"When I arrived on the squadron I had some years of fighter experience behind me, but after only one sortie in a Hunter I felt I'd never really flown a fighter before. Its touch was perfect, control a real enjoyment and manoeuvrability a wonder. I've flown more modern fighters since, but none compare with the superb Hunter"
Unnamed Hunter Pilot, No.8 Sqn. RAF.
Towards the end of the Second World War, Sydney Camm began design work on the Hawker Aircraft Company's first jet fighter. The Hawker P.1040, later known as the Sea Hawk, first flew on September 2, 1947 and met with limited success as a naval fighter. Around the same time, initial design work began on the Hawker P.1052 (a swept wing, straight tail assembly Sea Hawk) and Hawker P.1081 (a fully swept Sea Hawk). Both of these designs were an attempt to meet Air Ministry specifications F.43/46 and F.44/46, issued in the search for a replacement for the Gloster Meteor. Both designs were unsuccessful so specification (F.3/46) was issued around which another Sydney Camm design, the P.1067, was developed. Detailed design work began in 1948 with construction of the first of three prototypes ready to commence two years later. As the axial flow turbojet engine was still "new technology" at the time, two of the prototypes were to be fitted with the 6,500lb thrust Rolls Royce AJ.65 (later known as the Avon 100) while the third was to have a Metrovick F.9 (Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire) in case problems arose with the Rolls Royce power plant. While work on the P.1067 continued, the Royal Air Force placed an order for 400 production aircraft, 200 powered by the Avon and the remainder by the Sapphire.
The first Avon 100 powered prototype (serial number WB188) began ground testing and taxiing trials early in 1951 before Neville Duke, Hawker's chief test pilot, made the first flight of the P.1067 on July 20 of the same year. Further developmental flying continued including the first supersonic flight of the aircraft in April 1952 with Neville Duke at the controls once again (all subsequent versions of the aircraft were capable of supersonic flight). By the time remaining two prototypes had been completed, the project had assumed a "super priority" status and work on the production model accelerated with the first Hunter F.1 flying on May 16, 1953. Powered by a 7,500lb thrust Rolls Royce Avon 113 engine, the swept wing and tail assembly F.1 was of all metal stressed skin construction. Armament comprised of four 30 mm Aden cannons housed, together with ammunition, in a replaceable pack under the nose. After the cannons had been fired, the pack could be lowered and replaced with a fresh one to facilitate rapid rearming. This aircraft, along with a further 22 early production Hunters were used for further testing and development in an attempt to iron out several design faults that had arisen. One major problem that needed fixing was the severe nose down pitching of the aircraft at high speed caused by the use of the flaps as airbrakes. Eventually this was overcome by the fitting of a separate hinged airbrake to the underside of the fuselage; however, this was not without its own problems and had to be disabled whenever the landing gear was lowered.
The F.1 finally entered RAF service in July 1954, replacing the Meteor F.8s of No. 43 Squadron, Leuchars and the 8,000lb thrust Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire101 powered Hunter F.2 followed four months later. Intended as a high altitude transonic interceptor, the F.1 was severely limited in this role when use of the cannon was restricted to altitudes below 30,000 feet. This was brought about when it was discovered that the exhaust gasses from the cannons, when fired at high altitude, caused the Avon 113 to surge or flame out. Although the F.2 didn't suffer from this problem, production of that model was cut back from the original order of 200 to 45. Another cannon problem shared by both the F.1 and F.2 was that of spent cartridge links damaging the underside of the fuselage when they were ejected after firing. This was solved with the March 1955 introduction of the F.4 that featured bulbous link collectors fitted under the fuselage. These quickly picked up the name "Sabrina's" after certain ample anatomical features of a popular pin up girl of the time and were fitted to subsequent Hunters as well as being retrofitted to earlier models. The F.4 was also the next variant of Hunter following the F.2, the F.3 designation having already been used for an afterburning Rolls Royce Avon RA 7R powered F.1 used in an attempt on the world air speed record (piloted by Neville Duke, the F.3 managed to set a new record of 727.6 mph on September 7, 1953). The F.1 and F.2 had suffered from a limited internal fuel capacity so the F.4 added another 100 gallons along with strengthened wings capable of carrying a range of air to ground ordnance. The fitting of a 7,500 lb thrust Rolls Royce Avon 115 cured the flame out problems of the F.1 and a Sapphire 101 powered version was also built as the F.5. Essentially the same as the F.4, the F.5 was the first variant to see active service when it was used against ground targets in Egypt during the Suez campaign. Although none were lost on missions, two were destroyed by terrorists on the ground at Cyprus.
The development of the 10,000 lb thrust Rolls Royce Avon 203, the "Big Bore" Avon, led to the Hunter F.6 which began entering service in October 1956. The extra power provided by the new engine greatly increased the aircraft's high altitude performance and the use of an AVPIN (self-oxidising isopropyl nitrate monofuel) starter system instead of the cartridge system of earlier variants allowed for faster engine starts. The F.6 also introduced the distinctive saw tooth look to the wings when the leading edge of the outer portion of the wings was extended to counter a tendency the aircraft had of pitching up at high speed. Faster scramble times combined with the higher performance meant the Hunter was now able to hold its own as an interceptor and fighter against most of its contemporaries. The Hunter's days in this role were numbered though; the British began introducing the V bombers that could fly higher than the F.6 and new American fighters were being produced that could outperform it in many ways. The introduction of the Mach 2+ capable English Electric lightning in 1960 spelled the end of the Hunter's role as an interceptor with the last F.6s being retired from fighter command in April 1963 and reassigned as ground attack aircraft.
In addition to the single seat fighter versions, a two-seat trainer (P.1101) based on the F.4 was developed. Initially designed as a private venture, specification T.157D was soon issued and the P.1101 was ordered into production as the T.7. The first prototype flew on July 8, 1955 with production models entering service in July 1958. Powered by an 8,000 lb thrust Rolls Royce Avon 122, the T.7 was similar to the F.4 apart from the addition of side-by-side seating and a redesigned cockpit canopy. The cannon pack was replaced by a single 30 mm Aden cannon on the starboard side and a braking parachute was installed in a streamlined fairing on top of the jet tailpipe. While a handful of T.7s were built from new, others were conversions of existing F.4 airframes. The same held true for the T.8, which was basically a T.7 fitted with an arrestor hook for airfield use and supplied to the Fleet Air Arm. The T.7A, T.8B and T.8C followed, incorporating improvements or additions to navigational equipment.
Introduced into service in January 1960, the Hunter FGA.9 was based on the F.6 but designed primarily as a ground attack aircraft. It had strengthened wings capable of carrying a greater range of stores, including up to four drop tanks. To cope with the increased weight of the aircraft, a 10,150 lb thrust Rolls Royce Avon 207 was installed along with stronger landing gear and a braking parachute similar to that found on the T.7. In addition to those built from new, around 25 F.6s were brought up to FGA.9 standard and re-designated the F.6A. A further two FGA.9s were modified as the P.1109 which was essentially an FGA.9 with a more advanced radar housed in an extended nosecone and armed with Firestreak infrared homing air-to-air missiles. The P.1109 never made it past the prototype stage but another Hunter conversion that was far more successful was the FR.10. Developed from the F.6, the FR.10 was a reconnaissance aircraft designed to meet specification FR.164D and first flew on November 7, 1958. Powered by an Avon 207, it had three cameras in the nose and was fitted with UHF radio equipment. Earlier variants of the Hunter did not escape the conversion process either with F.4s becoming the GA.11 and PR.11 for the Fleet Air Arm. Fitted with an Avon 122, arrestor hook and advanced navigational equipment, they were used by the Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU). The GA.11 had a Harley light in the nose and was used for mock attacks on Royal Navy ships, the light being used to train gunners to track high-speed aircraft. In a somewhat ironic twist, a privately owned Hunter (ZK-JIL) was one of the aircraft used for mock attacks on Royal New Zealand Navy ships since the scrapping of the RNZAF strike force. The PR.11 was essentially a GA.11 with the Harley light removed and cameras installed in its place.
Although the Hunter was being retired from frontline service in Britain by the start of the 1970s, new variants continued to be developed with the Mk.12 and T.8M, the latter arriving as late as 1979. The Mk.12 was a two-seat conversion of an F.6 (serial number XE531) fitted with a HUD (Heads Up Display) and was intended to train pilots for the proposed British "super fighter", the TSR2. However, only one Mk. 12 was ever built due to the British government's decision to cancel the TSR2 project. The T.8M was a derivative of the T.8 and was designed to support the Royal Navy Sea Harrier program. Fitted with a Blue-Fox radar in a redesigned nosecone, it was used to train pilots in the use of the Harrier's radar system.
The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were the driving force behind the Hunter's development but they were by no means the only users. It proved to be a major export success with the air forces of at least 19 other countries using the aircraft. A total of 429 Hunters were exported as new aircraft and more than 700 were either refurbished or completely remanufactured for export by Hawker Aircraft ltd, receiving suffixes up to Mk.79. In addition to those built in England, production under licence of both the F.4 and F.6 was carried out in Belgium and Holland. One of the Hunter's first export customers was India who made extensive use of the aircraft in combat against Pakistan. In the ground attack role, the Hunter proved devastating against Pakistani armour and ground forces during conflicts in 1965 and 1971. Air to air combat proved to be a different matter with around 21 Indian Hunters lost to Pakistani Mig 19s, Mirages and Sabres. These losses were mainly among the Hunters configured for ground attack, laden down with bombs and operating at the limit of their range making them easy prey for the missile armed fighters. The Hunter also saw combat in the Middle East with the armed forces of Jordan and Lebanon. The Royal Jordanian Air Force used the Hunter from 1958 until 1974 and they were the first Arab aircraft to attack Israeli positions in the 1967 Six Day War. Later the same day, almost all of the RJAF aircraft were destroyed by Israeli air strikes on their bases. The same fate befell the Hunters operated by Lebanon with all being destroyed in air strikes, again mainly by Israel.
Including licence built versions, 1,985 Hunters were constructed. The vast majority were retired from active service worldwide by the 1980s, however F.58s and T.68s saw service in Switzerland until 1995 while Zimbabwe still operates a number of FGA.9s in the ground attack role. Singapore was also a long time user of the aircraft operating a mixture of FGA.74s, FR.74A/Bs and T.75 (A)s from 1970 until the early 1990s. Comparisons have been drawn between the Hunter and the Supermarine Spitfire with both being described as a delight to fly, a "real pilot's aircraft". Some people have even gone so far as to say that it was the most beautiful jet fighter ever built, but then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder so it's probably best left to individual taste. As more surplus Hunters become available, it is becoming a sought after aircraft with the Warbird and Classic aircraft fraternity around the world and a popular performer (it certainly attracts attention because of its sheer volume) at air shows.
The aircraft pictured here (ZK-JIL, c/n 517) is an ex-Republic of Singapore Air Force Hunter FR.74 and first flew in February 1957. It's first operational posting was to No. 5(MU) Sqn. RAF as XJ689 on March 20, 1957 after which it served with No.14(F) Sqn. and then No.66(F) Sqn. The aircraft was returned to Hawker twice for upgrades, first in 1961 when it was converted to FGA.9 standard and again in 1970 when it was converted to FR.74 standard and registered as G-9-327. On August 4, 1971 the aircraft was one of four FR.74s delivered to Singapore and was operated at Tengah air base by 141 (Merlin) Sqn. Following the replacement of the squadron's aircraft by Northrop F-5Es and RF-5Es, 21 Hunters were withdrawn from service and sold by tender in 1993-94, 517 being one of these. Originally going to Australia, the aircraft was subsequently one of two imported into New Zealand in 1995 by Jet Imports Ltd (the other being a T.75 c/n 500 ex. RSAF 516, currently in storage at Ardmore). Restoration to flying status was undertaken by Aero Technology Ltd. of Ardmore and on April 13, 2000 the Aircraft, now registered as ZK-JIL, made it's first test flight from Ardmore airfield to Auckland International Airport in the hands of the late Sir Kenneth Hayr.
Currently located at Classic Flyers, Tauranga (July 2014)
Text © 2002 Stuart Russell.
Power plant: One 10,150 lb st (45.49 kN) Rolls Royce Avon 207 turbojet engine.
Wingspan: 10.26m (33ft 8in)
Length: 13.98m (45 10 1/2ft)
Max T-O weight: 11,158kg (24,600lb)
Max level speed:
- Mach 0.95 (978km/h - 620mph) at 10,970m (36,000ft)
- 1,144km/h (710mph) at sea level
- 689km (490 miles) internal fuel only
- 2,965km (1,840 miles) with 1,046 litre (230 gal) drop-tanks