It has been called one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed, it epitomizes elegance from the classic age of the biplane, it was the first 200 mph aircraft the RAF possessed – it is the Hawker Fury.
For years after the end of the ‘War To End All Wars’ the RAF had struggled on with fighter aircraft which had either been in use during the last year of the War, such as the Sopwith Snipe, or less than successful fighters, like the Gloster Gamecock (which had a terrible accident rate, due to its spinning characteristics). The formula was always the same it seemed – a large, drag-inducing rotary (in the early years) or radial engine, plus two WW1-vintage Vickers .303 machineguns and an open cockpit. It was taken as read that the resulting aircraft would be a biplane.
In 1929, the H.G Hawker Engineering Company Ltd decided to, at least, ‘clean up’ the picture. Their very efficient Hawker Hart light bomber, (first flown, 1928) had been showing a clean pair of heels to the RAF’s fighters, and the RAF was demanding a fighter able to catch its own bombers.
A radial-engined prototype, the Hawker F.20/27, was followed by a closely related design called the Hornet (RAF Serial, J9682). This was a clean, streamlined fighter prototype, with a closely cowled V-12, F.XIS of 480hp from Rolls-Royce. When it was shown at the Olympia Aero Show at the Olympia Exhibition Hall, London in 1929, it caused a sensation. True, it was still a biplane, and had an open cockpit, and was armed with twin Vickers, but at least it LOOKED fast; that it was supremely elegant was a change for the better, also. The RAF was sufficiently impressed to take an official interest, but demanded a name change (for administrative reasons), as well various physical changes. The resulting fighter prototype, know known as the Hawker Fury, was sent to Boscombe Down where it was test flown against a submission by the Fairey Aviation Company Limited, and their Belgian designer, Marcel Lobelle. The Fairey Firefly IIM was slightly faster than the Fury, but had much heavier controls, and less endurance, hardly good characteristics for a fighter. Importantly, the Firefly’s main structure was made from wood, and the RAF had decided that it wanted no more wooden combat aircraft (a strategy that 11 years later it would be happy to abandon, when the de Havilland Mosquito arrived!) The Fury was declared the winner.
This was a new ‘class’ of aircraft for the RAF; it matched the last flourish of the German Luftstreitkräfte in 1918 with their fast-climbing Siemens-Schuckert D.IV and Fokker D.VII, and was referred to as an ‘interceptor’, and was intended to reach the altitude of attacking bomber aircraft as quickly as possible. The very first production Fury (K1926), designed to Specification F.13/30, took to the air at Brooklands, Surrey, on the 25th March, 1931, in the capable hands of P.E.G.’Gerry’ Sayer. The fine lines of the Hornet had been further refined, resulting in a clean, unequal-span biplane, the heavily-staggered wings of which had rolled steel spars, with spruce ribs, covered in Irish linen. The usual Hawker steel and aluminium tube internal structure of the fuselage was built up to profile with stringers, then, like the wings, covered with linen and doped. The engine had been changed to a supercharged R/R Kestrel II S of 525hp driving a wooden Watts, two-bladed propeller. As well as its sparkling climb performance (2,380 ft/min), it was the first RAF aircraft with a top speed of more than 200mph (207mph at 14,000ft). K1926 was followed by another 112 Fury I aircraft for the RAF, as well as others for the Yugoslav Air Force.
The first unit to receive the Fury was No. 43 Squadron (Motto Gloria finis – ‘Glory is the end’), based at Tangmere, near the South Coast; No 43 traded their Armstrong-Whitworth Siskins for Furies during May and June, 1931. The other squadron at Tangmere, No. 1, also re-equipped with Furies, as did No. 25 at Hawkinge in Kent. Over the next few months, Furies dominated the Annual Air Exercises, out-climbing all other RAF fighter aircraft and making many ‘interceptions’. As well, they were shown to be superlative aerobatic machines, and in 1933, a formation of nine No 25 Squadron aircraft took off at the RAF Pageant at Hendon, and performed formation aerobatics TIED together with ribbon!
The Fury I was followed by a redesigned Fury II in 1936, more than 20mph faster and with a 30% increase in climb-rate. Even these machines could not stem the rise of the monoplane, however, and as the Bf109 in Germany, the Polikarpov I-16 in Russia, and the Seversky P-35 in the USA took shape, Hawker’s were working on the ‘Fury Monoplane’ – soon to be known as the Hurricane, and not a moment too soon, as the war clouds were gathering.
Here you can see the Historic Aircraft Collection’s beautifully restored Hawker Fury I (K5674, from the last production batch). It is in its hangar at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, and is finished in the markings of No. 43 Squadron, RAF, ‘The Fighting Cocks’. It was delivered No. 43 on the 2nd June, 1936, and was claimed as the personal mount of the Officer Commanding ‘B’ Flight, Flight Lieutenant Frederick Rossier (later Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Rossier, GCB, CBE, DSO, RAF) who named it the ‘Queen of North & South’, and flew it until 22nd February, 1939, when it was withdrawn and sent into store at No. 5 Maintenance Unit.
At the height of the Battle of Britain, K5674 was withdrawn from store, and prepared for shipping. Along with others it was loaded onto the Clan Line Steamers Ltd. steamship ‘Clan Matheson’, destination, Durban in South Africa, where it arrived on 20th October, 1940. A total of 16 Furies were sent out to reinforce those already despatched to the South African Air Force, the last arriving in February, 1941. They were issued to No 1 Squadron SAAF and other units and took part in the fighting against Italian forces in East Africa. The Italian Air Force attempted to bomb Wajir Airfield in Kenya with Ca.133 bombers and at least one was shot down by two Furies. Other Italian aircraft were damaged in a string of actions, and ground targets attacked, also. On 31st March, 1941, Fury ’215′ (as K5674 had become) ran out of fuel on a cross-country flight, when being flown by 2nd Lieutenant Peter Hedley. Hedley suffered no injuries in the force-landing that followed, but poor old ’215′ was declared ‘Category 2′. she was shipped off to No 2 Air Depot, at Kimberley, where she was scrapped.
The story might have ended there, but thanks to a tip-off from the Royal Air Force Museum, Guy Black of the Historic Aircraft Collection went to South Africa and recovered the remains of ’215′; work on the difficult task of constructing brand-new wing spars (from high-tensile steel strip) proved to be the most critical stage of the restoration, but slowly the Fury was rebuilt. It was a long job, undertaken by Retrotec, the restoration arm of Aero Vintage and the Historic Aircraft Collection, which culminated in a ‘first flight’ – post restoration, that is – from Goodwood, with Flight Lieutenant Charlie Brown, RAF at the controls. The aircraft is now one of the most popular at Duxford, and has flown in formation with a Hawker Nimrod I and Nimrod II, and a Hawker Hind, all classics from the same family of Hawker aircraft. A ‘box formation’ of FOUR such machines would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, yet it has been flown at several Duxford shows.
The Hawker Fury – elegant, fast-climbing, and a joy to fly!