For many years, Britain led the way when it came to military aircraft development. The nation built amazing aircraft in World War 2 such as the Spitfire and Lancaster, but kept up its strong aircraft output after the war was over, and when the world was in the jet age. Iconic jets such as the Avro Vulcan and the awesome English Electric Lightning were just two of the many aircraft built in Britain. One aircraft that still remains a highly popular vintage jet at airshows to this day is the Hawker Hunter.
The Hunter was built by the same Hawker aircraft company that gave us the Hurricane in World War 2. It took advantage of the newly developed Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet engine and was one of the world's first swept-wing fighters. It would go on to achieve fame in a number of conflicts, plus as an aerobatic aircraft as well, in the hands of the Royal Air Force Black Arrows and Blue Diamonds. While faster and more advanced aircraft would come after, the Hunter proved to be versatile both as a fighter and strike aircraft.
The Development Of The Hunter
The Hunter was born out of a realization that the RAF would need a fast, swept wing jet aircraft to replace its aging piston engine and early jet powered fleet. Straight-wing jets such as the Vampire and the Meteor would fast become obsolete as aircraft technology evolved. An Air Ministry specification issued in 1946 called for a daytime jet-powered interceptor, and Hawker chief designer Sydney Camm started work on aircraft to be powered by the new Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the need for a more advanced jet fighter was accelerated. America and Russia had stolen a march with the swept wing F-86 and MiG-15.
The Hunter made its first flight, then known as the P.1067, on July 20th 1951. In March 1953, the first production Hunter F1 made its first flight, and then in September 1953, legendary Hawker test pilot Neville Duke broke the world air speed record for jet aircraft in Hunter Mk 3 WB188 with a top speed of 727.63 mph. Even before seeing combat service, the Hunter had shown the world what it was capable of. The aircraft would enter service with the RAF in 1954, and it wouldn’t be long before the swept wing fighter was called into action.
The Hunter In Detail And In Operational Service
The definitive version of the Hunter, the F.6, was powered by a Rolls-Royce Avon 207 turbojet that produced some 10,145 lb of thrust. This would give the aircraft a top speed of 623 mph and a maximum height of 50,000 ft. A max speed of Mach 0.94 meant the Hunter was one of the very first transonic fighters, occupying the space between subsonic and supersonic. The Hunter also had the distinction of being the very first high-speed jet aircraft to be fitted with radar, something that would come in handy during active service.
The Hunter would first see active service during the 1956 Suez Crisis. Hunter F.5s would fly escort missions for RAF Canberra bombers, flying from RAF Akotiri in Cyprus. The Hunter would again be deployed in 1962 alongside Gloster Javelins during the Brunei Revolt, and the Hunter again saw action in 1964 when No.43 and No.8 Squadrons flew the aircraft during the Radfan campaign. By this point, the Hunter had become a close air support aircraft, its interceptor role taken over by the much faster English Electric Lightning.
Further Use Of The Hawker Hunter
The Hunter had many other uses during its career as well. The aircraft was widely exported, with air arms from Denmark, India, Sweden and Switzerland to name just a few, using the Hunter. The Swiss would also use the Hunter in its Patrouille Suisse aerobatic team for many years. The most famous Hunter aerobatic team is surely that of the Black Arrows, which operated up to nine Hunters from 1955 to 1960. And in more modern times, the Hunter can still be seen around the world at airshows, as one of the most popular examples of a classic jet in the world.
The Hunter’s Legacy
The Hunter has left an interesting legacy. To many, it was an almost unremarkable aircraft. It didn’t go around shouting about its job like perhaps the Lightning or Vulcan would do. Nor was it the most dramatic fighter to look at. But the Hunter had a clean, simple and sleek design that gives it a classic and iconic look, and it provides itself multiple times in service as one of the best fighter aircraft produced by post-war Britain. It's no surprise then that the aircraft was exported all around the world, and used for many years in multiple roles, be it as a trainer, fighter, or even aerobatic aircraft. The Hunter will always be one of the most versatile fighters of the Cold War.
Sources: Hawker Hunter Aviation, BAE Systems, Flikr, Wikipedia, Wikimedia, The Aviation Geek Club, Pixels