This is an outstanding account of one of the greatest British jet aircraft. The author has proved very readable text, clearly based on very careful research and direct experience. The publisher has done a first rate job of producing a lavishly illustrated work with a high full colour image content and some rare photographs. Not only has the author produced a fine history of the Hawker Hunter, but he has included related information on contemporary aircraft and on the disappointing Swift jet fighter.
NAME: The Design and Development of the Hawker Hunter, The Creation of Britain’s Iconic Jet Fighter
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Tony Butler
PUBLISHER: The History Press
BINDING: soft back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: Day fighter, point interceptor, ground attack aircraft, second generation jet fighter, 1950s, export success, single seat interceptor, bomber killer, 30 mm canon, trans-sonic
DESCRIPTION: This is an outstanding account of one of the greatest British jet aircraft. The author has provided very readable text, clearly based on very careful research and direct experience. The publisher has done a first rate job of producing a lavishly illustrated work with a high full colour image content and some rare photographs. Not only has the author produced a fine history of the Hawker Hunter, but he has included related information on contemporary aircraft and on the disappointing Swift jet fighter.
Hawker was immortalized by the Hurricane. Equalling that design achievement could take some beating but the Hawker Hunter was the true jet Hurricane. It was fast, single-seat, single-engine, heavy gun armament, a joy to fly, a bit short-legged, a point defence interceptor, a capable ground attack aircraft, much like the Hurricane when it became the first monoplane RAF fighter. There were some differences. The Hurricane could not be described as beautiful or elegant. It was a workman-like, pugnacious fighter that took the RAF forward without introducing great design or manufacturing risk. For its time it was very fast, very heavily armed, an excellent gun platform and it out performed the Me 109 when it joined the first RAF squadrons. However, the Camm design team at Hawkers minimised the risk and produced an aircraft that could be produced in volume with very few new production tools. The Hurricane borrowed heavily from the biplane Fury and its naval equivalent the Nimrod. The three noticeable changes were the enclosed cockpit, retractable undercarriage and the single wing. The structure was still essentially fabric covered steel tube and former construction almost unchanged from WWI. The relatively thick wing enclosed the powerful 8 machine gun armament and provided plenty of space for ammunition. In these respects, the Hunter was closer to the Spitfire than the Hurricane and its early years suffered somewhat from novel design features, but produced a thoroughbred that pilots fell in love with and those on the ground watched in admiration and envy.
In the closing stages of WWII, British aircraft designers were already working on revolutionary jet bomber and fighter designs, including the Mach 2 Lightning. These aircraft were light years away from the piston engine era. This inevitably meant that design was beyond the knowledge base. This led to the spectacular crash at Farnborough of the DH110 and the crashes of Comet airliners amongst a number of setbacks as designers mastered the new factors of high altitude, high speed flight with materials that pushed the design knowledge. However, British designers rose to the challenges and opportunities with an industry that could still provide several competing designs to meet RAF and FAA requirements.
The first generation jet fighters had not included swept wings. Study of German jet technology, captured at the end of WWII, and research carried out at the same time in Britain, led to a call for the successors to the Venom and Meteor to feature swept wings. At the same time, Rolls Royce had produced the Avon, a worthy equal to the Merlin piston engine in contemporary jet engine design, maintaining the link between the Hunter and the Hurricanes and Spitfires.
Specifications were produced for RAF and FAA procurement of day fighters and night fighters, with the Avon as a desired engine. This resulted in Supermarine putting forward the Swift and Hawker putting forward the Hunter for the day fighter requirement. The All Weather/Night Fighter requirement resulted in DeHavilland putting forward the DH110/Vixen and Gloucester putting forward the Javelin, all offered with the Avon as the powerplant. Where the Swift and Hunter were fairly close in general design and configuration, Gloucester offered a massive two crew, twin engine delta jet, whilst the DH110 was a much smaller swept wing, twin boom, twin engine jet, with the second man buried in the ‘coal hole’ alongside and below the pilot, with only a tiny rectangular side window to provide an external view, where the Javelin provided conventional tandem seating under a Perspex canopy. The DH110/Vixen was a much more advanced design than the Javelin and not intended to carry any guns, although the RAF demanded 30 mm canon and four guided missiles. The Farnborough crash effectively left the field clear for the heavy cumbersome Javelin but the FAA decided to take the Sea Vixen development of the DH110, receiving a more capable aircraft without guns, placing retractable rocket batteries on either side of the nose wheel bay, leaving the under wing pylons free to carry guided missiles, bombs, fuel drop tanks and unguided rockets. The Swift and Hunter designs both entered service alongside each other but the Swift proved disappointing and its smaller numbers were rapidly removed from service.
The Hunter was a beautiful smooth design that looked as though it could fly fast and nimble. The first versions were very clean and the pilot enjoyed a good position with very good vision. The main weakness was the gun armament. Had the RAF been prepared to accept four 20 mm canon, most of the problems suffered by the Hunter would have been avoided. At that time many aircraft designs did continue with four 20 mm cannon and demonstrated satisfactory performance in combat against contemporary bombers and fighters. The RAF desire to up-gun was driven by belief that a 30 mm canon was necessary to kill large Russian nuclear bombers. DeHavilland, with the Vixen, considered batteries of unguided missiles and underwing guided missiles were a superior solution, the aircraft being radar guided towards large enemy bomber formations to fire the unguided missiles, becoming in effect a guided aerial shotgun.
Some argue that the 30 mm Aden canon was a poor design in every respect, but the RAF was to persevere with the gun, requiring two to be mounted on the Mach 2 Lightning, together with two guided missiles. The basic gun module on the Hunter was neat and could be rapidly removed and replaced. Arguments about the Aden canon aside, there is no question about the damage its empty shell cases did to a Hunter in flight. The solution was found to be streamlined bulges aft of the cannon to hold containers for spent cases, It was a viable solution and the alternative of 20 mm canon might have produced the same risks and required the same solution, leaving only the advantage of more rounds being carried than the larger and heavier 30 mm shells.
The Hunter was to carry underwing unguided missiles to provide an effective ground attack capability and the aircraft proved a successful export sale, continuing on for a very long life with some air forces and as a target aircraft operated by a commercial company on contract to the Royal Navy to train ship crews in aircraft defence. Fortunately a small number have survived to be flown as vintage warplanes and the number of these display aircraft may increase as vintage jets become increasingly popular at air shows.
From any view, the Hunter was iconic and hugely successful in its intended operation, but it also provided a great legacy. The Black Arrows pioneered the operation of large formation jet-powered air display aircraft. The Hunter was a natural for displays and the Black Arrows rapidly built up an enthusiastic following in Britain and on visits to other countries. The Black Arrows were contemporary with other RAF and FAA display teams, including the Pelicans and the Sea Vixen-mounted FAA Fred’s Five display teams. The Red Arrows followed the Hunter Black Arrow tradition and initially used the diminutive Folland Gnat trainer, before moving to the superlative BAE Hawk that is much in the mould of the Hunter.
As the life of the Hunter continued, it was logical to consider developing it to match emerging trends and requirements. In its initial form it was operated much like a Spitfire. Scrambled by the Command and Control system, to be directed to visual contact with the enemy. From that point it was down to the pilot to mix it with the enemy and kill their aircraft using a gun armament. In ground attack, the Hunter followed its Hawker predecessors, the Typhoon and Tempest, strafing ground targets with its guns and unguided underwing rockets. It could be flown in difficult conditions but it was essentially a day fighter. In its later years it needed its own radar and guided missiles.
The addition of fire control radar and missiles included a replacement pack for the gun pack. This new pack had two guided missiles mounted under it. Consideration was given to alternatively mounting a guided missile under each wing. Alternative wing and tail configurations were considered, but none of these developments were to go into series production. Larger aircraft with two engines, and a second crew member to operate the radar, were available and they could carry four guided missiles and unguided rockets and/or guns. The Hunter had run out of roles its basic point interceptor design could meet and the single seat interceptor had moved on, with the P1 Lightning able to achieve Mach 2.
The author has faithfully reported the history of the outstanding Hawker Hunter with accuracy and affection. The standard of illustration is equally outstanding. Highly commended and a book not to miss.