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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