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Hawker Sea Fury light fighter

Written by Sakhal

The British Fleet Air Arm, which had fought decidedly during the first years of the Second World War with obsolescent aircraft, had ended the conflict with carrier-borne aircraft that could be favourably compared with any of those that the Americans had. Well, in fact, most of them were American, delivered in accordance with the Lend & Lease Law. Unlike the US Navy, that had started a concourse for a new carrier-borne turbojet fighter in 1944, the British Admiralty saw little future in turbojet aircraft for their carriers. A few landing tests effectuated in flight decks in 1945 with Vampire and Meteor aircraft, had convinced the admirals that turbojet aircraft had an excessive landing speed for being safely operated in carriers. Thus, when the squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm reequipped themselves in the mid 1940s, they choose piston-engined models, such as the Supermarine Seafire, the Fairey Firefly or the Hawker Sea Fury, focus of this article.

The prototype of the Sea Fury flew for the first time the 21st September 1945; this aircraft arrived too late to take action in the Pacific, but later it demonstrated to be a formidable attack aircraft, serving along the entire Korean War. Still, the Sea Fury was not exclusively an attack aircraft in the style of the American AD Skyraider, but a fighter-bomber gifted with extraordinary speed that the Skyraider could not even dream of. When the Korean War started, the 25th Juny 1950, the Royal Navy was still equipped entirely with piston-engined aircraft, while the US Navy operated the turbojet Grumman F9F-2 Panther. However, from the beginning, the British and Commonwealth governments dispatched warships to the war zone under the control of the US Navy. After the light carrier HMS Triumph had contributed with Supermarine Seafires and Fairey Firelies to the first attack by a carrier on the Korean War, cooperating with aircraft from the attack carrier USS Valley Forge, arrived to the war theater the light carriers HMS Theseus and HMS Glory, to which followed the homologous HMAS Sidney from the Royal Australian Navy.

In April 1951 the Communists launched their most important offensive about the same time that the HMS Theseus was relieved by the HMS Glory and, shortly after, by the HMS Ocean, being this one another light carrier equipped with fighter-bombers Hawker Sea Fury Mk 11 and Fairey Firefly Mk V. Called to the front as support in the counter-attack of the United Nations, the squadrons of this carrier performed numerous interception missions against the enemy ground forces, and they were the aircraft from the HMS Ocean which stablished the record of not less than 123 operations in a single day. During the summer 1952 the British aviation had a series of encounters with the MiG-15 fighters of the Communists, but until the 9th August would not be downed one of them by the machine guns of a Royal Navy's pilot. In the first hours of that day, four Sea Furies commanded by Lieutenant Peter Carmichael, from the 802nd Squadron, departing from the HMS Ocean, were attacked by eight MiG-15 north of Chinnampo, in the north-western coast of Korea. The British pilots responded to the attack and Carmichael managed to fire a two-second burst against one of the enemy fighters, whose pilot was most probably hit, for the MiG-15 fell in an almost vertical dive, crashing against the ground and exploding. All the Sea Furies returned unscathed.

The Sea Fury Mk 11 was able to carry up to 16 76.2-millimeter rockets, or two 454 kilograms bombs or two 410 liters fuel tanks under the wings; napalm bombs were available as well. Artillery consisted in four Hispano Mk V 20-millimeter cannons. The radial engine Bristol Centaurus 18 was a very powerful design built with 18 cylinders arranged in a staggered layout, which delivered 2480 HP and allowed the Sea Fury to reach the impressive speed of 740 kilometers/hour, actuating on a five-bladed propeller. The Sea Fury has the distinction of being the final and fastest piston-engine aircraft manufactured by Hawker Aircraft, as well as one of the fastest piston-engine aircraft ever serially produced. The Sea Fury was in fact an evolutionary successor of the successful Hawker Typhoon and Hawker Tempest fighter-bombers, specially of this latter. The first production model of the Sea Fury was the Mk X, which flew for the first time in September 1946, being the Mk 11 a significantly more capable version. This upgraded model featured a hydraulically-powered wing-folding mechanism which considerably eased flight deck operations, and adopted a number of new weapons for performing air-to-ground combat.

The performance of the Sea Fury was striking due to the fortunate combination of lightweight airframe and powerful engine. Not only was this aircraft gifted with excellent horizontal speed and climbing rate, but also with favourable flying behaviour at all heights and speeds, being a highly aerobatic aircraft. Although the Sea Fury had been originally developed as an air superiority fighter, the Royal Navy viewed its solid construction and payload capabilities as suitable for ground attack roles, so Hawker adapted it to use a wide range of support weapons and equipment. Electronics and avionics were among the best of its time; the radio system was based upon the ARI 5491 VHF airborne relay unit and a four-channel VHF transmitter-receiver; when radar was installed the preferred type was the ARI 5307 ZBX that could be integrated with the VHF relay unit; navigational equipment included radio-altimeter and G2F or G4F gyro-compass. Some electrically-powered systems were the weapons controls, the gyroscopic gunsight and the photo-reconnaissance cameras, if any installed. Other auxiliary equipment included flares and chaff launchers to evade the modern infrared/radar-guided missiles. The Royal Navy ultimately procured a total of 615 Sea Furies, the overwhelming majority of them being of the Mk 11 version, which served until being retired in 1955; there were produced as well 60 aircraft Sea Fury T 20, which was the two-seater trainer variant.

Hawker Sea Fury light fighter

Hawker Sea Fury FB Mk 11 from the 802nd Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm, piloted by Lieutenant Peter Carmichael the 9th August 1952. This particular aircraft, serialized VR 943, had the letter O painted in the vertical tail and also the distinctive with white and black stripes, this last detail being common to all the aircraft operated by the British and Commonwealth carriers during the Korean War.

Hawker Sea Fury light fighter

Lieutenant Peter Carmichael (second from right) with the three pilots from the 802nd Squadron that composed his flight group when he shot down a MiG-15 over Korea.

Specifications for Sea Fury Mk 11

Type: Fighter-bomber

Propulsion plant: One Bristol Centarus 18 with 2480 HP

Maximum speed at 5500 meters of altitude: 740 kilometers/hour

Time to reach 6500 meters of altitude: 5 minutes

Service ceiling: 10910 meters

Operational range: 1125-1675 kilometers

Weight (empty): 4191 kilograms

Weight (full load): 6645 kilograms

Wingspan: 11.70 meters

Length: 10.57 meters

Height: 4.82 meters

Wing area: 26 square meters

Armament: Four Hispano Mk V 20-millimeter cannons in the wings; a weapons load of either 16 76.2-millimeter rockets or two 454 kilograms bombs under the wings

Categories: Aviation - Cold War - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-11-23

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