During the early 1960s, the Royal Air Force (RAF) operated the Folland Gnat and Hawker Hunter T.7 as primary jet trainers. In 1964, the Ministry of Defence issued a requirement for an aircraft to replace those ageing workhorses. At the same time, France realised it needed a replacement aircraft for its T-33s and Mystere IVs. A joint venture was launched, resulting in the SEPECAT Jaguar. Although the Jaguar became an excellent strike aircraft, it was considered too complex and expensive to be used in a training role. Meanwhile, in 1968, Hawker Siddeley (HS) commenced development of its own jet trainer programme. From the beginning, the HS aircraft was designed as a subsonic trainer with limited ground attack capability and good export potential. The Ministry of Defence revised its requirement for an advanced jet trainer and awarded the contract to HS, choosing the aircraft which would later be known as the Hawk, above its competitors, such as the Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet and British Aircraft Corporation’s P.59 design. In 1972 the Ministry of Defence placed an order for 176 Hawks, with the first aircraft completing its maiden flight two years later, on 21 August 1974. The first six aircraft were used for trials and test flights, whilst a seventh example was built as a company demonstration aircraft, with the purpose of attracting export customers.
When Hawks entered service with the RAF in 1976, it was virtually a problem-free introduction. Trials were completed without any accidents, within budget and on time. Hawks immediately began replacing older aircraft types in training units and were used for advanced flight training, air combat training and tactical weapons training. In 1979 the Red Arrows Display Team’s Gnats were finally replaced by Hawks and display pilots enjoyed the improved manoeuvrability and performance. The first Hawk to be lost was when a Red Arrows’ aircraft hit a yacht’s mast during a low flypast in 1980. During the 1980s, Hawks were also modified to be used as secondary air defence platforms and were therefore armed with Aim-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. By then, the aircraft were known as BAe Hawks, due to HS being merged with other British companies to form British Aerospace. Two decades later, BAe would merge with Marconi Electronic Systems to form BAE Systems.
The Hawk 50 series was specifically designed to meet potential foreign customers’ specifications. It had a more powerful engine than the RAF’s Hawk T.1 and featured additional weapon points and instruments for ground attack missions. Maximum take-off weight and the ferry range were increased by 30%. The Hawk 50 was also equipped with a 30 mm canon and, as with the RAF’s Hawk T.1, it could reach transonic speeds in a dive.
Finland became the first Hawk 50 customer when it placed an order for fifty aircraft, of which 46 were licence-built in Finland. The aircraft were designated Hawk 51s, as they were equipped with 12.7mm machine gun pods, instead of the regular Aden canon pods. Finnish Hawks could also carry reconnaissance pods in the place of machine guns. During a very clandestine deal, Kenya became the second export customer when it ordered twelve Hawk 50s. Because of the ‘hot and high’ conditions, its Hawks were equipped with drag chutes and were designated Hawk 52s. Sixty Hawk 53s were delivered to Indonesia during the early 1980s, which used them for advanced and tactical training.
The most interesting Hawk variant was the result of a United States Navy (USN) requirement to replace its ageing T-2C Buckeyes and TA-4J Skyhawks. In 1978, BAe teamed up with McDonnell Douglas and won the contract for a navalised version of the Hawk 50, known as the T-45 Goshawk. Naturally, many modifications had to be made to enable the Goshawk to partake in carrier operations. Landing gear was strengthened, whilst a catapult launching bar and arrestor hook were added to the design. The airframe was strengthened and many other alterations were made. This resulted in a heavier aircraft, and subsequently the T-45 was powered by a more powerful version of the original Rolls-Royce engine.
As with the Hawk 50, BAe specifically developed the Hawk 60 for its export market. The new variant had the same handling characteristics of the Hawk 50, but had much improved range, weapons load capability, manoeuvrability and better low speed handling characteristics. Shortly after achieving independence from Britain in 1980, Zimbabwe placed an order for eight Hawk 60s.The first four aircraft were delivered in 1982, but were attacked whilst on the ground when explosives were placed on board the aircraft. One Hawk was totally destroyed, whilst two others had to be shipped back to BAe to be rebuilt. Zimbabwe ordered more Hawks and its No. 2 Squadron used them in training and ground attack roles. In 1998, Zimbabwean Hawks supported Congolese forces against rebel troops. During one particular mission, these Hawks sank troop-carrying ferries on Lake Tanganyika, using general purpose bombs and 68 mm rockets. Hundreds of Burundi and Rwandan troops were killed. Other Hawk 60 customers included the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and South Korea.
The Hawk 100 series was designed to be even more suited to combat duties and advanced weapons training. It had a radar warning receiver (RWR), forward looking infrared (FLIR), chaff and flare dispenser, ‘hands on throttle and stick’ HOTAS controls, multi-function displays (MFD) and a head-up display (HUD), whilst the ‘combat wing’ included wingtip launch rails for air-to-air missiles. Single-seat combat Hawks were designated Hawk 200s and were exported to Oman, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia, whilst Hawk 100s were exported to Canada and Bahrain, in addition to the countries listed above.
Australia required an aircraft that was geared towards training pilots to fly its F/A-18 Hornets. The Hawk 127 was the result. Later, BAE Systems used the Hawk 127 to develop the Hawk LIFT (lead in fighter trainer), which focussed on training pilots to progress to more advanced, modern fighters, such as the SAAB Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon.
The (South African Air Force) SAAF placed an order for 24 Hawk LIFTs, known today as Hawk 120s, to replace its ageing Impala fleet. The first example arrived at 85 Combat Flying School in September 2005. The Hawk 120 is powered by Rolls-Royce-Turbomeca Adour 951 engine with FADEC (full authority digital engine control) and produces 6 500 lbs of thrust. Other operators of the Hawk 120 series include the RAF, Royal Navy and Royal Bahraini Air Force. Hawk 120s used in Britain are known as Hawk T.2s. India later placed an order for 66 aircraft, known as Hawk 132s.
Specifications (SAAF Hawks)
Within the SAAF, Hawks can be used operationally during day and night in various roles, such as strategic strikes, air defence, battlefield interdiction, close air support, tactical reconnaissance, radio relay and search operations. During joint exercises, they can be used as forward air controllers and mission controllers. Obviously, the aircraft’s main purpose is that of advanced training, weapons training and to prepare pilots to fly the SAAB Gripen.
The Hawk 120 can fly at altitudes of up to 48 000 ft and has a range of 1 150 nm, whilst its low flying combat radius is 200 nm. In a dive, it can reach its maximum speed of Mach 1.2. Primary advantages include integrated avionics, datalink, radar simulation and a modern weapons system, whilst the environmental control system has been improved to cope with African conditions.