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Fleet Air Arm: Hawker Sea Fury

The Hawker Sea Fury was a British Naval fighter-bomber 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 1950's, as well as during the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba.

The Sea Fury's development was formally initiated in 1943 in response to a wartime requirement of the RAF, thus, initially, the aircraft was simply named Fury. As the Second World War drew to a close, the RAF cancelled its 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 then being operated by the Fleet Air Arm.

The project was formalized in 1943 when the Air Ministry issued a specification which required the aircraft to have 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 maneuverability and a maximum speed of at least 450 mph (724 km/h) at 22,000 feet (6,705 m).

Image: An ex-Iraqi Air Force Sea Fury, repainted in an Australian Fleet Air Arm livery.

The armament was to be four 20 mm Hispano V cannons with a total capacity of 600 rounds, plus the capability of carrying two bombs of up to 1,000 pounds (454 kg) each. Later in 1943, Hawker also received a Specification from the Admiralty, seeking a naval version of the aircraft.

Around 1944, the aircraft project finally received its name; the Royal Air Force's version becoming known as the Fury and the Fleet Air Arm's version was named the Sea Fury.

With the end of the Second World War in Europe in sight, the RAF's order for the Fury was cancelled before any production examples were built. However, the development of the aircraft continued as the Sea Fury. Many of the Navy's carrier fighters were either lend-lease aircraft that had to be returned, or were demonstrating considerable operational weaknesses, so the Admiralty opted to procure the Sea Fury as the successor to these aircraft.

The first production model, the Sea Fury F Mk X, flew in September 1946. With the completion of flight testing at Boscombe Down, the trials process was then repeated aboard the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.

Following the successful completion of weapons trials, and after some modifications and refinements, production line Sea Furies were being manufactured for the Fleet Air Arm by March 1947, and the Sea Fury was finally cleared for operational use on 31 July 1947.

Although some twin seat trainers were built, it normally had a crew of one. It was 34 feet 8 inches (10.56 m) long; it was 15 feet 10 1⁄2 inches (4.84 m) high, and it had a Wingspan of 38 feet 4 3⁄4 inches (11.69 m).

The Sea Fury FB11, the one used by Australia, was fitted with the powerful Bristol Centaurus engine, which drove a five-bladed propeller; delivering a Maximum speed of 460 mph (400 knots, 740 km/h) at 18,000 feet (5,500 m), with a Range of 700 miles (609 nmi, 1,126 km) with internal fuel; or 1,040 mi (904 nmi, 1,674 km) with two drop tanks. It had a Service ceiling of 35,800 ft (10,910 m) and a Rate of climb of 4,320 ft/min (21.9 m/s).

This upgraded model had several improvements over the earlier models, most notable being the hydraulically powered wing folding mechanism, which eased flight deck operations; and in addition to its 4 × 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk V cannon, it was also fitted with either 12 × 3 inch (76.2 mm) rockets for air-to-ground combat, or with up to 2, 2,000 lb (907 kg) of bombs.

Other loads it could deploy and-or use included 1,000 lb incendiary bombs, mines, type 2 smoke floats and 90 gallon fuel tanks. The Sea Fury could also be fitted with both vertical and oblique cameras, and a dedicated control box in the cockpit, for photo reconnaissance missions. Still other ancillary equipment included chaff to evade hostile missile attack and flares.

Various avionics systems were used on Sea Furies, it was unusually well equipped for an aircraft of the era in this respect. Many of these aircraft were 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 sub-systems would appear on subsequent jet aircraft with little or no alteration. Other aspects of the Sea Fury, such as the majority of its flight controls, were more conventional.

The performance of the Sea Fury was striking. It was a highly aerobatic aircraft with favourable flying behaviour at all heights and speeds. Although intentional spinning of the aircraft was banned during the its military service, during flight displays the Sea Fury could demonstrate its ability to perform rapid rolls at a rate of 100 degrees per second, an ability attributed to the spring tab equipped ailerons. For extra thrust on takeoff Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) could also be used.

Hawker Aircraft was keen to market the Sea Fury to foreign operators, and conducted an intense sales drive for their export version of the aircraft, designated Sea Fury F 50. The Sea Fury attracted international orders as both a carrier and land-based aircraft; it was operated by countries including Australia, Burma, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, Iraq, Egypt, Netherlands and Pakistan.

Several of these nations that did not have active aircraft carriers purchased the aircraft, but had the tail hooks and catapult hooks removed to further enhance its performance. A final variant, the Sea Fury TT 20, was developed for West Germany as a target tow aircraft, these remained in service into the 1970s.

Upon the type's withdrawal from military service, a large number of Sea Furies were sold onto private individuals, often as a racing aircraft due to its high speed. The final production figures for all marks reached around 860 aircraft.

Australia was one of three Commonwealth nations to operate the Sea Fury, with the others being Canada and Pakistan. The RAN purchased 31 Sea Fury FB 11's. which were operated by two frontline squadrons 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.

Australia used the Sea Fury during the Korean War, flying from its carriers based along the Korean coast in support of friendly ground forces.

The Sea Fury acquitted itself well in the Korean War, fighting effectively even against the MiG-15 jet fighter.

Following the outbreak of the Korean War on 25 June 1950, Australian an British Sea Furies were dispatched to the region as a part of the British Commonwealth Forces Korea. Sea Furies were flown throughout the conflict, primarily as ground-attack aircraft, from Australian carrier HMAS Sydney, and the from the Royal Navy light fleet carriers HMS Glory, HMS Theseus, and HMS Ocean,

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. In December 1950, RN 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 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.

Although the Sea Fury was retired by the majority of its military operators in the late 1950's 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.

Overall the RAN flew the Sea Fury between 1948 and 1962 and today Aircraft - Sea Fury "VX730" is on display at the War memorial museum, in Canberra.

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