Staff Writer (Updated: 4/5/2016):
Following World War 2, Hawker - along with most other major aviation firms - set about to find capable swept-wing fighter designs to complement the jet age still in her infancy. Specifications passed down by the British Ministry of Supply called for such an aircraft and set a fire in the minds of Hawker engineers - particularly Chief Designer Sydney Camm. Camm set to work and produced an experimental design eventually submitted for review in 1947 as the Hawker P.1052 prototype. The first of two such prototypes flew in November of the following year. The P.1052 bore a strong resemblance to another existing Hawker design - the Hawker Sea Hawk - an early straight-wing, carrier-based jet fighter. The P.1052 was differentiated from her predecessor in that she featured a 35-degree sweep to her wings but she was essentially the same Sea Hawk aircraft. Qualities and capabilities of this new aircraft design were deemed acceptable though no further development was pursued. Instead, Camm took the second P.1052 prototype design and revised it into the new Hawker P.1081 prototype. This particular version featured the same swept-back wings but also made use of sweep across all other winged surfaces on the tail. Like the Sea Hawk, the P.1081 featured a single powerplant (though designed for the newer and smaller Rolls-Royce Avon series over the larger Rolls-Royce Nene used in the Sea Hawk) with a single nose-mounted intake, a conventional tricycle undercarriage and "T" style tail unit all fitted to a tubular-shaped fuselage.
The design was further developed via Air Ministry Specification F.3/48 of 1948. In this revised form, the now P.1067 design sported twin triangular air intakes at the wing roots, a redesigned tail component to combat stability issues and radar-equipped solid nose cone. Production was officially ordered by the Ministry of Supply in 1950. The first of three prototypes initially flew on July 20th, 1951 with the second following in 1952 and the third in November of that year. Each aircraft varied in the choice of powerplant. The first prototype was fitted with an Avon 103 series turbojet of 6,500lbf while the second received an Avon 107. The third prototype was fitted with an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 101 series turbojet. The production Hunter F.Mk 1 - fitted with the Rolls-Royce Avon 113 - was airborne in March of 1953 and comprised a series of 20 (some sources state 22) pre-production aircraft to work out the kinks in the new design. Each of these aircraft differed in subtle ways from one another as designs were worked and reworked to counter emerging issues.
Design of the Hunter took on a distinctly 1950's British appearance, complete with rounded edges and smooth contours making for one appealing aircraft. The forward portion was of a conventional design with the cockpit situated at the front of the long cylindrical monocoque fuselage capped by the conical nose. The pilot was afforded a 2H/3H ejection seat of the Martin-Baker brand (Mk.4H seats were used in the two-seat trainers), a requirement of jet-powered fighters required to reach speeds in excess of 700 miles per hour. The days of having a pilot roll off the side of his airplane with parachute in tow were all but over. The two-piece canopy offered up a good all-around field of vision, important to any aircraft considered and effective dogfighter. Dual triangular intakes fed the single powerplant and were situated in special housings at the wing roots with the wings themselves positioned as mid-wing monoplanes. Sweep back was apparent on all surfaces. The powerplant was positioned in the latter half of the fuselage while the undercarriage was of a traditional retractable tricycle design with the main gears recessing inwards under the wingroots and the nose gear retracting forwards into the lower forward fuselage. The empennage was dominated by a single large vertical tail fin and an all-moving tailplane component. The exhaust port for the engine protruded somewhat aft of the tail fin base. Of particular note in the Hunter's final design form (and retrofitted to earlier marks) was the addition of two "blister" packs added under the fuselage just aft of the cannon barrels and their ejection ports - used to deflect spent cartridge links from potentially flying up into the intakes or damaging the rear fuselage, an issue common in early use. Construction was of all-metal and the aft portion of the aircraft was detachable for ease of maintenance, much like other early jet fighters.
Standard armament in the single-seat fighter version consisted of a battery of 4 x 30mm ADEN cannons mounted under the cockpit floor. The armament body (the barrels remained in the airframe) and ammunition packs (150 cannon rounds to a gun) could be easily removed and refitted as needed - another feature in common with the early jet fighters - of note is the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 "Fagot". Cannons were often removed in proceeding Hunter variants not requiring combat proficiency. With the addition of underwing pylons, the armament of the Hunter expanded into rockets, bombs and missiles. Missile types inevitably included the American-made AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range, air-to-air missile and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missiles. An impressive total of 7,400lbs of external stores could be carried depending on mission parameters. Though initially fitted with four hardpoints, the Singapore Hunters were eventually upgraded to six underwing and one centerline hardpoint for increased lethality at the expense of weight.
Variants of the Hunter included the production fighter models designated with the appropriate "F" naming convention. This constituted the F.Mk 1, F.Mk 2 (Sapphire engines), F.Mk 3, F.Mk 4, F.Mk 5 (Sapphire engines) and F.Mk 6. The F.Mk 1 was the initial production model fitted with the Avon 113 series engines. Its first flight came on March 16th, 1953 to which 193 production examples followed. The F.Mk 2 were Hunters fitted with the Sapphire 101 series engines, with these achieving first flight on October 14th, 1953. Some 45 production examples of this model were built. Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire-powered F.Mk 2 models were supplied to RAF No.257 Squadron.
The F.Mk 3 deserves mention here - though not a true production fighter model - as this particular Hunter was a prototype specifically fitted with a more powerful Rolls-Royce Avon RA.7R afterburning engine of 9,600lbf. The F.Mk 3 was also given a specially-designed pointed nose-cone, revised windscreen and airbrakes to make an attempt on the World Absolute Air Speed Record. This was in fact achieved by Hawker Chief Test Pilot Neville Duke on September 7th, 1953 setting the international bar at 727.63 miles per hour. Less than two weeks later, the Hunter set another (albeit short-lived) world speed record on a closed circuit course, averaging an outstanding 709.2 miles per hour. This particular aircraft, effectively now a historical aviation artifact and national symbol, saw proper preservation with the Royal Air Force Museum.