Hawker's Fury

Powered by the mighty (and I mean 'mighty') Bristol Centaurus engine, the Fury was one of the fastest piston-engined fighters ever produced! It was Hawker’s final (and fastest) piston aircraft and it was the Navy’s last serving piston aircraft before the transition to jets (the first being the ‘Supermarine Attacker’). Revered as a truly wonderful aircraft to fly, Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s take a closer look at Hawker’s masterpiece aircraft, the Fury!

AvBuyer  |  19th October 2022
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Hawker Fury

Although not finished until two years after the war, the concept and design started very much in the middle of it; Hawker began work as far back as 1942 with ideas about an aircraft to follow the Tempest. Sketches and notes were adopted into a principal design and these were formally taken on as a developing project in early 1943. 

Broadly speaking, the specification was for an aircraft principally aimed at the RAF which required certain minimum characteristics. These included being an aircraft that could achieve a max speed of 450+ mph and a climb rate of 4,500 ft/min — as well as being sufficiently manoeuvrable as a fighter and having sufficient power to carry the required armament. 

The Navy was Hooked!

By mid-1943 the Royal Navy wanted a piece of the action too and requested Hawker to adapt their thinking to include a carrier-based variant, to which Hawker accepted the challenge. They extended the size of their drawing board and no doubt increased their coffee intake, and evolved the design to include the necessary modifications to land on a boat — namely a hook (to catch it!)…and, in later thinking, folding wings to save space on the carrier deck. 

By the summer of 1944 the project aircraft were officially named: for the Royal Air Force it was to be the Hawker Fury (not to be confused with Hawker’s biplane of the same name!). And for the Royal Navy; the Hawker Sea Fury. 

The very first prototype to fly was the original Fury variant. This took to the skies on the 1st September 1944. A few months later, a modified version flew on 21st February 1945 as a Sea Fury test aircraft. But as the war drew to a close the RAF starting cancelling orders on multiple aircraft, including the Hawker Fury. 

However, the Royal Navy really saw it's potential as a carrier-based aircraft and wanted something to replace the Seafire and its US-borrowed (‘lend-lease’) Corsairs, which were inevitably going to be returned. Thus the Royal Navy retained its orders with Hawker and requested a finished aircraft. 

On 12th October 1945 the first real Sea Fury flew (upgraded engine and prop and fitted with folding wings). Such was its success that an initial order of 200+ aircraft followed. Development continued at best speed, but production aircraft didn’t really start to fly out the door until the summer of 1947 following an extensive period of testing and trial operations on aircraft carriers HMS Victorious and HMS Illustrious. By this time, Hawker had really turned out one of its finest aircraft. Performance was almost off the chart and the power was, well… astonishing! 

Centaurus Power

The beast that powered the Sea Fury was a site to behold in itself; a 2,560 hp, 18-cylinder Bristol Centaurus engine. There were so many cylinders they had to wrap them around the engine twice! By that of course I mean, it’s a double row, nine-cylinder radial engine and one of the largest piston engines ever built for an aircraft. This formidable power was converted to thrust by a whopping five blade 12ft 9in propellor! 

As ever, innovation during this period was a fast-paced topic. And the Sea Fury had its fair share of mods, many of which even Q from the James Bond lab would be proud of. Such special options included hydraulic powered folding wings, and to the discerning pilot wanting a quick departure... how about the Rocket-Assisted Take-Off option!? Yes, you read that correctly. With the addition of small rockets fitted to the aircraft a heavily laden fighter (such as the Fury) could launch itself forward and get airborne much quicker than a standard take-off roll. 

Another interesting option available from the brochure was the use of a Chaff system. This was a radar countermeasure initiated with the release of a fine mist of thin pieces of aluminium from a tightly packed cartridge. As the contents were discharged they rubbed together causing an electrostatic charge which in turn caused the metallic strips to repel from one another and spread out. The result was to cause a confusing radar return to anyone, or anything, trying to identify or close in on the aircraft.

Taking on the Jet Era 

Such was its reputation as a fast and capable fighter/fighter-bomber, a number of international orders came to Hawker for both land-based and carrie- based variants. And the reputation was well deserved, with the aircraft continuing to prove it’s worth time and time again — especially in Korea, where it was pitched (successfully) against the formidable MiG-15 jet fighter! 

The Hawker Fury / Sea Fury was quite simply an incredible aircraft. Not just for its outstanding performance in both speed and power, but also manoeuvrability. With a roll rate of 100 degrees per second and a top speed of over 450 mph, it had borderline jet performance! And the pilot of our picture aircraft herewith describes it as just a joy and a privilege to fly.  

Around the World (and back again) 

The beautiful picture aircraft is a 1953 built Hawker Fury Mk. II built under construction number 37539 for the Iraqi Air Force following its order for 60 aircraft. Following it’s time in service the aircraft moved initially to Orlando, Florida, USA in 1979. A decade later, following a peaceful retirement life, it was moved again to the Coleman Warbird Museum in Texas, USA. Here it was restored to airworthy condition and flew again in April 1991. 

In September of the same year it returned to it’s roots in the UK where it enjoyed flying once more, first in the livery of the Dutch Navy and after that in the livery of the Royal Australian Navy. An Australian buyer obviously liked the scheme very much as in 2009 the aircraft moved there! In 2016, the aircraft was once more drawn back to its favoured British skies and following a superb refurbishment by Warbird specialist Air Leasing, it was repainted in its current livery of one of Hawker’s prototype aircraft ‘SR661’. A truly stunning example of a truly amazing aircraft!

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