It all comes down to the engine, in the end. So many combat aircraft were transformed or condemned by the choice of engine (sometimes imposed by ‘higher authorities’ – see the disastrous enforced selection of the A.B.C. Dragonfly radial engine for many RAF fighter designs in 1918). At the other end of the spectrum, the initial conversion of three P-51 Mustangs, from Allison engines to the magical Rolls-Royce Merlin (at the Rolls-Royce airfield at Hucknall, Nottingham) proved to be a triumph.
Sidney Camm was probably the most successful designer of fighter aircraft of all time. A sweeping statement, but he was responsible for the Hurricane and the Harrier, with lots of good designs in between. One of his ‘close shaves’ was the Hawker Typhoon; Camm admitted that the wing he settled on was too thick, which gave poor altitude performance – although it had an impressive load-carrying capacity, which allowed the Typhoon to shine as a ground attack aircraft in the Normandy battles.
Before the Typhoon had entered Squadron service, Camm was already working on a successor, the ‘Typhoon Mark II’, with a thin, elliptical wing (inspired by the success of the laminar flow wing of the P-51 Mustang). As usual, a series of prototypes were planned (some of which were not built) utilizing the next generation of 2,000 hp engines. These included various marks of the Napier Sabre, the Rolls-Royce Griffon, and the radical Bristol Centaurus. The latter was a sleeve-valve, two-row radial of immense promise, and complexity. Needless to say, the first Tempest to fly, the Tempest V, on 2nd September, 1942, was the one with the Sabre engine, since that engine was already being used in the Typhoon. Undoubtedly, there were ‘bugs’ to be ironed out. Excessive engine vibration, less than optimal control due to lack of tail surface area, and other matters all had to be corrected. However, the developed Tempest Mk. V was a real winner, with its powerful 4 x 20mm Mk II or Mk V Hispano cannon armament; the H-bored, 24 cylinder, sleeve valve Sabre had problems due to quality control of the complex engine, but it put out up to 2,420 hp at 3,850 rpm, and gave the aircraft a sparkling performance. Tempest pilots regarded the Fw190 as ‘an easy kill, especially if they tried to dive away’. The seven-ton, incredibly clean airframe had to be dived in pursuit with the throttle on ‘idle’ - it gathered speed that quickly!
The Tempest II, with the Centaurus, came just too late to see action, despite having first flown in June, 1943. The Tempest II squadrons were going to take part in the final assault on Japan, as part of the planned ‘Tiger Force’ consisting of British and Commonwealth units. However, the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki made the whole enterprise unnecessary. This particular aircraft, painted in a typical post-war camouflage scheme of Dark Green and Ocean Grey over Medium Sea Grey was with No.5 Squadron, RAF in India. It was handed over to the new Royal Indian Air Force (later the Indian Air Force) in December, 1947. After long service, a batch of redundant Tempest Mk II airframes was sold, mostly to owners in the U.K. This particular aircraft is a composite of no less than three airframes – plus the propeller from a Vickers Varsity, the canopy from a Hawker Sea Fury, and the control column from a Hawker Hurricane! This lengthy restoration was accomplished by The Fighter Collection at the Imperial War Museum’s Duxford Airfield.
With the end of WW2, all aircraft contracts were severely cut, or cancelled. Only 552 of this magnificent fighter aircraft, the Hawker Tempest Mk. II, were built.