Hawker built a number of jet prototypes in the late 1940s with just one, the Sea Hawk, going into production with the Royal Navy. It was with the advent of the axial flow compressor that Sidney Camm, Hawker’s chief designer, set to work in 1948 and produced a swept wing design around the Avon engine. Having initially been designated the P1067, the first prototype flew on 20th July 1951 as the Hunter with chief test pilot Squadron Leader Neville Duke at the controls. It was clear from the outset that this machine constituted something special; even before testing was completed, 200 Avon-powered F1s were ordered from Hawkers at Kingston and 200 F2s from Armstrong-Whitworth at Coventry (these powered by the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire engine). Of special note was the Hunter’s armament of 4 x 30mm Aden cannon – with both cannon and ammunition boxes contained in a single pack designed for quick removal to speed rearming.
The Hunter F1 entered service with the Royal Air Force in July 1954 with the F2 following shortly thereafter. Only one aircraft, WB188 (the first prototype), was designated the Mk3. Fitted with aerodynamic refinements and a reheated Avon engine, it was this machine that Neville Duke took to a new World Speed Record on 7th September 1953.
The F4 was the first truly successful Hunter. Equipped with external fuel tanks and hard points for bombs and rockets, it was a most capable multi-role fighter. By 1956, a total of 20 squadrons were flying the F4. The Sapphire 101-powered F5 was the next out of the stable with 105 being built and then came the F6 with an up-rated Avon 200 engine. Meanwhile, a two-seat trainer version entered service.
Circa 1960, the Lightning began to take over the UK/RAF Germany air defence role and Hunters became increasingly used in a Day Fighter/Ground Attack capacity. A major programme had been instigated to convert the F6 into the FGA9 with this latest mark equipping squadrons in the Middle and Far East. Finally, two RAF Germany squadrons employed the Hunter FR10 in the tactical fighter reconnaissance role throughout the 1960s.
The Hunter saw combat service during the Arab/Israeli ‘Six-Day War’ in 1967 and the ‘Yom Kippur War of 1973. In the Indo-Pakistan Wars of 1965 and 1971, Indian Air Force Hunters proved invaluable in a ground attack role; they were deployed extremely successfully against armour and soft-skinned vehicles and took part in strategic bombing raids, attacking such targets as oil installations, ordnance factories and the like. The Hunter also saw operational service with the RAF in the Radfan and South Arabian campaigns of the mid-1960s.
Arguably, the most graceful jet fighter ever designed, the success of this magnificent aircraft can be gauged by its length of service with the RAF (and Fleet Air Arm) and the fact that it was operated by no fewer than 19 other air forces around the world. A total of 1972 were built in this country and under licence abroad.
Hunter F3 WB188 is on loan from the RAF Museum. Hunter F5 WP190 was gifted to the museum by Raymond and Meryl Hansed.