Looking in the eye of the hurricane!

Whatever your thoughts about which aircraft are the most significant of WWII, I think it’s impossible not to acknowledge that the dominance of much of the RAF during the period was strengthened thanks to the hefty success of the Hawker Hurricane! Find out about the role it played...

AvBuyer  |  29th July 2022
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The AvBuyer editorial team includes Matt Harris and Rebecca Applegarth who contribute to a number of...

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Hurricane P2902 flying in the sky

Commonly known as the ‘workhorse’ of the RAF during such conflicts as the Battle of Britain, the legendary Hurricane brought more than the threat of bad weather to the enemy in the skies of WWII. And it was a plane of briefing room controversy as designers told of their ideas in moving from biplane aircraft to monoplane fighters. 

Less is More... (in terms of wings, anyway!)

Developed as an ‘interceptor monoplane’ based around the Hawker Fury biplane, the Hurricane started to form despite some opposition as many thought biplanes were superior.

This brave new direction not only included two wings fewer, but also made the ‘legs’ disappear! A retractable undercarriage system was incorporated, as was the concept of moving nose-mounted guns to the wings with the addition of eight Browning machine guns (twelve were fitted to later variants). These were just two of the new initiatives! But there was more — the cockpit now had a roof (well canopy, but it still kept the weather out!) and a new engine by Rolls-Royce called the PV-12 or, as it became more commonly known, the ‘Merlin’. Pens got to paper and following many discussions with men holding clipboards, the prototype airframe was built in Kingston upon Thames (also the birthplace of GA Buyer did you know!?). This was moved to Brooklands in nearby Weybridge for completion and assembly.

The prototype first flew on 6th November 1935. The design progressed through various refinements and went into production during the summer of 1936 whereupon it was officially named the ‘Hurricane’. This RAF’s new interceptor went into active service in the winter of 1937 and was the first fighter monoplane to join the RAF, and the first RAF combat aircraft capable of exceeding 300 mph in level flight.

The design evolved from the interceptor through several variants including an intruder, a bomber escort, a fighter-bomber, and a ground attack aircraft (some of which carried rockets — actually the first RAF aircraft to do so). Some were even launched from ships with rocket-propelled catapults (nicknamed ‘Hurricat’). Clever thinking, but there was a downside — they could only take off! The exit from the aircraft included a swim rather than a set of steps, as a necessity for the quick response naval deployment, had overtaken design options at this point, so operations didn’t include a means for a safe landing back on the ship at the end of the flight meaning most pilots had to ditch!

Keeping it Simple

One of the great advantages of the Hurricane was its simple construction, which meant that some quite significant repairs could be carried out by the squadrons themselves. This made a big difference in keeping up with the military pressure imposed in the skies overhead.

The early models (pre-April 1939) had a fabric wing, but from then on an all-metal stressed skin was used. This improved the dive speed significantly and allowed greater stress during manoeuvring. But Hawker — wanting to keep aircraft in the air and not on the ground — always kept simplicity high up on their list, ensuring the fabric and metal wings were interchangeable. Rumour has it that one aircraft even flew with both fitted at the same time — fabric on one side and metal on the other. I’d love to know how that one flew!

As World War II became the inevitable chapter in the History Books yet to come, over 550 Hurricanes had been produced. These were spread across 18 squadrons, and demand was high with another 3,500 aircraft on order.

In late 1938, Canadian Car and Foundry in Ontario, Canada, undertook an initial contract to build 40 aircraft, and the first Hurricane from our Canadian friends came off the line in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) in February 1940. A further 1,450 followed under the guidance of a lady called Elsie MacGill, the ‘Queen of Hurricanes’. Elsie was the first female in the world to be recognised as having a degree in aeronautical engineering and, through her continued commitment to streamline production as their Chief Engineer, a far higher number of Canadian Hurricanes were produced as a result.

Hurricane Force

During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane brought the rain down hard on the Luftwaffe bombers. The Hurricane and its pilots fought bravely, and they fought hard. The recorded victory rate was actually 13 percent higher than the Spitfire during this period of the conflict.

As the Battle of Britain started, the RAF had only around a third of the aircraft that the Luftwaffe had — the RAF had close to 750 aircraft at its disposal, while the Luftwaffe already had more than 2,500. But the Hurricane force alone took down 55 percent of the enemy aircraft.

The Hurricane also contributed significantly over the skies of Malta in 1941 and again in the former Soviet Union under the lend-lease progamme (where just under 3,000 aircraft were sent). 

Hurricane production ceased in July 1944 with some 14,500 having been built, with 24 variants. The Hurricane played an active role in all major theatres of the Second World War and is remembered by many as one of the most important aircraft of the era.

Fantastic Hurricane to Fantastic Mr. Fox?

As ever, there are stories within stories! Quite literally in this example. British novelist Roald Dahl was a fighter pilot before he was the global best-selling author of the children’s books we all know and love. Following an early RAF career flying Tiger Moths and Gloucester Gladiators, a 24-year-old Roald took the controls of a Hurricane Mk I operated by 80 Squadron in North Africa. ‘Lofty’ to his mates (due to his tall 6ft plus stature) was quite the combat pilot and recorded his first victory from his Hurricane cockpit. A year after being medically discharged from the RAF, Roald had a chance encounter at the British Embassy in Washington DC with a writer, which subsequently led to the development of Roald’s first short story — and from then on the ink just kept on flowing, and the result was one of the most celebrated writers of his generation.

Another name known the world over was Douglas Bader, who also flew Hurricanes. Indeed Bader was Squadron Leader of the Hurricane-equipped 242 Squadron in the Battle of France. Between his time in the Hurricane and Spitfire, Group Captain Douglas Bader was credited with 22 victories (plus several ‘probables’). 

Example: Hurricane P2902 (G-ROBT)

Our picture aircraft is a rare example indeed, this beautiful Hurricane MK I was built in 1939 under serial number P2902 (today registered as G-ROBT) and first flew on 20th October 1939. By May 1940, the aircraft was operational with 245 Fighter Squadron based in Drem, Scotland, engaged in shipping patrol duties.

A little later, on 31 May 1940, carrying the Code of DX-R and flown by Pilot Officer Kenneth McGlasham, the aircraft was heading for the French coast escorting a flotilla of small ships en route to rescue thousands of troops at Dunkirk. As the Luftwaffe swept across Northern France towards the channel, McGlasham engaged with and suffered damage from an ME109. The badly injured pilot managed to bring the aircraft down to crash land on a beach in Dunkirk. The aircraft remained there until it was recovered in 1988!

A stunning restoration of the aircraft was completed by Hawker Restorations and the first post-restoration test flight was made on the 19th June 2017. The aircraft remains fully airworthy today and can be seen

at many airshows across the UK.

Type: Hawker Hurricane 

Wingspan: 12.2 m 

MGW: 3,951 kg (variants) 

Powerplant: 1,030 – 1,300 hp (variants)

VNE: 340 mph (IAS) (variants) 

Cruise speed: 238 mph (IAS) 

Service ceiling: 35,000 ft 

More info: www.TASCvintage.com

Interested in reading more about the Hawker Hurricane read, Kingston: Birthplace of the Hawker Hurricane 

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