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Friday 9 May 2003

This massive new fighter, the heaviest and most powerful single-seat single-engined warplane envisaged at the time of its design, was to suffer a long gestatory period. It was to be pressed into operational service before it was fully developed and, in consequence, acquire a worse reputation among its pilots than that of any fighter preceding it. It was fated to be rarely employed in the interceptor role for which it was originally conceived. Yet, despite its vicissitudes, it was to blossom into one of the most formidable weapons evolved during the Second World War; a close-support fighter that was to turn the scales in many land battles and upset many conceptions of land warfare.

In January 1938, barely two months after the debut of the first production Hurricane Hawker Aircraft received details of specification F.18/37, calling for a large single-seat fighter offering a performance at least 20 per cent higher than that of the Hurricane and achieving this with the aid of one of two 24-cylinder engines in the 2,000 h.p. class then under development —the Napier Sabre "H" type and the Rolls-Royce Vulture "X" type. Sydney Camm had commenced investigating the possibilities of just such a fighter in March 1937, and had already roughed out a design built around the Napier Sabre engine and housing twelve 0.303-in. Browning guns with 400 r.p.g. in its 40-foot wings. At the proposal of the Air Ministry, Camm also prepared studies for an alternative version of his fighter powered by the Rolls-Royce Vulture engine, and increased the ammunition capacity of both machines to 500 r.p.g.

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Further discussions over military loads and equipment followed, and revised tenders were submitted to Throughout 1938 the Air Ministry at the beginning of 1938 for both the Type " N " and the Type " R ", as the alternative Sabre and Vulture powered fighters had become known. These tenders were formally accepted on April 22, 1938, and four months later, on August 30, two prototypes of each fighter were ordered. Structurally both types were similar: the wings were all-metal, the front fuselage was of steel tubing, and the aft section consisted of a stressed-skin, flush-riveted monocoque—the first Hawker designs to employ this form of construction. Uniformity between the two fighters was, in fact, achieved to a remarkable degree, but the designs did differ in one important respect initially—the Vulture -powered fighter made use of a ventral radiator while the Sabre- driven machine had one of "chin" type.

In March of 1940, Hawker initiated a number of design studies aimed at improving their Typhoon fighter, as it did not have the performance they were aiming for, especially at high altitudes. These involved the use of a new wing design that featured a thinner wing section and a reduced wing area. The new wing was five inches thinner at the root than the original Typhoon wing. In order to save development time, Sidney Camm decided to mate the new wing to a modified Typhoon airframe and the same Napier Sabre powerplant.

The thin wing meant that alternative space for fuel had to be found. This was achived by moving the engine 21 inches forward and inserting a 76 gallon tank between the firewall and the oil tank. This gave the Tempest prototype a decidedly longer "nose". The redesign also included a new undercarriage and the latest of the Sabre engine, the Mark IV. Hawker’s biggest problem with the new fighter was the engine. By the Spring of 1942, the various problems with the Sabre had not been fully eliminated and the company proceeded with its plans for alternative engine installations for the Tempest prototypes. The various combinations of airframe and engine were each given a Mark number. Only the Tempest V using the Sabre II engine was built during the war.
A prototype Tempest first flew on 24 February, 1943, and by September it had been pushed to 472 mph in level flight, but it was not built in quantity, and the Tempest V was ordered instead.

The other major development for the pilot was the use of an all-round vision bubble canopy. This gave significantly better vision in the rear quadrant of the aircraft.

The new aircraft proved to be an excellent fighter and 400 were delivered before the wars end.

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Technical Details
Only the Mk V single-seat fighter was flown in WWII. It was powered by the Napier Sabre IIB in-line (liquid cooled) engine rated at 2,420 hp. The Mk V were with fitted with four of the new short-barrelled Hispano Mk. V 20 mm cannon which was completely enclosed in the wings. It’s top speed in level flight was 435 mph at 17,500ft (although it could dive up to much higher speeds). It had a service ceiling of 36,000 feet and a range of 740 miles.

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