The Boulton Paul Defiant

Updated: Mar 29

The Boulton Paul Defiant was an unusual fighter aircraft developed by Boulton Paul in 1937. I first learned about this weird and (perhaps not-so-)wonderful beast by means of an Airfix kit. Whether it was the "worst" or not stands to be debated, but hopefully, this article serves as an 'Atlas Obscura' for those uninitiated in the bizarre world of Boulton Paul.


The Defiant wasn't B. P's first rodeo in the weird and wonderful. After the first world war, the Norwich-based factory was awash with twin-engined prototypes. The Boulton Paul Atlantic was one of these aircraft which was a conversion of their mostly successful First World War-era bomber, the Bourges. The name 'Atlantic' derived from their goal to be the first aircraft manufacturer to cross the Atlantic non-stop.ᴵ Unfortunately for B. P., this was the ultimate goal for just about every man and his skillfully trained dog, and an accident during the first test flight of the 'Atlantic', brought the project to a grinding halt.

However, the company wasn't always associated with ambitious failures. In accordance with their blue plaque in their home town of Norwich, Boulton Paul were "Aeronautical Firsts" in many ways. They're credited with the first full-metal airframe, although, this subject can be debated, as some may argue that Junkers or Bristol could lay claim to this title. B. P. is also ascribed with producing the largest quantities of 'Sopwith Camel's' during the First World War and providing the airframe for the R101 airship. Later, during the 1930's the company made their mark by developing the first fully enclosed and fully powered aircraft turretᴵᴵ. As we shall soon see, the company would stick to their guns both figuratively and literally during their later developments.

A Squadron of Defiants

In concept, the Rolls Royce Merlin powered fighter should have earned its place on the podium, akin to the Spitfire and Hurricane which were of a similar ilk. However, in practice, the aptly named Defiant was demoted to back pages of history books and obscure internet blogs. Much like the Spitfire or Hurricane, the Defiant was a 'low-winged monoplane'ᴵᴵᴵ, but unlike the two aforementioned aircraft, the Defiant did not have any frontal armament. Instead, it featured a dorsal turret, that neatly sat behind the pilot. During the early stages of the war, the aircraft fulfilled its 'bomber-destroying' role quite well. The Merlin engine allowed the plane to speed in front of the Luftwaffe bombers, meaning the aft gunner could wreak havoc on the bomber's crew. Defiant crews also lay claim to a few Me 109's too when they were mistaken for Hurricane's by the Messerschmitt pilotsᶦᵛ.

A gunner from 264 Squadron

Despite a handful of victories, the Defiant was flawed and the ratio of kills to losses was not in favour of the R.A.F. Eventually, Me 109 pilots cottoned on to the fact that the Defiant had no frontal machine guns whatsoever, and the turret could not offer any protection to the front of the aircraft. The bulbous turret also meant that the Defiant's maneuverability was inadequate to that of its peers and its rivals, thank's to the large amount of drag the shape of the turret produced.

Soon, the duties of the Defiant as a daytime fighter would be relieved and instead, it would wind up as night-fighterᵛ. Early models were essentially a blacked-out version of the normal Mk.I but the NF Mk.Ia and the NF Mk.II would feature advanced radar systemsᵛᶦ which would make the Defiant a worthy opponent to German bombers. This change in role was perhaps the best thing to happen to the Defiant and the increase in claimed aircraft kills was noteworthy, however, with aircraft developments getting increasingly more advanced, the Defiant was once again outshone by its peers, especially with the development of the DeHavilland Mosquito which boasted 2 engines which allowed for greater speed and maneuverability. This would not be the end of the Defiant's career but it did mean that most of the aircraft were demoted to nothing more than a target tugs, with the rear turret being replaced by an observer's seatᵛᶦᶦ. Some Defiant's stayed in this role until 1947, after which, they faded away.

Only one known example of the Boulton Paul Defiant exists today.






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