Project

The story so far

The Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group (HTPG) exists to raise the funds required to oversee the rebuild and return to flight of the sole surviving combat veteran Hawker Typhoon MkIb, RB396.

The Typhoon; a powerful, potent ground attack aircraft that redressed the balance in mainland Europe during World War Two (WWII), has been lost from the collective memory of our national, industrial and engineering heritage. RB396 will symbolise this heritage, educate the public and become a permanent memorial to all the crews, of all nationalities, that made the ultimate sacrifice operating the Typhoon. It’s time to remind the world.

Innovative technology requires time for its niche to be identified, and so this was proven with the Typhoon. Pushed into service too early, development and testing taking place during front line service, circumstances and the foresight of a number of young Squadron commanders combined to identify the Typhoon as a superb ground-attack platform and in the process, save the type. In spite of issues relating to the new Napier Sabre engine, the tail structure and carbon monoxide in early aircraft, the Typhoon gained a reputation as one of the greatest and most feared ground attack aircraft of WWII. The pilots knew that this rugged platform would get you to the target fast, take a lot of damage and get you home where many other types would have failed.

 

The Typhoon could take a lot of damage and get the pilot home Copyright © IWM

 

With the Typhoon’s future now secured, it was the Normandy Landings that cemented the Typhoon and its crews’ place in history. Without them the Allied Forces would not have broken out of Normandy as quickly as they did, saving many thousands of lives in the process. The ultimate accolade was given by Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander) himself: “The chief credit in smashing the enemy’s spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft of the Second Tactical Air Force… The result of the strafing was that the enemy attack was effectively brought to a halt, and a threat was turned into a great victory.”

 

Dwight D. Eisenhower inspecting rocket Typhoon Copyright © IWM

 

RB396 flew over 35 combat sorties against ground targets in ‘Fortress Europe’ and was repaired 18 times in her short four-month life. In total, 666 Typhoon pilots, 56% of all Typhoon pilots, were lost on operations, a higher percentage than losses suffered by Bomber Command. On 1st April 1945, whilst attacking mechanised transports (METs) five miles north-east of Hengelo in the Netherlands, RB396 herself was hit by intense light flak and started to lose height. Her pilot Flight Lieutenant (F/L) House, skilfully made a forced landing north-west of Denekamp on the Dutch/German border. F/L House evaded capture, managing to return to his Squadron just four days later. RB396 became one of many battlefield relics littering the European theatre.

 

F/L Chris House RAF

 

After changing the course of the Normandy Landings and the race through Europe to Germany the Typhoon was no longer required. The Tempest, the next-generation fighter, was available in larger numbers and there was no place for this unique and powerful fighter. With the airframes no longer needed they were simply scrapped, disappearing into the history books, or so it was thought. In North America, a single complete airframe was identified by an ‘eagle-eyed’ enthusiast. Marked as a Hurricane, MN235 had been sent to the United States Air Force for evaluation before being placed in store for a national museum. The authorities did not know what they had and a swap was made for a Hurricane with MN235 returning to the UK and being put on display in the Royal Air Force (RAF) Museum (Hendon).

 

Hawker Typhoon MN235

 

After the war had passed her by, RB396 was recovered from the battlefield, transitioning through a scrap dealer and then a chemical factory, that proposed making a chemical wash from her rear fuselage. She was eventually saved by Dutch enthusiasts for display in a small museum. In 2012, she was brought back to the UK by one of the founding Trustees of the HTPG. With the securing of a factory inhibited Napier Sabre engine the very real prospect of getting a true WWII veteran flying again became a reality and the HTPG was established in 2016.

 

RB396 rear fuselage at the Project’s base

 

The HTPG team has stepped up to the monumental task of putting this rare, unique and important aircraft back into the skies where she belongs for the crews that flew and operated the Typhoon. RB396 will be a memorial to those who came and served before us, influencing the course of WWII, and our future. The HTPG are not observing history, they are honouring and making it.

About the Typhoon

In January 1938 following meetings between Hawker Aircraft and the Air Ministry, and just two months after the debut of the first production Hurricane, Hawker Aircraft received details of specification F.18/37. This called for a large single-seat fighter offering a performance at least 20 per cent higher than that of the Hurricane and achieving this with the aid of one of two 24-cylinder engines in the 2,000 hp class then under development – the Napier Sabre “H” type and the Rolls-Royce Vulture “X” type. Sydney Camm had commenced investigating the possibilities of just such a fighter in March 1937, and had already roughed out a design built around the Napier Sabre engine and housing twelve 0.303-in. Browning machine guns in its 40-foot wings. At the proposal of the Air Ministry, Camm also prepared studies for an alternative version of his fighter powered by the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine.

Prototype ‘Tornado’ with Vulture engine

Further discussions over military loads and equipment followed and revised tenders were submitted throughout 1938. The Air Ministry at the beginning of 1938 sought both the Type “N” and the Type “R” as the alternative Sabre and Vulture powered fighters had become known. These tenders were formally accepted on April 22, 1938, and four months later on August 30, two prototypes of each fighter were ordered. Structurally both types were similar: the wings were all-metal, the front fuselage was of steel tubing, and the aft section consisted of a stressed-skin, flush-riveted monocoque – the first Hawker designs to employ this form of construction. Uniformity between the two fighters was in fact achieved to a remarkable degree, but the designs did differ in one important respect initially – the Vulture-powered fighter made use of a ventral radiator while the Sabre driven machine had one of “chin” type.

While A V Roe continued the tooling up process for Tornado production the Vulture was effectively cancelled by Rolls-Royce in July 1941, partly due to the problems experienced in its use on the Avro Manchester, but mostly to free up resources for Merlin development and production which was starting to yield increased power output levels. However, it should be noted that the Vulture engine installation in the Tornado was relatively trouble free and the aircraft itself had fewer problems in flight to begin with than its Sabre-engined counterpart. The cancellation of the Vulture engine ended the Tornado aircraft and remaining Tornado orders were transferred to Typhoon. The Typhoon was rushed into service in 1941, with 56 and 609 Squadrons.

However, it was quickly discovered that the Typhoon was not really suitable for its intended role, an interceptor conceived as a replacement for the venerable Hurricane. The speed with which the airframe and the new engine were rushed into service meant that frailties were found in service conditions, which more often than not resulted in fatalities. It was quite a common occurrence for the tail to become separated from the rest of the airframe, the gases from the engine leaked around the cockpit area resulting in a loss of consciousness in the pilot or the engine quite simply stopped (at the most inopportune moments). Combine this with the disappointment in the high level performance and pilots unwilling to fly the aircraft meant that the Typhoon was close to being withdrawn from service early in its career. Enter a young squadron commander (Roland Beaumont) who saw the potential for a change in its intended role to a ground attack aircraft. Its size, rugged build, its ability to carry large amounts of external ordnance and a formidable set of four 20mm cannon meant it was perfect for the role and packed a hefty punch.

Napier Sabre fitted to an airframe

A short term reprieve from cancellation meant that the major problems could be addressed. Engine seizures were subsequently found to be exacerbated when the fitters realised that they could adjust the limits for the throttle thus giving the pilot a little extra speed however; after investigation by Napier engineers on an aircraft exhibiting some unusual engine faults (It was pure luck that this aircraft was sent for investigation as it happened to have had the throttle adjusted and survived) it was discovered that this unauthorised modification weakened the engine with dramatic results. Modifications to the throttle and with Bristol ‘encouraged’ to help with the development of the sleeve valves the Sabre engine became very reliable and could regularly reach its service life without issue.

The separation of the tail from the rest of the aircraft was a more pressing issue. Pilots could deal with engine failure in normal operational conditions however; loss of the tail was catastrophic with a near 0% survival rate for pilots which meant that there were no symptoms that could be reported to Hawker engineers to enable the problem to be diagnosed. With the very real possibility that they would refuse to fly the aircraft Hawker engineers fitted fish plates to the transport joint to provide extra strength. This bought them some additional time as the number of incidents greatly reduced, but were not entirely eliminated as a result of the modification. This changed when in October 1943 a Typhoon returned from a sortie after the pilot reported severe, at times violent, elevator ‘flutter’. This information combined with the detail given by a pilot who survived the tail separating from the fuselage of a Typhoon (the only known survivor), the engineers soon realised that elevator ‘flutter’ weakened the tail which could result in failure. A redesign of the elevator mass balances and regular monitoring of the control cable runs eliminated failure’s in service. The plates added earlier in the Typhoons life were never removed, it was realised that the pilots viewed these as the reason why the failures were reduced. Removal of these plates, which did not affect the aircraft’s performance to any noticeable degree, could potentially affect pilot confidence so they were left in place with all new Typhoons continuing to have them fitted before leaving the factory.

Having overcome the initial difficulties the Typhoon eventually went on to become the backbone of the Allied ground attack force with 21 front line squadrons (plus 2 reconnaissance) across the 2nd Tactical Air Force, with a free reign (almost) to roam throughout Europe picking targets of choice. German ground movements were severely restricted, with the Typhoon operating in a ‘cab rank’ system any vehicles daring to venture out during daylight hours invariably led to them being picked off. Indeed damage was inflicted to such an extent that pilots were in danger of being shot on the spot by the Germans should they find themselves behind enemy lines.

The period between 1943 and 1945 became the pinnacle of the Typhoons career, the end of the hostilities in Europe saw the rapid withdrawal of the Typhoon squadrons back to the UK and by 1946 nearly all the remaining Typhoons were in open storage at No.5 (Kemble), No.20 (Aston Down) and No.51 (Lichfield) MU’s. At the tail end of 1946 and into 1947 the Typhoons were sold for wholesale scrapping. The last airframe, a composite, survived until 1955 when it too was scrapped at No.60 (Rufforth) MU thus seemingly committing the Typhoon to the annals of history. Fortunately, and without the RAF realising, a single airframe had been sent to the US for evaluation (MN235) which had found its way to the Smithsonian. In 1967 the RAF museum submitted a request for its return and in 1968 MN235 arrived back in the UK, Hurricane LF686 being sent in the opposite direction. So the short operational career of the Typhoon had seen an incredibly high attrition rate for pilots, which could be typical of a low level ground attack role, but had saved many thousands of allied lives and with the destruction of so much Axis armour could well have shortened the hostilities in Europe.

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