The Hawker Tornado was a single-seat fighter biplane built by Hawker during the period preceeding World War II.
Fighter aircraft development had been moving at such a pace during the late 1930s that Hawker’s chief designer Sydney Camm had already started on the development of a replacement for the Hurricane before it had even entered RAF service. Camm had envisaged an interceptor roughly the same size as the Hurricane but with twice the power of its Merlin powerplant.
Both Napier and Rolls-Royce were making progress with their latest 24-cylinder engines; Napier with the sleeve-valve Sabre offering some 2,000 hp, and Rolls-Royce with the unorthodox single-crankshaft “X-24” Vulture of 1,750 hp.
Hawker, as insurance against the failure of either engine, submitted two designs to Air Ministry against Specification F.18/37, issued in early 1938 and calling for a high-speed single-seat fighter. One design featured the Sabre (designated “N-Type”) engine whilst the other was fitted with the Vulture (“R-Type”) unit.
A contract was issued shortly thereafter authorising the production of four prototypes — two N-Types and two R-Types and construction commenced at Hawker’s Kingston factory in March 1938.
Of all-metal construction and with a light-alloy skin, the two types were of identical designs with the exception of the engine and its appropriate mounting.
The R-Type (soon to be named Tornado) initially incorporated its radiator in a large, 'bath-type' structure beneath the fuselage, midway between the wings, as per the Hurricane. Its wings were set 3in lower than those of its Sabre-engined sibling as the Vulture could not be mounted over the wing-spar connecting structure.
The Tornado prototype (P5219) was fitted with a Vulture II and moved by road from Kingston to Hawker’s new factory at Langley for testing. It was at Langley that the aircraft made its maiden flight in the hands of Hawker test pilot Philip Lucas on 6th October 1939. Subsequent test flights showed a great deal of promise for the machine.
The mid-fuselage radiator caused adverse airflow conditions and so it was relocated under the aircraft’s nose to create a 'chin' intake, similar to that used on the Sabre-engined Typhoon (as the N-Type had been named) and which first flew in February 1940.
The Air Ministry was sufficiently impressed with both versions to issue an 'Instruction to Proceed' on the construction of 1,000 aircraft.
With the Vulture’s single-crankshaft arrangement making the Tornado lighter than the Typhoon, its performance was deemed slightly superior and the production order stipulated 500 Tornado and 250 Typhoon, with the balance to be decided once production examples had been compared.
With Hurricane production now in full flow at Hawker, it was decided that Avro would establish a Tornado production line at Yeadon near Leeds, with the Typhoons being built by Gloster at Hucclecote.
With war clouds gathering in Europe however, production of the Tornado and Typhoon was postponed in order to concentrate on building Hurricanes. This may have been a blessing in disguise as the Typhoon prototype (P5212) suffered a major airframe failure in May 1940, necessitating a repair and modification programme on both types.
A second Tornado prototype (P5224) was completed and flown on 5th December 1940, incorporating the chin-mounted radiator from the outset. At this point the Tornado’s prospects appeared better than those of its troubled Sabre-powered stablemate.
Although the Tornado apparently suffered few more problems with its Vulture powerplant, the same could not be said for Avro’s twin-engine Manchester bomber, which also used the Rolls-Royce engine and which experienced numerous engine-related problems in RAF service.
Rolls-Royce had already requested that development of the complex Vulture be terminated so the company could concentrate on production of proven engines like the Merlin, but the Ministry of Aircraft Production had insisted that production be continued. As the troubles with the Manchester increased, the decision was made to suspend all work on the Vulture from June 1942.
By the summer of 1941, Avro had completed its first four production Tornado aircraft at Yeadon. Of these, only the first (R7936) ever flew, making its first flight on 29th August of that year. Without a supply of engines, the Tornado production order was cancelled shortly afterwards and switched to the Typhoon instead.
Before the contract was cancelled however, a third prototype was completed (HG641) which was constructed using surplus wings and fuselage components and fitted with an example of Bristol’s powerful brand-new 18-cylinder Centaurus sleeve-valve radial engine of 2,210 hp.
This aircraft made its first flight on 23rd October 1941 but problems with the engine’s cowling design led to various modifications and eventually an entirely new cowling design with twin exhausts.
Despite the third prototype (HG641) reaching speeds of more than 400 mph at 18,000ft with the Centaurus engine, its wing was too thick to capitalise on the engine’s increased power. As a result, when a thin-winged version of the Typhoon was developed as the Tempest prototype, the order that had been placed for six pre-production Centaurus-powered Tornadoes was cancelled in late 1942.
Although all four of the Tornadoes built and flown were used for trials work at various establishments throughout the war, all had been scrapped by the summer of 1944.
The Tornado did however, leave a legacy in the development of Hawker’s next generation of radial-engined fighters, which would see service for the next two decades.
Variants & Numbers
|Number built||Three prototypes (P2519, P5224, HG641); one production aircraft R7936. Total: four aircraft.|
|Powerplant||One 1,980 hp Rolls-Royce Vulture V liquid-cooled engine; or One 2,210 hp Bristol Centaurus CE.4S sleeve-valve radial engine|
|Maximum weight||Vulture: 10,668lb; Centaurus: 10,320lb|
|Capacity and Armament||One pilot; Twelve 0.303in Browning machine guns in wings|
|Maximum speed||Vulture: 398 mph at 20,000ft; Centaurus: 402 mph|
No Tornado aircraft survive, all four having been scrapped during the Second World War.