The speed with which the Gloster Meteor became obsolete in the late 1940’s came as a profound shock to the air ministry and the British Government, (although they were easier to embarrass then). With no replacement for the Meteor in sight and the aircraft industry in deep recession, the air defence of Great Britain was becoming steadily less credible The Hawker aircraft company with relatively healthy order’s for the Sea Fury and the Sea Hawk were in a reasonably secure position to address this problem. In 1947 Sir Sydney Camm, chief designer at Hawker’s entered discussions with the air ministry to prepare a day fighter specification for a new jet fighter employing the new 6000 lb thrust Rolls Royce AJ-65 or the Armstrong Siddely Sapphire axial flow engines. This resulted in specification F3/48, and Hawker’s tendered the P1067, (a private venture) as their submission.
The resulting aircraft, now named the Hunter, was an incredibly beautiful design with a long slim fuselage, and gracefully swept wings and tail. Despite the Hunter’s beauty the structure was to prove amazingly rugged and durable and with it’s armament of four 30mm cannon it was the most heavily armed British fighter to date. The Hunter prototype was first flown on 20th July 1951 by Squadron Leader Neville Duke from Boscombe Down. Hawker Hunter F1’s began to enter service with 43 Squadron in 1954. Almost immediately serious problems arose during high altitude gun trials, where engine compressor surging of the Rolls Royce Avon was encountered often resulting in engine flame out. This had not been detected by Hawker’s during armament trials as they had been performed using the Armstrong Siddely Sapphire engined Hunter F2, an engine that was virtually surge free. In addition although the Hunter fully met the specifications endurance requirement, in practice the Hunter was severely fuel limited and many aircraft were lost through running out of fuel. Finally spent cartridges from the cannon were damaging the rear fuselage. This problem was solved by simply adding two bulged fairings to collect the spent cartridge cases. In squadron service these were named Sabrina’s after the popular starlet of the day, (she makes a brief cameo in “Blue Murder at St Trinians” just in case your interested).
The much more capable Hunter F4, (Rolls Royce Avon) and Hunter F5, (Sapphire) entered service in 1955. These variants featured greatly increased internal fuel capacity and the ability to carry four 100 gallon drop tanks. The Hunter F4 was powered by the Rolls Royce Avon 115 which was surge resistant. These changes transformed the Hunter which now began to deliver on it’s potential and the Hunter equipped 29 front line fighter squadrons. The Hunter was to grab the headlines in 1953 when Neville Duke recaptured the World Air Speed record for Great Britain flying the one off Hunter F3 at a speed of 727.63 mph.
The ultimate fighter version of the Hunter was the Hunter F6, with the Avon 200 series engine and featured wing leading edge extensions which cured the “pitch up problem” . The Hunter F6 featured the ability to carry a wide range of under wing stores such as bombs and rockets and equipped 19 RAF squadrons. However with the Mach 2 English Electric Lightning set to enter service the writing was on the wall for the Hunter as a pure interceptor and the Hunter was selected to replace the De Haviland Venom in the strike fighter role. The Hunter FGA9 proved extremely capable in the ground attack role with it’s ability to carry a huge selection of underwing stores and served the RAF for many years in this capacity. To fulfill the need for an armed low level photographic reconnaissance fighter the Hunter FR10 with three camera’s mounted in the nose was developed. The longest serving version of the Hunter, (in RAF service at least) was the two seat Hunter T7 which was used for weapons and advanced training, one example still being used by the Empire Test Pilots School as late as 2002.
The Hunter will always be remembered as one of the truly great pilots aeroplanes which was flown by two of the finest jet aerobatic teams, the “Blue Diamonds” from 92 squadron and the “Black Arrows” from 111 squadron which once looped 22 Hunter’s in close formation. In all nearly 2000 Hawker Hunter’s were built, and flew with the air forces of 19 countries.