W5856 is the oldest surviving airworthy Fairey Swordfish in the world. She first flew on Trafalgar Day (21 October) 1941 and was a “Blackfish”, built by Blackburn Aircraft at Sherburn-in-Elmet and delivered to 82 MU (Lichfield) on 20 October 1941 for overseas transport to Gibraltar. W5856 served with the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet for a year. Little is known of her role while on active Service in the Mediterranean but it is likely W5856 was based at North Front, Gibraltar, carrying out patrols over the Straits. She was then returned to Fairey’s Stockport factory for refurbishment during winter 1942/43.
Used for advanced flying training and trials, W5856 was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1944 and again used in a training role, then stored in reserve after the War’s end. She was disposed of and passed through the hands of at least two civilian operators, one being a farmer who it is understood had plans to turn her into a crop sprayer, before being purchased by Sir William Roberts and brought to Scotland to join his Strathallan Collection, arriving in crates in August 1977 in a badly corroded condition.
In 1990, the aircraft was bought by British Aerospace and completely restored to flying condition. Following a successful test flight at Brough in May 1993 she was gifted to the Royal Navy Historic Flight and three years later was adopted by the City of Leeds, in tribute to the local companies that built Swordfish components during WWII. She now wears the City’s coat of arms and name on her port side just forward of the pilot’s cockpit.
W5856 was grounded with corrosion in her wing spars in 2003 and her future looked uncertain. However with great generosity BAE Systems stepped in and constructed a new set of wings which were delivered in 2012. W5856 was finally restored to full flying condition and saved for the nation by a major grant from the Peter Harrison Heritage Foundation. The aircraft re-joined the display circuit in 2015, carrying a new paint scheme which depicts Swordfish of 820 Naval Air Squadron during the attack of the Bismarck in 1941.