Restoring an Icon of Ground Attack: Hawker Typhoon RB396

1945 Hawker Typhoon MR-U MP197 No 245 Sqn - Hasegawa

What would you do given the chance to own any WW2 warbird you wished?  Ignore the fact that you would have to sink around £80,000 per annum, or three times the UK average salary in 2017, to keep a Spitfire in the air, according to the Goodwood website.  That’s assuming that you treat it angelically and have no accidents!

Most people would say “Spitfire!” without thinking.  I know my friends would.  You might consider it strange that I would in fact say “Typhoon”.  I can see the incredulous looks from Joe Public even as I type this.

A little history

Conceived as a replacement to Hawker’s own Hurricane, and aiming to take the performance crown from Supermarine’s Spitfire, this pugnacious predator of the skies above Normandy very nearly became stillborn.

The aircraft was built on a lot of advanced – and unproven – technology.  It’s Napier Sabre engine was a gargantuan, one-tonne sleeve-valve design with 24 cylinders.  The Hispano 20mm Cannons had only just been trialled in a single Spitfire squadron during the Battle of Britain, resulting in a dismal appraisal of the new weapon; admittedly the Spitfires had only two owing to their thin wings while the Typhoon could sport four, but tales of the cannon shaking itself to pieces when firing would have been fresh in the minds of the Air Ministry at this point.  As if this wasn’t dire enough, the tail had a habit of tearing itself from the aircraft, and even the later strengthening didn’t fully solve the problem.

Nevertheless, Britain found it’s Spitfire Mk.V aircraft outclassed by the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in it’s “tip-and-run” raids on the south coast, and the Typhoon with it’s 24-cylinder monstrosity put paid to the “run” part of that plan.  It seemed the real danger in these missions was being shot down by Spitfire Mk.XIIs or the AA Gunners, which lead to the iconic D-Day invasion stripes to aid recognition.

Post D-Day, however, was when the Typhoon firmly stamped it’s mark into the history books.  The ferocious Sabre engine and the thick, strong wings ensuring a strong, stable platform for a pair of 1,000lb bombs, or an octet of 60lb RP-3 rockets.  Historians have come to doubt the true effectiveness of the Typhoon as an offensive weapon, specifically how many armoured vehicles were actually destroyed, but the sheer terror of coming under attack was enough to make tankers abandon otherwise serviceable vehicles.  Small wonder that Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander and future US President, was quick to specifically praise the Typhoon for it’s work in the Falaise Pocket.

A Muscle Car for the skies

With all of these things in mind, it shouldn’t be too hard to explain why I’d prefer a Typhoon to a Spitfire, Mustang, Bf 109, and probably anything else.  As can be inferred from it’s service record, the Typhoon came into it’s own at low altitude, where all the fun is.  Consider this footage of a Concorde flight at Mach 2.0 and 57,000ft:

Given that Air Traffic Control aims to keep planes as far apart as possible, there isn’t really much to scream past, not even clouds.  Even twice the speed of sound feels leisurely and relaxing as a result, increased cabin noise and burning-hot windows notwithstanding.  Now compare this to footage of Reno Air Race competitor “Precious Metal”:

This is the view from a machine that regularly exceeds 400mph at treetop height.  A real mover, in other words.  While the Typhoon probably won’t be quite so speedy, she’ll be sure to entertain both her pilot and onlookers on the ground with a similar turn of velocity.

Brutalism – Warbird Edition

A brutal appearance only really works on certain things; the postwar Brutalist Movement from the 1950’s to the mid 70’s ushered in an slew of hideous, imposing buildings which replaced many more elegant designs.  A notable example, and a personal pet hate of mine, is London Euston station.  With architectural butchery like this replacing many of our destroyed buildings, can we say we really won the war?

Casting aside the crimes against human habitation that our fling with bare concrete wrought on our cities, we can all appreciate the thuggish looks of the Typhoon.  The radiator which gives a ‘Square-Jawed’ look to the nose.  The protruding cannons.  The massive fuselage that reminds pilots of stepping aboard a ship, rather than climbing into an aircraft.  There is no doubt, before even starting the engine, that you are in for one hell of a ride.

Closing Remarks

I consider it a crime of history that no flying examples of the Typhoon exist, considering it’s staggering contribution to the art of Close Air Support; many of the concepts pioneered in WW2 still hold true today, just with guided munitions and drones instead of dumb munitions and gunsights.  Don’t forget a healthy dose of balls.

On that note, I extend my thanks to the sterling work of the Hawker Typhoon RB396 group.  As a result of all their volunteer efforts, each day brings us one step closer to witnessing the majesty of this beast up close and personal.  To hear the high-pitched thrum of the Sabre Engine, and watch it’s airframe gyrate through the sky at low level, is going to be a day I’ll treasure forever.


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Spitfire, Mustang, Me 109: The Standard Diet with a twist!

From what I understand, in the world of R/C Aviation there is what is known as the standard warbird diet, a trio of planes on which most commercial R/C Aircraft are based; the Spitfire for the RAF, the Mustang from a time when the US Air Force was still a part of the Army, and for those who like the dark side, the Bf 109.

Admittedly, the way I know about this is from occasionally buying a copy of RCM&E or RC Model World from ‘Smiths in adulthood.  I used to go up to Horsell Common near Woking with my father to meet up with a model flying club that flew there, when I was around 11 or so; this was a time when .40 2-stroke glow engines were the standard powerplant, NiMH was the dominant battery technology, and owning a brushless motor was but a distant dream – the motors alone costing more than an engine, fuel tank and associated hardware put together, leave alone the Speed Controller.  I spent many hours training for an A Certificate, or a qualification to fly unsupervised.  Alas, I flopped at my solo flight and, being immature, I packed it in.

But you know what it’s like, you’re just walking around your flat one day, some synapses get crossed in your brain and you’ve just gotta talk about an idea that’s flown straight into your noggin.  What did I think of this time?  Well, I was wondering about those who might like the idea of flying a model of one of these three illustrious planes, but still wanted to turn heads at their club.

To this end, I’d like to introduce you to three interesting variants of each that you may not already know about.  Hopefully you’ll enjoy this list as much as I did researching it, even if it did serve to highlight how much I miss model flying.


The Spitfire Floatplane

One for those with a lake near them.  This really is one of those ideas which initially seems like sacrilege, mutating the perfect, elegant lines of a Spit to fit ugly, bloated floats under each wing.

But it worked, apparently.  Five aircraft were so modified; a single Mk.1, three Mk.Vb aircraft which saw limited use at the Great Bitter Lake in Egypt, and a single Mk.IX intended for the pacific.  Handling wise, the only defects seemed to be a tendency to waddle on their floats, and of course the fact that the fighter would glide like a duck with angel wing.

Speaking of performance, the Mk.Vb examples clearly took a hit in this regard, with a top speed of 324mph (521km/h) at 19,500ft (5,943m), a climb rate of 2,450ft/min at 15,500ft (12.45m/s at 4,724m), and a service ceiling of 33,400ft (10,180m).  Compared to it’s unencumbered basis, a clean Spitfire Mk.Vb, the maximum speed loses 47mph (75km/h), climb rate is reduced by 800ft/min (4.05m/s), and the service ceiling being surprisingly unaffected at only 1600ft (488m) below the standard model.  Then again, given that these planes were intended to harass lightly-armed transport aircraft, the lack of performance may have proven a non-issue.  Unless they were bounced by Fw 190s.

In the event, enemy advances put paid to Allied plans in the case of the first four, while the capture of airstrips closer to Japan killed the ambitions of the Mk.IX.  Perhaps you could have some missions of your own, and vindicate the unlucky pilots who never got a chance to see what their planes were made of?

The Spiteful

It was said that the some of the penultimate marks of Spitfire, the Mk.22 and Mk.23, were so radically-altered from the original Mk.1 that it was briefly considered renaming them Victor and Valiant respectively.  In the case of the Spiteful, it was an all-new laminar flow wing, no doubt inspired by the Mustang, that finally persuaded Supermarine to follow through with the renaming.

This single innovation, in the case of the Spiteful F Mk.16,  granted an additional 40mph over the Spitfire Mk.24 despite using a significantly thicker aerofoil; so much so in fact that it allowed the Supermarine team to cure one of the Spit’s most lethal design features, as the undercarriage was of a modern wide-track pattern, rather than the precarious narrow-track pattern so maligned by Seafire pilots in particular.

It should be noted, however, that R. J. Mitchell’s true genius lay in how his elliptical wing gave great handling at both low and high speeds, especially compared to the Bf 109 with it’s much higher wing loading.  Sydney Camm clearly grasped this as his answer to the Seafang (naval Spiteful), the Hawker Sea Fury, used a semi-elliptical laminar flow wing.  The Spiteful/Seafang did not inherit the stellar pedigree of their predecessors, as stall characteristics, while not abysmal, were noticeably inferior to that of the Sea Fury.  Few things are worse for an aircraft than the curse of being compared to a forebear with the calibre of the illustrious Spitfire.

So, worthy successor, or evolutionary dead-end?  Well, build one, and I’ll let you be the judge.

The “Messerspit”

I am so glad this exists.

Try to imagine the spawn of an illicit liason between a Spitfire Mk.V and a Bf 110G, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark.  A Daimler-Benz 605A Inverted-Vee Engine was seamlessly grafted onto the airframe of a Spitfire Mk Vb, resulting in an alien yet oddly gorgeous profile.  Not so much “Achtung, Spitfire!” as “Ja, das ist Spitfire, ich sage dir!”.

Whilst weighing more-or-less the same as a Mk.V, the DB 605A gave the machine some 150hp more than the original Merlin 45, added over 5000ft to the service ceiling, whilst allowing this professional hackjob to retain the Spitfire’s legendary handling.  No doubt the inverted engine also permitted a much better view on takeoff due to the cowling sloping downwards.  The fact that pilots at Echterdingen would queue up to fly this thing both in and out of hours says a lot about what a cocktail this engine and aircraft turned out to be!

I’m sure the only downside to building a plane like this would be constant arguments with self-righteous armchairs as to whether the prototype existed or not!


The P-51H Mustang

Construction-wise, this one should be as simple as it gets.  Apart from the various weight-reducing measures to the equipment such as smaller and simplified undercarriage units, all that changed on the airframe was a longer fuselage, taller vertical tail unit and a more streamlined radiator.  The pilot’s position was also raised to improve ground visibility.

This of course makes it easy to discount this variant.  Indeed, during the Korean war, the P-51H Mustangs languished in reserve squadrons while their proven P-51D forebears saw all the action.  This doesn’t change the fact that the P-51H ranks among the fastest piston-engined fighters ever to see service, with a top speed of 472mph at 21,200ft (760km/h at 6,500m), a good 34mph (55km/h) advantage over the P-51D.

Fancy a hot-rod Mustang that isn’t a racer?  Welcome.

The Ski Mustang

This oddity in the Mustang stable is even more odd when you consider it’s intended role.  Even in 1944, as US forces in the Pacific were gearing up to invade Iwo Jima and Okinawa, preparations were well underway for D-Day, and the North African Campaign was well and truly concluded, military planners in the USAAF saw a need for a fighter that could take off from unprepared forward airstrips.

A somewhat crude ski apparatus was fitted in place of the undercarriage wheels on a P-51A-1-NA, with the main skis taking the place of the two fuselage .50 machine guns when retracted.  A somewhat springy-looking tail ski replaced the tailwheel.  The only forfeits that were made were a 390lb (180kg) increase in weight, and a boost to the hydraulic system from 1,000psi to 1,200psi.

Performance was fairly decent, even by the standards of 1944 when this machine was tested.  Take-off performance allowed use of fields as short as 1,000ft (300m).  Speed was reduced by 18mph (29km/h), but with it’s basis achieving close to 400mph as early as 1940, this probably wouldn’t have amounted to much of a handicap, especially when compared to the dramatic drag increase imparted by a conversion to floats with the Spitfire example above.

This conversion makes little sense with the power of hindsight, with the development of drop tanks for the P-51D as well as the capture of the aforementioned Pacific islands effectively killing any niche the Ski Mustang might need to fill.  Nevertheless, it seems that for anyone who experiences the ravages of snowy weather on a regular basis at their flying field, not only is this machine a rare example of an early Mustang, but also one that can operate from grounds where wheels are impractical.

The Cavalier Mustang

This one refers to a number of conversions of military-surplus P-51D Mustangs for both civilian and military purposes.  The fact that the US Air National Guard equipped Mustangs in front-line service until 1957 is a sure testament to the soundness of the design.  Around this time, a visionary by the name of David Lindsay formed Trans Florida Aviation Inc. with the aim of converting the Mustangs into the civil aviation equivalent of supercars for the executives of the period.

Let’s start with the civilian models.  Sparkling low altitude performance?  Check.  Two plush seats and a fuselage baggage hold?  Practical.  Up to 2,500 miles range?  Tourtastic!  Just the thought of taking a world tour in a tamed warbird is the stuff of dreams for someone like me.  Alas, for those who are not one-percenters, X-Plane or Flight Sim X will have to do…

Ten years after the success of the civilian model, further military conversions were ordered by the US Government for the export market.  While not technically Cavalier Mustangs, but refurbished P-51s, let’s include them anyway for variety’s sake.  They found their way into the air arms of nations such as Bolivia, El Salvador and Indonesia.  They found their niche operating Close Air Support and Counter-Insurgency missions, where the lack of creature comforts compared to the executive models was largely offset by the abundance of hardpoints.  The traits that made the P-51D such a superlative strafer when returning from bomber escort missions no doubt came into their own here:

So we have an aircraft which was initially designed for British requirements with an American engine, mated with a British engine to suit American requirements, serving a long and exemplary career in the latter condition, with a handful finding new lives as executive hotrods and ground attackers.  That’s one hell of a resumé.

Bf 109

The Bf 109H

A high altitude fighter which looks like a slapdash attempt to fix the narrow track of the undercarriage by inserting additional wing panels inboard of the original wings, The Bf 109H fared about as well in action as you might expect.

A response to the failure of both the Me 209 (Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, which lent it’s initials to the Bf 109 and Bf 110, had changed to Messerschmitt entirely by this time) and the Me 155 to produce a satisfactory high altitude fighter for the Luftwaffe, The Bf 109H was eventually only used for armed reconnaissance missions operating from Guyancourt near Paris.  Only a handful of sorties were flown over England and France before the craft were scrapped due to wing flutter problems, the most noteworthy being an attempt to photograph the French coast from Cherbourg to Ouistreham, to observe the D-Day landings in the days afterwards; depressingly, the target altitude of 49,200ft (15,000m) proved to be just beyond what this machine could pull off.

A simple modification to the Bf 109F has the power to radically alter the appearance of such an iconic aircraft, even if it’s not for the best.  Just make sure you cure the wing flutter.

The Bf 109TL

I’m not sure Germany’s first jet fighter would’ve made the impact that it did, if it looked like this…

Conceived as a hedge against the failure of the Me 262, much like the Short Sperrin was against the failure of the V Bomber force, the Bf 109TL was said to potentially have had better performance than the 262 due to it’s slimmer fuselage, which was salvaged from the Me 409 project (curiously, this was originally known as the Me 155, mentioned above, which then became the Bv 155 under Blohm und Voss, then finally came back to Messerschmitt!).  Just two months after it was proposed to the RLM, around March 1943, it was decided to concentrate on the Me 262 which had been conceived even before the war began.  Most likely because adapting the Me 409 components to jet power proved more difficult than originally envisaged, while the Me 262 had been designed from the outset for the unique demands of turbines.

As you can see, this one really was a flash-in-the-pan affair.  If anything this debacle characterised a lot of what was wrong with German strategy during World War Two.  As any cursory browse of Luft46 proves, Germany continued to produce too many designs for wildly optimistic specifications, even as they barely had enough war material to keep up production of their existing warplanes.  Contrast this to the Allies, who concentrated on refining production methods and making their warplanes versatile to make the most out of existing R&D, and simply out-produce the Third Reich.

Then again, later marks of the Gloster Meteor would prove that straight-winged jet fighters could crack 600mph (960km/h), although the Me 262 would be immortalized as the aircraft that kickstarted research into swept wing technology by it’s fearsome, shark-like looks alone, even if the wing sweep was too slight to be effective.

Perhaps a flyoff between this and an Me 262 is in order?

The Avia S-199

And finally, the runt of the litter.

Czechoslovak pilots of the time gave this machine the very apt name Mezek, or Mule, and not without reason.  If there was ever a tale in aviation of “not all engines are created equal”, there is none finer, as a shortage of appropriate fighter engines forced the substitution of bomber engines instead.

Fighter powerplants require crisp, rapid pitch response on the part of the propeller, to keep up with rapid changes in speed encountered in a dogfight as well as accelerate the aircraft quickly.  Bombers, on the other hand, are more partial to chunky, paddle-bladed propellers designed for maximum static thrust, greater lifting capacity, shorter take-offs and better climb performance; the torque-effect generated by such a massive prop will be acting on a much heavier airframe, too, numbing it’s effect and keeping it under control.

Combine the monstrous torque with the infamous narrow-track undercarriage and inexperienced Israeli pilots and you have a recipe for a horrendous service record.  Of a total of 23 planes delivered for the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, only six were operational midway through the war in October.  If you’re convinced that this earns it the more appropriate moniker of Ass, can’t say I blame you.

So, do you think you can handle the torque overload for an authentic flight experience, or would you prefer to play it safe and retain the looks but with a sensible powerplant?