Hawker Hurricane Fighter / Ground Attack Aircraft
The true star of the Battle of Britain was the rugged and reliable Hawker Hurricane.
Authored By Dan Alex; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Hawker Hurricane was the culmination of a series of capable metal biplane fighters evolved by the Hawker concern throughout the 1920s. The Hurricane's fuselage shape and design borrowed much from the preceding Hawker "Fury" biplane line that the Hurricane was known or a time as the "Fury Monoplane". It is perhaps best known as the true star of the "Battle of Britain" engulfing Europe during the summer of 1940. In the campaign, the German Luftwaffe attempted to subdue the British by a relentless air attack sent ahead of its ground invasion force (the proposed "Operation Sea Lion"). The Hurricane outnumbered the competing - and far more popular - Supermarine Spitfire by two-to-one in the inventory of Fighter Command and proved its most valuable asset against hordes of incoming enemy aircraft. The Hurricane went on to account for more enemy aircraft destroyed in the battle than any other British weapon - including the Spitfire and any ground-based cannon fire - such was its importance to the British defense. Beyond its wartime exploits, the Hurricane became the Royal Air Force's (RAF) first monoplane fighter and its first capable of exceeding the 300 mile per hour barrier.
Design of the aircraft was attributed to aeronautical engineer Sidney Camm (1893-1966) who also lent his design talents to the wartime Hawker Typhoon and Tempest fighter-bombers. In the post-war years, he helped further the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Harrier "jumpjet" and the Hawker Hunter jet fighter programs which reached their own level of fame during the Cold War.
The aircraft that would become the Hurricane was developed progressively from a 1933 initiative posed by the Directorate of Technical Development which sought to move away from biplane aircraft into the realm of the monoplane. Camm began work on such an aircraft while borrowing some of the successful elements of his existing Fury biplane fighter. The aircraft would seat a single operator and be powered by the new Rolls-Royce PV.12 inline piston engine (to become the famous "Merlin"). Unlike the Fury, the new fighter would feature a monoplane wing assembly, enclosed cockpit, and a retractable undercarriage. It continued Hawker's use of a steel tube understructure covered over in fabric and not a stressed-metal skin approach encountered with more modern designs. The approach proved not as complicated to repair and manufacture though it did make the aircraft something of a technological dead end product - unable to be evolved past a certain form. The original 4 x machine gun wing armament was increased to 8 x machine guns when a Colt-Browning license was secured to locally-produce the American gun in Britain. The guns were to be held in two groups of four to each wing and did not require synchronization gear to fire through the spinning propeller blades - further simplifying Camm's approach.
British authorities were sold on the concept and developed fighter Specification F.36/34 in 1934 around the promising Hawker design. First flight of a prototype Hurricane aircraft occurred on November 6th, 1935 and it only became known as the "Hurricane" in June of 1936. An order for 600 aircraft followed.
First flight of a production-quality Hurricane was on October 12th, 1937 and the type was formally taken into RAF stock during December of that year as the "Hurricane Mk I", replacing the aging fleet of Gloster Gauntlets at RAF Northolt. In 1938, first deliveries for foreign customers in Belgium, Iran, Portugal, and Yugoslavia began.
Hurricane Mk I
The Hurricane Mk I was fielded with the Rolls-Royce Merlin II engine of 1,030 horsepower driving a two-blade propeller arrangement. Its armament was the classic 8 x 7.7mm Colt-Browning machine gun battery with four guns fitted to a wing. This is the mark that served with Fighter Command during the pivotal Battle of Britain in 1940. Earlier in 1939, these aircraft also served from French soil during the German steamroll of Western Europe. Production of the Mk I totaled 3,164 units. British production was through Hawker, Gloster, and the Austin Motor Company.
1,715 Hurricanes were fielded with Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. It accounted for 60% of all aerial victories by the RAF, such was its importance in the battle.
The Mk I was eventually re-engined with the Rolls-Royce Merlin III series for improved performance. It also received metal wings to help modernize the combat aircraft some. This revised Mk I was on hand from 1939 onwards and saw production reach 500.
An Mk I was also fitted with the Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine of 1,185 horsepower and went on to serve as the testbed for the upcoming Mk II variant.
Hurricane Mk II
The Hurricane Mk II variant appeared from September 1940 onwards and brought along the improved Rolls-Royce Merlin XX two-stage supercharged engine beginning with the IIA fighter mark. Total production was 6,656 units and included the Mk IIA, Mk IIB, Mk IIC, and Mk IID forms. The Hurricane Mk IIA fitted the improved Rolls-Royce Merlin XX engine of 1,280 horsepower and retained the 8 x machine gun arrangement of the original Mk Is. Hurricane IIA models were seen over the Far East from 1942 onwards.
The Hurricane Mk IIB then followed and were differentiated by their twelve-machine-gun armament, fitting six machine guns to a wing. Testing centered around use of fuel drop tanks for improved ferry ranges led to a more developed wing which allowed for the carrying of underwing stores - initially 2 x 250lb bombs and then 2 x 500lb bombs. The aircraft was then nicknamed "the Hurribomber" as a result and, while slower, broadened the tactical value of the aircraft as a fighter-bomber. The Mk IIB was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Merlin XX liquid-cooled V12 piston engine developing 1,280 horsepower. This provided for a maximum speed of 341 miles per hour with a climb rate to 20,000 feet of 9 minutes. Service ceiling was 35,600 feet and range out to 460 miles.