Arming a Hawker Typhoon
The Hawker Typhoon and Tempest can only be described as big, beautiful, powerful beasts. On paper, these aircraft packed quite a punch, but what were they like to fly and were they any good in combat?
Hawker Aircraft’s most famous aeronautical engineer, Sydney Camm, knew that his excellent Hawker Hurricane fighter design would at some stage become obsolete. Therefore, he began working on possible replacement designs whilst the Hurricane was still a new concept. In 1938, when the Air Ministry announced a requirement for an aircraft powered by a 24 cylinder engine and armed by no less than twelve .303 machine guns or four 20mm. cannons, Camm was able to respond quickly. Hawker provided two proposed aircraft designs to the Air Ministry, the Tornado and Typhoon. The former would be powered by the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine and the latter by the Napier Sabre. Prototypes flew in late 1939 and early 1940, impressing the Air Ministry to such an extent that it immediately placed orders for both aircraft types. Sadly, production of the Vulture engines was ceased due to unreliability problems, effectively stopping development of the Tornado in its tracks. Meanwhile, the Typhoon programme had its own set of challenges, including severe engine vibration, carbon monoxide leaking into the cockpit, structural failures and elevator flutter, not to mention the fact that the engine would occasionally catch fire at start-up. Suffice to say that many test pilots and combat pilots lost their lives in Typhoons, as some of the problems were only solved at the end of the war.
World War II combat
When Typhoons entered service with the Royal Air Force (RAF), pilots were understandably sceptical over their new temperamental fighters. The Typhoon was a heavy fighter with a poor climb rate and inadequate high altitude performance. Controls were heavy and cockpit visibility in early variants was less than ideal. The Typhoon programme seemed like a complete disaster. In late 1941, German FW-190 intruders began flying low-level ground attack missions against British targets. In spite of all their shortcomings, the powerful, heavily armed Typhoons (Tiffies) were very fast at low level and turned out to be the only RAF aircraft capable of intercepting and destroying the FW-190s. Just before Operation Overlord, the preparation of the Allied invasion of Europe, it was discovered that the rugged ‘Tiffies’ were highly capable strike aircraft, firing rockets, strafing and bombing enemy radar installations, shipping and trains. On 6 June 1944, better known as ‘D-Day’, Typhoons flew more than 400 ground attack sorties. Operations continued right up to the end of the war, with Typhoons supporting Allied troops entering Germany itself. By then, Typhoons had fired more than 220 000 rockets at ground targets and had shot down at least fifty enemy aircraft. The heavy fighter-bombers had earned the respect of RAF pilots, whilst enemy ground forces learned to fear the distinctive sound of the Tiffy’s twelve cylinder engine. A total of 3 317 Typhoons were built.
Now, let us turn back time to 1941. Sydney Camm was disappointed with the Typhoon’s poor high altitude performance and the abundance of teething problems when incorporated into the RAF. Camm subsequently commenced work on an improved version of the Typhoon. He wanted the new aircraft to share the Typhoon’s good qualities, without displaying any of the original design’s flaws. The new aircraft was originally named ‘Typhoon Mark II,’ but later renamed the ‘Tempest.’ The primary difference between the Typhoon and the Tempest was the introduction of a thinner, more efficient, laminar flow wing. Many small changes added up to make the Tempest a more reliable and capable aircraft that was easier to fly than the Typhoon. In the days leading up to D-Day, Tempests were used to attack ground targets in a similar fashion as Typhoons. However, when it came to air-to-air combat, Tempests proved to be more than a match for the best German fighters. After Allied forces had landed in Normandy, the Germans launched hundreds of V.1 Flying Bombs at England. Tempests shot down more than 600 V.1 rockets, about a third of the total number of V.1s destroyed by the RAF during that period. Of course, it was not uncommon for RAF pilots to overturn a V.1 by nudging it with their Tempests’ wingtips, thereby reserving ammunition and avoiding the need to rearm. Later on, Tempests operated from bases in Europe, primarily conducting ‘search and destroy’ missions against ground and air targets. Tempests were responsible for destroying everything from locomotives to Me-262 jet fighters. Development of the Tempest only began after the beginning of World War II and subsequently only about 1 700 examples were built.
Naturally, the Typhoon and Tempest had very similar dimensions. Both aircraft were about ten metres long and had a wingspan of more than twelve metres. However, there was a definite difference in performance and handling. The Tempest had a maximum speed of 370 kts, almost 20 kts. more than the Typhoon. Compared with the Tempest, the Tiffy also lacked range. It could cover a distance of almost 1 000 km, whilst the Tempest had a range of about 1 200 km and almost 2 500 km with the use of drop tanks. After World War II, Tempest saw much action in the Middle East and the Far East. Pakistan was the last country to use Tempests operationally, ultimately replacing these World War II veterans with Hawker Furies in 1954.
In spite of their difficult beginnings, the Hawker Typhoon and Tempest became incredibly capable combat aircraft. All the initial teething problems seemed rather insignificant, when compared with the successes these aircraft achieved in combat. They were a personification of brute force, firepower and toughness. In the end, these aircraft could be counted among Sydney Camm’s true masterpieces.
This article was written by Divan Muller and was first published in African Pilot Magazine - www.africanpilot.co.za