Compared with its immortal rival, the sleek Suprmnarine Spitfire featured in last month’s Motor Sport, the Hawker Hurricane was considered by some to be the ugly duckling of the two. In fact, it was easier to build, and because of its simple yet rugged construction, it was certainly easier to repair if battle-damaged.The Hurricane evolved between 1933 and 1935 under an experienced team of aircraft designers led by Sydney Camm (later knighted for his work on classic fighters) through a number of constantly changing official requirements. Its genesis was the private venture Hawker ‘Fury Monoplane’ project of 1933 which featured a spattered undercarriage and a 700hp Rolls Royce Goshawk engine.
The following year Rolls-Royce announced it was working on the PV-12 liquid-cooled in-line engine developed from the Schneider Trophy seaplane powerplants which, with further development, promised considerably more power for a significantly lower weight. However, if it was to be selected for the new Hawker fighter. the engine would demand some alterations to the Fury Monoplane fuselage. At this point it was realised that the new aircraft was becoming further removed from the Fury it was supposed to replace, so the name of the new design was changed to the ‘High Speed Interceptor Monoplane’.
In 1934, Air Ministry ideas about the performance requirements of future single-seat fighters were undergoing a radical rethink.The original specification, F3/34, was examined by Hawkers, who further developed the Interceptor Monoplane design to meet the new requirement Air Ministry officials in turn studied the revisions, recognised that the proposed fighter showed great promise,and as a result issued the new Specification F36/34. which was essentially written around the Hawker machine.
A contract for an unarmed prototype was placed in January 1935, but this was later to include the provision of eight 0.303-inch machine guns in the wings, and the fitment of metal-covered stressed-skin wings instead of the original fabric-covered mainplanes. The Hawker prototype was considered very advanced, bringing together for the first time such features as a monoplane structure, retractable undercarriage, enclosed cockpit and guns in the wings.
The Interceptor Monoplane, serialised K5083, took six months to build at Cadbury Park Road, a side street near Kingston railway station in Surrey, where Sir Tom Sopwith first manufactured aircraft in 1913. On completion in October 1935, the prototype was trucked to Hawker’s final assembly sheds at Brooklands, and K5083 made its first flight from there on the 6th November 1935, piloted by the legendary PW S ‘George’ Bulman,so-called because he seemed unable to remember anyone’s name and thus addressed everyone he met as ‘George’. Another Hawker legend has it that the dimensions of the Interceptor Monoplane were actually determined by the size of the factory door at Cadbury Park Road, rather than by the official specification. Contemporary pictures of it emerging from the works support the theory.
In February 1936, after making only ten flights totalling eight hours and five minutes, K5083 was considered to be ready for official evaluation. It was flown to the Aircraft and Armanent Experimental Establishment at Martlesham Heath near Ipswich for its initial service trials, which were completed without much critical comment, the Trials Report merely stating that the ‘aileron and rudder controls became too heavy at high speeds’.
Having achieved a speed of 318 mph at 15,000ft, the height at which bomber interceptions were expected to take place, K5083 made history by becoming the first interceptor in the world to exceed 300mph. giving the Royal Air Force a really worthwhile speed advantage over any known German bomber of the time.
Based on the early flight trials of K5083, rumours soon began to circulate that the Air Ministry would recommend volume production of the Hurricane. In March 1936, a unique decision in industrial aviation history was taken at Cadbury Park Road, one which most certainly influenced events in the skies over Southern England some four years later. Without waiting for confirmation of the rumoured government contract, the Hawker board of directors issued instructions for the immediate production planning, jigging and tooling for 1000 Hurricane airframes, thus shortcutting any development plan which might have led to improvements in the aircraft’s performance. Of course, the urgency carried with it certain disadvantages which led to the Hurricane having a more limited development life than otherwise would have been the case, but these were felt at the time to be outweighed by the advantage of early deliveries to the RAF in meaningful numbers.
Fortunately, only three months elapsed before the company received a contract for 520 aircraft from the Air Ministry.The contract, considered massive at the time. allowed the Kingston designers to issue production drawings only one week later.
On 27th June 1936, the Hawker F36/34 was officially named the Hurricane, and the following month K5083 was shown to the public for the first time at the Hendon Air Pageant, flown by Squadron Leader Anderson of the A&AEE.
The re-equipment of RAF squadrons with Hurricanes accelerated throughout 1937-38 with No.3 and No.56 following the famous No. III ‘Treble-One’ at Northolt. By the end of 1938. around 200 had been delivered.
Yet, despite a natural preoccupation with replacing obsolete fighters still guarding UK skies, the Hurricane’s potential had not gone unnoticed by other European governments. Export contracts were accepted from Belgium,Yugoslavia and Romania. By the outbreak of war in September 1939, the RAF could field 19 fully-equipped squadrons. No.1 , No. 73.and No.87 were sent immediately to France to form the Air Component of the Advanced Air Striking Force. It was a Hurricane of 1 Sqn. that claimed the first German aircraft shot down by the RAF in World War Two, a Domier 17 on 30th October.
Following the so-called ‘phoney war’, it was in the summer of 1940 that the Hurricane began to edge into the history books. Altogether, 67 RAF squadrons were involved in the Battle of Britain: 35 Hurricane and 19 Spitfire,with the remainder flying Defiants, Blenheims, Gladiators. More than 1,700 Hurricanes flew in the Battle and 80% of all claimed victories were by Hurricane pilots.
Of course, every victory has its price, and the campaign cost the RAF 471 pilots killed, 242 Hurricanes and 149 Spitfires. Perhaps the greatest valediction to Camm’s famous fighter was the fact that the Hurricane accounted for more enemy aircraft destroyed in the Battle of Britain than all the other defences such as Spitfires, Defiants, Blenheim fighters, anti-aircraft guns and the balloon barrage put together. Of the fighters available each morning for combat, the average for the Hurricane was 63%.
Records indicate that 14,443 Hurricanes were built between 1935 and July 1944. They were produced in the UK by Hawker Aircraft Limited at Kingston, Brooklands, Surrey and Langley, Bucks; by the Gloster Aircraft Company at Hucclecote, Gloucestershire; by The Austin Motor Co. at Longbridge, Birmingham; in Canada by the Canadian Car and Foundry Co. of Montreal (later Canadair and now Bombardier), together with token production in Belgium and Romania, the latter representing pilot assembly before planned full production got under way. The type operated in Europe, the Middle and Far East, India and Russia.
Thankfully, the Hurricane proved to be versatile, and dedicated versions were used in the fighter (by both the RAF and Royal Navy),ground attack/fighter bomber, photo reconnaissance, and operational trainer roles. Other variants included special experimental versions such as the Hilton slip-wing biplane Hurricane, and the Griffith laminar flow wing research vehicle, while time-expired airframes were catapulted (together with their pilots) from merchant ships to protect convoys far out at sea.very much a one shot operation, as they landed in the water at the end of the sortie.
The final Hurricane, aptly named ‘The Last of the Many’, rolled off the Langley production line in July 1944 and is still flying today. In the early 1960s, at the end of its useful operational life, the aircraft was used as the company chase-plane during the trials of the Hawker P1127 jump-jet.
Using the well proven wire-braced/steel tube form of construction used by Hawker Aircraft from the 1928 Hart biplane and its variants to the new 1935 monoplane fighter; the production version of the Hurricane was essentially a single-seat, low wing cantilever monoplane with a retractable undercarriage and enclosed cockpit. It was powered by a Rolls Merlin piston engine driving a Rotol or de Havilland constant speed airscrew, although early production aircraft had a Watts two-blade fixed pitch wooden propeller.
The cantilever wing was built in three portions; the centre section,and port and starboard outer planes, with split trailing-edge flaps fitted between the inner ends of the ailerons, except at the position of the radiator fairing. The tapered outer planes were pin-joined to the parallel centre section spars and were either of the fabric, covered or stressed-skin type, the external profiles of each type being the same.
The centre section, beneath the fuselage, was recessed to receive the undercarriage when retracted.The main fuel tanks were carried in the centre section, one on either side of the fuselage, plus a reserve tank in the first bay of the centre fuselage:The oil tank formed the leading edge of the port wing, nearest the fuselage.
Aside from the Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm, other countries which operated Hurricanes included Ireland, which used interned aircraft until these were replaced by others acquired through official channels. Ironically, these were in turn replaced by a mixture of Spitfires and Seafires just after the war Turkey, Egypt and France also flew the Hurricanes during World War Two, and post-war customers included Portugal and Iran, which uniquely operated two open cockpit two-seat fighter trainers.
In the early ’50s the type melted away and for some years only PZ865 (owned by Hawkers and flown by Bill Bedford) and LF363 (operated by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight) were the only examples flying. In the 19605, interest in the type revived, led by Bob Diemert in Canada (who got the locally-built MkX11 CF-SM) flying before passing it on to Sir William Roberts at Strathallan), and its subsequent use in the Battle of Britain feature film.
Today, apart from PZ865 and the newly restored LF363 operated by the BoBMF, plus the Shuttleworth Collection’s Sea Hurricane Z7015, there are a few others flying including Stephen Gray’s Z738I at Duxford and Robert Fleming’s unserialled G-HURR (painted as LKA of 87 Sqn.) based at Breighton,Yorkshire. In the USA, RCAF5481 of the Museum of Flying,Chino, California flies as N678DP after restoration by Charles Church in 1991, and Neil Rose’s N2549 is under repair after a landing mishap at Yakima,Washington in 1994.
More Hurricanes are in prospect. P3351, beautifully restored by Hawker Restorations for the Alpine Fighter Collection at Wanaka, New Zealand, and AE977, another Hawker restoration, should be flying now. Others still in the pipeline include Rick Roberts’ G-ROBT and G-BWHA, AJD Aeronautical Engineering’s G-KAMM and G-BRKE, and The Fighter Collection’s G-HURY at Duxford.
The complexity and high level of intricate engineering involved in the restoration and decommissioning of a Hawker Hurricane will strike a chord among owners of vintage and classic cars, as indeed will the sense of satisfaction and achievement that comes with the sight of a restored Hurricane back in the air. The Hurricane’s fine heritage and rarity adds an extra dimension of value, both emotional and financial, that can only grow with time.
The support of far-sighted enthusiasts combined with the skills of specialist restorers such as the Hawker Restorations should ensure that future generations will be able to see a Hurricane in the air well into the next century possibly even flying at its 100th anniversary air show in 2035.