The Gnat is a British single-seat interceptor. The aircraft, which made its first flight in 1955, was designed to combine the smallest possible size with good performance and low price. The latter two features evoked the interest of the Finnish Air Force when the service launched a programme for the acquisition of a modern jet fighter in the mid-1950s. The Gnat was pitted against the British Hawker Hunter and the French Dassault Mystère. In flight tests the Gnat was found to have superior climb rate and manoeuvrability, and it was also significantly cheaper than its competitors.
An order for the purchase of Gnats was signed in October 1956, and in February 1957 a decision was made to build 20 aircraft under license at the Valmet factory. Folland promised to deliver the first aircraft by December 1957, although the first new jets eventually arrived in Tikkakoski at the end of July 1958. On the following day, a Gnat conducted the first supersonic flight in Finnish airspace.
Despite this spectacular start, it soon became evident that the Gnat was not fully ready for service. One aircraft was destroyed less than a month after its arrival due to a technical reason. The investigation cited a design error. The type was grounded for the duration of thorough investigations and repairs and was not flown again until January 1959.
Many defects and shortcomings emerged in Gnats in the early years of their service, but in the end, thanks to hundreds of modifications designed in Finland, the type turned into fully satisfactory jet fighter.
The pilots were fond of the Gnat due to its manoeuvrability and good climb rate, although on the reverse side of the coin the type was quite a handful to handle and required a competent pilot. The museum’s GN-101 was the second of the first two Gnats to arrive in Finland and bears the heritage name “Kreivi von Rosen” (“Count von Rosen”).
Folland Aircraft, Great Britain
Wing span 6.75 m; Maximum speed 1,040 km/h; Length 9.10 m; Height 2.30 m