The Skua was designed to meet specification 0.27/34 for a navel dive bomber.
The first prototype Skua had problems with stability and it and the second prototype (both known as Skua MK Is) had to be modified with a longer nose and upturned wingtips, features carried over to the production aircraft (known as Skua Mk IIs). The Skua prototypes used the well tried Bristol Mercury engine but use of these engines in the huge Blenheim bomber programme meant that production Skuas had to use the new Bristol sleeve valve Perseus engine. There is no evidence that the Perseus engine as used on the Skua was particularly unreliable in itself, (later Bristol sleeve valve engines, paricularly the Taurus, went through a stage of very bad reliability when first mass-produced by unskilled labour, faults cured in the supremely reliable later model Hercules and Centaurus) but the new sleeve valve technology must have made maintenance more difficult and the Perseus's small production run must have made spares hard to find as the war years rolled by. The spin characteristics of the Skua were bad enough to prompt the fitting of an anti-spin parachute in the tail to aid recovery.
The Skua was built to Specification O.27/34 issued in 1934, two prototypes were ordered in 1935 and the first prototype (K5178) did not fly until nearly two years later on 9th Feb 1937. In October of that year it went for handling trials at A.&A.E.E. Martlesham. The second prototype (K5179) did not fly until 4th May 1938, and the first production Skua (L2867) flew on 28th August 1938. A total of 190 Skuas had been ordered as far back as July 1936, even before the first prototype had flown. Thus production was started a full two years after the order. However deliveries were prompt after that and over 150 had been delivered by the time War started, with all but one being delivered by the end of 1939. This meant that the Skua was very much a "new" aircraft when it first went to war and its pilots were still finding their way in this big metal monoplane aircraft with retractable undercarriage and enclosed cockpits, all a novelty to British carrier pilots of the time. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if the original expected "in-service" date of 1937 had been kept to. Then the crews would have had two years to get to know their aircraft and the Navy would probably have had 4 or 5 fully equipped and trained Skua Squadrons "ready to go" at the outbreak of war. There would probably have been follow-on orders for a second production run, maybe another 100 or so aircraft, perhaps incorporating minor improvements. As it was the Skua was viewed as obsolete from the start of it's service career and many of the later Skuas were clearly destined never to have a combat role, being delivered from the factory fully equipped as target tug trainers in a yellow and black striped livery.
- Dimensions: Wingspan 46 ft 2 in (14.07 m), Length 35 ft 7 in (10.85 m), Height 12 ft 5 in (3.79 m)
- Weights: Empty 5,490 lb (2,490 kg), Maximum 8,228 lb (3,732 kg)
- Engine: Bristol Perseus XII nine cylinder, sleeve valve, air cooled radial engine rated at 815 hp (could give a higher power rating of over 900 hp for 5 mins on emergency boost).
- Max Speed: 225 mph at 6,700 ft, 204 mph at sea level.
- Service ceiling 20,500 ft (reached in 43 mins), the Skua had a very poor rate of climb.
- Total fuel: 163 imperial gallons, giving a maximum range of some 760 miles (an endurance of over 4 hours).
- Armament: Four Browning .303 machine guns in wings with 600 rounds per gun (nearly double the number of rounds-per-gun of a Hurricane or Spitfire). One Lewis .303 machine gun in rear cockpit (whenever possible the gunner would try to replace this with a Vickers "K" gun which was more reliable and had a higher rate of fire). One 500 lb semi-armour-piercing bomb(SAP) or one 500 lb armour-piercing (AP)* or one 250 lb general purpose (GP) bomb recessed under fuselage and held in a bomb crutch to swing it clear of the propeller in dive bombing attacks. A "light series carrier" bomb rack could be fitted under each wing. Each carrier could hold 4 x 20 lb Cooper bombs or incendiaries or 2 x 40 lb bombs or incendiaries. [N 2]
- ↑ Primarily designed as a dive bomber, the Skua was also used as a fighter aircraft.
- ↑ Some reference books mistakenly give the impression the light series bomb racks were only ever used for "practice" bombs. The same carriers were used on Lysanders, Battles and Blenheims and were very much a weapon of war. The 500lb AP and SAP bombs was only used against armoured warships, for attacks on merchant ships and ground targets the normal bombload was a 250 lb bomb in the fuselage recess and either 20lb or 40lb bombs on the light series carriers. The 250 lb bomb had only a little less explosive content than the 500lb SAP and AP bombs (the extra weight of the latter was down to the casing, needed to punch through armour). If used against ground targets the SAP and AP bombs would often bury themselves deep before exploding, reducing the blast effect. The small and largely ineffective 100 lb anti-submarine (AS) bomb could also be carried in the fuselage recess.