air Force. This version was derived from the HAL Ajeet and differed considerably from the Gnat T.1 used by the RAF
  • Fo. 144 Gnat trainer : Two-seat advanced trainer aircraft.
    • Gnat T.1 : Two-seat advanced trainer version for the RAF.


  • SFR Yugoslav Air Force received only two aircraft, construction numbers FL14 and FL17, machines originally marked as G-39-8 and G-39-9 respectively, and became Yugoslav AF inventory registration numbers 11601 and 11602. They were used for evaluation and tests by VOC (Flight test center).


A number of Gnats survive including a number of airworthy examples (particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom) and others on public display:
  • Gnat F1 XK724 is on display at the RAF Museummarker Cosfordmarker, Shropshire, England.
  • Gnat F1 XK741 is on display at the Midland Air Museummarker, Coventry, England painted in Finnish colours.
  • Gnat F1 11601 is on display at the Belgrade Aviation Museummarker.
  • Gnat F1 XK740 is on display at Solent Skymarker, Southampton, Hampshire, England.
  • Gnat T1 XM694 (N694XM) is on display at Pima, Arizona, United States.
  • Gnat T1 XM697 (originally XM693) is on display outside BAe Systems factory at Hamble, Hampshire, England.
  • Gnat T1 XP505 is on display at the Science Museummarker, London, England.
  • Gnat T1 XP542 is on display at Solent Skymarker, Southampton, Hampshire, England.
  • Gnat T1 XR537 is operated by De Havilland Aviation, Bournemouth Airport. Fully airworthy following a restoration project and registered on the civilian register as G-NATY, painted in its former RAF Red Arrows livery and displaying its former military registration XR537.
  • Gnat T1 XR571 is on display at the headquarters of the Red Arrowsmarker, RAF Scamptonmarker, Lincolnshiremarker, England.
  • Gnat T1 XR572 is painted in the markings of the Red Arrowsmarker and operates from Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airportmarker with the US registration 'N572XR'.
  • Gnat T1 XR977 is on display at the RAF Museummarker Cosfordmarker, Shropshire, England.
  • Gnat T1 XS105 (N18GT)is on display in flying condition at the Planes of Fame Air Museum, Chino, USA
  • One Indian Gnat which was captured by Pakistan Air Force is on display at PAF museum Karachi.
  • The Central Finland Aviation Museummarker in Tikkakoski has two Gnats (GN-101 and GN-104).
  • The Finnish Aviation Museummarker in Vantaa has also two Gnats (GN-105 and GN-106).
  • The Karhula Aviation Museummarker has one Gnat (GN-107).
  • One Gnat is erected as a monument at Someronharju, near Rovaniemi (GN-110).
  • The Aviation Guild in Lahti has GN-112 on display at the Vesivehma museum.
  • One former FAF Gnat (GN-113) is in private possession and based at Malmi airport.
  • GN-103 is stored at the airport in Halli.
  • In November 2009, a Gnat was offered on eBay at US$89,000.

Specifications (Gnat F.1)

In Popular Culture

The Gnat made its major role in a comedy movie Hot Shots! as a naval fighter.

See also


  1. Taylor 1969, p. 365.
  2. Willis 2008, p. 40.
  3. Willis 2208, p. 43.
  4. Willis 2008, p. 54.
  5. Chopra 1974, p. 70.
  6. Willis 2008, p. 53.
  7. UK Aircraft sales
  8. Warbird Alley
  9. Folland Gnat
  10. Bharat Rakshak
  11. Spick 2002, p. 161.
  12. Pakistan Air Force war claims
  13. A Gnat Surrenders -
  14. 1965 War Note: Later, a retired PAF historian, Air Cmde Kaiser Tufail, determined that the Gnat actually landed before the F-104s arrived on the scene, giving credibility to the Indian version.
  15. Defence Day
  16. IAF History
  17. Squadron 22 "Swifts"
  18. Folland Gnat F1 - RAF Museum
  19. Air Battles - December 1971 by Wg Cdr Salim Baig Mirza, PAF
  20. Official Citation of the PVC to NIrmal Jit Singh Sekhon
  21. Param Vir Chakra
  22. Bingham 2002
  23. "Book review of Three countries, One people By D.S. Jafa." India Today, 20 September 1999. Retrieved: 10 March 2009.
  24. Canadair CL-13 Sabre - Royal Canadian Air Force
  25. Sabre
  26. Ross 1991, p. 193.
  27. Warbirds of India
  28. Folland Gnat British Air Force Jet Trainer, restored - November 16, 2009


  • Bingham, Victor. Folland Gnat – Red Arrow and Sabre Slayer. Hailsham, East Sussex, UK: J&KH Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-900511-78-9.
  • Burnet, Charles. "Folland's (G)Natty Fighters." AIR Enthusiast Twenty-four, April-July 1984. Bromley, Kent, UK: Pilot Press Ltd., 1984.
  • Chopra, Pushpindar. "Fly with a Sting." Air International, Volume 7, no. 2, August 1974.
  • Ross, Andrew L. The Political Economy of Defense: Issues and Perspectives. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1991. ISBN 0-31326-462-7.
  • Spick, Mike. Illustrated Directory of Fighters. Osceola, Wisconsin: Zenith Press, 2002. ISBN 0-76031-343-1.
  • Taylor, John W.R. "Folland Gnat." Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
  • Willis, David. "The Folland Gnat. (Database)" Aeroplane, September 2008.

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