Sea Hurricane Mk Ib, Old Warden – the Royal Navy’s first 300mph fighter

By: shortfinals

Nov 12 2011

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Category: aircraft, airshow, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War, ships, warbird

4 Comments

Aperture:f/5.6
Focal Length:18mm
ISO:250
Shutter:1/125 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

Sidney Camm was an absolute genius – no ands, ifs, or buts, the man simply was. He specialised in designing fighter aircraft, and produced some of the most elegant and amazingly beautiful aircraft, ever. Think of the original Hawker Fury of the 1930s, and you will get a flavour of his greatness. The immediate successor to the Fury was less elegant, less dainty, but extremely strong, had (initially) four times the firepower, was 100 mph faster and, above all, was the right aircraft in the right place at the right time, to keep Britain in the Second World War. Initially called the ‘Fury Monoplane’ by Hawkers, it became the world-famous Hurricane.

The Hurricane uses technology and manufacturing techniques which date from the early 1930s. Sidney Camm did not use welded joints to put the steel tube structure together but formed square ends to the round tubes, then secured them by a selection of tapered steel wedges and pins. This made for very complex joints, rather heavier than normal, but immensely strong. The shape of the fuselage behind the cockpit was formed by wooden stringers connecting wooden formers, then covered with Irish linen, tautened by nitrocellulose ‘dope’. Even the wings on the earliest Hurricanes were fabric covered. One advantage of this construction was that machine-gun bullets and even cannon shells often passed clean through the fuselage, without causing serious damage!

The Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm lacked a 300 mph, modern fighter at the start of WW2, and the Sea Gladiator biplane (253 mph) and Fairey Fulmar monoplane (272 mph) were at a great disadvantage. After unmodified RAF Hurricanes, attempting to escape Norway, had landed safely on the aircraft carrier H.M.S. Glorious in June, 1940, Winston Churchill enthusiastically endorsed the idea of producing a navalized Hurricane. As well as its robust, modular structure, which allowed partially dismantled ‘spare’ Hurricanes to be hung from the ‘roof’ of aircraft carrier hangars, it was blessed with a sturdy, wide-track undercarriage, much more suitable to deck landings than its successor, the Supermarine Seafire, despite the fact that a folding-wing version of the Hurricane was never developed.

Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin III of 1,030 hp, and armed with 8 x .303 Browning machine guns, the first Sea Hurricane (complete with an ‘A’ frame arrestor hook and catapult spools and therefore a Mk Ib) was delivered to Farnborough in March, 1941, The next 49 machines had NO hooks, and were, therefore, Mk Ia aircraft. Around 60 Sea Hurricanes were new-built, but the vast majority were conversions from RAF Mk. I machines. A number of these were used in the truly perilous task of ‘point defence’ of convoys (mainly across the North Atlantic, or the ‘Murmansk run’ to Russia). They were loaded onto a catapult, fitted onboard normal merchantmen – known as Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen – then ‘shot off’ when the convoy was threatened, far out at sea (usually by a Focke-Wulf Fw200 Condor). After fighting the enemy aircraft, if within range of land, the pilot attempted to reach it, if not, he ditched near a ship or baled out!

The aircraft you can see here belongs to the Shuttleworth Trust, at Old Warden, and is the only flying ‘hooked’ Sea Hurricane in the world. Built in Canada, by the Canadian Car & Foundry Company, Ontario in 1940 as a Mk I, it was sent to the U.K., where it was converted to a Sea Hurricane Mk. Ib in June, 1941. It is in the colours of No. 880 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm (Motto: Repérer Et Détruire – To Seek And To Destroy), serial number Z7015, coded ‘7-L’. It was assigned to this squadron, but did not join it onboard H.M.S. Indomitable, but stayed ashore on various other duties. In 1943, it was assigned to Loughborough Technical College as an instructional airframe. Eventually, the aircraft was acquired by the Shuttleworth Trust at Old Warden in 1961. It appeared, in a static role, as one of the aircraft in the superb 1969 film ‘Battle of Britain’ (United Artists).  An ambitious restoration project was started, eventually involving, in 1981, a team from the Duxford Aviation Society at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, due to difficulties which arose. Major work began in 1986, but it wasn’t until September 16th, 1995 that Shuttleworth’s Chief Pilot, Andy Sephton, took Z7015 back into the air.

Flyable Hurricanes are rare, but their numbers are increasing, thanks to Hawker Restorations Ltd, Ipswich, Suffolk, who have rebuilt three fighters with another two in the pipeline! Hurricanes have always occupied a special place in my heart – and always will.

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4 comments on “Sea Hurricane Mk Ib, Old Warden – the Royal Navy’s first 300mph fighter”

  1. A fine example photographed well 🙂 Thanks for the history too. Also interesting to now know about Hawker Restorations Ltd. — I had no idea 😉

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    • Hawker Restorations are exellent aero-engineers. They are currently working on a Yak-1, which will be the only flying example in the world – and have produced/restored other significant aircraft. They now have a subsidiary which restores fine, vintage, racing cars to the same high standard!

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  2. Hi Ross,

    I had to comment on this one, having supervised the restoration of Z7015 at Duxford. We agreed to restore the aircraft for Shuttleworth in 1981 using DAS volunteers but after two false starts, it only got going when I persuaded the team which had earlier restored Shuttleworth’s Spitfire Mk V to take on the task. It took some persuasion as they had all sworn never to work on a Shuttleworth Trust aircraft again after the Trust put the Spitfire PR XI that they were then restoring at Duxford into the Christies auction in April 1983. They obviously didn’t bear me any ill-will because the aircraft now flies bearing my initial. Although 880’s Squadron identity – 7 was known, no record of the individual aircraft letter has been found so they chose L. That was the highest accolade I have received in over 30 years at Duxford.

    keep up the good work

    David Lee

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    • Well done, David! I never realized that the ‘L’ was for ‘Lee’…..bravo! I dimly remember being shown the rear fuselage – uncovered – in a workshop at Duxford, by a certain Deputy Director. Shuttleworth have had some de-acquisitioning problems in the past, shall we say – a tricky area at the best of times, as we both know! Thank you for your kind comments…next up, Tim Routsis and the RAFM Kittyhawk (really – watch this space)

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