The Hawker Fury was designed to a RAF requirement for a ‘light Tempest’, which they had found to be very effective as a ground attack aircraft. A lighter version, it was argued, would make a good fighter. The Fury was built in the same general arrangement as the Hawker Tempest but with a reduced wingspan and with the Tempest II’s Bristol Centaurus engine, the first production aircraft flying in 1946.
However, with the end of the Second World War, the RAF decided that they would not proceed with this aircraft in favour of waiting to re-equip with jets. At that time the Royal Navy felt that the operation of jet aircraft from ships flight decks was still something of an unknown quantity and instead specified a Naval variant of the Fury.
Re-designed with a strong point for a catapult strop, an arrester hook, folding wings and high energy absorption undercarriage the Sea Fury entered Naval service in 1947 as the Sea Fury F.10 (Fighters). Like many aircraft of the day it could employ Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear to help a heavily laden aircraft achieve flying speed from the restricted length of a flight deck.
The Sea Fury was the Fleet Air Arm’s last piston-engined fighter to serve in front-line Squadrons. The prototype Sea Fury first flew on 21 February 1945 and carried out deck landing trials in HMS Ocean in October of that year. The first production aircraft (Mk.F.10) flew on 15 August 1946 and the first Squadron, No.807 Naval Air Squadron (NAS), re-equipped with F.10s at the Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose in late 1947. The first Squadron to fly with the FB.11 variant, 802 NAS, re-formed in May 1948. In all, fifty Sea Fury F.10s were built, followed by 615 Sea Fury FB.11s (Fighter Bombers), the last of which came off the production line in November 1952.
A 2-seat weapons trainer variant, the T.20, was also produced with the prototype flying in January 1948. Quite apart from the obvious addition of the rear cockpit fitted with duplicated controls, the T.20 differed from its F.10 and FB.11 brethren in a number of ways: not being intended for carrier operations the arrester hook was removed, as was the retractable tailwheel unit – presumably the removal of the associated hydraulic jacks and piping going some way to help redress the centre of gravity issue caused by adding the second cockpit.
Training for carrier landings were carried out at Culdrose and often at nearby Predannack in what were termed Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landings (ADDLs) prior to aircrew getting to try the real thing. Mounted between the front and rear cockpits a tripod periscope arrangement developed by Hawker enabled the instructor in the rear cockpit to see what the student in the front seat was viewing through his gyro gunsight.
This was probably all the instructor could see as those who have flown in the back seat will probably testify that visibility is, to say the least, dire! Two of the Hispano Mk.5 20mm canon were deleted from the centre mainplanes in order to provide additional space to house equipment displaced from the fuselage by the addition of the rear cockpit. A total of 60 of these aircraft were built.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Sea Fury was the Fleet Air Arm’s leading single-seat fighter, and it fought with great distinction during the conflict. The Sea Fury squadrons involved in Korea were 802 NAS (HMS Ocean), 807 NAS (HMS Theseus), 801 NAS and 804 NAS (HMS Glory) and 805 NAS and 808 NAS (HMAS Sydney).
The aircraft were used in the ground attack role armed with bombs and rockets and were also engaged in air-to-air combat with the much faster MiG-15. On 9 August 1952 a Flight of Sea Furies from 802 NAS flown by Lieutenants Carmichael and Davis, and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis, were on an armed reconnaissance flight in an area just North of Chinimpo when they were attacked by eight enemy MiG-15s.
Despite the enemy’s superiority in numbers and a 200 mph speed advantage, the Sea Fury pilots shot down one MiG and badly damaged two others without incurring serious damage to their own aircraft. As Flight leader, Lieutenant Carmichael was officially accredited with the ‘kill’ and was subsequently awarded the DSC for his heroism, but all of the other pilots officially claimed their quarter share.
With the advent of the introduction into Fleet Air Arm service of jet aircraft such as the Sea Hawk, the Sea Fury was relegated to second-line duties, with many being employed by the Air Branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). After the axing of the RNVR units in 1957 the majority of Sea Furies were scrapped. Happily a handful survived to see service with the civilian-run Fleet Requirements Unit, used as ‘flying targets’ for the training of Royal Navy ship crews, until finally being retired in 1962 – the final piston-engined, fighter-type aircraft to see service in Royal Navy markings.
The Dunsfold VC10 K.3 was purchased from the RAF upon its retirement by the Brooklands Museum as it was the last VC10 to be built at Brooklands. Dunsfold being the nearest airfield to the museum that could accept such a large aircraft.Continue reading →
This aircraft arrived at Dunsfold in 2005 after being purchased by film prop company Aces High. It displays a fictional US registration number, a unique engine configuration and outboard fuel tanks on pylons – all created for extensive scenes in the James Bond film Casino Royale. Dunsfold was the location set for filming many of those scenes – portraying Miami International Airport.
The Folland Gnat developed in the late 1950s, at Chilbolton and Hamble, Hampshire was later to see test flying and production moved to Dunsfold in 1961. This followed the takeover of Folland by Hawker. The Gnat was the Red Arrows’ choice of aircraft until it was later to be superseded by the BAe Hawk – also from Dunsfold.
The specially installed Orpheus engine from this particular Gnat XM691 was used in Donald Campbell’s Bluebird K7 World water speed record runs. The No. 711 engine had replaced a previous engine No. 709 from an earlier Gnat (the hydraulics and tail fin were from that original Gnat) but that engine was damaged in November 1966. So XM691’s engine was used for the record attempt on Coniston Water that proved fatal .
This photograph comes with a story, evocative of a great era in British aviation history, sent in by Andy Lawson:
“In my time as a photographer at Dunsfold, Mike Oliver was ‘ Operations Controller ‘ planning aircraft movements, he also flew me around in our Dove and Seminole ‘ hack ‘ aircraft for photo – sorties.
Before that, he was a Hurricane pilot in WWII involved in the relief of Malta, then a racing driver, then Senior Test Pilot for Follands on the Gnat trainer & Midge fighters – they came to Dunsfold – along with a lot of very skilled people – when Hawker Siddeley took over Follands.
In the attached photo, Mike is flying the prototype Gnat XM691 – of course the Gnat was used by the Red Arrows for years until they moved to the Hawk, another Dunsfold product.
This was taken by Russell Adams using his home made 5X4″ glass plate negative camera, Mike reports he was happy to change plates inverted at 4G !
R.A. was in a Hunter T7 flown by legendary Dunsfold Test Pilot Hugh Merewether, looping alongside the Gnat – which makes me think it was probably the same T7 mentioned at F.A.S.T.
Hugh Merewether gained a lot of medals – and rightly so – for two incredibly brave and skilled crash landings in P.1127’s ( nowadays if something goes wrong the pilot simply ejects, but in those days, and test flying, brave guys brought the aircraft back if at all possible to retain the evidence and work out what had gone wrong ) – Hugh had his engine explode at high altitude over West Sussex; he spotted a gap in the cloud over Tangmere ( a place he knew from fighter days ) and went for it; there’s a famous voice tape of him calmly saying ” I’m going in ( the gap ) now “.
He managed a very high speed ‘ dead stick ‘ landing – this is especially tricky as one is working from a hydraulic reservoir accumulator – you only get so many tweaks on the controls before everything stops responding !
Mike Oliver went from Dunsfold to collect him – no such things as shock or trauma in those days – and found discs, pools of molten metal, in a trail left along the runway by Hugh’s aircraft and the burning engine…”
Hawker Aircraft Ltd took over the lease of Dunsfold Aerodrome in 1950 . Hawker Aircraft Ltd went through many new names over the next half century, and as BAe Systems ceased activity at the aerodrome in 2000. The Aerodrome was sold to the Rutland Group in 2002.
By the early 1950s, Hawker’s were developing jets for which the short, grass landing strips then available to them, were not sufficient. They needed long, hard-surfaced runways, which was what Dunsfold could provide.
On taking over the Aerodrome, Hawker Aircraft Ltd “built up a final assembly and experimental test facility in the two T-2 hangars as a basis for expansion. Dunsfold is associated with several types of aircraft including Hunters and Hawks, but the Aerodrome is best associated with the Harrier. We now look at each of these in turn.
The Hunter could be regarded as the beginning of Dunsfold Aerodrome’s role at the cutting edge of military jet aircraft development. Hunters were early jet fighter aircraft: the first flew in 1951.
In 1953, Dunsfold was the base for important speed tests. In January of that year the speed of sound was achieved and on 7 September a Hunter, piloted by Squadron Leader Neville Duke, broke the world air speed record off Littlehampton achieving 727.6 m.p.h. Later the same month, the 100km world record — 709.2 m.p.h — was established from Dunsfold by Duke. The plane is on display at Tangmere Military Aviation Museum.
As a result, complaints about the noise started; test pilot Neville Duke reported “At Dunsfold we hear tales of people being flung off bicycles by the bangs—but I don’t believe them”. By 1954, the noise issue had become serious. A local farmer, Col. du Boulay, issued a writ, but was persuaded to withdraw it by assurance that the nuisance would be abated by technical means. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation immediately took action to prevent any future writs so as to protect the production of military aircraft.
Hunters were put into service by the RAF in 1954 and were used until the 1990s. They were employed in the 1956 Suez Crisis and numerous other conflicts. As well as being used by the RAF and the Royal Navy, they saw service in Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Chile, Denmark, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Netherlands, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Rhodesia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Sweden and Switzerland. In fact they were in military use somewhere in the world until 2014.
The Hunter continued in production, or refurbishment, until 1980 by which time almost 2,000 had been produced. It is reported that “the Hunter cost £100,000 in 1956, which is not far off £450,000 in 1974 money” ; and about £16,000,000 when estimated at 2011 prices. That clearly represents a great deal of money!
The Harrier: the “Jump Jet”
“Jump jets” are, technically speaking, vertical (or short) take-off and landing (VTOL or V/STOL) aircraft that can also be used on short runways. They can operate from clearings in forests and small aircraft carriers. The Harrier is unique in that it is the only aircraft using vectored thrust so that it can take off, fly and land either vertically or conventionally. BAe proudly says “The Harrier was the only true STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft in the world.”
In October 1960, the Hawker Siddeley Group’s P.1127, “the world’s first operational vertical take-off strike aircraft, made its first tethered flight at Dunsfold Aerodrome” which led to the Daily Express running the front-page headline “The Jumping Jet” . The plane is now on display at the Science Museum in London.
The P.1127 evolved into the Kestrel and then the Harrier. In 1967, Flight International announced “HARRIER World’s first fixed-wing V/STOL weapons system”, with a nine-page article describing its history and novelty. By 1969, the RAF was using Harriers. The potential for use at sea was recognised from the start with the Hawker Siddeley P.1127 landing on HMS Ark Royal in 1963. However, it was not until 1978 that the prototype “Navalised-Harrier” took to the air over Dunsfold. The first Sea Harrier joined the Royal Navy in 1980.
The Falklands War started on 2 April 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory some 300 miles off its east coast and some 8,000 miles from the UK. The British Government dispatched a Task Force on 5 April. The resulting conflict ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control.
Dunsfold Aerodrome immediately went on to a war-footing. The three Harriers based at Dunsfold for trails were commandeered and one was to be seen on HMS Hermes ski-jump as it sailed from Portsmouth. Dunsfold went on to double-shift working to modify Harriers and Sea Harriers for air combat and ground attack roles in the South Atlantic and played a crucial role in ensuring that the Royal Navy was in a position to send a second Sea Harrier- equipped carrier to the Falklands, though the conflict ended before this was necessary. Dunsfold test pilot Taylor Scott volunteered to return to the Royal Navy to help form and train an additional Sea Harrier squadron, 809. It is reported that 42 Harriers and Sea Harriers were deployed. BAe comments “The usage in the Falklands was probably the most high profile and important success recorded” as “it was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force.” Sea Harriers shot down at least 28 Argentinian aircraft, without loss in air-to-air combat (although there were losses on the ground). The Harrier was vital in winning this conflict. When reporter Brian Hanrahan worked around the reporting restrictions by saying, “I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”, he was counting Harriers. As a result of this success, the British Government immediately ordered more Sea Harriers.
Harriers were also important in the 1990-91 Gulf War and in NATO’s action in Kosovo in 1999 and elsewhere.
The Harrier – technically the AV-8A – made export history when 112 were sold to the US Marine Corps (USMC) in 1971. (This was the first time the US had bought a foreign built military aircraft since the First World War.) They had to be freighted to the US, which meant that large cargo carriers had to land at Dunsfold.
The Harrier II, a follow-on to the AV-8A, was designed by McDonnell-Douglas in St Louis USA with Hawker Siddeley Aviation/BAe, and was built on a roughly 50-50 work share basis by the two companies. Dunsfold built the centre and rear fuselages and reaction control systems for all the aircraft delivered, and McDonald-Douglas built all the wings and front fuselages. These items were shipped across the Atlantic for final assembly as the RAF Harrier GR5/7 at Dunsfold and as the AV-8B for the USMC at St Louis.
Manufacturing of the Sea Harrier ceased in 1998 with the last aircraft retiring from the Royal Navy in 2006 and from the RAF in 2011. The Sea Harrier was in service with the Indian Navy until 2016 and the AV-8B remains in service in the USMC; and in the Spanish and Italian navies in 2017.
It is claimed that 278 Hawker Siddeley Harriers were produced, plus 111 Sea Harriers79, 347 AV-8As80, and 143 Harrier IIs . That comes to 879. Costs are difficult to come by but it is suggested it could be of the order of $24-30 million (£19,000,000 – 24,000,000) each.
In 1985, Ashworth reported that, “Starting with the P.1127’s first tentative hover on October 21 1960 up to the current Sea Harrier, all British development, assembly and testing of this family of vertical take-off aircraft has been at Dunsfold”. However, the technical legacy of the Harrier lives on today in the F-35 Lightning II STOVL variant. Delve wrote: “This fantastic British aircraft is enough for Dunsfold to have a place in aviation history”.
The Hawk started life as the HS 1182, “intended to replace the Gnat, Jet Provost and Hunter as the RAF’s jet trainer”. It is also used as a low-cost combat aircraft. In 1971, the cost was put at £450,000 each. In 1972, the RAF “ordered 176 to be assembled and test flown from Dunsfold”. The first Hawk flew from Dunsfold Aerodrome in 1974, piloted by Duncan Simpson.
An important derivative of the Hawk was the T-45 Goshawk, produced jointly with McDonald Douglas, starting in 1981. The T-45 Goshawk was designed by BAe and McDonald Douglas in California. British designed components were shipped across the Atlantic for final assembly for the US Navy. When production ceased in 2009, 221 had been delivered. It is still in use as a carrier-capable advanced trainer.
Most famously, these are the planes used by the Red Arrows. From their inauguration in 1964, the Red Arrows had flown Gnats. But the last Gnat to go to the RAF was delivered from Dunsfold in 1965. In the winter of 1979/80, the Red Arrows graduated to Hawks.
Some 1,000 Hawks have been produced and they have been delivered to 18 countries. They are still in production. It is reported that they cost £18,000,000 each in 2003.
39 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War 40 McCue, 1991: p213. 41 Ashworth, 1985: p85. 42 Dunsfold Park, 2017.