The Hawker P.1081 was developed to a Royal Australian Air Force fighter requirement - its progress was derailed by the arrival of the Korean War of 1950-1953.
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Credit: Image from the Public Domain.
British post-World War 2 work on turbojets and research into straight-wing/swept-wing mainplanes resulted in the successful Hawker "Sea Hawk" naval fighter of 1953. Along the way, design work produced several important offshoots of this classic aircraft which tested various powerplant configurations as well as wing arrangements - resulting in such types as the "P.1052" and "P.1072" (both detailed elsewhere on this site). By the late 1940s, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) ran through a period of required modernization and looked to a design based largely in the P.1052.
The swept-winged P.1052 arrived in two prototype forms and it was the second one, "VX279", that was largely reworked into a new flying form: the bifurcated (twin/split) exhaust pipes of the original design were replaced by a single jet pipe to handle the single turbojet engine installation. The aircraft carried a variable-incidence tailplane with swept surfaces and, to round out the features, the powerplant of choice became the Rolls-Royce "Tay" turbojet engine. However, when this engine proved unavailable, the original Rolls-Royce Nene R.N.2 was retained with a rated output of 5,000lb thrust.
For the RAAF, the new fighter was to succeed several aging types in same role, namely the classic North American P-51 "Mustang" piston-driven fighter of World War 2 fame and the equally-classic post-war de Havilland "Vampire" turbojet-powered fighter. Both were produced locally, the former under the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) brand label and the latter by de Havilland Australia (DHA). The Hawker P.1081 would be in contention with other jet-powered types including a twin-engine form from Australia's own CAC as well as foreign offerings such as the Grumman F9F "Panther" originating from the United States.
Because of its goal of securing the RAAF requirement, the P.1081 became known as the "Australian Fighter" and CAC, the expected manufacturer of its serial production form, selected the designation of "CA-24" for the soon-to-be fighter.
Proposed armament for the production-quality form would have been 4 x 20mm autocannons, giving the fighter a good offensive "punch" against adversaries of the day - namely bombers and fighters emerging from Soviet factories. The production model would also eventually have carried an afterburning version of the Tay engine.
In its finalized guise, the P.1081 recorded its first-flight on June 19th, 1950. It carried a most modern form with excellent streamlining of the fuselage and mid-mounted, swept-back wing surfaces. The nose held a shallow nosecone and the cockpit was seated aft. The pilot sat under a lightly-framed two-piece canopy offering relatively good views around the aircraft. Ground-running was a retractable tricycle undercarriage arrangement.
With the RAAF commitment in the Korean War (1950-1953), the P-51 fleet was beginning to see its best days behind it and were immediately outclassed with the sudden arrival of Soviet MiG-15 jet-powered fighters. This threat pushed all Western players to upgrade existing fighter fleets and the North American F-86 "Sabre" soon took the lead for most. As the P.1081 still remained in a development phase, hope that it could achieve Initial Operating Capability (IOC) any time soon dwindled with each passing month of the war - leading the Hawker project to be abandoned on November 14th, 1950. Plans for an operational-quality P.1081, with its 4 x 20mm autocannons and Tay engine in place, were therefore scratched.
The RAAF eventually settled on procurement of the available Gloster "Meteor" jet-powered fighter (F.8 model) for the interim and, later, CAC was able to secure a deal to produce the F-86 Sabre under its own label, these flying with Rolls-Royce "Avon" turbojet engines and locally designated CAC "Sabre". Introduction followed in 1954.
The P.1081 prototype continued to fly in a research-minded way for a time longer when it fell under the ownership of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE). It abruptly ended its flying days on April 3rd, 1951 when it crashed, killing its test pilot, and being written off in full. All was not lost, however, for such designs (and their painful sacrifices) were hugely instrumental for future fighter types: the P.1081 directly influenced the Hawker P.1067 program, producing the Hawker "Hunter", a classic Cold War-era performer detailed elsewhere on this site.
[ 1 Units ] : Hawker Aircraft Ltd - UK / Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation (CAC) - Australia
Australia (cancelled); United Kingdom (research only)
- X-Plane / Developmental
37.34 ft (11.38 m)
31.17 ft (9.5 m)
10.83 ft (3.3 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Hawker P.1081 production model)
11,244 lb (5,100 kg)
14,551 lb (6,600 kg)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Hawker P.1081 production model)
1 x Rolls-Royce Nene R.N.2 turbojet engine developing 5,000lb of thrust.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Hawker P.1081 production model)
696 mph (1,120 kph; 605 kts)
45,932 feet (14,000 m; 8.7 miles)
311 miles (500 km; 270 nm)
3,000 ft/min (914 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Hawker P.1081 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
4 x 20mm autocannons in lower nose section.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Hawker P.1081 production model)
P.1081 "Australian Fighter" - Base Project Designation; single, flyable prototype completed.
CA-24 - CAC produciton form designation (never used).
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