The Hawker Sea Fury was a British fighter aircraft designed and manufactured by Hawker. It was the last propeller-driven fighter to serve with the Royal Navy, and also one of the fastest production single piston-engined aircraft ever built. Developed during the Second World War, the Sea Fury entered service two years after the war ended. The Sea Fury proved to be a popular aircraft with a number of overseas militaries, and was used during the Korean War in the early 1950s.
The Sea Fury's development was formally initiated in 1943 in response to a wartime requirement of the RAF, thus the aircraft was initially named Fury. As the Second World War drew to a close, the RAF cancelled their order for the aircraft; however, the Royal Navy saw the type as a suitable carrier aircraft to replace a range of increasingly obsolete or poorly suited aircraft being operated by the Fleet Air Arm. Development of the Sea Fury proceeded, and the type began entering operational service in 1947.
The Sea Fury has many design similarities to Hawker's preceding Tempest fighter, but the Sea Fury was a considerably lighter aircraft; both the Sea Fury's wings and fuselage originate from the Tempest but were significantly modified and redesigned. Production Sea Furies were fitted with the powerful Bristol Centaurus engine, and armed with four wing-mounted Hispano V cannons. While originally developed as a pure aerial fighter aircraft, the definitive Sea Fury FB 11 was a fighter-bomber, the design having been found suitable for this mission as well.
The Sea Fury attracted a number of international orders as both a carrier and land-based aircraft; it was operated by a number of countries, including Australia, Burma, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, West Germany, Iraq, and Pakistan. The type acquitted itself well in the Korean War, fighting effectively even against the MiG-15 jet fighter. Although the Sea Fury was retired by the majority of its military operators in the late 1950s in favour of jet-propelled aircraft, a considerable number of aircraft saw subsequent use in the civil sector, and several remain airworthy in the 21st century both as heritage and racing aircraft.
The Hawker Fury was an evolutionary successor to the successful Hawker Typhoon and Tempest fighters and fighter-bombers of World War II. The Fury's design process was initiated in September 1942 by Sydney Camm, one of Hawker's foremost aircraft designers, to meet the Royal Air Force’s requirement for a lightweight Tempest Mk.II replacement; the Tempest, while a successful aircraft, had been viewed as being heavy and oversized for typical fighter duties. Developed as the "Tempest Light Fighter", the semi-elliptical wing of the Tempest was incorporated, but was shortened in span by attaching the two wings at the aircraft centreline, eliminating the centre-section. The fuselage itself was broadly similar in form to that of the Tempest, but was a fully monocoque structure, while the cockpit level was higher, affording the pilot better all round visibility.
The project was formalized in January 1943 when the Air Ministry issued Specification F.2/42 around the "Tempest Light Fighter". This was followed up by Specification F.2/43, issued in May 1943, which required a high rate of climb of not less than 4,500 ft/min (23 m/s) from ground level to 20,000 feet (6,096 m), good fighting manoeuvrability and a maximum speed of at least 450 mph (724 km/h) at 22,000 feet (6,705 m). The armament was to be four 20mm Hispano V cannon with a total capacity of 600 rounds, plus the capability of carrying two bombs each up to 1,000 pounds (454 kg). In April 1943, Hawker had also received Specification N.7/43 from the Admiralty, who sought a navalised version of the developing aircraft; in response, Sidney Camm proposed the consolidation of both service's requirements under Specification F.2/43, with the alterations required for naval operations issued on a supplemental basis. Around 1944, the aircraft project finally received its name; the Royal Air Force's version becoming known as the Fury and the Fleet Air Army's version as the Sea Fury.
A total of six prototypes were ordered; two were to be powered by Rolls-Royce Griffon engines, two with Centaurus XXIIs, one with a Centaurus XII and one as a test structure. Hawker used the internal designations P.1019 and P.1020 respectively for the Griffon and Centaurus versions, while P.1018 was also used for a Fury prototype which was to use a Napier Sabre IV. The first Fury to fly, on 1 September 1944, was NX798 with a Centaurus XII with rigid engine mounts, powering a Rotol four-blade propeller. Second on 27 November 1944 was LA610, which had a Griffon 85 and Rotol six-blade contra-rotating propeller. By now development of the Fury and Sea Fury was closely interlinked so that the next prototype to fly was a Sea Fury, SR661, described under "Naval Conversion." NX802 (25 July 1945) was the last Fury prototype, powered by a Centaurus XV. LA610 was eventually fitted with a Napier Sabre VII, which was capable of developing 3,400–4,000 hp (2,535–2,983 kW); this aircraft become possibly the fastest piston-engined Hawker aircraft after reaching a speed of around 485 mph (780 km/h).
With the end of the Second World War in Europe in sight, the RAF began cancelling many aircraft orders. Thus, the RAF's order for the Fury was cancelled before any production examples were built because the RAF already had excessive numbers of late Mark Spitfires and Tempests and viewed the Fury as an additional overlap with these aircraft. Although the RAF had pulled out of the program, development of the type continued as the Sea Fury; many of the Navy's carrier fighters were either lend-lease aircraft and thus to be returned, or in the case of the Supermarine Seafire, had considerable weaknesses as naval aircraft, such as narrow undercarriages. The Admiralty opted to procure the Sea Fury as the successor to these aircraft instead of purchasing the lend-lease aircraft outright.
While the RAF contract had been cancelled, the Fury prototypes were completed and used for work in developing the Sea Fury as well as for the export market. The first Sea Fury prototype, SR661, first flew at Langley, Berkshire, on 21 February 1945, powered by a Centaurus XII engine. This prototype had a "stinger"-type tailhook for arrested carrier landings, but lacked folding wings for storage. SR666, the second prototype, which flew on 12 October 1945, was powered by a Centaurus XV that turned a new, five-bladed Rotol propeller and did feature folding wings. Specification N.7/43 was modified to N.22/43, now representing an order for 200 aircraft. Of these, 100 were to be built at Boulton-Paul's Wolverhampton factory.
In 1945, the original order to specification N.22/43 was reduced to 100 aircraft; as such the manufacturing agreement with Boulton-Paul was ended and all work on the Sea Fury transferred to Hawker Aircraft's facilities at Kingston. This included the construction of what was intended to be a Boulton-Paul built Sea Fury prototype, VB857, which was transported to Kingston in January 1945; this aircraft, built to the same standard as SR666, first flew on 31 January 1946. Immediately upon completion of the first three airframes, the flight testing program began at Kingston. It was soon discovered that the early Centaurus engine suffered frequent crankshaft failure due to a poorly designed lubrication system, which led to incidents of the engine seizing while in mid-flight. The problem was resolved when Bristol's improved Centaurus 18 engine replaced the earlier engine variant.
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) became a prolific 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. 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.