Hawker Aircraft Ltd were famous for producing beautiful aircraft with better performance than their contemporaries. As well as their famous series of two-seat bomber/trainer/army co-operation aircraft beginning with the Hart (first flight, 1928), Hawker Aircraft produced an elegant biplane fighter for the Royal Air Force – also powered by the Rolls-Royce Kestrel V-12 engine – called the Hawker Fury. The Fury, first flown in 1931, was the very first RAF aircraft capable of more than 200 mph in level flight (a developed version, the Fury II, was able to reach 223 mph).
Their Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty – officially known as ‘The Commissioners for Exercising the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ – knew that their standard fleet fighter, a pugnacious little beast called the Fairey Flycatcher, was getting long in the tooth by 1930. Ever conservative in their approach, they sought another biplane, armed with twin Vickers Mark III .303 machine guns, to defend the fleet at sea. Hawkers quickly evolved a sea-going fighter, similar in some respects to their successful Fury, and the Nimrod (although originally called Norn, for some reason) was born.
The Nimrod had mixed construction, with main wing spars fashioned from rolled steel strip, and spruce ribs supporting the taut wing fabric. The fuselage derived its strength from steel tubes and aluminium alloy components arranged in a Warren truss; the light stringers, which gave the outer skin its shape, were spaced out by means of vertical wooden forms (this mode of construction was heavily relied on by Hawkers during the 1920s and 30s, indeed, the last aircraft to utilise this was the famous Hurricane!) From 1933 to the outbreak of World War Two, the Nimrod served onboard fleet carriers such as HMS Glorious in the Mediterranean, although being supplemented, then superceded by another biplane, the Gloster Sea Gladiator.
K3661 was delivered to No. 802 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm in October, 1936, and suffered a couple of landing accidents before being sent to HMS Daedalus, the Fleet Air Arm base at Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire, in December, 1939. The record becomes obscure at this point, but it is suspected that it was then donated to No. 305 Squadron, Air Training Corps, in Ashford, Kent. This might explain why the remains of the aircraft were eventually discovered in a municipal dump to the north of Ashford. After some uncertainty, and a period in RAF storage, the fuselage and other components were sold to Mick Cookman in 1991. Aero Vintage started the long job of restoration, but it wasn’t until the aircraft was taken over by the Historic Aircraft Collection at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford that things began to move quickly. A Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI engine was found in Canada and rebuilt to the appropriate standard for the Nimrod; the first flight, following a tremendous rebuilding effort, took place at Duxford on 16th November, 2006.
When not inside the historic No. 3 Hangar at Duxford, the HAC’s Nimrod – proudly wearing the markings of No. 802 Squadron, FAA – performs lively displays at air shows around the country. A truly wonderful example of restoration to flight status.