The Hawker Typhoon was a British single-seat fighter-bomber, designed as a medium–high altitude interceptor and as a replacement for the Hawker Hurricane but several design problems were encountered and it never completely satisfied this requirement.
The Typhoon was originally designed to mount twelve .303 inch Browning machine guns and be powered by the latest 2000 hp engines. Its service introduction in mid-1941 was plagued with problems and for several months the aircraft faced a doubtful future. When the Luftwaffe brought the formidable Focke-Wulf Fw 190 into service in 1941, the Typhoon was the only RAF fighter capable of catching it at low altitudes; as a result it secured a new role as a low-altitude interceptor.
The Typhoon soon established itself in roles such as night-time intruder and long-range fighter. From late 1942 the Typhoon was equipped with bombs and from late 1943 RP-3 ground attack rockets were added to its armoury. With those weapons and its four 20mm Hispano cannon, the Typhoon became one of the Second World War's most heavily armed fighters.
In March 1938, Hawker received from the Air Ministry, Specifications for a fighter which would be able to achieve at least 400 mph at 15,000 feet and specified a British engine with a two-speed supercharger.
The basic design of the Typhoon was a combination of traditional Hawker construction (such as used in the earlier Hawker Hurricane) and more modern construction techniques; the front fuselage structure, from the engine mountings to the rear of the cockpit, was made up of bolted and welded duralumin or steel tubes covered with skin panels, while the rear fuselage was a flush-riveted, semi-monocoque structure.
The Typhoon's wings possessed great structural strength, provided plenty of room for fuel tanks and a heavy armament, while allowing the aircraft to be a steady gun platform. Each of the inner wings incorporated two fuel tanks; the "main" tanks, housed in a bay outboard and to the rear of the main undercarriage bays, had a capacity of 40 gallons; while the "nose" tanks, built into the wing leading edges, forward of the main spar, had a capacity of 37 gallons each.
By contemporary standards, the new design's wing was very "thick", similar to the Hurricane before it and although the Typhoon was expected to achieve over 400 mph in level flight at 20,000 ft, the thick wings created a large drag rise and prevented higher speeds than the 410 mph. When the Typhoon was dived at speeds of over 500 mph (800 km/h), the drag rise caused buffeting and trim changes. These compressibility problems led Hawker designing the Typhoon II, later known as the Tempest, which used much thinner wings.
The first flight of the first Typhoon prototype, P5212, made by Hawker's Chief test Pilot Philip Lucas from Langley, was delayed until 24 February 1940 because of the problems with the development of the Sabre engine. On 9 May 1940 the prototype had a mid-air structural failure, at the join between the forward fuselage and rear fuselage, just behind the pilot's seat. Philip Lucas could see daylight through the split but instead of bailing out, landed the Typhoon and was later awarded the George Medal.
On 15 May, the Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook, ordered that resources should be concentrated on the production of five main aircraft types (the Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and the Whitley, Wellington and Blenheim bombers). As a result, development of the Typhoon was slowed, production plans were postponed and test flying continued at a reduced rate.
In 1941, the Spitfire Vs, which equipped the bulk of Fighter Command squadrons, were finding themselves being outclassed by the new Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and suffered many losses. The Typhoon was rushed into service with Nos. 56 and 609 Squadrons in late 1941, to counter the Fw 190. This decision proved to be a disaster and several Typhoons were lost due to unknown causes and the Air Ministry began to consider halting production of the type.
In August 1942, Hawker’s second test pilot, Ken Seth-Smith, carried out a straight and level speed test from Hawker’s test centre at Langley, and the aircraft broke up over Thorpe, killing the pilot. hawker's design team immediately ruled out pilot error, which had been suspected in earlier crashes. Investigation revealed that the elevator mass-balance had torn away from the fuselage structure. Intense flutter developed, the structure failed and the tail broke away. Modification to the structure and the control runs partially solved the structural problem but was only a partial remedy, and there were still failures right up to the end of the Typhoon's service life. The Sabre engine was also a constant source of problems, notably in colder weather, when it was very difficult to start, and it suffered problems with wear of its sleeve valves, with consequently high oil consumption.
Eventually many of the problems plague early Typhoons were ironed out and the fighter came into its own with the first two Messerschmitt Me 210 fighter-bombers to be destroyed over the British Isles. During a daylight raid by the Luftwaffe on London on 20 January 1943, four Bf 109G-4s and one Fw 190A-4 of JG 26 were also destroyed by Typhoons. As soon as the aircraft entered service, it was apparent the profile of the Typhoon resembled a Fw 190 from some angles, which caused more than one friendly fire incident involving Allied anti-aircraft units and other fighters. This led to Typhoons first being marked up with all-white noses, and later with high visibility black and white stripes under the wings, a precursor of the markings applied to all Allied aircraft on D-Day.
By 1943, the RAF needed a ground attack fighter more than a "pure" fighter and the Typhoon was suited to the role. Its powerful engine allowed the aircraft to carry a load of up to two 450 kg bombs, equal to the light bombers of only a few years earlier. Typhoons were also armed with four "60 lb" RP-3 rockets under each wing and in October 1943, No. 181 Squadron made the first Typhoon rocket attacks. Although the rocket projectiles were inaccurate and took considerable skill to aim and allow for ballistic drop after firing, it was said that the sheer firepower of just one Typhoon was equivalent to a destroyer's broadside.
By the Normandy landings in June 1944, 2 TAF had 18 operational squadrons of Typhoon IBs, while Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB) had a further nine. The aircraft proved itself to be the most effective RAF tactical strike aircraft, on interdiction raids against communications and transport targets deep in North Western Europe prior to the invasion and in direct support of the Allied ground forces after D-Day. A system of close liaison with the ground troops was set up by the RAF and army: RAF radio operators in vehicles equipped with VHF R/T travelled with the troops close to the front line and called up Typhoons operating in a "Cab Rank", which attacked the targets, marked for them by smoke shells fired by mortar or artillery, until they were destroyed.
At Mortain, a German counter-attack threatened Patton's break-out from the Normandy beachhead; this counter-attack was repulsed by 2nd Tactical Air Force Typhoons and the 9th USAAF. During the course of the battle, pilots of the 2nd Tactical Air Force and 9th USAAF claimed to have destroyed a combined total of 252 tanks.
The effect on the morale of German troops caught up in a Typhoon RP and cannon attack was decisive, with many tanks and vehicles being abandoned, in spite of superficial damage, such that a signal from the German Army's Chief of Staff stated that the attack had been brought to a standstill by 13:00 '...due to the employment of fighter-bombers by the enemy, and the absence of our own air-support. The 20 mm cannon also destroyed a large number of (unarmored) support vehicles, laden with fuel and ammunition for the armoured vehicles. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, said of the Typhoons; "The chief credit in smashing the enemy's spearhead, however, must go to the rocket-firing Typhoon aircraft of the Second Tactical Air Force... The result of the strafing was that the enemy attack was effectively brought to a halt, and a threat was turned into a great victory."
In all, some 3,317 Typhoons were built, including Hawker's improved Typhoon II, but the differences between it and the Mk I were so great that it was effectively a different aircraft, and was renamed the Hawker Tempest. Once the war in Europe was over Typhoons were quickly removed from front-line squadrons; by October 1945 the Typhoon was no longer in operational use, with many of the wartime Typhoon units such as 198 Squadron being either disbanded or renumbered.
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