Design and Development
In 1925, at a time when biplanes largely ruled the skies, the newly appointed Chief Designer of the Hawker Engineering Company, Sydney Camm, put forward a design for a single monoplane fighter armed with Vickers machine guns and powered by a Bristol Jupiter engine.
Such a revolutionary design was not accepted, so Camm continued with the biplane configuration leading to the Hawker Fury fighter which entered squadron service in 1931, with two Vickers machine-guns and a top speed of 207 mph.
To further enhance the RAF’s capability, the Air Ministry issued specification F.7/30 for a fighter capable of at least 250 mph and armed with four machine guns. Hawker proposed the PV5, a Goshawk engine-powered version of the Fury, but in the event the competition was won by the Gloster Gladiator biplane.
Hawker realised the future rested with a monoplane design and as a private venture they used the Fury as the basis by removing the top wing, enclosing the cockpit, and locating the radiator under the centre of the wing. They retained the fabricated steel tubular structure, with fabric covering, except on the fuselage forward of the cockpit. In January 1934 the 1,000 HP Rolls-Royce PV12 replaced the Goshawk engine and was to become the Merlin.
Impressed with this redesign the Air Ministry issued specification F.36/34 and the resulting prototype K5083 flew on 6 November 1935. Powered by a 1,025-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin ‘C’ engine and designed to carry eight machine guns, it had a speed of 318 mph at 15,500 feet, being the first interceptor in Britain, or indeed the world, to exceed 300 mph.
There was urgency to put the Hurricane into production and on 3 June 1934 a contract for 600 aircraft was placed with Hawkers who had already taken a commercial gamble by ‘tooling-up’ at the new factory at Langley, near Slough, ready to start production of 1,000 Hawker Hurricane aircraft. Some delay arose due to the need to replace the early versions of the Merlin engine, so that finally Merlin III was adopted for the production version. The first Hurricane Mk.I flew on 12 October 1937 with the first delivery to No 111 (Fighter) Squadron at Northolt in December 1937.
As an indication of the costs of the Hurricane and its compatriot the Spitfire, The Martin-Baker company was required to insure a Hurricane which Captain Baker wanted to fly to compare with his Martin Baker aircraft M.B.1 in 1938: the costs were Hurricane £7,250 and Spitfire £8,000 (both still on the secret list at the time).
Features of the Hurricane Mk.I design are shown in the images below
Hurricane Mk.IIC and beyond
With the development of the Merlin XX (detailed below), the Hurricane would now be able to carry four cannons without too great a performance loss. The prototype Hurricane IIC, V2461, equipped with the new engine and four 20mm Hispano or Oerlikon cannons, first flew on 6 February 1941 in the hands of test-pilot K.G. Seth-Smith.
The new Hurricanes entered service in late spring 1941 – in all around 4,700 Mk IICs were built.
Length: 32 ft 3 in (9.83 m)
Wingspan: 40 ft 0 in (12.19 m)
Height: 13 ft 1.5 in (4.001 m)
Wing area: 257.5 sq ft (23.92 m2)
Airfoil: root: Clark YH (19%); tip: Clark YH (12.2%)
Empty weight: 5,745 lb (2,606 kg)
Gross weight: 7,670 lb (3,479 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 8,710 lb (3,951 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V-12 liquid-cooled piston engine, 1,185 hp (884 kW) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
Maximum speed: 340 mph (550 km/h, 300 kn) at 21,000 ft (6,400 m)
Range: 600 mi (970 km, 520 nmi)
Service ceiling: 36,000 ft (11,000 m)
Rate of climb: 2,780 ft/min (14.1 m/s)
Wing loading: 29.8 lb/sq ft (145 kg/m2)
Power/mass: 0.15 hp/lb (0.25 kW/kg)
Guns: 4 × 20 mm (0.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannon
Bombs: 2 × 250 or 500 lb (110 or 230 kg) bombs
Many Mk.IIs were used in the India and Burma theatres of South East Asia Command (SEAC), especially in the bombing and tactical reconnaissance roles; in addition some 2,866 Hurricanes of all versions were drawn from middle east stocks and supplied to the Soviet Union, of which 1,009 were Mk.llCs. Turkey, Ireland and Portugal also received small quantities, the latter country using them until 1951. In all, over 20 variants of the Hawker Hurricane were created, with around 14,483 aircraft built. The last Hawker Hurricane (PZ865) rolled off the production line at Langley in July 1944.
Use on Carriers
There was a need for aircraft to operate at sea to protect convoys. As a first step, merchant ships were fitted with rocket-propelled catapults to launch a Hurricane which, after combat, would either be ditched (hopefully picking up the pilot) or fly to a land base if one was near enough.
Over 80 modifications of a Mk.I were needed to convert the aircraft to a Sea Hurricane. For initial use on a CAM (Catapult Armed Merchant) the work was undertaken by General Aircraft Limited, and the Hurricane was designated Mk.IA.
What was really needed, however, was the ability to fly from flat-tops ships. The feasibility of this was tested by Captain Erik ‘Winkle’ Brown’ despite the fact that (as noted in his book ‘Wings on my Sleeve’) the view for the pilot of the deck was poor, the undercarriage lacked strenght to absorb the shock of landing and performance at low speeds was poor. From his view the Navy ‘simply stuck an arrester hook on them and played it by ear’. The trials were conducted from the first of the ‘Woolworth carriers’ – the HMS Avenger.
To ‘Winkle’ Brown’s delight he found that with reasonable care the Hurricane could be operated from these little flat-tops – Merchant Aircraft Carriers (MACs) – quite successfully. Further variants of the Sea Hurricane were the Mk.IB equipped with catapult spools and arrester hook, Mk.IC with a four-cannon wing and boosted Merlin III to give 1400hp at low altitude, Mk.IIC with added naval gear and Merlin XX and Mk.XIIA, a Canadian built Hurricane converted for sea use.
The Hurricane as a bomber
Hurricanes also had a distinguished career as a bomb carrier, particularly Mk.IIAs and IIBs in desert regions, attacking everything from motor vehicles to tanks, depending on the size of bombs carried. Often referred to as ‘Hurribombers’, they could carry bombs up to 1000lb, thus competing with twin-engined Bristol Blenheim bombers.
The only VC won by an RAF Fighter Pilot
On 16 August 1940, 23 year old Flight Lieutenant Nicolson of 249 Squadron was leading a flight of 3 Hurricanes when they were ‘bounced’ by Messershmitt Bf109s – four cannon shells hit his plane. His eye was struck by splinters, the spare petrol tank was set on fire and his left foot was damaged. He dived out of the line of fire and was about to bail out when a Messershmitt 110 came into sight. Despite dripping hot paint flowing from fire engulfing the cockpit floor and part of the control panel, and suffering from peeling and blistered hands, he continued firing and pursued the 110 until it plunged into the sea. He managed to bail out, but before he landed he suffered the indignity of being shot in the buttocks by a trigger-happy Local Defence Volunteer.
He was treated at the Royal Southampton Hospital and received the VC three months later. Tragically he died on 2 May 1945 when an observer on Liberator KH210 which crashed on a bombing sortie from Bengal.
Sources for above include:
Classic war birds
Weapons and warfare
Hurricane Mk I Performance
Hawker Hurricane Mk 1-V
‘Hurricane – the Plane that saved Britian’. Adrian Stewert, Canelo Press ISBN: 9781800325326
‘Boscombe Down 1939-45 A most Secret Place’. Brian Johnson and Terry Heffernan, Jane’s, London 1982 ISBN 0710602030
‘The Most Dangerous Enemy’. Stephen Bungay. Aurum Press 2000 ISBN1854107216