As we approach the date of the Royal International Air Tattoo, TMT is delighted to bring you this article about a very British sort of enterprise; the restoration of WW2 Hawker Hurricanes by a small company operating on a WW1 Royal Flying Corps airfield. The images (apart from three WW2 photos), and important words are all from the company, Hawker Restorations Ltd, and are acknowledged with thanks. Ed.
The Hawker Hurricane has always played something of a second-fiddle to the Spitfire in terms of its reputation and profile with the public. In so many ways this is rather an injustice as the Hurricane was deployed in greater numbers, scored more kills (656 to 529), and proved to be a tougher aircraft than the Spitfire in the Battle of Britain, that pivotal air-battle of the Second World War.
Today, there are only 15 airworthy Hurricanes in the world and it is estimated that perhaps another five at most will be added to the total over the next ten years. Compare this with Spitfire totals which (based on current Wikipedia information) suggest there are some 238 Spitfires in existence of which 54 are flying aircraft, together with new-build replicas being added each year.
The limited numbers of Hurricanes around means that there are very few teams restoring them, and possibly only one company in the world that specialises in bringing them back to life. That company is Hawker Restorations, based at Elmsett Airfield, near Ipswich, a former RFC Home Defence Landing Ground used in 1917 -18.
Consisting of six people (including the office staff), the company was founded in 1987 as ADJ Engineering by a team of vintage aircraft enthusiasts. After some six years of working on a wide variety of old WW1 planes, AJD became involved in Hurricanes after acquiring the remains of two aircraft. However, the toughness of the Hurricane, an important factor in its wartime record, was due in large part to its’s construction – which made for some problems. As the company says:
“It was very soon clear that the Hurricane’s complex structure made it a much more difficult proposition than the monocoque Spitfire and other more conventional fighters, and that the costs involved in the remanufacture of raw materials, the creation of specialised tooling and roll forming were not affordable. The projects were consequently put on hold.”
With the involvement and support of Sir Tim Wallis, a noted collector and sometime pilot of old aircraft, AJD became more involved in Hurricanes and formed Hawker Restoration. Tony Ditheridge took over Hawker Restorations Ltd after an accident ended Sir Tim’s flying career and the Hurricane has remained central to the company’s activities ever since.
That is not say they do not work on other projects. For example:
“We have in the last few years rebuilt or been involved with a number other fighter aircraft including the Spitfire, Mustang, Corsair and Yak.”
Yak-11 trainer restored in 1999
A complex structure
As already mentioned, the Hurricane was a tough bird and it owed this to its designer, Sir Sydney Camm. However, this did not make it easy to restore, as the following account from Hawker Restorations confirms:
“The Hurricane was a development of inter-war Hawker biplanes, and its fundamental structure reflected principles established in the earliest days of powered flight. Chief designer Sir Sydney Camm – 10 years old when the Wright brothers made history in North Carolina – did not believe in welded structures, only mechanically constructed joints. Thus the round tubes that make up the Hurricane’s fuselage structure must be squared off at each joint, of which there are hundreds, each comprising no fewer than 20 and in some cases more than 150 precision components, with an engineering tolerance of less than 0.0005 thousandths of an inch on every bolt hole. In WWII, these components were mass produced, so that they might easily be replaced in service. As such ready supplies are no longer available, Hawker Restorations had to develop its own jigs and tooling, tube-squaring equipment and specialist materials.
The centre section of the Hurricane is no less complex, consisting of roll-formed, 10-sided front and rear spars with an interference fit overlapping additional 10 sided spars. These are manufactured from a high tensile spring steel, which required Hawker Restorations to source and purchase specialist materials and heat treatment equipment. More than 120 pairs of rolls had to be designed and manufactured, using the last remaining roll-forming machine in England. These are then attached to a shear web which forms the front of the rear spar, and spaced apart by a series of squared tubes. At the end of each spar boom, hand-forged fittings connect the wings to the centre section. The centre section also includes the first retractable monoplane fighter undercarriage, comprising exceedingly complicated snap-locking gear, trunnions and booms. Also integrated into the centre section are two of the Hurricane’s three fuel tanks, with primary structure tubes passing directly through them.
The tailplane spars comprise eight-sided, roll-formed, high tensile steel booms with overlapping spars, separated by a series of diagonal roll-formed booms. The basic box structure then has ribs attached to it, producing its distinctive shape. The elevators are manufactured using a steel torque tube with soldered and riveted cleats attaching a series of ribs, which are manufactured from round tubes formed into an aerofoil or P section. The same spar and rib technology is used throughout the tailfin and rudder. Again the manufacture of these components entailed the creation of specialised steel, heat treatment and the use of only roll-forming machine available at the time.
The wings include four unique spar shapes, double T extrusions which correspond to the aerofoil section on the front and rear spars. They consist of hundreds of small handmade components and are assembled in a sophisticated jig. On completion of the basic structure, the wings are skinned and the leading edges and tips attached. Depending on the customer’s requirements, eight original Browning machine guns may be fitted, complete with ammunition boxes, chutes, pneumatics and activation equipment, before the wings are mated to the centre section.
The familiar shape of the Hurricane is produced by a series of wooden formers and individual wooden stringers fitted around the fuselage, including a plywood structure known as the “dog kennel” that houses the pilot, instruments, windscreen and canopy. A similar structure, comprising three removable undertrays, forms the distinctive ventral fin around the tailwheel, which was added to aid spin recovery.
The wooden structure is covered with traditional Irish Linen, hand-stitched and finished in nitrocellulose dope. However, there is also an extensive amount of compound-curve wheeling work for the remaining exterior structure of the aircraft, comprising 16 hand-made aluminium-alloy cowlings.”
The determination to see a way though the complexity of this sort of work has resulted in some stunningly beautiful restorations. Whether you are a vintage aircraft enthusiast, a WW2 historian or an engineer, or just like to marvel at man’s inventiveness, the photographs of these machines being restored or in the air are marvellous reminders of the effort and sacrifices made not just by the pilots, but also the ground crews and aircraft factory workers who maintained and built them, often in pretty difficult conditions.
The company has worked on all of the Hurricanes currently flying in the world, including six complete restoration projects of its own. In some cases these are “Spec” projects, started by Hawker restoration with a view to selling the aircraft to a collector, whilst others are carried out on behalf of an owner. Some of the aircraft brought to life by Hawker Restorations are:
Hawker Hurricane G-ROBT
This aircraft, Hurricane MkI Serial Number P2902, was built by Gloster Aircraft during 1939-1940 under contract number 962371/38/C.23a. It first flew on or around 20th October 1939. By May 1940, it was operational with 245 Fighter Squadron, based at Drem on the East Coast of Scotland, engaged on shipping protection patrols. Carrying the code DX and the individual code R for Robert, the aircraft was crash landed on a beach in Dunkirk in 1940 after engaging two Messerschmitt 109s. There it remained until recovered by French enthusiasts in 1988. It was obtained some time later by warbird operator Rick Roberts, who employed the services of several restorers before finally engaging Hawker Restorations. P2902 having been completed and had several engine runs, took to the air for her maiden flight on the 19th of June 2017. With her subsequent check flights completed, she took part in the flying legends show at Duxford, where she displayed superbly, even taking the centre stage to perform the individual aerobatic demonstration as part of the Hurricane flying displays.
Hawker Hurricane G-HHII
The history of this aircraft begins at the Canadian Car & Foundry (CCF) Company in 1942 as Construction Number CCF/R20023. CCF produced some 1,451 Hurricanes under licence in the early years of WWII, and on completion this one joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a home-based fighter for the duration of the war. At the end of her military service she was refurbished to ‘as new’ condition and then sold off to the private sector, as were most surviving RCAF Hurricanes at that time. Many were exploited as ‘hardware stores’, providing parts to keep tractors and other machinery running on the enormous farms of the Canadian prairie.
However, this particular aircraft was luckier and remained substantially intact, to be re-discovered by Hawker Restorations in the 1990s as a very complete airframe with most major components intact. Returning to the UK, we began comprehensive restoration work in 2005. This was completed in January 2009 and this rare machine was rolled out in fighter-bomber configuration, resplendent in the markings of BE505, a Manston based MkIIB operated by 174 (Mauritius) Squadron in the spring of 1942. Her first flight took place from North Weald on 27th January 2009.
The company still owns the aircraft and is planning to convert her into a 2-seater prior to putting her on the market. The advantage of the extra passenger seat is that selling “rides” can be a significant way of off-setting running costs and indeed, as two-seater Spitfires have shown, can produce a return on investment if marketed correctly.
The article title is taken from the company’s website. So why indeed buy a Hurricane? As Einstein pointed out, most things are based on the theory of relativity and when it comes to owning a WW2 fighter the same is true. For example, in relative terms, a Hurricane is far more complex and interesting than a modern supercar which might cost £20m. It is much rarer, and again more complex than a Spitfire, a good genuine example of which might cost up to £5m. So how much will it cost? Well, somewhere north of £2m – which will include some 29,000 hours of restoration work.
But, as with many beautiful things in life, that’s only the first instalment of a succession of costs: insurance, maintenance, hangar-space, fuel – and so on; it’s a case of “if you have to ask – then probably best not to bother”. That said, there are many ways to reduce the cost of ownership and these old aircraft could be a good investment as there are not many more coming onto the market.
At this point, TMT has to say that it is not in any way authorised to give financial advice and go back to doing what it should which is bringing to our readers interesting, fun and inspirational articles and news, of which Hawker Restorations Ltd is surely a great British example.
For more info on Hawker Restorations Ltd, their website is: http://hawkerrestorations.co.uk/