During World War Two, the British air warfare witnessed the remarkable contributions of two extraordinary aircraft: the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane. Each of these iconic fighter planes possessed distinct qualities that set them apart. The Spitfire, with its elegant and graceful design, pushed the boundaries of fighter aircraft innovation.
While the Spitfire wowed with its elegance and innovation, the Hurricane’s rugged reliability earned it a special place in history.
On 6 November 1935, the Hawker Hurricane took to the skies for the first time, marking a significant milestone in aviation history. Developed as a response to Air Ministry Specification F.36/34, the Hurricane showcased advanced engineering and played a vital role in World War Two.
A modern design built on tradition
In 1934, Sydney Camm initiated the design process for the Hurricane, laying the foundation for its future success. Drawing upon the expertise gained from previous aircraft models, the Hurricane evolved from a lineage of biplane fighters that Hawker had been refining throughout the 1920s.
One of the key elements of the Hurricane’s design was its utilisation of the Rolls-Royce inline piston engine, the PV-12. This powerful engine, later renowned as the Merlin, would become synonymous with the aircraft it propelled. Following the esteemed Rolls-Royce tradition of naming aero engines after birds of prey, the PV-12 earned its iconic status as the Merlin.
The combination of Camm’s visionary design and the formidable power of the Merlin engine culminated in the creation of the Hurricane, which proved to be a formidable force during World War Two, thanks to its robust construction, adaptability, and combat effectiveness.
Orders from the Air Ministry
Driven by the Air Ministry’s desire to develop a monoplane fighter, Hawker was approached to create a new version based on their existing biplane, the “Fury.” This marked the beginning of a remarkable journey for the Hurricane.
The resulting aircraft, initially named the “Fury Monoplane,” was designed as a single-seater fighter. Hawker chose to adhere to their proven construction method, employing a tubular metal skeleton covered with fabric skin, although the wings would later receive a metal skin.
Despite this traditional approach, the Hurricane boasted several modern features, including a sliding cockpit canopy and a fully retractable undercarriage. Equipped with 4 Colt-Browning machine guns in each wing, it possessed a formidable armament.
The Hurricane’s impact
By the end of October 1935, a prototype of the new fighter was completed, and it was subsequently transported from the Hawker factory in Kingston to the Brooklands race track. There, under the skilled piloting of Hawker test pilot P. W. S. Bulman, the Hurricane took to the skies for its maiden flight, marking a significant milestone in its history.
The Hawker Hurricane played a pivotal role in World War Two, particularly during the Battle of Britain. As the conflict intensified in the skies over Britain, the Hurricane became the backbone of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Fighter Command. It proved to be a resilient and versatile aircraft, defending the British Isles against relentless German Luftwaffe attacks.
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.
The Hurricane’s durability, combined with its firepower and adaptability, allowed it to effectively engage enemy aircraft, contributing significantly to the successful defence of Britain during this critical phase of the war.