Hawker Sea Hawk: Overview

Introduction and Development
Service Record
Related Projects - Prototype Built
Related Projects - Designs Only

Introduction and Development

The Hawker Sea Hawk was Hawker's first production jet aircraft, and served as the Fleet Air Arm's main fighter and ground attack aircraft during the second half of the 1950s. By the time it entered service the Sea Hawk's straight wings and limited engine power reduced its impact as a pure fighter, but it was more effective as a ground attack aircraft, and that would be its main role.

Hawker's first design for a jet powered fighter, the P.1035, involved installing a Rolls Royce B.41 (Nene) jet engine in the rear fuselage of the new F.2/43 Fury. The Fury's original elliptical wings were retained, while the cockpit was moved to the front of the fuselage. At this stage, reached in November 1944, the air intakes were on the sides of the fuselage and the jet exhaust emerged below the rudder. The P.1035 quickly evolved into the P.1040, which first emerged in December 1944. The most important change was the use of a bifurcated exhaust pipe, with the two tail pipes emerging just behind the wing trailing edge. This reduced the amount of power that would have been lost in the long tail pipe of the P.1035. It also meant that the wing roots had to be made thicker, allowing the air intakes to be moved from the side of the fuselage to the leading wing roots. The elliptical wing of the Fury was replaced by a straight edged tapering wing, and most vestiges of the original Fury fuselage were also eliminated. Finally nose wheel landing gear was introduced.

Work on the P.1040 continued through 1945. At first the aircraft was being produced solely for the RAF, but during the year the Naval Staff became involved in the project, seeing the Sea Hawk as a possible carrier fighter to replace the Sea Fury. This was fortunate, for just after Hawkers decided to build a prototype (October 1945) the Air Staff announced that they were no longer interested in the aircraft, believing that it didn’t offer enough of an increase in performance over the Meteor IV.

Early in 1946 the Navy drew up Operational Requirement OR.218. This called for an aircraft that would reach its highest speeds under 15,000ft, with a strike radius of 400 nautical miles, a normal all-up weight of 14,000lb, and armed with four 20mm cannon but with the possibility to use two 30mm cannon instead. Specification N.7/46 was issued to OR.218, and Hawkers were given a contract to produce three prototypes of the P.1040 general purpose and long range naval fighter and strike support aircraft. At the same time they were also given a separate contract to produce a swept-wing version of the aircraft, the P.1052, a design that would eventually lead to the Hawker Hunter.

The first prototype was completed at the P.1040 (serial number VP401). This version was unarmed and lacked all naval equipment, including folding wings. It made its maiden flight on 2 September 1947, and played an important part in early flight tests that by April 1948 had solved a number of problems with vibration and snaking. Attention then turned to the two navalised prototypes, officially known as the Hawker N.7/46.

The first of these, VP413, made its maiden flight on 3 September 1948. At this point it lacked guns, but they were soon added. It was the first version to fly with folding wings and catapult strong points,

The second N.7/46, VP422, was more like the planned production aircraft. It made its maiden flight on 17 October 1949, and could carry auxiliary fuels tanks and was equipped to use RATO (Rocket Assisted Take-off gear).

The two N.7/46 prototypes were used for dummy deck trials at Farnborough in March-April 1949. VP413 was then used for genuine deck trials, making eight lands on HMS Illustrious by 7 June 1949. These early trials revealed that the Sea Hawk was an excellent aircraft to land on a carrier, but its high take-off speed was a problem. One solution was to increase the wing span by 2ft 6in. This was done before deck trials increased in October-November 1949, and did indeed improve the landing and take-off performance. 

On 22 November 1949 Hawkers were given a production contract for 151 aircraft. Progress was slow, mostly because the Hawker design office was busy working on the Hunter, but the first production aircraft made its maiden flight on 14 November 1951. Thirty five Sea Hawk Mk.1s were completed by Hawkers, before production switched to Armstrong Whitworth at Coventry, part of the same Hawker Siddeley Group. The first Armstrong Whitworth produced Mk.1s were completed during 1953.

Service Record

The Sea Hawk was the Fleet Air Arm's main naval fighter from 1955, when it replaced the Sea Fury and Supermarine Attacker, until 1958, when the Scimitar was accepted for operational service. The Sea Hawk entered service with No.806 'Ace of Diamonds' Squadron in March 1953. This squadron took the aircraft to sea on HMS Eagle early in 1954. By the end of that year five squadrons were operating the Mk.1, and the Mk.2 had also begun to enter service, but by mid-1955 the two fighter marks of the aircraft had been withdrawn from front line service.

In the meantime the Mk.3 began to enter service in July 1954, once again going to No.806 Squadron first. By March 1955 ten front line squadrons were using the fighter bomber or ground attack versions of the Sea Hawk, and the Nene 103-powered versions entered service in the same year. Things then settled down for three years, before the arrival of the Supermarine Scimitar. This entered service in June 1958 and by the end of 1960 the last Sea Hawks had been withdrawn to second-line duties.

During its period as a front line aircraft the Sea Hawk was only used in a major conflict once, during the Suez campaign of November 1956 (the Sea Hawk was also used in combat by the Indian Navy). The RAF had Hawker Hunter Mk.5s available on Cyprus, but they lacked the range to be effective over Egypt, leaving the Navy's Sea Hawks as the main British ground attack aircraft during the conflict. Three carriers - HMS Albion (800 and 802 Squadrons), HMS Bulwark (804 and 810 Squadrons) and HMS Eagle (897 and 899 Squadrons) - took part in the campaign. Only a few years after being introduced as the Navy's main front line fighter the Sea Hawk now needed an escort of de Havilland Sea Venoms.

The air campaign began on 1 November 1956. Six days of attacks on airfields and other positions began. The Sea Hawk played a major part in the destruction of much of the Egyptian air force on the ground, with the Bulwark's squadrons destroying forty aircraft on the ground. On 5 November Allied troops landed, and the Sea Hawks were used for close support duties, using the same 'cab rank' system used by the Hawker Typhoon.

The Royal Navy also used its Sea Hawks to fly patrols over Cyprus during the mid 1950s, and to make limited attacks on rebel tribes at Aden in 1960.


Sea Hawk F. Mk 1

A pure interceptor version, armed with four 20mm cannon

Sea Hawk F. Mk 2

As the Mk.1, but with powered ailerons

Sea Hawk F.B. Mk 3

The first ground attack version, capable of carry two bombs, mines or drop tanks or rockets.

Sea Hawk F.G.A. Mk.4

A more capable ground attack version, with four weapons pylons.

Sea Hawk F.B. Mk.5

The Mk.3 but with a more powerful engine.

Sea Hawk F.G.A. Mk.6

The Mk.4 but with a more powerful engine.

Sea Hawk Mk.50

Twenty two aircraft based on the F.G.A. Mk.6 purchased by the Netherlands

Sea Hawk Mk.100

Thirty two day-fighters ordered for Germany

Sea Hawk Mk.101

Thirty two bad-weather day fighters ordered alongside the Mk.100s.

Indian Sea Hawk

A mix of newly built, refurbished Fleet Air Arm aircraft and former German aircraft. 

Related Projects - Prototype Built

Hawker P.1040

The immediate precursor to the Sea Hawk, one unarmed prototype was built.

Hawker P.1052

Swept-wing version, produced in the late 1940s.

Hawker P.1072
The P.1040 with an auxiliary rocket engine in the tail

Hawker P.1081

The designation given to the second P.1052 when it was modified to have a single tailpipe and a swept tail. First flight 1950 but crashed in 1951.

Related Projects - Designs Only

Hawker P.1035

The original design that led to the Sea Hawk, replaced in late 1944 by the P.1040

Hawker P.1078

Rocket powered version of the swept-wing P.1052

Air War Index - Air War Links - Air War Books

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (6 June 2010), Hawker Sea Hawk: Overview , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_hawker_sea_hawk.html

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