Hawker Hurricane

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Hawker Hurricane
Missing image

Hawker Hurricane, flying example in Shuttleworth Collection
RoleFighter and fighter-bomber
CrewOne pilot
First flightNovember, 1935
Entered serviceMarch, 1936
ManufacturerHawker Aircraft
Length 31 ft 4 in9.83 m
Wingspan 40 ft 0 in12.20 m
Height 13 ft in3.98 m
Wing area 258 ft m
Empty lb2,560 kg
Loaded lb3,740 kg
Maximum takeoff lb kg
EnginesOne Rolls-Royce Merlin XX V-12
Power1,280 hp954 kW
Maximum speed325 mph/18,000 ft km/h
Combat range505 miles813 km
Ferry range miles km
Service ceiling33,300 ft10,100 m
Rate of climb ft/min m/min
Guns12 x 0.303 (7.7 mm) Browning machine-guns, 4 x 20 mm Hispano cannons, 2 x 40 mm Vickers S anti-tank cannons
Bombs250 and 500 lb (113 and 227 kg) bombs
Rockets8 x 3 in

The Hawker Hurricane is a fighter design from the 1930s which was used extensively by the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain.

By some measures the design was outdated when introduced. Following traditional Hawker construction techniques closely, it used a large measure of wood and fabric for the wings and fuselage, with the engine and cockpit area being aluminum-covered steel tubing. In contrast, the contemporary Supermarine Spitfire used monocoque construction and was thus both lighter and stronger.

But its simple construction was the main reason why it was ordered into production in 1936. At the time it was unclear if the much more advanced Spitfire would be able to enter production smoothly, whereas the Hurricane was a well understood problem. This was true for service squadrons as well, who were well experienced in working on and fixing wooden/metal planes like the Hurricane.


Hurricane Mk.I

Missing image
The first production Hurricane Mk.I at Brooklands, November 1937.

As expected the first Mk.I production machines were ready fairly quickly, and deliveries started in October 1937. They mounted the 1,030 hp (768 kW) Rolls Royce Merlin Mk.II or III engine and were armed with eight .303-in Browning machine guns. These early planes were rather simple, with fabric-covered wings, a wooden fixed-pitch propeller, and without armour or self-sealing tanks.

These issues were addressed in 1939. The new Mk.I included a deHavilland or Rotol constant-speed metal propeller, ejector exhaust stacks for added thrust, metal-covered wings, armour and other changes. At the start of the war the RAF had taken on about 500 of this later design, and it formed the backbone of the fighter squadrons during the Battle of France and into the Battle of Britain.

Although it may have been an older design, the Hurricane was still a worthy fighter on its own and a reasonable match for the Messerschmitt Bf 109 it faced. Much of this was the result of the use of the very impressive Rolls Royce Merlin engine, which also powered the Spitfire. The Merlin (using 100 octane fuel) gave more power at low altitude than the Daimler-Benz DB 601 used in the Bf 109. Above 15000 ft, the DB601A-1 had the edge on the Merlin III and XII, though.

During the Battle of Britain the Hurricane accounted for the majority of the planes shot down by the RAF, being vectored against the slower bombers whilst the Spitfires kept the defending German fighters occupied, but their day was already over. By the close of the Battle of Britain in late 1940, production of the Spitfire had ramped up to the point where all squadrons could be supplied with new machines. Deliveries of the Spitfire were now outpacing the Hurricane, as it turned out that its all metal construction allowed it to be produced even faster than the mixed-construction Hurricane.

Hurricane Mk.II

Rolls-Royce was improving the Merlin even before the war started, and in 1940 started production of the Merlin XX (Mk.20). The XX featured a new two-speed supercharger, that could have its impeller-speed changed by the pilot depending on the outside air pressure (altitude). At about 18,000ft (effective) it would be switched to a higher-speed gearing ("FS ratio" — Full Supercharge) for added compression, while below that, at its lower-speed gearing, ("MS ratio" - Moderate Supercharge) it "robbed" less power from the engine. The result was more power at both lower and higher altitudes, dramatically increasing overall performance of the engine, peaking at 1,280hp (954 kW).

Although by this time production of the Spitfire had started to ramp up, a Merlin XX powered Hurricane Mk.I was built and first flew on 11 June 1940. The initial Mark II, retroactively to be known as the Mark IIA Series 1, went into squadron service in September 1940 at the peak of the Battle of Britain.

Hawker had long experimented with improving the armament of the fighter by fitting cannon. Their first experiments used two Oerlikon 20mm anti-aircraft cannons in pods, one under each wing, but the wooden wings were deemed to fragile to handle the large and somewhat temperamental fitting. A more reasonable fit was made with four Hispano Mk.II 20mm cannons, two in each wing, but the weight was enough to seriously impact performance. Fitting the cannons also proved to be a problem, as the cannon was designed to be drum fed and fired through the propeller shaft, and a suitable belt-feed mechanism hadn't yet been worked out.

With the new Merlin XX, performance was good enough to keep the aging Hurricane in production. Hawker soon introduced the new Mark IIA Series 2 with either of two wings, one mounting twelve Brownings, the other four Hispano cannon. The first Series 2's arrived in October, also sporting a new and slightly longer propeller spinner.

These were later to become the Mark IIB in April 1941 and Mark IIC in June, respectively, using a slightly modified wing. The Mk.IIC used drums for the cannons to avoid the problems with the earlier attempts and belt feeds, limiting their ammunition. The new wings also included a hardpoint for a 500 lb or 250 lb bomb, and later in 1941, fuel tanks. By this point the design was falling well behind the latest German fighters in terms of performance, and the Hurricane was re-tasked in the fighter-bomber role, sometimes referred to as the Hurribomber.

Mk.IIs were used in the ground support role, where it was quickly learned that destroying German tanks was terribly difficult; the cannons didn't have the performance needed, while bombing them was almost impossible. The solution was to equip the plane with a 40mm cannon in a pod under each wing, reducing the other armament to a single Browning in each wing for spotting.

The layout was originally tested on a converted Mk.IIB, and flew on 18 September 1941. New-build version of what was known as the Mk.IID started in 1942, including additional armor for the pilot, radiator, and engine. The planes were initially supplied with a Rolls-Royce gun with 12 rounds, but soon upgraded to the Vickers S gun with 15 rounds.

Yet another wing modification was introduced in the Mk.IIE, but the changes soon became extensive enough that it was renamed the Mk.IV after the first 250 had been delivered.

Hurricane Mk.III

The Mk.III was a Mk.II equipped with a Packard-built Merlin engine, intending to free up supplies of the British-built engines for other designs. By the time production was to have started, Merlin production had increased to the point where the idea was abandoned.

Hurricane Mk.IV

The last major update to the Hurricane was to "rationalize" the wing, equipping it with a single design able to mount two bombs, two 40mm guns or eight "60 pounder" rockets. The new design also mounted the upgraded Merlin 24 or 27 equipped with dust filters for desert work, delivering 1,620 hp (1,208 kW).

Hurricane Mk.V

Two Hurricane "Mark Vs" were built as conversions of Mark IVs, and featured a Merlin 32 engine driving a four-bladed propeller. As the ground-attack role moved to the more capable Hawker Typhoon, production of the Hurricane instead ended, and only a handful were delivered with the Merlin 32.

By this time, the Hurricane was no longer equipping frontline fighter squadrons in the United Kingdom itself. However, it still saw extensive service overseas in the fighter role, playing a prominent role in the Middle East and Far East. It was also critical to the defence of Malta, helping to see the island through some of its darkest days.

Canadian Hurricanes, Mk.X through Mk.XV

(to follow)

Foreign use

The Hawker Hurricane, both during and after the war, would serve in the air forces of many countries, some "involuntarily" - as in the case of Hurricanes which landed accidentally in neutral Ireland and were immediately impounded by the authorities, followed by their entry into service with the Irish Air Corps at Baldonnel. Hurricanes also joined the ranks of the Forces Ariennes Franaises Libres (FAFL) - that is, the Free French air force - fighting in North Africa between June 1940 and May 1943. The Hurricanes, like all FAFL aircraft, sported the Cross of Lorraine on the fuselage, instead of the roundel that had been in use since 1914, in order to distinguish them from those aircraft flying for the Vichy French air force. Some of these squadrons were also given RAF designations; for example, the Groupe de Chasse Alsace was also known as No.341 Squadron.

Missing image

In later years, some production shifted to other groups like Canada Car and Foundry (where engineer Elsie MacGill became known as "Queen of the Hurricanes") and Gloster, while Hawker continued production right up until 1944. In all some 14,000 Hurricanes and Sea Hurricanes were produced.

Specifications (variant described)

General characteristics

  • Crew:
  • Capacity:
  • Length: m ( ft)
  • Wingspan: m ( ft)
  • Height: m ( ft)
  • Wing area: m² ( ft²)
  • Empty: kg ( lb)
  • Loaded: kg ( lb)
  • Maximum takeoff: kg ( lb)
  • Powerplant: Engine type(s), kN (lbf) thrust or
  • Powerplant: Engine type(s), kW ( hp)


  • Maximum speed: km/h ( mph)
  • Range: km ( miles)
  • Service ceiling: m ( ft)
  • Rate of climb: m/min ( ft/min)
  • Wing loading: kg/m² ( lb/ft²)
  • Thrust/weight: or
  • Power/mass:

See also

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

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