With the Hunter
back in service in England in 2007 (see Newsletter
) it is interesting to look back fifty-six, yes,
fifty-six years, to Neville Duke's maiden flight in the first Hunter.
The following is taken from an account he wrote to mark the 21st
anniversary of that flight...
"As it happened, the preliminaries leading up to that first flight
proved more eventful than the flight itself. The prototype, WB188, had
been taken by road from Hawker's Kingston on Thames factory the
Aircraft and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, in
Wiltshire, and there re-assembled. First came ground handling and
taxying trials at speeds up to 100 knots on Boscombe's 3,000 yard long
runway. The results were quite satisfactory and all was set for a run
at take-off speed.
Conditions for the run were ideal. With the engine at full throttle,
the brakes were released and the aircraft accelerated to 120 knots
within about 1,000 yards and just became airborne. The throttle was
immediately cut and the brakes intermittently applied from about 110
knots. But the brakes began to fade and the end of the runway came
rapidly nearer. Soon, braking power was virtually lost but sufficient
control remained to allow me to swing off the runway in time to avoid
going into the rough stretch beyond. The brakes were billowing smoke
and were subsequently found to be burnt out and useless. However, the
run had been necessary; the handling characteristics at take-off speed
had to be known before the actual flight.
Repairs were made and the Hunter's first flight took place in the early
afternoon of July 20, 1951. It lasted forty-seven minutes and covered a
speed range up to 350 knots (Mach 0.6) at heights up to 19,000 ft. A
cross wind caused the Hunter to weathercock slightly on take-off but
the tendency was checked, at first by the gentle use of
brakes and later by the use of rudder.
Acceleration was rapid and rudder control became effective at
approximately 50 knots IAS. (All figures quoted are indicated air
speeds). The take-off run was smooth, with no shimmy or wheel
vibration. Full up elevator was used during the initial run, and this
called for a heavy pull-up force as speed increased.
The nose wheel came off the ground at approximately 100 knots and there
was no tendency to pitch into the air. A constant attitude after the
nose wheel came off was easily maintained. Incidence was kept low and
the aircraft was allowed to fly itself off at approximately 140 - 150
knots. The unstick was clean and no pitching occurred. The forward view
unstick a lateral oscillation set up which could not be damped out with
aileron; it was caused by lateral movement of the control column. The
ailerons were light and effective at this speed and the control column
oscillation had a correspondingly noticeable effect.
No sink occurred as the undercarriage was retracted - at approximately
160-170 knots - but the brakes had to be used to stop the airframe
vibration set up by wheel spin. The undercarriage retracted with a
positive action but the starboard undercarriage red light remained on
and speed was therefore restricted to 350 knots. Undercarriage
retraction caused no apparent change of trim.
Aileron and elevators had power controls but for the first flight the
elevators were controlled manually by an emergency reversion system.
For this reason the control was heavy and gave rise to some difficulty;
the tailplane trim range was inadequate to deal with these heavy
forces. But it was only a temporary difficulty; with the elevators
under power control and a wider tailplane trim range the system was
was put through the scheduled test programme, which included handling
in level flight, slow speed handling with undercarriage and flaps in
both down and up positions, engine handling and structure temperatures,
and tailplane angles to trim.
Landing presented no serious problems. Speed was reduced on a long
downwind leg and full negative tailplane incidence (-40 minutes) was
required to trim the aircraft at 220-225 knots. The undercarriage was
selected down at 200 knots and locked down in 12 seconds - the
starboard leg, nose wheel and port leg in rapid succession - and with
no noticeable yaw. The undercarriage lights were bright and clearly
Full flap was selected
at 180 knots but full negative tailplane incidence was insufficient to
trim the aircraft, and at 150 knots left a pull force of some 10 lb to
be applied to trim the aircraft. The lowering of the flaps was followed
by a marked increase in the rate of descent which had to be checked by
an increase in power. Flap operation, and the position and functioning
of the flap lever and of the flap indicator, were all satisfactory.
Final approach was started at 150 knots and the Hunter crossed the end
of the runway at 140 knots with the engine fully throttled back. Both
hands were needed on the control column for hold-off - the 20 lb pull
needed on the manually-operated elevators was too tiring for one hand.
After a 47 minute flight, touchdown at 115 knots was smooth and so was
the landing run. The flaps had remained adequate for normal use
throughout the approach, and no tendency to swing on the landing run
confirmed the excellent handling characteristics which the Hunter
revealed on the first, and a few minor modifications, including the
addition of a small tailcone (at the trailing edge of the tailplane-fin
junction. Ed) to help eliminate tail-end vibration at transonic speeds,
allowed us to fly at speeds up to 700 mph within a month of the first
flight, a tribute to the soundness of its design and construction. In
less than a year it had been flown at supersonic speed in a dive and
its sonic booms gave audible proof of its transonic capability during
demonstrations at several SBAC Farnborough air displays."
Neville concluded his article by saying, "If, when the time comes, the
Hunter needs an epitaph, a clue to the appropriate wording might be
found in the 'Limitations' section of its Service Pilots' Notes. The
epitaph would simply state: 'It had no Mach limitation.' "