By Doug Trench, Defence Editor
A Norfolk arms company faces an uncertain future after its latest military jet failed to live up to expectations.
Colmans BAE spent four years developing Gentle Breeze – a fighter it insisted would rival the globally-acclaimed Eurofighter Typhoon.
But critics say the new jet will fail to take off financially, and could mean Colmans BAE, which is based just outside Downham Market, shedding more jobs.
The company is already reeling from downsizing after its Raleigh Tank, which it had taken years to develop, was ditched by the Ministry of Defence last year.
It had pinned its hopes on the Gentle Breeze, claiming its slight lack of speed, agility and firepower was more than compensated for by its cheaper price tag, coming in at only £249 each (or £400 for two).
But when it was unveiled at the Middle East Arms Fair in Saudi Arabia this week, it was met with derision.
Delegates said the air gun fixed to the front of the jet would fail to trouble a pigeon, let alone an enemy fighter.
Defence expert Lorraine Fisher, 34, from Suffolk said: “I’m afraid Colmans BAE is way behind the competition with this Gentle Breeze fighter.
“It can reach speeds of only 75mph and an altitude of less than 1,000 feet – the Russians must be wetting themselves.”
Colmans BAE said it had spent £200 million developing the Gentle Breeze, claiming it was a huge improvements on previous models.
It had manufactured the Blakeney Bomber (below) for 25 years, marketing it as the most advanced long-range bomber anywhere in the world.
A spokesman for the company, which employs more than 1,000 people, all from the same family, said: “We are confident that the Gentle Breeze jet will be a popular addition to any country’s defences.
“We have already had inquiries from North Korea.”
One buyer at the arms fair said: “If they sell any of these it will be a miracle. The Gentle Breeze is painfully slow, but at least there is no danger of it creating a sonic boom.”