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Hawker Tornado

Prototype Single-Seat Single-Engine Fighter Aircraft [ 1939 ]

Intended to replace the Hawker Hurricane, the Hawker Tornado was produced in only three prototypes and a single production form.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/14/2018 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

The Hawker Tornado was born of the same initiative that brought forth the Hawker Typhoon of World War 2. The initiative itself originated with Hawker wanting to introduce an improved form of their war-winning Hawker Hurricane monoplane fighter - star of the Battle of Britain. While the Typhoon went forward to claim a strong war record and see production reach into the thousands (as well as becoming the RAF's first cannon-armed fighters), the Tornado languished on as a testbed for different engine types and was limited to just four completed examples. The major downfall of the Tornado proved the unreliable nature of the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine which was itself given up for good with the emergence of the Rolls-Royce Merlin family.

Air Ministry Specification

The Tornado and Typhoon were developed to Air Ministry Specification F.18/37 of 1937 calling for a single-seat, monoplane-winged fighter capable of 400 mile per hour speeds, a 35,000 foot service ceiling, maximum weight of 12,000lbs and armament of 12 x 7.7mm machine guns (all listed as minimums). To go along with the new airframe, Napier & Sons and Rolls-Royce were each charged with development of all-new piston engines to power the type. For the Napier offering, this was the "Sabre" and the prototype aircraft to follow were therefore known for a time as "Type N". Similarly, the Rolls-Royce offering was to be the "Vulture" and prototype aircraft would become known under the "Type R" designator. Hawker was awarded the contract (B.815124/38) for prototypes of each engine kind in 1938.

The Typhoon and The Tornado

The Napier-powered mount held an early start for it was already on paper as early as April 1937, the Rolls-Royce version appearing in October of that year. Both designs made use of the same fuselage and wing assemblies for expediency, differing only in their engine fittings and details required of each installation. Unlike the original Hawker Hurricane, the designs instituted a new, thicker chord wing for greater internal volume and strength (possibly foreseeing the use of cannons over machine guns as well). A production contract for 500 of each engine-type aircraft was announced on July 10th, 1939 for a total of 1,000 airframes. The two competing designs were further differentiated in August-September 1939 by their assigned nicknames - the Napier-powered mount becoming the "Typhoon" and the Rolls-Royce-engined version becoming the "Tornado".

The Wright Duplex Cyclone-Equipped Tornado

For a short time between March 1940 and July 1941, the idea of a long-range Tornado equipping an American Wright Duplex Cylone engine was floated about. However, this came to naught with nothing more than the powerplant being delivered to Hawker facilities.

Prototype P5219

Delays in the Napier engine program allowed the Rolls-Royce Vulture prototype Tornado to emerge from construction first, recognized as "P5219". The type was fitted with the newly-forged Vulture II series piston engine fitted to its front-mounted compartment (managing a three-bladed propeller), the cockpit just aft. Wings were low-set monoplane assemblies while the undercarriage was influenced by the one as used on the Hawker Hurricane. The cockpit was heavily framed, entrance/exit by way of an automobile-style door, and the fuselage spine blocking and directly rear viewing. The intake opening for the radiator was fitted under the fuselage as amidships. Taxi trials were conducted in October of 1939 which led to a first flight recorded on October 6th, 1939. However, trials soon showcased buffeting at the radiator opening, forcing engineers to relocate the installation slightly forward in the design. Again, additional testing and wind tunnel evaluations encountered significant issues with this placement, relocating the radiator scoop to a chin-mounted position. With the change, testing continued and this resulted in an enlarged tail rudder for increased stability and aerodynamic refinements such as cover doors over the rear retractable tailwheel unit.

The Avro Commitment

While production was slated to be handled out of Hawker facilities, its commitment to the Hurricane forced Avro to be enlisted as a subcontractor - its experience with the Vulture engine in its Avro Manchester bomber working in its favor. Production of Tornados would then emerge from Avro factories and the batch was to be split between machine gun-armed and cannon-armed variants. However, in February 17th, 1941, the decision was made to keep all Tornados armed with machine guns and free up vital cannon supplies for the emerging Typhoon lines.

P5219 with Vulture V

On March 27th, 1941, P5219 was outfitted with a Rolls-Royce Vulture V series piston engine and took to the air. However, fractures found on connecting bolts soon grounded all future Vulture V flights. Prototype P5219 was then grounded for the length of its service life and utilized as a testbed until scrapped in August of 1943.©MilitaryFactory.com
Prototype P5224

A second Vulture-equipped prototype was completed as P5224, this with the Vulture II series installed. First flight was then made on December 5th, 1940. By this time, the design was refined to an extent - the radiator scoop already in the chin position and the pilot aided through the added windows in the cockpit, allowing for improved visibility to the rear sections. P5224 was then modified to carry the Vulture V as in the first prototype, the decision made to enter all Tornados into production with the V-series engine. P5224 was moved to Boscombe Down and then to Farnborough on its testing circuit. In practice, the Tornado prototype yielded just under 400-mile-per-hour speeds and handling proved strong. One of the major complaints was in the viewing from the cockpit, blocked by the raise fuselage spine. Otherwise, the aircraft proved comparable to the competing Typhoon prototype which first flew on February 24th, 1940. However, P5224 followed the same fate as prototype #1, being set into storage at Aston Down and then moved to Oxford before finally scrapped on September 20th, 1944.


Back in January of 1940, a Tornado fitting a Bristol Centaurus engine was developed and this was mated to prototype P5224 prior to the arrival of its intended Vulture engine. The use of the Centaurus posed certain engineering issues with the existing Tornado airframe, forcing several major modifications to its compartment prior to installation. The Air Ministry allotted this Tornado development the confusing designation of "Centuarus-Typhoon" while, in fact, it was still a Tornado through-and-through. The Centaurus IV-equipped prototype HG641 achieved first flight on October 23rd, 1941. Vibration issues showcased in the design forced some revisions until testing ceased in August of 1944 (the airframe was scrapped in September).

Expected Production

Tornado (and Typhoon) production was then threatened in March of 1940 with a complete stoppage, once again owing to the fact that the proven Hurricane was needed in number. The Tornado/Typhoon programs were not reenacted until July, providing something of an avoidable delay. Beyond the commitment by Avro (Chadderton) (201) and Avro (Leeds) (360), the concern of Cunliffe-Owen (Eastleigh) was added to supply a further 200 Tornados. This would have allowed realistic wartime manufacture to reach 761 units.

Hawker Tornado Walk-Around

The Tornado was a clean design, reminiscent of the preceding Hawker Hurricane of 1937 and similar in appearance to the competing Typhoon. Its structure composed of all-metal wing assemblies which were individual sections not joined by a central spar. Stressed skin covered both appendages. The understructure made use of alloys and steel tubing for the required strength. Light alloys were utilized at the tail (which itself was similar to the one found on the Typhoon) while stressed skin covered most of the empennage and fabric skinned the rudder. The tubular fuselage added great aerodynamic qualities as did the wholly retractable undercarriage. The initially proposed armament of 12 x 7.7mm machine guns were to be concentrated in batteries of six guns to a wing. This was then changed to an all-cannon arrangement as in the Typhoon, incorporating two cannons to a wing assembly. It appears that none of the Tornado prototypes were completed with its guns in place for flight/armaments testing.

The Vulture Predicament

Persistent issues with the Vulture engine only added to the Tornado's woes. The engine proved highly problematic in the Avro Manchester bomber and were never resolved. Avro managed manufacture of just three production-quality units - R7936, R7937 and R7938 - before the contract was outright cancelled. Continued issues with the Vulture then led to its own cancellation as well, falling under the growing shadow of the emerging Rolls-Royce Merlin series. Development on the Vulture (and Tornado) ended on October 15th, 1941, despite the Vulture engines having behaved rather well on the Tornado prototypes (unlike the Manchester bombers). The Merlin was then followed by the excellent Griffon series. All three of the production Tornados found extended lives as engine and propeller testbeds. R7936, in particular, was developed into a Vulture-equipped testbed fitting a contra-rotating propeller assembly (six blades in all). Testing ran from February of 1942 until April of 1944 before it was scrapped.

The End of the Road

While the Tornado fell to the pages of aviation history, the Typhoon entered service with the RAF in September of 1941 and was produced in 3,317 examples from 1941 to 1945. The type also went on to influence the Hawker Tempest and Hawker Sea Fury in turn. While a limited match as a fighter mount, the Typhoon excelled as a strike platform when outfitted with bombs, rockets while relying on its cannon for additional ground-strafing firepower. The Tornado was doomed to watch from the sidelines before the design was abandoned. By this time, the Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire and all related types were well-entrenched resources for the British cause in the war. The Avro Manchester managed an unspectacular existence as a bomber with unreliable Vulture engines, 202 being produced in all.©MilitaryFactory.com
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Service Year

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United Kingdom

Not in Service.


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(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
Air-to-Air Combat, Fighter
General ability to actively engage other aircraft of similar form and function, typically through guns, missiles, and/or aerial rockets.
X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.

32.8 ft
(10.00 m)
41.9 ft
(12.78 m)
14.7 ft
(4.47 m)
Empty Wgt
8,378 lb
(3,800 kg)
10,582 lb
(4,800 kg)
Wgt Diff
+2,205 lb
(+1,000 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Hawker Tornado production variant)
Installed: 1 x Rolls-Royce Vulture II/V X-24 inline liquid-cooled engine developing 1,760/1,980 horsepower respectively.
Max Speed
398 mph
(641 kph | 346 kts)
34,908 ft
(10,640 m | 7 mi)
2,700 ft/min
(823 m/min)

♦ MACH Regime (Sonic)
RANGES (MPH) Subsonic: <614mph | Transonic: 614-921 | Supersonic: 921-3836 | Hypersonic: 3836-7673 | Hi-Hypersonic: 7673-19180 | Reentry: >19030

(Showcased performance specifications pertain to the base Hawker Tornado production variant. Performance specifications showcased above are subject to environmental factors as well as aircraft configuration. Estimates are made when Real Data not available. Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database or View aircraft by powerplant type)
12 x 7.7mm Browning machine guns OR 4 x 20mm Hispano cannons.

Supported Types

Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft automatic cannon

(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 0

Tornado - Base Series Designation
P5219 - First Prototype; Vulture V engine
P5224 - Second Prototype; Vulture II engine
R7936 - Production-quality model; extended life as developmental contra-rotating design ith Vulture engine.
R7937 - Production-quality model
R7938 - Production-quality model
HG641 "Centaurus-Typhoon" - Experimental model based on the P5224 prototype; fitted with Bristol Centarus engine.

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Images Gallery

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Image of the Hawker Tornado
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Image of the Hawker Tornado
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Image of the Hawker Tornado
Front side view of an early Hawker Tornado prototype; note central air scoop


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