The Saunders-Roe SR.A/1, nicknamed ‘Squirt’, was a prototype flying boat fighter aircraft which was developed by the British shortly after the Second World War. The Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 was inspired by Japanese seaplane fighter aircraft such as the Nakajima A6M2-N and the Kawanishi N1K. These had proved to be effective and versatile during the intense island-hopping war in the Pacific theatre.
The primary disadvantage of seaplane fighters was their reduced maneuverability due to the flotation pontoons hanging from the bottom of the fuselage and wings. Saunders-Roe were largely able to overcome this by adapting the fuselage itself to become the floatation element of the design. In addition, by equipping the SR.A/1 with a jet engine instead of a propeller, the aircraft could sit lower in the water because it wasn’t necessary to create clearance for the spinning blades.
Saunders-Roe went to the UK government’s Air Ministry with their proposal towards the end of the war. They received a development contract in May 1944 for three prototypes. The first Prototype didn’t make it into the air until a couple of years after the war ended. Piloted by Geoffrey Tyson, the Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 took to the skies on July 16th 1947. All three prototypes displayed good performance and handling, and in terms of design the aircraft was judged a success. However the need for such an aircraft had evaporated at war’s end. In addition the success of the aircraft carriers in the Pacific had demonstrated a far more effective way of conducting aerial warfare over the oceans. By 1950 the aircraft was put into storage due to their being no requirement for its speciality.
The Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 project was briefly revived later in 1950 when the Korean War started. But it wasn’t long before the military realised the aircraft had no use in the conflict and it was again put back in its box. The Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 made its final flight in June 1951.
Out of the three aircraft built, only one survives and is on display at Solent Sky aviation museum in Southampton. The other two were lost in accidents. The first was on 12 Aug 1949, when Chief Naval Test Pilot Lt Cmdr Eric “Winkle” Brown piloted the third prototype for its first and last time. On landing he hit a submerged log and the fuselage was ripped open and the starboard stabilizing float was ripped off causing the wing to dig into the water cartwheeling the aircraft onto its back. Brown almost drowned while trying to escape, but fortunately Geoffrey Tyson, the Saro test pilot responsible for the majority of the SR A/1 testing, dived into the water from the supporting motor launch and helped free him before it sank.
The second loss was only a month later when Squadron Leader ‘Pete’ Major was preparing for an air show at RAF Felixstowe. During a slow roll, he let the nose slip down while inverted, then instinctively pulled on the stick rather than pushing out from his upside-down position. The aircraft broke up on impact, and no trace of Major was found. Much of the aircraft was salvaged over the next ten days.
Interestingly the Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 was fitted with the first two production Martin-Baker ejection seats built.