High-Speed, Swept-Wing Research Aircraft
Experiments by the British in swept-wing aircraft forms during the Cold War period resulted in designs such as the Hawker P.1052.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
In September of 1947, some years after the close of World War 2 (1939-1945) when piston-powered fighters ruled the air war, British aero-industry flew, for the first time, what would become the Hawker "Sea Hawk" naval fighter. This single-seat, single-engine platform would see a total of 542 units produced before the end and this product would fly into the early 1980s with foreign navies. The same successful design would go on to form the basis for another Hawker product, the "P.1052" - a design for the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) used as a dedicated testbed for high-speed, swept-back wing research during the early Cold War period.
As far back as 1945, engineers at Hawker were drawing up plans for an experimental high-speed, swept-back test form but it was not until early-1946, with World War 2 all but over now, that the program gained steam through a contract awarded by the British Air Ministry to cover two prototypes satisfying Specification E.38/46. The contract was granted in May of 1947 and in-depth work ensued to bring the aircraft about - it was a direct offshoot of the P.1040 design work which went on to become the aforementioned Sea Hawk.
The finalized test form utilized metal construction and a rounded, streamlined fuselage design. Over the nose was fitted the single-seat cockpit under a large-area, lightly-framed two-piece canopy. The wings were mid-mounted along the fuselage sides and given 35-degree sweepback. At the wing roots were located triangular air intakes to aspirate the single engine installation buried within the fuselage and exhaustion was through wing root pipes. The tail unit incorporated a single, rounded vertical fin with horizontal planes mounted midway up the structure. A wholly-retractable tricycle undercarriage was used for ground-running.
Power was from a single Rolls-Royce R.N.2 "Nene" turbojet engine developing 5,000lb of thrust.
The initial prototype was designated "VX272" and made ready in 1948, completing its first-flight on November 19th of that year. The second contracted prototype, "VX279", followed into the air on April 13th, 1949. A third static airframe was eventually added to the stable to handle other controlled tests on the ground.
VX279 was reworked with a single jet exhaust arrangement (as opposed to the dual jet pipe form), a revised tail section (now with swept surfaces), and a "variable-incidence" tailplane to better handle higher speed flying envelopes. Changes to this prototype were substantial enough to send this entry down its own developmental path as the "P.1081" detailed elsewhere on this site.
Meanwhile, VX272 continued to fly in a research-minded way - eventually incorporating qualities such as a reinforced fuselage and wing mainplane members, the proven undercarriage taken from the production Sea Hawk fighter, subtle aerodynamic refinements to satisfy emerging high-speed issues, and the original tail section of the early-form VX279 prototype complete with arrestor hook for carrier deck landings. In this guise, VX272 successfully completed take-offs and landings from the deck of the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in May of 1952. The variable-incidence tailplane component was finally integrated to this prototype that June to complete the aircraft's new look - which flew into September of 1953 before given up in favor of work on the "P.1067" - this particular entry set to become the classic Hawker Hunter production fighter (detailed elsewhere on this site).
As completed, the P.1052 had an overall length of 39.6 feet, a wingspan measuring 31.5 feet, and a height of 10.5 feet. Empty weight reached 9,450lb to a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of 13,500lb. Performance specs included a maximum speed of 682.5 miles-per-hour, a service ceiling of 45,500 feet, and a rate-of-climb of 3,864 feet-per-minute.