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Hawker Hurricane

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By some measures the design was outdated when introduced.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.

As expected the first Mk.I production machines were ready fairly quickly, and deliveries started in October 1937. They mounted the 1,030hp 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 deHaviland 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 was a much better engine in general terms than the Daimler-Benz DB 601 used in the Bf 109.

During the Battle of Britain the Hurricane accounted for the majority of the planes shot down by the RAF, 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.

Overseas Service and Close Air Support

Upgrades continued in the form of the 1940 Mk.II with the more powerful Merlin XX, and in 1943 Mk.IV with the Merlin 21 or 22 and a host of other changes.

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.

In the Middle East, it also paved the way for an entirely new use for single-seater aircraft; as fighter-bombers for close air support. Hurriances were fitted with 40mm cannons and were used against German and Italian ground formations. They soon earnt the nickname 'tin opener' for their devastating effect on enemy tanks.

In later years, some production shifted to other groups like Canada Car and Foundry and Gloster, while Hawker continued production right up until 1944. In all some 14,000 Hurricanes and Sea Hurricanes were produced.