Andy Sephton, the Shuttleworth Collection's Sea Hurricane Mk IB has
the oldest Merlin engine still in use.
(photo by John Dibbs)
The Hawker Hurricane
was a major milestone in the evolution of British fighter planes. Monoplanes
weren't new to the type, but the Hurricane set new standards of armament
and performance in one stroke. When it appeared in 1935, with eight guns,
it was the world's most heavily armed fighter, and it was Britain's first
to exceed 300mph.
Delivery of the Hurricane to the squadrons began at the end of 1937, and
in 1940, the plane went on to play a major role in the Battle of Britain.
Although much of that glory must be shared with the Supermarine Spitfire,
the Hurricane did the majority of the defensive work. There were 32 Hurricane
squadrons in the battle (compared to 19 Spitfire squadrons), and the Hurricane's
simple structure enabled damaged aircraft to be repaired more quickly.
Its easy-maintenance features also reduced turnaround time.
Design of the Hurricane began in January 1934, as a private venture by
the Hawker Aircraft Company of Kingston-On-Thames, when Sidney Camm became
aware of a new 910hp Rolls-Royce engine that was being developed. Camm
sought to design a new monoplane to capitalize on this advanced engine,
which was later ordered into production as the famous "Merlin."
Previous Hawker fighters had all been biplanes, and the new Hurricane
was a prime example of a transitional design. The details of the fuselage,
tail, nose and radiator of the monoplane closely resembled those of the
biplanes, but its major difference was the fitting of a metal-frame, fabric-covered
monoplane wing that contained an inward-retracting landing gear. In September
1934, Hawker showed drawings of the new design (which used two nose guns
and one gun in each wing) to the Air Ministry. An official specification
was written to cover the design, and on January 10, 1934, a contract for
a prototype was awarded.
During construction, the armament was revised to use eight .303-rifle-caliber
machine guns that were entirely enclosed in the thick wing. The prototype
flew on November 1, 1935, and demonstrated a high speed of 315mph at 16,200
feet (5,000 meters). Production orders followed for a total of 3,759 Hurricane
Is, and later models brought the total number of Hurricanes to 14,557.
Early production Hurricanes were fitted with 1,030hp Merlin II engines
that drove two-blade, fixed-pitch, wooden propellers, but these were soon
replaced with variable-pitch, three-blade metal units. Production was
increased by building Hurricanes at the Gloster Aircraft Company and the
Austin Motor Company in England and at the Canadian Car and Foundry Company
in Canada. Licenses to build Hurricanes were also granted to some "friendly"
countries, but the outbreak of war canceled most of these projects.
Mk II owned by the Real
Aeroplane Co. of Breighton, England.
(photo by John Dibbs)
During the production
of the Mark I, the Hurricane adopted several significant state-of-the-art
improvements. The wing structure was changed to all-metal; constant-speed
propellers were adopted, and armor for the pilot and fuel tanks was added.
For service in North Africa and in the Middle East, a "tropicalized"
version was developed that featured dust filters for the engine air intake
and other details that were dictated by operations and maintenance in
desert conditions. Hurricanes were also adapted to naval operations from
aircraft carriers by the fitting of arrester hooks, and operated under
the name "Sea Hurricane."
The appearance of the 1,280hp Merlin XX engine with a two-stage supercharger
resulted in the major Hurricane model-the Mark II-which had many variants,
mostly in the arrangement of armament. Two different wings were built,
one for 12 .303 guns (Mark IIB) and the other for four 20mm cannon, plus
hard points for up to 500-pound bombs (Mark IIC). The Mark IIA had the
original eight-gun wing, the Mark IID had two 40mm cannon that were mounted
below the wing.
There was to have been a British-built Hurricane III with the American
Packard-Merlin engine, but it was never produced. The Hurricane IV (originally
the "Mark IIE") with a 1,620hp Merlin 27 engine, was designed
for low-level attack missions with a wing that could be fitted with two
40mm cannons, bombs, drop tanks or rockets. There were only two Hurricane
Vs. These were Mark IVs that were fitted with 1,635hp Merlin 32 engines
and four-blade propellers. After testing, they were reconverted to Mark
In Canada, use of the Packard-Merlin 28 engine and American Hamilton-Standard
propellers in the basic Mark IIB airframe resulted in the Mark X in 1941.
The Mark XI was similar except for its Canadian equipment. The Mark XII
used the Packard-Merlin 29 and had a 12-gun wing; the Mark XIIA had eight
Altogether, Hawker built 9,900 Hurricanes; Gloster, 2,749; Austin, 300;
Canadian Car, 1,606 and Avions Fairey (in Belgium), two. The last Hurricane
built, a Mark IIC, was delivered by Hawker in September 1944.
As a fighter, the Hurricane was generally surpassed by the German Messerschmitt
109. As the Hurricane was improved, so was the 109. The Hurricane was
outclassed as an interceptor fighter by mid-1942, but with the new wing
and heavier armament, it became a highly successful low-level fighter-bomber
and tank buster.
Some 2,952 Mark IIs and IVs were supplied to Russia during the War, and
this produced quite an oddity. Hawker sold 12 Hurricanes to Finland in
January 1940 during that country's first war with Russia, and by the time
of the second, or "Continuation," war, the Russians also had
Hurricanes. Further, in a reversed Lend-Lease operation, Britain supplied
Hurricanes to American fighter squadrons that arrived in Europe and North
Africa but were not yet equipped with American fighters.