It was during the final years of the Second World War when Hawker’s Sydney Camm and his team developed the prototype P1040 as a private venture. Intended as an interceptor, it displayed little by way of improved performance over the existing Meteor and Vampire and was thus rejected by the RAF. It was then offered to the Royal Navy as a fleet support fighter and re-developed as the Hawker N7/46. The prototype first flew on 2nd September 1947 with Bill Humble at the controls. A fully ‘navalised’ version, complete with folding wings, arrester hook and armament flew in 1948 and the first carrier trials began later that year on HMS Illustrious.
The first production machine, now called the Sea Hawk, flew in 1951 and the aircraft entered service two years later with No 806 Squadron at RNAS Brawdy. The Sea Hawk F1 was armed with 4 x 20 mm Hispano Mk V cannon and powered by a single Rolls Royce Nene turbojet engine developing 5,000 thrust. Further marks followed, the most important advance being the introduction of fighter ground attack variants capable of carrying 16 x 3 in rocket projectiles and 2 x 500 lb bombs.
As an element of the Fleet Air Arm, the Sea Hawk saw service during the Suez Crisis (Op Musketeer) in 1956 with six squadrons embarked, two on each of HMS Eagle, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark. The aircraft were highly successful in their ground attack role, destroying a wide range of Egyptian targets. Sea Hawks also saw extensive combat with the Indian Navy during the Indo-Pakistani wars of 1965 and 1971 and also served with the Royal Netherlands Navy and West Germany’s Bundesmarine.
The Sea Hawk was replaced in the Fleet Air Arm from 1958 with the last front line squadron disbanding in 1960. A total of 542 were built and a fair number survive on display at museums in the UK and further afield. A single airworthy Sea Hawk serves with the Royal Navy Historic Aircraft Flight at RNAS Yeovilton.