Hawker Sea Fury

The Sea Fury was a British fighter aircraft developed for the Royal Navy by Hawker during the Second World War. The last propeller-driven fighter to serve the Royal Navy, it was also one of the fastest production single piston-engined aircraft ever built, and the last ever propeller-driven fighter to shoot down a jet-powered fighter. 

Sea Fury F.X were issued to Nos. 736, 738, 759 and 778 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm of the British Royal Navy. The F.X was followed by the Sea Fury FB.XI fighter-bomber variant, later known as the FB 11, which eventually reached a production total of 650 aircraft. The Sea Fury remained the primary fighter-bomber of the Fleet Air Arm until 1953. 

A total of 74 Sea Furies FB 11 (and one FB 10) served with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN.) between 1948 and 1956. All flew from the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent (CVL 21) in 871 squadron. 

The Sea Fury F.50 export variant proved popular, being purchased by Australia, Germany, Iraq, Egypt, Burma, Pakistan and Cuba. The Netherlands bought 24 aircraft, then acquired a licence for production of 24 more F.50s at Fokker. Cuban Sea Furies saw action during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The final production figures for all marks reached around 860 aircraft.

Hawker Sea Fury
Class Aircraft
Type Bomber
Manufacturer Hawker Aircraft Limited
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1945
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia View
Canada View
Pakistan View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Hawker Aircraft Limited 860 View

The Sea Fury is a navalised aircraft, capable of operating from the aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy. It was heavily based on preceding Hawker fighter aircraft, particularly the Tempest; features such as the semi-elliptical wing and fuselage were derived directly from the Tempest but featured significant refinements, including significant strengthening to withstand the stresses of carrier landings. While the Sea Fury was lighter and smaller than the Tempest, advanced aspects of the Sea Fury's design such as its Centaurus engine meant it was also considerably more powerful and faster; the Sea Fury has the distinction of being the final and fastest of Hawker's piston-engined aircraft, as well as being one of the fastest production piston engined fighters ever produced.

The performance of the Sea Fury was striking; in comparison with the 15 years older Hawker Fury biplane the Sea Fury was nearly twice as fast and had double the rate of climb despite far heavier equipment and greater range. The Sea Fury Mk X was capable of attaining a maximum speed of 460 mph and climb to a height of 20,000 feet in under five minutes. The Sea Fury was reportedly a highly aerobatic aircraft with favourable flying behaviour at all heights and speeds, although intentional spinning of the aircraft was banned during the type's military service. During flight displays, the Sea Fury could demonstrate its ability to perform rapid rolls at a rate of 100 degrees per second, attributed to the spring tab equipped ailerons. For extra thrust on takeoff Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) could be used.

The Sea Fury was powered by the newly developed Bristol Centaurus piston engine, which drove a five-bladed propeller. Many of the engine's subsystems, such as the fully automated cooling system, cockpit gauges, and fuel booster pump were electrical, powered by an engine-driven generator supplemented by two independent batteries. The hydraulic system, necessary to operate the retractable undercarriage, tail hook, and flaps, was pressurised to 1,800 psi by an engine-driven pump. If this failed a hand pump in the cockpit could also power these systems, a pneumatic pump was also driven by the engine for the brakes. Internal fuel was stored in a total of five self-sealing fuel tanks, two within the rear fuselage and three housed within the wings.

Various avionics systems were used on Sea Furies, it was unusually well equipped for an aircraft of the era in this respect. Many aircraft would be equipped with onboard radar, often the ARI 5307 ZBX, which could be directly integrated with the four-channel VHF radio system. Several of the navigational aids, such as the altimeter and G2F compass, were also advanced; many of these subsystems would appear on subsequent jet aircraft with little or no alteration. Other aspects of the Sea Fury, such as the majority of the flight controls, were conventional. Some controls were electrically powered, such as the weapons controls, onboard cameras, and the gyro gunsight.

Although the Sea Fury had been originally developed as a pure air superiority fighter, the Royal Navy viewed the solid construction and payload capabilities of the airframe as positive attributes for ground attack as well, accordingly Hawker tested and cleared the type to use a wide range of armaments and support equipment. Each aircraft had a total of four 20 mm Hispano V cannons mounted into the wings along with ammunition tanks. Up to 16 rocket projectiles, or a combination of 500 lb or 1000 lb bombs could be carried. Other munitions include 1000 lb incendiary bombs, mines, type 2 smoke floats, and 90 gallon external fuel tanks. The Sea Fury could also be outfitted with both vertical and oblique cameras, as well as a dedicated control box in the cockpit, for undertaking photoreconnaissance missions. Other ancillary equipment included chaff to evade hostile missile attack and flares.

Britain

778 Naval Air Squadron was the first unit of the Fleet Air Arm to receive the Sea Fury, with deliveries commencing in February 1947. 778 Squadron acted mainly as a training unit for the type, and the first operational unit to be equipped with the Sea Fury was 807 Naval Air Squadron in September 1947, replacing the unit's earlier Supermarine Seafire aircraft. The Seafire was ill-suited to carrier use, as the pilot's poor view of the deck and the aircraft's narrow undercarriage made both landings and takeoffs difficult. Consequently, the Sea Fury F Mk X replaced the Seafire on most carriers. For some years the Sea Fury and Seafire operated alongside each other, with the shorter-range Seafire operating as a fleet defence fighter while the Sea Fury was employed as a longer-range fighter-bomber.

Sea Furies were issued to Nos. 736, 738, 759 and 778 Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm. The F X was followed by the Sea Fury FB 11 fighter-bomber variant, which eventually reached a production total of 650 aircraft. The Sea Fury remained the Fleet Air Arm’s primary fighter-bomber until 1953, at which point jet-powered aircraft, such as the Hawker Sea Hawk and Supermarine Attacker, were introduced to operational service.

The Sea Fury FB 11 entered service with the fighter squadrons of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) in August 1951. The RNVR units also operated the Sea Fury T.20 two-seat trainer version from late 1950 to give reserve pilots experience on the type before relinquishing their Supermarine Seafire aircraft. RNVR units which were equipped with the Sea Fury were Nos. 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834, 1835 and 1836 Squadrons. No. 1832, based at RAF Benson, was the last RNVR squadron to relinquish the type in August 1955 for the jet-powered Supermarine Attacker.

Since the type's retirement, several Sea Furies have been operated by the Royal Navy Historic Flight; between 1989 and 1990 two of the flight's Sea Furies were lost in separate incidents.

Korean War

Following the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, Sea Furies were dispatched to the region as a part of the British Commonwealth Forces Korea, Britain's contribution to the United Nations multinational task force to assist South Korea following an invasion by North Korea. Sea Furies were flown throughout the conflict, primarily as ground-attack aircraft, from the Royal Navy light fleet carriers HMS Glory, HMS Theseus, HMS Ocean, and the Australian carrier HMAS Sydney. After a Fleet Air Arm Seafire was shot down by a United States Air Force Boeing B-29 Superfortress on 28 July 1950, all Commonwealth aircraft were painted with black and white Invasion stripes.

The first Sea Furies arrived in theatre with 807 Naval Air Squadron embarked on HMS Theseus, which relieved HMS Triumph in October 1950. Operations on Theseus were intense, and the Sea Furies of 807 Squadron flew a total of 264 combat sorties in October. During a brief rest period at the Japanese port of Iwakuni the catapult was found to be excessively worn, necessitating the launch of Sea Furies with RATOG assistance until it was repaired. In December 1950, Sea Furies conducted several strikes on bridges, airfields, and railways to disrupt North Korean logistics, flying a further 332 sorties without incurring any losses. At this early point in the war little aerial resistance was encountered and the biggest threats were ground-based anti-aircraft fire or technical problems.

In addition to their ground attack role, Sea Furies also performed combat air patrols. In this role a total of 3,900 interceptions were carried out, although none of the intercepted aircraft turned out to be hostile. During the winter period, the Sea Furies were often called upon as spotter aircraft for UN artillery around Inchon, Wonsan, and Songiin. In April 1951, 804 Naval Air Squadron operating off HMS Glory, replaced 807 Squadron, which in turn was replaced by HMAS Sydney in September 1951 with 805 and 808 Squadron RAN. The Australian carrier air group flew 2,366 combat sorties. In January 1952, HMS Glory with 804 NAS returned to relieve Sydney following a refit in Australia. For the rest of the war Glory and Ocean relieved each other on duty.

In 1952, the first Chinese MiG-15 jet fighters appeared. On 8 August 1952, Lieutenant Peter "Hoagy" Carmichael, of 802 Squadron, flying Sea Fury WJ232 from HMS Ocean, shot a MiG-15 down, making him one of only a few pilots of a propeller driven aircraft to shoot down a jet. The engagement occurred when a formation of Sea Furies and Fireflies was engaged by eight MiG-15s, during which one Firefly was badly damaged while the Sea Furies escaped unharmed. Some sources claim that this is the only successful engagement by a British pilot in a British aircraft during the Korean War, although a few sources claim a second MiG was downed in the same action. In addition, the recollections of Sub-Lieutenant Brian "Schmoo" Ellis, the youngest member of the flight, differ from the official version of events.

Australia

Australia was one of three Commonwealth nations to operate the Sea Fury, with the others being Canada and Pakistan. The type was operated by two frontline squadrons of the Royal Australian Navy, 805 Squadron and 808 Squadron; a third squadron that flew the Sea Fury, 850 Squadron, was also briefly active. Two Australian aircraft carriers, HMAS Sydney and HMAS Vengeance, employed Sea Furies in their air wings. The Sea Fury was used by Australia during the Korean War, flying from carriers based along the Korean coast in support of friendly ground forces. The Sea Fury would be operated by Australian forces between 1948 and 1962.

Burma

Between 1957 and 1958, Burma received 21 Sea Furies, the majority of them being ex-FAA aircraft. The Sea Fury was frequently employed as a counter-insurgency platform in Burmese service and on 15 February 1961, a Republic of China Air Force Consolidated PB4Y Privateer was intercepted and shot down by a Sea Fury near the Thai-Burmese border. Of the aircraft's crew, five were killed and two were captured. The aircraft had been on a supply run to Chinese Kuomintang forces fighting in northern Burma. It is believed that the Burmese Sea Furies were retired in 1968, and replaced by armed Lockheed T-33 Shooting Stars.

Canada

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) became a significant customer of the Sea Fury, and many of its aircraft were diverted from existing Royal Navy contracts. On 23 June 1948, the first aircraft was accepted at RCAF Rockcliff. The type was quickly put to use replacing Canada's existing inventory of Seafires, taking on the primary role of fleet air defence operating from the aircraft carrier HMCS Magnificent. Two Canadian squadrons operated the Sea Fury, Nos. 803 and 883 Squadrons, which were later renumbered as 870 and 871. Pilot training on the Sea Fury was normally conducted at the RCN's HMCS Shearwater land base. Landing difficulties with the Sea Fury were experienced following the RCN's decision to convert to the US Navy's deck landing procedures, which were prone to overstressing and damaging the airframes as the Sea Fury had been designed for a tail-down landing attitude. The Sea Fury would be operated between 1948 and 1956 by the RCN, at which point they were replaced by the jet-powered McDonnell F2H Banshee. The aircraft themselves were put into storage, and some were subsequently purchased by civilians.

Cuba

In 1959 during the Cuban Revolution, the Fuerza Aérea del Ejercito de Cuba (FAEC) purchased a total of 17 refurbished (ex-Fleet Air Arm) Sea Furies from Hawker. The aircraft were briefly flown by FAEC prior to the ousting of President Fulgencio Batista and the assumption of power by Fidel Castro. Following the change in government, the Sea Furies were retained by the Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria ("Revolutionary Air Force"; FAR); the Sea Fury proved difficult to keep operational, partially because the new military lacked personnel experienced with the type.

In April 1961, during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, air support for the Cuban exiles' Brigade 2506 was provided by ex-FAEC, CIA-operated Douglas B-26B Invaders; US President John F. Kennedy had decided against involving U.S. Navy aircraft. The only FAR fighter aircraft to see combat were three Sea Furies and five Lockheed T-33 armed jet trainers belonging to the Escuadrón Persecución y Combate ("Pursuit & Combat Squadron"), based at the San Antonio de los Baños and Antonio Maceo air bases. In pre-emptive attacks on April 15, two Sea Furies were destroyed on the ground, one at Ciudad Libertad and one in a hangar near Moa. During the ensuing aerial combat, a single airborne Sea Fury was lost during the Invasion.

In the early hours of April 17, Brigade 2506 began to land at Playa Girón. Around 06:30, a FAR formation composed of three Sea Furies, one B-26 and two T-33s started attacking the exiles' ships. At about 06:50, 8.0 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of Playa Larga, the transport ship Houston was damaged by rockets and cannons from FAR aircraft, including Sea Furies piloted by Major Enrique Carreras Rojas and Captain Gustavo Bourzac; Houston caught fire and was abandoned.

While attempted to land at an airbase, Carreras Rojas's Sea Fury was attacked and damaged by a CIA B-26; he was able to abort his approach and escape. Carreras Rojas later shot down another B-26. While attempting to shoot down a Curtiss C-46 transport aircraft, Nicaraguan-born pilot Carlos Ulloa crashed in the Bay of Pigs around 08:30, either due to an engine stall or having received anti-aircraft fire. Around 09:30, multiple FAR aircraft destroyed an ammunition ship,Rio Escondido. A Sea Fury piloted by Lieutenant Douglas Rudd also destroyed a B-26.

Netherlands

The Netherlands was the first export customer for the Sea Fury, and the Netherlands Royal Navy operated the aircraft from two of their aircraft carriers, both of which were named HNLMS Karel Doorman as they were operated at separate periods from one another. It was common for Royal Netherlands Navy vessels to operate alongside Royal Navy ships, thus Dutch Sea Furies also regularly operated from FAA land bases and RN carriers. During 1947, Dutch Sea Furies operating from HNLMS Karel Doorman were employed in a ground support capacity against insurgent fighters in the Dutch East Indies. The Dutch procured and license-built additional Sea Furies for carrier operations, although the type was ultimately replaced by the jet-powered Hawker Sea Hawk from the late 1950s onwards.

Pakistan

One of the largest export customers for the type was Pakistan. In 1949, an initial order for 50 Sea Fury FB 60 aircraft for the Pakistan Air Force was placed. A total of 87 new-build Sea Furies were purchased and delivered between 1950 and 1952; some ex-FAA and Iraqi Sea Furies were also subsequently purchased. The aircraft was operated by three frontline squadrons, Nos. 5, 9, and 14 Squadrons. The Sea Fury began to be replaced by the jet-powered North American F-86 Sabre in 1955, and the last Sea Furies in Pakistani service were ultimately retired in 1960.

General characteristics

  • Crew: One
  • Length: 34 ft 8 in (10.6 m)
  • Wingspan: 38 ft 4.75 in (11.7 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 1 in (4.9 m)
  • Wing area: 280 ft (26 m)
  • Empty weight: 9,240 lb (4,190 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 12,500 lb (5,670 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 x Bristol Centaurus XVIIC 18-cylinder twin-row radial engine, 2,480 hp (1,850 kW)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 460 mph (740 km/h) at 18,000 ft (5,500 m)
  • Cruise speed: 390 mph (625 km/h)
  • Range: 700 mi (1,127 km) with internal fuel; 1,040 mi (1,675 km) with two drop tanks
  • Service ceiling 35,800 ft (10,900 m)
  • Rate of climb: 30,000 ft (9,200 m) in 10.8 minutes
  • Wing loading: 44.6 lb/ft (161.2 kg/m)
  • Power/mass: 0.198 hp/lb (441 W/kg)

Armament

  • Guns: 4 x 20 mm Hispano Mk V cannon
  • Rockets: 12 x 3 in (76 mm) rockets or
  • Bombs: 2,000 lb (908 kg) of bombs

End notes