The Hawker Sea Hawk (also Armstrong Whitworth Sea Hawk) was a no-nonsense navy fighter aircraft designed in the latter years of World War 2 and saw inception into service in 1953. She was another successful design attributed to British aeronautical engineer Sidney Camm, he having had his hand in the development of top-flight systems such as the Hawker Hurricane, Typhoon, Tempest, Harrier and the Hunter - all excellent designs in their own right. The Sea Hawk became a mainstay of the British Fleet Air Arm (FAA) for a few short years before being superseded by more capable types and went on to see combat in the Suez Crisis as well as both of the Indo-Pak wars. Produced in hundreds of examples and multiple variants, the Sea Hawk was well-respected by those with the privilege of having flown her and proved a modest export success to boot. As a testament to her design, the final Sea Hawk was not retired until 1983.
Hawker emerged from the ashes of World War 1, after the bankruptcy and dismantling of the Sopwith Aviation Company. Sopwith earned a household name for itself by producing several war-winning biplane fighter designs including the Sopwith Camel and the Sopwith Triplane. One of her test pilots was Harry Hawker who went on to found H.G. Hawker Engineering in 1920 after the bankruptcy. Interestingly, one of those to join him was Thomas Sopwith. In 1933, the firm was renamed to Hawker Aircraft Limited and enveloped the Gloster Aircraft Company into the fold the following year. Growing in a variety of machine-minded areas, Hawker itself was merged into Armstrong Siddeley, becoming the Hawker Siddeley Aircraft company - this group now also maintaining the A.V. Roe and Company within its ranks. Through these dealings, the Hawker name evolved to became a major aircraft producer throughout World War 2, maintaining its "Hawker" brand name on its products. Chief among their war-time products eventually became the revered Hawker Hurricane of Battle of Britain fame - earning top marks for destroying more than 55 percent of all enemy aircraft during the conflict and her production alone outnumbering all other British fighters combined. However, the company was made defunct by 1963 but its convoluted legacy still went on to survive today through names such as Raytheon and Hawker Beechcraft.
Sea Hawk Origins
Sea Hawk origins place it back to the closing years of World War 2 where turbojet technology, while relatively infant, was beginning to take hold with military applications. With the new technology came about new developments to better harness jet powerplants, making for more reliable and efficient designs. Hawker took to drafting various alternative forms of its single-seat, prop-powered Fury/Sea Fury airframe, attempting to tie this aircraft with the new Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine. This, of course, required large modifications to the base Fury design. The cockpit was relocated well-forward in the fuselage while the fuselage itself was lengthened to accept the complicated jet system. The resulting development became the P.1035 and a potential customer was the Royal Air Force, the branch looking for capable land-based interceptors to populate its post-war inventories. However, the RAF was already successfully fielding the de Havilland Vampire and Gloster Meteor in an operational manner by the time of the arrival of the Sea Hawk and this worked against the Hawker design to an extent.
The Initial Prototype
Upon presentation to the British Air Ministry, several more changes were enacted to help improve the aircraft. The Fury's original rounded wings were removed and replaced with straightened, tapered, mid-mounted monoplane assemblies. Triangular air intakes were added into thickened wingroots. The jet would be exhausted through a pair of outtakes through an arrangement called "bifurcation" - literally meaning the "splitting of a main body into two parts". These exhaust ports were separate components fitted to either side of the empennage base and stood out from the fuselage in such a way that pilots referred to its appearance as "trouser legs". The revised design became model P.1040 and Hawker began construction of a prototype - the VP401 - as a private venture to help sell the idea to the RAF.
The prototype took to the air on September 2nd, 1947, and soon exhibited in-flight issues requiring attention. Vibrations across the airframe were noted as was tail buffeting. To counter the airframe issue, the engine exhaust ducts were slightly revised. For the tail buffeting issue, a rounded, missile-type fairing was affixed ahead of the twin stabilizers on the vertical tail fin. The prototype VP401 would eventually be entered - and win - the 1949 SBAC Challenge Cup. She continued an experimental existence under the designation of P.1072, this form being fitted with a rocket powerplant and becoming Britain's first rocket-powered aircraft.
The Royal Navy Comes Calling
By this time, the Royal Air Force was making due with its post-war Meteors and Vampires and saw little benefit in the P.1040 for their ranks. The new P.1040 did not offer much improvement in the performance already exhibited by the existing designs. Not to be cast out, Hawker offered their P.1040 design to the British Admiralty - the authority in command of the Royal Navy - as a fleet support fighter for its carrier groups (furthermore, the Fleet Air Arm was the organization of the Royal Navy charged with operation of its aircraft). Under this product guise, Hawker assigned the designation of P.1046. The Admiralty returned with an official specification requirement - Hawker N.7/46 - and Hawker set to work on fulfilling the need, giving birth to the navalized VP413 prototype.
Navalized versions of land-based aircraft required slightly more attention than their land-based counterparts due to the rigors of carrier operations and general storage. Landing gear systems would have to be reinforced to counter the abuse of carrier landings and launches. Wings would have to be re-engineered with complicated hinging to allow for folding in the hangar decks below the flight deck for optimal storage practices. An arrestor hook would have to be added to the rear of the aircraft underside in order to "snag" arrestor cables splayed across a flight deck to shorten the landing cycles required on carrier flight decks. Additionally, the salty sea water would inevitably play havoc with metals of any kind and the skin of such navy aircraft was a prime target for corrosion.
In 1949, the prototype began her all-important carrier trials. After successful completion and development concluding, the aircraft was officially adorned with the name of "Sea Hawk". The Royal Navy, accepting of the program results, ordered the fighter in quantity as the Nene 101-powered Sea Hawk F.Mk 1 with production deliveries forming 806 Squadron at Brawdy. Fleet Air Arm squadrons began operation of the Sea Hawk in 1953.
Production and Service
The Sea Hawk was produced in some 542 examples before ending her tenure and became an export success of note, seeing active service beyond the British FAA with Germany, India and the Netherlands. Sea Hawks were in frontline operational service with the FAA up until 1958 with the last British Sea Hawk retired in 1969. The Sea Hawk was replaced in British service by two jet aircraft - the de Havilland Sea Vixen and the Supermarine Scimitar. Interestingly, Hawker only produced some thirty production examples before shifting duties to Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft - a component of the Hawker Group. Hawker was tied up with production of another jet-powered fighter - the excellent Hawker Hunter - for the Royal Air Force, thus necessitating the relocation of assets to Armstrong Whitworth.
Hawker Sea Hawk Walk-Around
When at rest, the Sea Hawk maintained a low-set appearance relative to the ground, its belly clearly lying low aft of the cockpit. There was a short nose-cone assembly ahead of the cockpit and the pilot sat under a two piece canopy. The main section of the canopy was curved over and allowed for excellent visibility from virtually all angles with the rear view perhaps suffering most. The canopy slid rearwards for easy access to the cockpit. The forward canopy section was lightly framed but provided for good "look down" visibility from the seat. Four gun ports were easily visible under the nose yet still contouring with the fuselage shape. The fuselage was an elongated cylinder, streamlined from nose to tail tip. Wings were straight, low-mounted monoplane assemblies fitted amidships and held from the fuselage by a section of thick wing root containing the intake ductwork. Intakes were fitted to either side of the fuselage and aspirated the single powerplant deep within the airframe. Intake openings were characterized by their triangular shape. Interestingly, the single powerplant exhausted through two exhaust ports held to either side of the empennage base as opposed to a single exhaust ring. The empennage sported a large-area, rounded vertical tail fin. Horizontal planes were set halfway up the tail fin with a noticeable aerodynamic blister protrusion leading the pair. The undercarriage was fully retractable and made up of two single-wheeled main landing gear legs - retracting inwards into the wingroots towards fuselage centerline - and a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg retracting forwards into the underside of the nose cone and ahead of the cockpit floor. Wing folding for carrier operations was just outboard of the intake opening and main landing gear legs, assuring a good deal of surface area of the aircraft was minimized aboard the space-strapped British carriers.
Powerplant and Performance
Utilizing a single powerplant, the Sea Hawk (FGA.Mk 6 for our example here) was fitted with a Rolls-Royce Nene 103 series turbojet producing up to 5,200lbf of thrust. This supplied the fighter with a top speed of 600 miles per hour, a range of 480 miles and a service ceiling of 44,500 feet with a rate-of-climb equal to about 5,700 feet per minute. She maintained a maximum take-off weight of 16,150lbs but sat just 9,278lbs when empty. Her running length was 39 feet, 8 inches with a wingspan of 39 feet even and a height of 8 feet, 8 inches.
Sea Hawk Armament
The British (as well as the Germans and Soviets) learned quickly in World War 2 that the cannon was the more viable armament when compared to machine guns. Although given an inherently slower rate-of-fire and limited in ammunition due to projectile size, the cannon proved able to quickly dispatch enemy fighters and bombers alike. As such, the Sea Hawk was fitted with primary armament consisting of 4 x 20mm Hispano Mk V cannons - a practice utilized heavily by the British in other early jet fighter designs. Each gun was afforded approximately 200 rounds per cannon system. An adept marksman could bring to bear all four cannon against a target with maximum results - be the target on land or in the air.
Optional armament included various air-to-service ordnance held externally. This could include up to 16 x 5" (127mm) unguided rockets, 20 x 60lb unguided rockets or up to 4 x 500lb conventional drop bombs across six underwing hardpoints. Two hardpoints were plumbed for the carrying of fuel drop tanks for increased range and loitering times. The Sea Hawk came too early in aviation history to carry missiles and the required radar.
Hawker Sea Hawk Variants
Beyond the P.1040 prototype - of which three were ultimately produced - the Sea Hawk was fielded in nine major variants. Production fighters were denoted by the "F" marks - the F.Mk 1 and the F.Mk 2. The F.Mk 1 was the initial production model of which 95 were produced. These fitted the Rolls-Royce Nene Mk 101 series turbojet engine. Production of these units was split between the Hawker Aircraft factory at Kingston-upon-Thames (35) and the Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft facility out of Baginton, Conventry. The F.Mk 2 was produced in 40 examples, all by Armstrong Whitworth, and featured power-boosted ailerons and a revised structure.
The Sea Hawk was embodied in a fighter-bomber variant beginning with the FB.Mk 3. This model featured a reinforced wing to carry the requisite external ordnance and 116 examples were produced in all. The FGA.Mk 4 designated its ground-attack nature while retaining full fighter capabilities but also sported a broadened ground-attack role over that of the FB.Mk 3. Ninety-seven of this variant were produced. The FB. Mk 5 was essentially the FB.Mk 3 production models but fitted with the Rolls-Royce Nene Mk 103 series turbojet instead - fifty of this model were produced. The FGA.Mk 6 was the FGA.Mk 4 production model now fitted with the Nene Mk 103 turbojet. While 15 FB.Mk 3 and FGA.Mk 4 examples were conversions to the new engine standard, 86 were complete "new-build" models.
As with any successful mount, the Sea Hawk was sold to foreign markets and this required a specialized designation system. The Sea Hawk Mk 50 was essentially the FGA.Mk 6 and 22 of these were delivered to the Royal Netherland Navy. Similarly, the Sea Hawk Mk 100 were FGA.Mk 6 production models but delivered to the West German Navy in 32 examples. Additionally, these German products featured a revised vertical tail fin. Sea Hawk Mk 101 signified an all-weather export form for the West German Navy. These were nothing more than the Sea Hawk Mk 100 export models (FGA.Mk 6) though with provision for an underwing pod housing a search radar. Thirty-two examples of this model were delivered.
The Sea Hawk in Combat
The Sea Hawk was quickly put into action during the Suez Crisis. In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal - this of course against the wishes of many, including both Britain and France. Britain viewed the Suez region as a vitally important strategic and economic area to its interests in the Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. As such, the British ultimately called upon a military response to settle the matter forcibly but did so through a secret military pact with Israel and France. As such, "Operation Kadesh" opened the war with a massive parachute landing and helicopter assault on key Egyptian positions across the Sinai peninsula. Both land- and sea-based aircraft were eventually called into play - these being of the de Havilland Venom, English Electric Canberra, Republic F-84 Thunderstreak, Gloster Meteor and Hawker Sea Hawk variety. The British carriers HMS Albion, HMS Bulwark and the HMS Eagle all contributed Hawker Sea Hawks to the fight and the aircraft made up six total squadrons during the conflict. Targets included the neutralization of Egyptian airfields to help thwart an aerial response as well as attacking other major ground targets of tactical importance. The latter was accomplished through use of her cannon and high-explosive, unguided, air-to-surface rockets.
While the war proved a military victory for the belligerents, it went on to prove a political failure for Britain. International responses proved critical for the acting government and diplomatic pressure ensued. As a result, British and French forces ultimately withdrew from the peninsula after much deliberation. Israel, however, kept her forces in place.
Regardless of politics, the Sea Hawk was worked through her paces and proved a viable air mount for members of the Fleet Air Arm. She was an unspectacular aircraft but exhibited excellent qualities and proved yet another solid jet-powered design put forth by the British - and the Hawker Aircraft firm itself.
Sea Hawks in the Indo-Pak Wars
Since they were partitioned from the British Empire in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought two major wars against one another - the first in 1965 and the second in 1971. Beyond these all-out affairs, the two countries have also participated in more low-intensity actions, bringing both sides to the brink of all-out war time and again. In such actions, air combat went on to play a major role in support of ground actions and the dogfight proved alive and well across the skies in this part of the world.
While Pakistan made use of mostly America-made aircraft and weapons, India purchased used Sea Hawk fighter-bombers from both Germany and Britain in 1960 and utilized them to good effect in both wars. In the 1965 campaign, Sea Hawks were launched from land bases against Pakistani targets. However, in the 1971 tussle, the Indian Navy launched their Sea Hawks from the aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, attacking Pakistani ports and shipping actions in the process. Amazingly, no Indian-piloted Sea Hawks were lost in either conflict. The INS retired these mounts in 1983 after procurement of the British Aerospace Sea Harrier jump jet strike fighter.
The Sea Hawk Today
The Sea Hawk can be found in preserved condition for display in various museums across Europe including England, Scotland, Germany, Northern Ireland, Netherlands and as far away as India.