Hurricane Season - Flying the Hawker Hurricane

 Hurricane Season

Above, Vintage Wings of Canada pilot Howard Cook flies in close formation as lead John Romain takes the two Hurricanes down the Duxford runway. The 402 Canadian marked Hurricane (AE-C) in this photo was tragically lost at the Shoreham Air Display held on Battle of Britain Day. Vintage Wings of Canada send their sincere condolences to the family of pilot Brian Brown who was at the controls that day. Photo by Simon Fenwick. Photo of Howard Cook by Peta Cook

The Hurricane first flew in November, 1935 and was the RAF's first monoplane fighter with an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage and the first capable of level speed in excess of 300 mph. It went into service in 1937 before its famous partner the Spitfire. The Hawker Hurricane was designed by Sydney Camm as a continuation upon his experience with a line of successful bi-plane bombers and fighters; Hawker Hart, Hind, Nimrod, Fury etc. Although the Hurricane looks like the all-metal stressed skin Spitfire, it used the more archaic existing technology available; tubular metal, wood and fabric and this enabled it to go into service more quickly than the Spitfire.

The "Hurri" was available in greater numbers for its "Finest Hour" in the Battle of Britain, there being 32 Hurricane squadrons and 19 Spitfire squadrons on strength at the time and it played a crucial role in the defence from German invasion. It went on to serve in all theatres; North Africa, Middle East, Burma and even the Battle of the Atlantic in roles from fighter to shipboard, catapult-launched fighter to tank buster. Despite its incredible history few Hurricanes survive today - and only ten of them are airworthy worldwide with only one surviving Mk.IV - Vintage Wings of Canada's CF-TPM in 6 Squadron RAF markings.

Since 2005, I have had the very good fortune to have been flying the Historic Aircraft Collection Hurricane Mk XII 5711, appropriately registered G-HURI. One of 1,451 Canadian-built Hurricanes, it is based at Duxford, Cambridgeshire, home of one of the most famous Canadian manned RAF fighter squadrons, 242 which was led by the legendary, legless and artificial-limbed Squadron Leader Douglas Bader.

Hurricane 1

Squadron Leader Douglas Bader (centre) poses with members of his 242 (Canadian) Squadron with Alberta ace Willy McKnight sitting on the wing root behind him. The Hurricane flown by Cook is based at the same base that housed Bader's unit. Vintage Wings of Canada's second Hurricane, a Mk. XII, will fly in the markings of McKnight's famous Grim Reaper Hurri once restoration is complete..

Built in 1942, 5711 was struck off charge from the RCAF in 1947 and was purchased by a syndicate in Saskatchewan. It was then purchased and restored by The Fighter Collection and made its first post-restoration flight in 1989. Historic Aircraft Collection acquired G-HURI in 2002.

In 2007 John Romain became Chief Pilot of Historic Aircraft Collection. John is one of the world's leading exponents of historic aircraft display flying and a regular in Canada (as one of few with the experience on type to fly the Messerschmitt 109 Emil based at Russell Group Aviation at Niagara Falls).

I had flown and passed my proficiency and general handling and display practice sorties for the 2007 season in the Hurricane - an annual check process. I was due back in to Duxford a couple of days later to fly another sortie and called in to see John in his office. In addition to his display flying skills, John is one of the world's leading historic aircraft restorers and is Managing Director of the Aircraft Restoration Company based at Duxford - to which various parts from a variety of Vintage Wings of Canada aircraft are sent for work.

I have a reputation for being a Hurricane devotee and knowing this, John said to me "You are going to like this!" and we walked outside the hangar to see the Tom Blair Collection Hurricane G-HURR, another Canadian-built Mk.XII which was parked next to G-HURI. John was going to lead me in a formation display over Duxford.

We carried out the first three rules of formation display flying; 1) Brief, 2) Brief, 3) Brief and then walked out to the two waiting Hurricanes. The first impression when you stand next to a "Hurri" is always the same - it's big! Much bigger and sturdier and more workman-like than the Spitfire, and very much an aeroplane that you climb up to rather than step into! For me, it is like walking out to an old friend.

We both strapped into our aeroplanes and went through pre-flight checks. All ready - thumbs up to John. Both brought our 27 litres of Rolls Royce's finest (the Merlin engine ) to life. Through post start checks and again thumbs up to John in the lead Hurri indicating that I am ready to taxi.

"Duxford Hurricane formation radio check and taxi." How good does that sound!? To the holding point and line up together for power checks. Looking over at the photographers by the holding point who can't believe their luck with the rare sight of two Hurris close to, don't think I can believe it either!

Through the checks, all by pnemonics and numbers. TTMMPPFFGGHH - Trim - Fully Right - Throttle - tighten that friction nut as much as possible - Mixture is Run - Mags checked - Primer locked - Propeller Fully Forward - Fuel on MAINS, boost pump ON - Flaps - Clean , Gauges, Gyros, Harness - Locked - and Hatches - canopy closed. Emergency self brief for engine failure after take off (EFATO) "Stay alive at Ninety Five" glide speed - Clean and Eighty Five - Flaps down

Thumbs up - my signal to John and to show ready. John calls up "Hurricane Formation ready for departure." and he lines up on Duxford's 24 grass and I on the hard for a formation take off. Watch his prop speed up and I power up too.

Noise-noise - noise as I went to +4lbs of boost. In no time she wants to get airborne brakes ON/OFF gear up before the 103 knot gear limiting speed which it will reach in very short order with 1,500 horses in front pulling. Power back to climb 2400 rpm and + 4 lbs and get after John turning right to form up on him in echelon right. To quote John "When you are in (echelon), stay there!"

When "IN" John, led me through a series of smoothly-led manoeuvres; left and right turns, "humpy- bumpys" (climbs and descents) then left and right wingovers. I was working hard to stay in position made harder by the temperatures that the Hurricane radiator beneath the pilot's seat generates at power. After the workout, John called up that he was running in for the display.

We dived down aiming at Duxford - I assumed we were, as all I look out at throughout is John in the lead Hurri. G-HURR was resplendent in its brand-new 402 Canadian markings as we curved in low around the corner down to 150ft in tight formation to start the routine. It was then around John's hangar at the other end of the airfield before pulling up into another (hot in the cockpit) wingover and turning back onto the display line at low level. Two Canadian Hurris in their element. In a few minutes the marvelous - and hard working - experience is over as we run in low and John breaks to land on the grass and I break for the hard runway and down to a nice landing - and a debrief of what I need to work on next time. I now can't wait for the next time!

Hurricane 2

Howard brings in the Historic Aircraft Collection Hurricane - dropping to the field with English houses in the distance - the scene, at Shoreham on the South Coast - scene of many Hurricane combats in the Battle of Britain, cannot be much different than 65 years ago. Photo by Simon Fenwick

Hurricane 3

Engine chopped back, canopy open, floating just inches from the green grass of Shoreham, Cook brings the Historic Aircraft Collection Hurri in to land during his Hurricane Summer of 2007. Photo: Simon Fenwick

Another opportunity came just before my trip to Vintage Wings in late August. I was taking a Hurricane down to the South Coast for the Eastbourne Airshow. En route I passed scenes of famous battles. Three Hurricanes were at the show and we parked up next to each other, a very rare sight indeed. One of the three Hurricanes was actually flown in the Battle of Britain by Squadron Leader Bob Foster DFC -  and he was at the show. He shot down a Messerschmitt 109 over Beachy Head. Returning home in the Hurri after the show I flew by Beachy Head with thoughts of many men from many countries fighting to the death 67 years earlier. Down through Cuckmere Haven which was the scene of Hurris catching low-level Dornier bombers running for home after a raid. A very humbling experience sitting in the cockpit on the way home to Duxford.

My "Hurricane Summer" continued in September when I was over in Gatineau, Québec for the Classic Air Rallye and the last Vintage Wings of Canada Open House of the season. The Hurricane had been unserviceable with a supercharger oil seal leak and a brake valve problem but after a valiant effort by the excellent maintenance team, the Hurri was ready in time for me to fly it before catching a plane back to England that afternoon. The aim was for me to fly the Mk.IV and compare it with the Mk.XII that I currently fly. Such data would be useful for the future operation of the Mk.XII that is currently being restored in the Vintage Wings hangar and due to fly in late 2008/early 2009.

"British types" Aircraft Manager at Vintage Wings, Rob Erdos, who is the regular pilot on CF-TPM, briefed me on the Mk.IV. I had engine run in preparation and also knew the aeroplane from its time as a neighbour back at Duxford before it crossed the Atlantic. I had also seen the aeroplane from the very first stages of its restoration and from that moment I'd wanted to fly it. This, plus my Mk.XII experience, helped. I just needed to tease out the nuances for the comparison report.

Hurricane 5

Howard Cook runs up the Vintage Wings of Canada Hurricane IV at the Gatineau facility prior to flying it for the first time. Photo: Peta Cook

Although I have written a full report for Manager of Flying Operations Tim Leslie, words do not really do the flight justice. A perfect day at Gatineau although no wind to help it slow down or take off. Off the runway with a rapid gear retraction - for a Hurr, and out to the north for a full general handling sortie and display practice. Great ailerons - for a Hurri. Air to air combat fighters are often seen as the "glory boys" of air combat, but this Hurri was a ground-attack workhorse and I'd just read about low level strikes by 6 Squadron Mk.IV Hurris in the Mediterranean, eyes drawn continually to the four heavy cannons jutting forth from the wings. All too soon, 40 minutes was over and it was time to get this 1500 horsepower workhorse back into the stable. In for a "run and break" ("low and over" over there). Taxi in and shut down the ever-incredible cacophony of the Rolls Royce Merlin - and then savour the silence and reflect on this icon of history, still not as recognized as it should be. This is part of the role of Vintage Wings of Canada, to recognize the unsung heroes; servicemen and women and their historic aerial machinery, types such as the Lysander and Swordfish that are now based at the Vintage Wings of Canada hangar at Gatineau.

As a child, I'd seen and been inspired by the film "Reach for the Sky", the story of Douglas Bader and had seen the "Battle of Britain" film being made right over my primary school in Cambridge and I'd wanted to fly a Hurricane ever since. The Hurricane was the victor of the Battle of Britain, an iconic and idiosyncratic piece of aviation history. It is often compared these days by current historic aircraft pilots to fighters like the Mustang. The Hurricane was a design generation before the P-51 and lessons learned from it moved fighter design on in leaps and bounds. As all of my colleagues at Duxford and at Gatineau know, from the choice of a hangar full of aeroplanes, I would take the Hurricane out to fly every time.

It is a privilege to fly these historic types not just from a pilot handling perspective, but for the tales of great exploits in the trials of aerial combat that we carry with us to inspire future generations.

Hurricane 3

Howard Cook and Hawker Hurricane Mk.IV CF-TPM at Vintage Wings of Canada's Gatineau hangar in September 2007. Photo: Peter Handley

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