A Camel Outblows a Hurricane!

by David C Cooke

The all-importance of speed is doubted after a battle between a flying relic and a, red-hot ship

A well-known soldier of fortune, who has fought in every war since the First World War and who is now a member of the English Air Transport Auxiliary, some time ago told the writer a little story about an incident in Britain which substantiates the claim that the fast modern fighters are not fully prepared to carry out real dogfight missions.

One of the top men of the Royal Air Force who was not too strongly sold on the so-called superiority of high-speed ships, according to this soldier of fortune, arranged for a mock dogfight between a super-sleek Hawker Hurricane and an old, first World War, biplane Sopwith Camel which had been repaired and put into flyable condition.

In due time both ships were fitted with camera-guns, so that full results of the pending air combat could be recorded on infallible film. After the machines had been thoroughly checked, they were rolled out to the deadline side by side.

Together, after the warmup, the pilots gave their ships the gun and started to roll down the field for the takeoff. The Hurricane, naturally, got away like the proverbial streak of greased lightning and went racing down the runway with its throttle cracked wide. And the Camel, its Clerget engine sounding like a low-powered electric fan in comparison with the Hawker's Merlin, gathered speed only slowly as the pilot cautiously advanced the throttle. But it didn't take long for the Sopwith to build up flying speed, and it was in the air and climbing even before the Hawker had nursed its trucks off the ground.

For the next few minutes, after gaining altitude, the most vicious peacetime dogfight that had ever been witnessed in the vicinity of Hendon Airport tore loose in the sky. The Hurricane came boring in at the Camel, but the Sopwith pilot kicked his rudder and easily banked out of the way — only to throw a burst of film-slugs at the speedier ship as it hurtled past.

The fight went higher and higher and the Hawker turned on a greater burst of speed, trying to nail the Camel, but the pilot blacked-out when he tried to bank too tightly. However, he came to before his ship lost much altitude, and again he slammed back into the fracas. In the meantime, though, the Sopwith pilot continued to pepper away with his noiseless machine gun.

After the allotted time had elapsed, the flyers went in to land. And when they were down, they handed in their rolls of film for developing. The Hurricane man was confident that he had come through with an overwhelming victory, because, after all, he had been flying a modern ship against an old crate that shouldn't have even been in the same air with him. However, when the film had been run through its developer and hypo baths, it was discovered that the Camel had scored a decisive victory

The Royal Air Force officials naturally thought that the man in the pit of the Camel had been the better fighter, so the pilots exchanged planes and went up again for a second test. But again the same thing happened. The Camel literally blasted the low-winger from the air, turning inside the other ship so tightly that, even from the English standpoint, it wasn't a bit humorous.

The author's informant offered as evidence to support his story, an old newspaper clipping he had kept tucked away in his wallet. Soiled and worn, it read something like this:

Hendon Airport, April 3 — Under the orders of Colonel ——, a World War Sopwith Camel and one of the RAF's new Hawker Hurricane fighters sent aloft for a sham air battle. No results of this unique combat were made public and the aircraftsmen at the field had received orders to communicate no information whatsoever. It is apparent, however, that the Camel could not have proved even a worthy adversary for the 400-mph Hurricane, which is widely acclaimed as the fastest and most deadly fighting aircraft in the world.…

Even though the English themselves were not able to obtain an accurate account of this novel dogfight, because of military restrictions, it is possible to pass it on to Skyways' readers — as explained to the author by a reliable eyewitness — for what it is worth.

This article was originally published in the January, 1943, issue of Skyways magazine, vol 2, no 1, pp 38-39.
The original article includes 2 photos: Camel on the ground and Hurricane in flight.
Photos credited to David Cooke, British Press Service.