The Typhoon entered service with the Royal Air Force in 1941. However, it was soon clear that the fighter was plagued with problems.
Sometimes, things just don't go to plan. Our model airplanes can occasionally fail in-flight, have radio problems on the ground or simply be terrible flyers. History shows this can also be the case for the real thing in times when it really matters. The Hawker Typhoon is one such example.
To take a closer look at what went so wrong with the Typhoon, we need to go back to the beginning. The new fighter was designed to replace the older Hawker Hurricane which had become increasingly obsolete since its introduction in the late 30s. Although it had been an excellent aircraft in the Battle of Britain, newer enemy planes such as the FW 190 meant that the RAF had to up their game. In step the Hawker Typhoon.
The first prototype showed promising results, yet rushed development ultimately resulted in a poor production variant.
This aircraft intended to up the game for the airforce's mid-high level interceptor fighters. To do this, it was equipped with a 24 cylinder 2000hp monster of a power plant, the cutting edge of engine technology back in 1940. This was to meet a British Air Ministry specification issued to Hawker back in 1938 for a fighter capable of doing 400mph at 15,000ft. Although the first prototypes showed promising results, following the Typhoon's rushed introduction to squadrons in late 1941 to counter the FW 190 threat, it was soon plain to see there were several deadly issues with the machine.
Later versions of the Typhoon were quite different animals.
- The aircraft could not climb at speeds fast enough to be a high altitude interceptor.
- The antiquated cockpit design restricted the pilot's rear view.
- Carbon monoxide fumes seeped into the cockpit and poisoned the pilot.
- Oil and fuel systems didn't work properly causing frequent fires both on the ground and in the air.
- The catastrophic structural failure caused by fluttering made the tails of some aircraft to snap off in flight.
On top of everything else, the cockpit was cramped, complex and poorly laid out.
Between September 1941 and August 1942, discussions were had about how to fix the Typhoon. In January 1943, a conference was called to discuss the future of the fairly awful aircraft. Although many wished to abandon it (you can't blame them), the decision was made to introduce the fighter to a new role.
As the Typhoon's future hung in the balance, designers and engineers were hard at work trying to fix every issue. The tail was strengthened, the cockpit improved with transparent panels and exhaust system changed, all to the relief of the pilots. Eventually, the canopy was further upgraded to a full sliding hood, much like the ones seen on later Spitfires, Mustangs and FW 190s. All of these changes helped the Typhoon adapt to it's new calling... as a ground-attack aircraft.
A pilot stands with his upgraded machine.
When the high altitude fighter was first envisioned in 1938, the designers would never imagine that their creation would serve in quite the opposite capacity. It had become clear that the Typhoon could never be as agile as a Spitfire or Hurricane, but it was far more robust and could carry more weight. In 1943, Hawker tested the plane with rockets and bombs in a ground-attack role. The Typhoon excelled and so it was saved from the scrap heap.
June 1944, RP-3 rockets with 60 lb High Explosive heads are loaded onto a Typhoon before a mission.
The Typhoon squadrons of the RAF played an important role in the Normandy Landings of 1944 alongside Mustangs and P-47s of the United States Air Force. They attacked and destroyed ground targets on mass including road and rail transport. Who'd have thought a plane with so many problems could go on to have such an important role to play in one of the most important stages of the war! It just goes to show, things might not be going to plan, but a change of perspective can make all the difference.
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Article by James Whomsley
Editor of FliteTest.com