The De Havilland Hornet represents in many ways the peak of piston engine fighter design. With its slim fuselage, clean lines and tightly cowled engines, great attention was paid from the outset on maximising performance.
The prototype (RR915) was built on a private venture basis and flew for the first time on 28th July 1944.
Designed around the successful wooden construction principals of the De Havilland Mosquito, the Hornet was powered by a pair of 2,070 hp Merlin engines driving opposite-handed propellers and Boscombe Down trials revealed the astonishing maximum speed of 485 mph at 22,000 ft. The type also possessed superb handling characteristics, particularly in respect of its high rate of roll.
Initially conceived for operations in the Pacific Theatre against the Japanese, the conflict had ended before the aircraft reached operational status. Two main marks saw service with the RAF Fighter Command: The F Mk 1 and the F Mk 3 with the latter having increased fuel capacity and a large dorsal fin. Armament was four 20mm cannon and wing hard points eight ground attack rockets or a pair of 1,000 lb bombs. Alternatively, two 200 gallon drop tanks could be carried.
It saw active service in the Far East as a Strike Fighter during the Malayan Emergency in 1951, replacing Bristol Beaufighters and Supermarine Spitfires.
The Hornet also saw service with the Royal Navy, initially as a single seat fighter (Sea Hornet F 20). The main modifications were wing-folding and the fitment of an arrester hook. Provision was also made for an oblique reconnaissance camera in the rear fuselage.
Subsequently, the type was adapted as a two seat night fighter (NF.21) with a radome in the nose and a seat for the observer in the rear fuselage.
The final naval variant was an unarmed reconnaissance version, the Sea Hornet PR.22.
Production comprised 5 prototypes and the variants listed in the table below.
Sea Hornet F.20
|A navalised version for service on British aircraft carriers|
Sea Hornet NF.21
|Fleet Air Arm night fighter powered by Merlin 133/134 engines|
Sea Hornet PR.22
|Hornet F.3||Sea Hornet NF.21|
|Powerplant||Two 2,070 hp RR Merlin 130/131||Two 2,030 hp RR Merlin 133/134|
|Span||45 ft 0 in||45 ft 0 in|
|Maximum Weight||20,900 lb||19,530 lb|
|Capacity||Pilot. Four 20mm Hispano cannon plus provision for two 1,000 lb bombs or eight 60 lb rockets||Pilot and observer|
|Maximum Speed||472 mph at 22,000 ft||430 mph at 22,000 ft|
|Range||2,600 miles||1,500 miles|