The Hawker Woodcock was the first aircraft carrying the Hawker name to enter service with the RAF, and was a short-lived fighter aircraft that was one of the first generation of aircraft designed after the First World War.
During 1920 Sir Thomas Sopwith's own company had entered administration. After paying off all of the Sopwith Company's debts Sir Thomas joined with the test pilot Harry Hawker to form H.G. Hawker Engineering Co. Ltd. The new company's first new design for a military aircraft, the Hawker Duiker reconnaissance aircraft, had been a failure, and the first version of the Woodcock was also rather disappointing.
The aircraft was designed in response to Air Ministry Specification 25/22, for a single seat night-fighter. This called for an aircraft with a good rate of climb and good handling, but like most other specifications of the 1920s was otherwise very un-ambitious.
The first version of the Woodcock was designed by Captain Bertram Thomson, Hawker's chief designer from 1922-23. It was a two-bay biplane with some similarities to the Sopwith Snipe (many of which were being refitted by Hawker at the time), and powered by a Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar engine. The aircraft had a rather ungainly look, with a somewhat hump-backed fuselage. The wings were slightly swept-back, slightly staggered (with the upper wing just ahead of the lower wing) and had a slight dihedral. Construction was entirely conventional for the period, with a wooden frame and fabric coverings.
The first prototype made its maiden flight in the summer of 1923, and was sent to the Aeroplane and Armament Experiment Establishment at Martlesham heath on 14 August 1923. The initial tests produced mixed results at best. Its best features were judged to be the excellent pilot's view and ease of maintenance. Its flaws were rather more serious. The rudder was found to be almost completely useless, making it very difficult to recover from a spin - deliberate spins were never permitted on the prototype. It was also found to lack manoeuvrability, and to suffer from wing flutter at high speeds.
As a result of this negative judgement Captain Thomson resigned. He was replaced as chief designer by George Carter, the former chief draughtsman at Sopwith and later the chief designer for the Gloster Aircraft Company. Carter's first task was to improve the Woodcock. He replaced the Jaguar engine with a 380hp Bristol Jupiter IV radial engine, originally with exposed valve gear. When this caused problems with icing a ring of individual cylinder helmets were installed. These solved the problem, but were only needed for a short period - modifications to the valves and the use of an exhauster collector shroud just in front of the engine solved the problem with less impact on air flow (and thus cooling).
Carter also designed a new single-bay wing, with a shorter span but greater chord (distance from the front to the back of the wing). The ailerons and vertical tail structure were also modified, and the new aircraft (J6988, the second prototype) was issued to the RAE as the Woodcock II. This time the results were more positive and the Woodcock was ordered into production, although in very small numbers - the first contract was only for ten aircraft, to the new 3/24 specification. Eventually 61 Woodcock IIs were produced for the RAF.
The Woodcock served with Nos.3 and 17 Squadrons of the RAF, entering service in 1925, replacing the Sopwith Snipe. The Woodcock was never an entirely satisfactory aircraft, and suffered from a series of problems during its short service career. In January 1928 No.17 Squadron converted to the Gloster Gamecock, and by the summer of 1928 No.3 Squadron was preparing to switch to the Bristol Bulldog. After a fatal accident that cost the live of Flt. Lt. L. H. Browning the Woodcock was officially grounded, and No.3 Squadron also moved onto the Gamecock.
A third prototype, J6939, was built as a private venture. This was an all-metal aircraft, powered by a 455hp Bristol Jupiter VI, and in 1925 was renamed the Hawker Heron.
Engine: Bristol Jupiter IV
Wing span: 32ft 6in
Length: 26ft 2in
Height: 9ft 11in
Empty Weight: 2,014lb
Loaded Weight: 2,979lb
Max Speed: 141mph at sea level
Cruising Speed: 103mph
Service Ceiling: 22,500ft
Endurance: 2 ¾ hours
Armament: Two fixed forward firing Vickers guns
Pay-load: Six 3.45in reconnaissance flares