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The Hawker Hurricane was a British single-seat fighter aircraft designed and predominantly built by Hawker Aircraft Ltd. Some versions were built in Canada by the Canada Car and Foundry Co Ltd

British variants

Hurricane Mk I

Mk I with original two-bladed propeller, in France circa 1939

Hurricane MkI R4118 is the only Hurricane from the 1940 Battle of Britain still flying

A ground view of R4118 Hurricane MkI

Hurricane Mk I (Early production)

The first Mk I production machines were ready fairly quickly, with deliveries starting in December 1937. These early aircraft featured fabric-covered wings, and a wooden, two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller. Initially the tailwheel was designed to be retractable; early on it was discovered that the Hurricane needed a larger rudder area to improve the control characteristics during a spin. To this end the lower part of the rudder was extended and a distinctive ventral "keel" was added to the rear fuselage. The tailwheel was now fixed.

Early Hurricanes lacked armour or self-sealing tanks. They used "ring and bead" gunsights, with the ring being mounted above the instrument panel and the bead mounted on a post above the engine cowling. The standard GM2 reflector gunsight was introduced in mid-1939, although many Hurricanes retained the "bead". Fuel capacity was 97 Imperial gal (441 l) in two fuel tanks, each of 34.5 gal (157 l) in the wing centre-section, between the spars; the fuel was pumped from these into a reserve gravity-feed tank which held an additional 28 gal (127 l) in the forward fuselage, just ahead of the cockpit. This was the main fuel feed to the engine. The 7 gal (32 l) oil tank was built into the forward, port centre section. Early "K" serialled Mk Is were powered by the 1,029 hp (768 kW) Rolls-Royce Merlin C engine; from the "L" serial numbers the later Merlin II of 1,030 hp (768 kW) was installed. The main coolant radiator was housed in a fairing under the rear wing centre-section; the oil cooler was also incorporated into the main radiator.

The aircraft handling qualities during take-off and landings were excellent due to a wide-track undercarriage with relatively wide low-pressure tyres. Because of this wide, stable platform the Hurricane was an easier aircraft to land, with less fear of nose-overs or "ground-loops" than its RAF Fighter Command counterpart the Supermarine Spitfire. During its operational life the Hurricane was able to operate from all sorts of adverse airfield surfaces with ease.[1]

In flight the large, thick wing meant that the fighter proved to be a stable gun platform. It was armed with eight .303 in (7.7 mm) Browning machine guns. The armament was arranged in two lots of four in large gunbays incorporated into the outer wing panels. In 1937 this firepower was enough to outgun the early marks of German Messerschmitt Bf 109, which were equipped with only four light machine guns. By the time of the Battle of Britain, however, it was recognised that this relatively small-calibre armament was inadequate; during the Battle of Britain it was relatively common for Luftwaffe aircraft to survive numerous hits from .303 in (7.7 mm) bullets and still return safely to base. Later versions of the Hurricane were equipped with a more powerful arms package, initially 12 .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings, and later four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano cannon. Hurricanes built under license by SABCA in Belgium featured four 12.7 mm (.50 in) FN-Browning guns instead of the .303 inch armament.

Hurricane MkI (Mid-late production)

Hurricane I (R4118), a typical Battle of Britain style Mk I with a de Havilland propeller unit.

In 1939, several changes were made to the Hurricane. The powerplant was changed to the Merlin III driving a de Havilland or Rotol[2] constant speed metal propeller. Ejector exhaust stacks were fitted for added thrust. The fabric covered wings were replaced by re-stressed metal-covered wings. An armour-glass panel was incorporated on the front of the windscreen. The "rod" aerial mast was replaced by a streamlined, tapered design.

From about May 1940 70 pounds of armour plate protection was added in the form of head and back armour.

Starting in September 1940, IFF equipment was installed. This weighed about 40 lb (18 kg) and could be identified by wire aerials strung between the tailplane tips and rear fuselage. Although the added weight and the aerials reduced maximum speed by about 2 mph (3 km/h), it allowed the aircraft to be identified as "friendly" on radar: lack of such equipment was a factor leading to the Battle of Barking Creek.

At about the same time new VHF T/R Type 1133 radios started replacing the HF TR9 sets. The pilots enjoyed a much clearer reception which was a big advantage with the adoption of Wing formations throughout the RAF in 1941. The new installation meant that the wire running between the aerial mast and rudder could be removed, as could the triangular "prong" on the mast.

At the start of the war the engine ran on the then-standard 87 octane aviation spirit. From March 1940 increasing quantities of 100 octane fuel, imported from the U.S., became available. This meant that during the defensive battles over Dunkirk the Hurricane Is benefited from an allowable increase in supercharger "boost" from 6 lb to 12 lb without damaging the engine. With the 12 lb "emergency boost", the Merlin III was able to generate 1,305 hp (973 kW) in a five minute burst. If the pilot resorted to emergency boost, he had to report this on landing and it had to be noted in the engine log book.[3]

In 1939, the RAF had taken on about 500 of this later design to form the backbone of the fighter squadrons during the Battle of France and into the Battle of Britain. The first RAF ace of the war, a young New Zealander known as "Cobber" Kain, flew a Hurricane with No. 73 Squadron. In June 1940, another wartime ace, Douglas Bader, was promoted to Squadron Leader and took command of No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron flying Hurricane Mk Is.[4] The famous children's author Roald Dahl also flew Hurricanes with No. 80 Squadron in Greece and later in Syria, against the Germans and Vichy France.[5]

Although some of the basic design elements of the aircraft were from an earlier generation, the Hurricane proved to be a match, to an extent, for the Luftwaffe's Messerschmitt Bf 109E. In his book, Duel of Eagles, British ace Peter Townsend, who flew Hurricanes with No. 85 Squadron RAF during the Battle of Britain, provides examples demonstrating how the Hurricane's superior turning ability could offset the Bf 109's higher speed. This small turning circle often allowed a well flown Hurricane to get onto the tail of a 109 even more quickly than a Spitfire, assuming a 109 pilot was unwise enough to be lured into a turning match. Against the Hurricane was the aircraft's relatively slow acceleration and a top speed some 10-30 mph (16–48 km/h) slower, depending on altitude. This meant that the 109 pilot often held the initiative when it came to breaking off or attacking during combat. At higher altitudes especially, the Hurricane was hard-pressed to keep up with a well flown 109, or even a Bf 110.[6]

Lower down the situation was a little more even. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine gave more power at low altitude than the Daimler-Benz DB 601 used in the Bf 109, on account of a different supercharger design. The DB601A-1 did not start to outperform the Merlin III and XII until above 15,000 ft (4,572 m). The Merlin's only major drawback was a tendency to cut out during negative-g manoeuvres and inverted flight, on account of fuel starvation from the carburettor. This was temporarily fixed with "Miss Shilling's orifice", a simple modification. A direct- injection carburettor later solved the problem and eventually some versions of the Merlin used direct fuel injection.

When attacking Luftwaffe bombers, it was discovered that the Hurricane's fuel tanks were vulnerable to defensive machine gun fire. The greatest hazard was with the unprotected gravity-feed fuel tank in front of the cockpit which could rupture when hit, allowing a jet of flame to penetrate the cockpit through the instrument panel, causing serious burn injuries to the pilot. The wooden and fabric rear fuselage was also far more likely to catch fire than the metal fuselages of its contemporaries. This issue was of such concern to Air Vice Marshal Hugh Dowding that he had Hawker retrofit the fuselage tanks of Hurricanes with a fire-resistant material called "Linatex" as a matter of priority. The wing tanks had already been fitted with a covering of this sealant, but the fuselage tank was considered to be too small a target. Hurricanes were soon being modified at the rate of 75 per month. In one month of combat, 10 July 1940 to 11 August, defensive fire from bombers hit 25 Hurricanes and 25 Spitfires; as a result 11 Hurricanes were shot down compared with two Spitfires.[7]

The biggest advantages of the Hurricane were that it was a relatively easy aircraft to fly, which was a boon when it came to squadrons being flooded with inexperienced pilots, and it was a steady gun platform. The closely grouped .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings created a superior pattern of fire to those of the Spitfire, which were spaced out along the wings, and the armament was more quickly serviced.

In spite of its vulnerabilities during the Battle of Britain, the Hurricane shot down the majority of the planes claimed by the RAF (1,593 out of 2,739 in total). Hurricane fighters were sometimes directed against slower bombers whilst the Spitfires attacked German fighters. By the close of the Battle of Britain in late 1940, production of the Spitfire had increased to the point where all squadrons could be supplied with them.

In June 1940, the first Hurricane Mk I "Tropical" versions appeared. These featured a Vokes air filter in a large "chin" fairing under the engine cowling. Many of these aircraft were ferried to North Africa and Malta via France and the Mediterranean using fixed, cylindrical 40 gallon fuel tanks under each wing to extend the range. The tropical filter and fuel tanks were to be used on later variants of the Hurricane.

Hurricane Mk II

Hawker Hurricane IIA at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

The improved Merlin XX (Mk.20) engine appeared in 1940 featuring a new two-speed supercharger that could have its impeller speed changed by the pilot depending on the outside air pressure (altitude). At about 18,000 feet (5,500 m) (effective), it would be switched to a higher speed gearing ("FS ratio" – Full Supercharge) for added compression, while below that, at its lower speed gearing, ("MS ratio" – Moderate Supercharge), it "robbed" less power from the engine. The result was more power at both lower and higher altitudes, dramatically increasing the overall performance of the engine, peaking at 1,280 horsepower (950 kW). Because of the new engine the bay immediately in front of the cockpit was lengthened by 4 inches (100 mm). The carburettor air intake under the forward centre-section was redesigned and moved back 3 inches (76 mm). The more powerful engine was cooled by a 70% to 30% water glycol mix, rather than pure glycol used for earlier Merlin versions. This and the increased cooling requirements required a larger radiator and a redesigned, circular oil cooler housed in a deeper, slightly wider "bath".

Hurricane IIA Series 1

Although, by this time, production of the Spitfire had started to increase, a Merlin XX powered Hurricane Mk I was built and first flew on 11 June 1940. The initial Mark II, later known as the Mark IIA Series 1, went into squadron service in September 1940 at the peak of the Battle of Britain.

Hawker had long experimented with improving the armament of the fighter by fitting cannons. Their first experiments used two 20 mm (.79 in) Oerlikon cannons in pods, one under each wing, (one aircraft was tested during 1940 with 151 Squadron[8]) but the extra weight and drag seriously compromised the aircraft's performance and manoeuvreability, and the limited amount of ammunition carried coupled with the frequent stoppages suffered by the drum-fed guns, meant the arrangement was unsatisfactory.

A more reliable fit was made with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk II cannons, two in each wing, but the weight was enough to seriously reduce performance. The Hispanos were designed for a rigid, engine based mounting and it was quickly found that the wings flexing in flight led to problems with the weapons twisting in their mounts as they fired, which caused gun jamming through misaligned shells. Changes made both to the Hispanos and to their mountings cured this problem. Small blisters on the upper wing surfaces were needed to clear the Hispano breeches and feed motors. The first sets of Hispano wings were modified from standard Mark I eight gun wings.

Hurricane IIA Series 2 (Hurricane IIB)

Mk IIB showing six machine guns on right wing

With the new Merlin XX, performance was good enough to keep the ageing Hurricane in production. Hawker soon introduced the new Mark IIA Series 2 with either of two wings; one mounting 12 Brownings, the other with four Hispano cannon in the original gun-bays. The first Series 2s, armed with 12 .303 in (7.7 mm) Brownings (four per wing in the original gun-bays and two more in new gun-bays outboard of the landing lights) arrived in October. These Mk IIA Series IIs also featured a new longer propeller spinner and later become the Mark IIB in April 1941. The tailwheel recess on the ventral keel was changed in shape and the tailwheel leg became a levered-suspension unit with a small torque link.

Hurricane IIB Trop.

For use in North Africa; the Hawker Hurricane IIB, (and other aircraft), were tropicalized, or "trop". They were given engine dust filters and the pilots were issued a desert survival kit.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Hurricane IIC (LF363)

Hurricane IIC

The Hurricane IIA Series 2s armed with four 20 mm (.79 in) Hispanos become the Mark IIC in June 1941, using a slightly modified wing. The new wings also included a hardpoint for a 500 lb (227 kg) or 250 lb (113 kg) bomb, and later in 1941, fixed 40 gal (182 l) fuel tanks. By then performance was inferior to the latest German fighters, and the Hurricane changed to the ground-attack role, sometimes referred to as the Hurribomber. The mark also served as a night fighter and "intruder."

Hurricane IID

A Mark IID Hurricane of 6 Squadron at Shandur, Egypt (1942)

Mk IIs were used in ground support where it was quickly learned that destroying German tanks was difficult, the cannons did not have the performance needed while bombing the tanks was almost impossible. The solution was to equip the aircraft with a 40 mm cannon in a pod under each wing, reducing the other armament to a single Browning in each wing loaded with tracers for aiming purposes. The Hurricanes No. 6 Squadron, the first squadron equipped with this armament were so effective that the squadron was nicknamed the "Flying Can Openers".[9] A winged can-opener became an unofficial squadron emblem, and is painted on present-day aircraft of 6 Squadron.

The layout was originally tested on a converted Mk IIB and flew on 18 September 1941. A new-build version of what was known as the Mk IID started in 1942, including additional armour for the pilot, radiator and engine. The aircraft were initially supplied with a Rolls-Royce gun and carried 12 rounds, but soon changed to the 40 mm (1.57 in) Vickers S gun with 15 rounds. The weight of guns and armour protection had a marginal effect on the aircraft's performance.

The IID undertook an anti-tank role in limited numbers during the North African campaign where, provided enemy flak and fighters were absent, they proved accurate and highly effective, not only against armoured vehicles but all motor transport.[10]

Hurricane IIE

Another wing modification was introduced in the Mk IIE, but the changes soon became extensive enough that it was renamed the Mk IV after the first 250 had been delivered.

Hurricane T.IIC

The T Mk IIC was a two-seat training version of the Mk. IIC. Only two aircraft were built for the Persian Air Force.

Hurricane Mk III

The Mk III was a Mk II equipped with a Packard-built Merlin engine, intending to provide supplies of the British-built engines for other designs. By the time production was to have started, Merlin production had increased to the point where the idea was abandoned.

Hurricane Mk IV

Hurricane Mk IV at Foggia, Italy, July 1944, armed with RP-3 rockets

Mk IV armed with 40-mm cannons

The last major change to the Hurricane was to "rationalize" the wing, configuring it with a single design able to mount two bombs, two 40 mm (1.57 in) Vickers S guns, or eight "60 pounder" RP-3 rockets. The new design also mounted the improved Merlin 24 or 27 engines of 1,620 hp (1,208 kW), equipped with dust filters for desert operations. An additional 350 lb (159 kg) of armour plating was added to the radiator housing, cockpit and fuel tanks.

The Mk IV was used in ground-attack missions in the European theatre until the early days of 1944, before being replaced by the more modern Hawker Typhoon. French ace Pierre Clostermann recalls in his book, The Big Show, that RP-3-equipped Hurricanes were limited to 205 mph (330 km/h) top speed due to the rockets' drag, and that Hurricane casualty rates against the lethal German flak were extremely high. In particular, Clostermann describes a rocket attack by Hurricanes from No. 184 Squadron RAF against a V-1 flying bomb launch-site on the French coast on 20 December 1943, in which three of the four aircraft were shot down before they could attack.

Hurricane Mk V

Two Hurricane Mk Vs were built as conversions of Mk IVs, and featured a Merlin 32 engine driving a four-bladed propeller. As the ground attack role moved to the more capable Hawker Typhoon, production of the Hurricane ended, and only a handful were delivered with the Merlin 32.

By this time, the Hurricane was no longer a frontline fighter in the United Kingdom. However, it still saw extensive service overseas as a fighter, playing a prominent role in the Middle East and Far East. It was also critical to the defence of Malta during 1941 and early 1942.

Canadian variants

Canadian-built Hurricane Mk XII painted to represent Hurricane IIB Z5140 of 126 Squadron RAF

Some production of the Hurricane was carried out in Canada by Canadian Car and Foundry Co Ltd.

Hurricane Mk X

Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. Powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Packard Merlin 28. The propeller unit was changed to a Hamilton Standard "Hydromatic" constant-speed unit; often these aircraft lacked spinners. Eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns mounted in the wings. In total, 490 were built.

Hurricane Mk XI

150 were built.

Hurricane Mk XII

Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. Powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Packard Merlin 29. Initially armed with 12 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns, but this was later changed to four 20 mm (.79 in) cannons.

Hurricane Mk XIIA

Single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber. Powered by a 1,300 hp (969 kW) Packard Merlin 29, armed with eight 0.303 in (7.7 mm) machine guns.

Sea Hurricanes

Fleet Air Arm Sea Hurricane

Sea Hurricane Mk IB in formation, December 1941

Sea Hurricane Mk IA
The Sea Hurricane Mk IA was a Hurricane Mk I modified by General Aircraft Limited. They were modified to be carried by CAM ships (catapult armed merchantman). These were cargo ships equipped with a catapult for launching an aircraft, but without facilities to recover them. Thus, if the aircraft were not in range of a land base, pilots were forced to bail out and be picked up by the ship. They were informally known as "Hurricats".
The majority of the aircraft modified had suffered wear-and-tear from serving with front line squadrons, so much so that at least one example used during trials broke-up under the stress of a catapult launching. A total of 50 aircraft were converted from Hurricane Mk Is. CAM launched Hurricanes were used on 8 operational sorties and the Hurricanes shot down 6 enemy aircraft, for the loss of only one Hurricane pilot killed.[11] The first Sea Hurricane IA kill was an FW 200C Condor, shot down on August 2, 1941.[12]
Sea Hurricane Mk IB
Hurricane Mk I version equipped with catapult spools plus an arrester hook.[13] From July 1941 they operated from HMS Furious and from October 1941, they were used on Merchant aircraft carrier (MAC ships), which were large cargo vessels with a flight deck enabling aircraft to be launched and recovered. A total of 340 aircraft were converted. The first Sea Hurricane IB kill occurred on July 31, 1941, when Sea Hurricanes of 880 squadron, operating from HMS Furious shot down a Do 18 flying-boat.[14] The Fleet Air Arm preferred the lighter de Havilland propellers over the Rotol types; it was found during tests that the Rotol unit could lead to the nose dipping during arrested landings, causing the propeller blades to "peck" the carrier deck. The lighter de Havilland units avoided this problem.
Sea Hurricane Mk IC
Hurricane Mk I[15] version equipped with catapult spools, an arrester hook and the four-cannon wing. From February 1942, 400 aircraft were converted. The Sea Hurricane IC used during Operation Pedestal had their Merlin III engines modified to accept 16 lb boost, and could generate more than 1400 hp at low altitude.[16][17] Lt. R. J. Cork was credited with 6 kills while flying a Sea Hurricane IC during Operation Pedestal.[18]
Sea Hurricane Mk IIC
Hurricane Mk IIC version equipped with naval radio gear; 400 aircraft were converted and used on fleet carriers. The Merlin XX engine on the Sea Hurricane generated 1460 hp at 6,250 ft and 1435 hp at 11,000 ft. Top speed was 322 mph at 13,500ft and 342 mph at 22,000 ft.[19]
Sea Hurricane Mk XIIA
Canadian-built Hurricane Mk XIIA converted into Sea Hurricanes.

See also


  1. Hurricane Operational Characteristics; report 1938 Retrieved: 4 April 2008
  2. Note: The Rotol propeller units were identical to those used on the Spitfire Mk II, including the blunt, rounded spinner. Later Rotol equipped Hurricane Is and Mk IIs used a longer, pointed spinner shape.
  3. Report by P/O John Bushell, 151 Squadron 18 May 1940.Retrieved: 6 April 2008
  4. Bader 2004, p. 16.
  5. Dahl, Roald. Going Solo. London: Puffin Books, 2001. ISBN 0-14-131142-8.
  6. Bungay, 2000, pp 266-267
  7. Bungay, 2000, pp 196-198, 266-267
  8. Note: This aircraft, referred to as the "heavy old cow", was used by Flt Lt Dick Smith of 151 Squadron on 18 August 1940. Price, 1979, p 22, 41, 156.
  9. "No 6 Squadron Celebrate 93rd Birthday". Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 24January 2012. 
  10. The Hurricane IID in Anti Tank Role
  11. Brown, Eric, Wings of the Navy, p112
  12. Brown, Eric, Wings of the Navy, p109
  13. Brown, Eric, Wings of the Navy, p114
  14. Thetford, Owen, British Naval Aircraft since 1912, p228.
  15. Brown, Eric, Wings of the Navy, p114
  16. Brown, Eric, Wings of the Navy, p115
  17. Data on the Merlin III engine and 16 lb boost.
  18. Thetford, Owen, British Naval Aircraft since 1912, p231.
  19. Brown, Eric, Wings of the Navy, p112


  • Brown, Eric, CBE, DCS, AFC, RN.; William Green and Gordon Swanborough, . Wings of the Navy, Flying Allied Carrier Aircraft of World War Two. London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1980. ISBN 0-7106-0002-X.
  • Bungay, Stephen. The Most Dangerous Enemy. London: Aurum Press, 2000. ISBN 1-85410-721-6
  • Fozard, John W., ed. Sydney Camm & the Hurricane. London: Airlife, 1991. ISBN 1-85310-270-9.
  • Mason, Francis K. Hawker Aircraft since 1920. London: Putnam, 1991. ISBN 0-85177-839-9.
  • Price, Alfred. The Hardest Day; 18 August 1940. New York USA: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980. ISBN 0-684-16503-1
  • Thetford, Owen. British Naval Aircraft Since 1912. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.

External links

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