In the history of British air warfare during World War Two, two aircraft stand out; the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane.
Each brilliant in their own way, these two iconic fighter aircraft were nevertheless very different. The Spitfire, elegant and balletic, took fighter design to brave new heights. Whilst the Hurricane, a rugged workhorse, built on decades of proven development.
On 6 November, 1935 the latter made its first flight.
A modern design built on tradition
Sydney Camm, chief designer at Hawker Aircraft, began working on designs for the Hurricane in 1934.
Camm built the design around the powerful new Rolls-Royce inline piston engine, the PV-12, which became almost as iconic as the aircraft it powered. Following the tradition of Rolls-Royce to name its aero engines after birds of prey, PV-12 eventually became the Merlin.
The design of the Hurricane grew out of a long line of biplane fighters developed by Hawker throughout the 1920s.
Orders from the Air Ministry
By 1933 the Air Ministry was keen to develop a monoplane fighter. The Ministry approached Hawker to develop a monoplane version of their “Fury” biplane. The new “Fury Monoplane” as it was initially known, was to be a single seater fighter.
The aircraft retained Hawker’s standard construction method of a tubular metal skeleton covered with a fabric skin, eschewing the more modern technique of stressed metal skinning (although the wings would later be skinned in metal).
However the Hurricane did possess some very modern features, including a sliding cockpit canopy and a fully retractable undercarriage. For armament, it carried a cluster of four Colt-Browning machine guns in each wing.
An icon enters service
A prototype of the new fighter was ready by the end of October 1935. It was transported from the Hawker factory in Kingston to the Brooklands race track where it flew for the first time, with Hawker test pilot P. W. S. Bulman at the controls.
During the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane actually outnumbered the Spitfire and accounted for more ‘kills’, though it is often overshadowed by the latter’s striking appearance and legendary manoeuvrability.
The Spitfire could both outturn and out-climb the Hurricane, making it the most feared dogfighter among Luftwaffe pilots. But the Hurricane was the steadier gun platform, allowing for more accurate firing. It could also absorb a far greater degree of damage than the Spitfire, was easier to repair, and generally considered the more rugged and dependable of the two.
As Flight Lieutenant Hugh Ironside put it, “you just couldn’t fuss the Hurricane.”