Chief of the Hawker-Siddeley group of companies. Sir Frank Spencer Spriggs, at 48, can claim 30 years experience in aircraft manufacturing. At 18, he entered the Sopwith Aviation Co, leaving in 1920 for Hawker Aircraft, Ltd. Still holding the latter position, Sir Frank is also president of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors, Ltd. He has written many articles on the development of military and civil aircraft.
Even at the present time and despite its achievements, it is doubtful whether the merits of Britain's famous Hurricane have been fully appreciated.
The original design of the aircraft dates back to 1933, and it speaks volumes for its merits that 10 years later the type and its many variants are still numbered among the first line of RAF equipment and are rendering yeoman service in all parts of the world.
The Hawker Hurricane is really in a direct line of descent from (firstly) Sopwith and (secondly) Hawker products over a period of years, commencing in 1910. It was the first monoplane fighter type to go into production in Great Britain and the first to be embodied in the RAF.
It was conceived following the Fury biplane, a Hawker product of 1930. In those days, when a speed of 220 mph was regarded as approaching the ultimate, it became obvious that any increase was possible only with the monoplane type, and a design was developed called the Fury. Originally it was intended to accommodate the 660 hp Rolls-Royce Goshawk steam-cooled engine, and the [armament] comprised four guns, housed in the fuselage and firing through the propeller disc.
Before this project materialized as an actual constructive type, the desirability of incorporating a retractable undercarriage was realized, and in 1934 a new Air Ministry specification was drawn up, based upon the development of the original Fury monoplane but incorporating a later and more powerful type of engine, the 1,025 hp Rolls-Royce Merlin C.
The Hawker design staff, under Sydney Camm, decided to utilize the form of construction which had proved so successful in earlier Hawker types, and the wisdom of this decision became apparent during the following years when production materialized ahead of that of any other similar type.
By November, 1935, the prototype was ready for trial and flights carried out by P W S Bulman proved immediately satisfactory. The armament had been increased to eight .303 guns, four mounted in each wing, so as to clear the propeller disc and increase the rate of fire
On this prototype, as on the earlier production machines, the wings were fabric-covered. Since the early series the fabric covering has been changed to metal, with a consequent increase in strength.
Certain minor detail improvements as the result of service experience were gradually embodied, including streamlined exhaust manifolds, enclosed mass balance for the rudder, and improved wind shield and cabin top to provide a better line.
With the advent of later developments of the Merlin engine the performance and suitability of the Hurricane increased. The original two-bladed wooden propeller was replaced first by a two-position propeller and later by a three-bladed constant speed propeller. The eight guns were increased to 12 machine guns, six in each wing, and a further variant of four 20-mm cannon guns, two in each wing.
It is interesting to note the enormous advance in fire power, as compared with the fighters of a few years ago (of which the Fury is a typical example):
|Weight of Armament|
Each machine gun has a rate of fire of 1,100-1,200 rounds per minute, and each 20-mm cannon fires at the rate of 600 projectiles per minute.
The process of evolution has proved definitely that to design with something in reserve to provide the additional factors necessary to meet the inevitable call for increased loading under war conditions is a wise precaution. The gross weight of the prototype Hurricane was 6,000 pounds. The latest version is approaching 10,000 pounds and the only structural alterations necessary to accommodate this enormous increase have been of a minor nature.
The original prototype had a top speed of 325 mph at an altitude of 16,500 ft. The latest versions full details of which cannot be given have a speed of 325 mph plus, and at varying altitudes dependent upon the type of power unit.
The first squadron went into service in 1937, and one of the most spectacular events of the following year was a remarkable demonstration of the qualities of the Hurricane. In a northerly gale the distance of 327 miles from Edinburgh to Northolt was flown by Squadron Leader J W Gillan in 48 minutes at an average speed of 408.75 mph. Flying at an altitude of 17,000 feet, the pilot had to rely mainly on his instruments for navigation as the flight was made in the dark, and several minutes were lost due to the fact that he overshot the aerodrome and the recorded time was taken at the actual landing.
The Hurricane design was the subject of criticism from certain European sources, in particular the French journal Les Ailes, which expressed the opinion that the machine was too heavy to be maneuverable and too powerful to have the range necessary for making contact with the enemy. It was regarded more in the nature of an experimental speed airplane and not a truly military aircraft, the more so as the practical conditions of pursuit at speeds approaching "limiting performance" were still unknown.
That this criticism was completely wrong is proved by the fact that in the first year of the war Hurricane squadrons had to their credit almost half the confirmed victories in the air against German fighters and bombers.
In the development of the Hurricane special attention has been paid to the necessity of providing armor protection and this feature became increasingly desirable as a result of experience under actual fighting conditions. Armor plating of varying thickness is embodied as part of the structure on certain vital points of the aircraft, and bulletproof wind shields are fitted on every machine. The latter feature has provided some remarkable evidence of its value. Sydney Camm has in his office a windshield into which no less than three bursts of machine gun fire had been sent, and in no instance had a bullet completely penetrated.
The development of this feature, simple as it may appear, was no easy matter, as it was essential to retain clear vision; considerable scientific research was carried out before the requisite qualities were finally embodied.
During World War II the Hurricane has been in action on 20 different battle-fronts and under widely differing climatic conditions. In extremes of weather, from the ice-bound north to the tropical regions, the type has proved itself reliable and trustworthy and, especially adapted to meet these changing conditions, has carried out its functions with exceptional efficiency. The term "ubiquitous" is frequently misused but it is not misplaced when applied to the Hurricane.
It was the only British single-seater monoplane fighter to operate in France and Norway. In the Battle of Britain it bore the brunt of the attack and Hurricane squadrons formed the backbone of the force against which the Luftwaffe broke and was finally defeated.
One of the spheres in which the Hurricane has rendered most valuable service has been night interception of raiding enemy aircraft and long range intruder work at night over enemy aerodromes. The suitability of the type for this class of work is in no small measure due to the good all-round field of vision which the pilot enjoys and the comparatively low stalling speed. Its approach is reasonably silent and its devastating firepower so great that one burst is usually sufficient to send the enemy to destruction.
A further version known as the Sea Hurricane is utilized for the protection of convoys. This particular type is a standard Hurricane with the addition of catapult spools, slinging gear and in some cases deck-arrester gear. It has been responsible for the immunity from air attack which Atlantic and other convoys have enjoyed in recent months.
The latest purpose for which the Hurricane has been adapted is high speed bombing, including low altitude, precision and dive bombing. This type is familiarly known as the Hurribomber, and in this guise has achieved notable success against land and sea targets. For ground strafing purposes the type has proved unequaled, and the concentrated fire from its cannon or machine gun armament has wrought death and destruction to the enemy on all fronts.
Another fact not generally realized about the Hurricane is that it has quite a long range. This enables it to extend its sphere of activities and the adaptation necessary to equip the machine for this class of operation was carried out without in any way detracting from performance or maneuverability.
It is not at this stage possible to indicate in which other directions the Hurricane will prove of value. The development of strategy and tactics will open the field for further adaptations of this remarkable airplane and it is safe to assume that more will be heard of its exploits in due course.
The Hurricane has not only proved itself popular with the pilots of the RAF, but it has been generally acclaimed by every section of the allied air force to which it has been allocated. The sense of control, combined with strength and rigidity, instills into the fighter pilot that feeling of confidence under all conditions which is so essential a part of his makeup. The cockpit is roomy and comfortable and the additional equipment necessitated by the adaption of the type for different purposes can be housed without in any way incommoding either the pilot or the operational functions of the machine.
The Hawker Hurricane may be described as a typical example of the process of evolution of a fighter airplane. The adaptations which have been made to meet the varying needs of the fighting services have in every instance been real jobs of work, specially designed and produced to fulfill specific requirements. The fact that the Hurricane is still one of the most formidable machines in service constitutes a tribute to the original design and to the care which has fostered and nurtured its development.
This article was originally printed in the March, 1943, issue of Flying including Industrial Aviation magazine, vol 32, no 3, pp 28-29, 120, 122.
The original article includes a thumbnail portrait of the author, 5 photos and a three-view drawing.
Photos credited to British Information Services, Charles E Brown, [British] Ministry of Information, British Combine, the Aeroplane.
- Plane on the ground, seen from 2 o'clock: "Now used in the African Desert is the Hurricane IIC, with cannon, long-range tanks and tropical air filter."
- Plane seen in flight from 10 o'clock: "The Hurricane prototype first flew in 1933."
- "A Catafighter on a British cargo ship."
- Plane seen from 10 o'clock below: "This bomb-carrying version is called the Hurribomber."
- Plane seen in flight from 2 o'clock high:"Immediate predecessor of the Hurricane was the Hawker Fury, almost a biplane Hurricane externally. Maximum speed of the Fury was 240 mph at 14,000 feet."