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The Hawker Sea Fury

In September 1942, considering the RAF's need for a long-range fighter for Far Eastern service that could match agile Japanese fighters, Sydney Camm (designer of the Hurricane) had proposed an "Improved Tempest" or "Tempest Light Fighter" (TLF), which was basically a Tempest with the wing centre section removed. The reduced weight, it was hoped, would result in higher manoeuvrability. Three different variants with different engine fits were envisioned:

  • The "P.1018" with the Sabre IV engine.
  • The "P.1019" with the Rolls-Royce Griffon 61 engine.
  • The "P.1020" with the Centaurus radial engine

The fuselage structure was also redesigned and modernised, with the cockpit raised for a better view, and the vertical tailplane was changed as well. The Air Ministry was enthusiastic enough to write Specification F.2/43 in January 1943 around the TLF concept, and a few months later Camm managed to convince the Admiralty that the basic design could meet Naval Specification N.7/43 as well, which defined a shipboard interceptor. Hawker and Boulton-Paul were to co-operate in manufacture of the TLF.

A number of TLF prototypes were built to explore different engine fits and other variations in detail:

  • The first prototype (NX798) flew on 1 September 1944, and featured a Centaurus XII radial engine with a four-bladed Rotol propeller. Test flights demonstrated that the aircraft had remarkable agility and good handling, the test pilot Phil Lucas commenting that it handled like a "Sopwith Snipe", an old biplane fighter fondly regarded by experienced RAF pilots.
  • The second prototype (LA610) actually began life as a prototype for the Griffon-powered Tempest Mark III, mentioned earlier. It was fitted with the new wing and raised cockpit, a Griffon 85, and a Rotol contra-rotating propeller. The contra-rotating propeller featured twin three-bladed propellers, and was implemented to allow optimum transfer of power from the big engine without requiring a propeller of extraordinary width.

It first flew on 27th November 1944, and was shortly thereafter given the name "Fury", following the Hawker biplane fighter of the same name of the 1930s. The navalized variant of the TLF logically became the "Sea Fury".

  • The second prototype was subsequently fitted with a Centaurus XV engine, and a third Fury prototype (NX802) was built with the same type of engine, first flying on 25th July 1945.
  • Just to confuse aviation enthusiasts, the second Fury prototype was re-engined with the Sabre VII engine in 1946, which powered it to the remarkable speed of 777 km/h (483 MPH), and a fourth Fury prototype (LA610) was built from scratch with the Sabre VII. This configuration was being considered for the export market, but nothing came of it.

To increase the confusion, the Sabre-powered Fury design was used as the basis for a new jet fighter design, with the designation "P.1040". This eventually emerged as the Hawker "Sea Hawk" naval fighter, with so many modifications from its Fury ancestor as to make any visible connection very hard to see.

The RAF had considered putting the Fury into production, apparently with the Centaurus engine, but after the war the contracts were cancelled. Jet fighters were the future of the RAF. Hawker concentrated on the Sea Fury for the Royal Navy, whose leadership felt the need to stay with piston fighters for a few years until the complications of operating jet aircraft off of carriers were worked out. With post-war production cutbacks, Boulton-Paul would never roll out any Furies or Sea Furies.

THE SEA FURY-Naval Air Service

The Hawker Sea Fury was the last piston-engined fighter used by front-line units of the Royal Navy. The first Sea Furies entered fleet service with 807 and 803 NAS's (naval air squadron) in August and September of 1947. Both units converted to the F.B.11 version in May 1948.

The first Sea Fury prototype (SR661) flew on 21st February 1945. It was fitted with a Centaurus XII engine, a four-blade propeller, an arresting hook, but lacked folding wings. The second prototype (SR666) flew on 12th October 1945, and featured a Centaurus XV engine with 2,550 horsepower on improved shock mountings, a distinctive five-blade Rotol propeller, an arresting hook, and wings that folded hydraulically. A third prototype with a similar level of equipment fit was partially completed by Boulton-Paul and finished by Hawker.

The first production Sea Fury, designated "F.X" (for "Fighter Mark X"), flew on 7th September 1946, and featured small changes from the first prototype, such as a longer arresting hook. 50 Sea Fury F.Xs were built, with introduction to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) service with Number 802 squadron in May 1948.

The Sea Fury F.X retained the standard four 20 millimetres cannon armament of its ancestors. The cannon could be fired in pairs or all together. It is unclear what provisions the F.X had for external stores, but since the future piston engine fighters in the air superiority role was becoming increasingly dim, the design was tweaked for the fighter-bomber role, becoming the Sea Fury "FB.XI" ("Fighter-Bomber Mark XI"), later re-designated "FB.11.

The FB.11 featured additional armour and other protection, and could carry external stores such as two 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bombs or twelve 127 millimetre (5 inch) rockets, as well as rocket-assisted takeoff boosters.

The Sea Fury was an outstanding aircraft, a tough customer in the attack role, but with light and responsive controls and excellent performance. A Sea Fury ferried by pilot Neville Duke from London to Karachi, Pakistan, in 1949, set a speed record during the London to Rome leg of the trip, covering 1,448 kilometres (880 miles) in 2 hours 31 minutes 51 seconds, with an average speed 574.3 km/h (356.9 MPH). Time for the entire trip of 4,827 kilometres (3,000 miles) was 15 hours 20.5 minutes, with an average speed of 412.1 km/h (256.1 MPH). The Sea Fury was entirely in stock configuration.

The Sea Fury was roughly comparable to the US Navy Grumman F8F Bearcat. The Sea Fury is regarded to have been inferior in terms of manoeuvrability and rate of climb, but superior in terms of accurate weapons delivery and operations under instrument flying conditions.

During the Korean War, the Sea Fury proved itself well first serving with 807 NAS in October 1950 aboard the carrier HMS Theseus followed by 802 NAS aboard HMS Ocean, 801 and 804 NAS aboard HMS Glory, and 805 and 808 NAS aboard the Australian carrier HMAS Sydney. They were primarily used as fighter-bombers, attacking ground targets with the Fireflies. They did, however, go up against the MiG-15 and the first kill of a MiG (which was made by a Sea Fury!) was made by Lt. Peter Carmichael of 802 NAS on 9th August, 1952. Lt. Carmichael was flying from H.M.S. Ocean during this historic mission.

On 9 August 1952, a flight of four FB.11s from the HMS OCEAN was on a "train busting" mission when they were jumped by eight MiG-15s. The MiG pilots foolishly decided to get into a "turning contest" with the agile Sea Furies, and a Sea Fury piloted by Lieutenant Peter "Hoagy" Carmichael managed to get on the tail of a MiG and smash it up with his four 20 millimetre cannon. Two other MiGs were damaged while the Sea Furies returned safely.

This was apparently the only air to air victory by a British pilot in a British aircraft in the Korean War, which is not too surprising since the FAA was focused on the close-support role. Some sources claim that a Sea Fury shot down a second MiG. Whatever the case, several Sea Furies were lost to enemy fighters in return.

The Sea Fury remained the foremost FAA single-seat fighter until it began to be replaced by the Hawker Sea Hawk in 1953.

Although most of the Sea Furies were FB.11s, smaller quantities of other variants were built as well. Sixty "T.20" trainers were built, featuring tandem cockpits connected by a Perspex tunnel and a periscope in the rear cockpit for the flight instructor. Armament was reduced to twin 20 millimetre cannon. A reconnaissance version was considered, but was abandoned when nobody could figure out a clean way to fit the cameras.

The Royal Dutch Navy also flew the Sea Fury. Hawker built ten "Mark 50s" for the Dutch, followed by 12 "Mark 51s", and then Fokker built 210 Mark 51s under license.

Although the RAF never flew the Fury operationally, in yet another tangled branch of the story, the Sea Fury was modified slightly for land-based operation, and then sold to Iraq and Pakistan as, of course, the "Fury".

Iraq obtained 30 Furies and Pakistan obtained 93, with five of the Pakistani order being converted Royal Navy FB.11s. The two countries also obtained Fury trainers, generally equivalent to the Sea Fury T.20, with Iraq purchasing two and Pakistan obtaining five.

Standard production FB.11s and T.20s were also exported to other countries. Egypt bought 12 new FB.11s; Burma bought 18 used FB.11s and 3 new T.20s; and Cuba bought 15 new FB.11s and two new T.20s. West Germany bought ten used T.20s that had been rebuilt as target tugs.

The fact that the Sea Fury's service took place after 1945 meant that it was missed by the mad scramble to scrap that destroyed so many combat aircraft at the end of World War II, and so many Sea Furies still survive. They have become a preferred mount for air racing.

A total of 615 FB.11s were built, more than any other Hawker fighter in peacetime, and in a time when piston aircraft were on the way out. Some of the FB.11s were supplied to Australia and Canada.

The type was eventually replaced in front line duties by the Hawker Sea Hawk. The last unit in service with the Sea Fury was 810 NAS, which was disbanded in 1955. Today, and fortunately for us, you can still find several restored and flying Sea Fury's around the world. You'll see them either on the air show circuit or possibly competing at the Reno Air Races in Nevada.

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