On 26 December 2009 the following article about Sir Sydney Camm appeared in the Daily Telegraph, written by Chief Reporter Gordon Rayner:
Move to mark life of man who gave the RAF the Hurricane
As the designer of such aircraft as the Hawker Hurricane and Hawker Harrier, Sir Sydney Camm has been described as the Isambard Kingdom Brunel of aeronautical engineering. Yet his vital contribution to victory in the Second World War , and his leading role in post-war defence, has remained largely unrecognised by the British public. More than 40 years after his death, a fund-raising appeal has has been launched to educate future generations about his towering achievements by installing a full sized replica of a Hurricane in his home town of Windsor and setting up a scholarship fund in his name.
The appeal is being backed by Sir Sydney’s only grandchild, Elizabeth Dickson, who believes her grandfather’s ” reserved, quiet” personality is the reason he has never been lauded to the extent as other key figures of the war.
“He was never one to blow his own trumpet and had to be persuaded to accept his knighthood,” she said ” He deserves to be remembered not only as the designer of the Hurricane but, perhaps more importantly, as the pioneer of vertical flight in the form of the Harrier, which is still in service 40 years after he died.”
Mrs Dickson, who was 12 when Sir Sydney died in 1966, added:
“He was a wonderful grandfather and I always remember him reading me bedtime stories. Oddly enough, he never liked flying, and on one occasion when he had to go to America he had to go by sea.”
Sir Sydney joined Hawker in 1923 and was so prolific that at one point in the 1930s more than 8 in 10 aircraft in the RAF were designed by him. Having designed biplanes including the Hart, the Hind and the Fury, he designed the eight gun monoplane Hurricane in 1934, of which 14 500 were built. He later became one of the leading designers of the jet age. The Hawker Hunter, which first flew in 1951, was the fastest aircraft of its time. Before his death Sir Sydney also designed the prototype of the revolutionary Hawker Harrier, the first aeroplane capable of vertical take off and landing, which played a pivotal role in winning the Falklands conflict.”
Happily, the “Windsor Hurricane” – full sized replica built by Gate Guardians (UK) Ltd – was unveiled in Windsor’s Alexandra Gardens, close to the River Thames and Camm’s former home at 10 Alma Road – on Friday 20 July 2012. Councillor Dee Quick commented:
“Windsor is proud of its close associations with Sir Sydney Camm – a man whose engineering and design brilliance played a key role in this country’s defence during the Second World War. The council is delighted to be involved with the society in making this memorial a reality and I am sure it will be a tremendous attraction for people of all ages in the years to come.”
Sydney Camm was born in Windsor on 5 August 1893 as of twelve siblings and became a pupil at the Royal Free School. His father was a journeyman carpenter and joiner, and Sydney took up a woodworking apprenticeship when he left school.
As a schoolboy Sydney had avidly designed and constructed model aircraft. With his brother Fred, also a competent modeller and designer, who was to become editor of the famous “Practical” series of magazines, he supplied Herberts’ Eton High Street Shop with high-quality models of biplanes and monoplanes advertised as “Will Really Fly” and “Will Rise from the Ground”.
Their venture into more profitable private enterprise – selling direct to the Eton boys – was not appreciated by Herberts. Deliveries had to be made at night via a string lowered from the dormitories to avoid detection by the school authorities (and Herberts). Sydney was instrumental in setting up the Windsor Model Aeroplane Club where he and his friends built a man-carrying glider to which they added an engine and it actually flew in Dec 1912. There is a commemorative plaque on the wall of Athlone Square, Ward Royal, on the site of the workshop where the glider was built. There is also a commemorative plaque on the wall of No 10 Alma Road.
Sydney Camm’s interest in model aircraft led him to work for the Martinsyde aircraft company at Brooklands from 1914: learning the profession and developing his skills in aircraft design.
In 1921 Martinsyde went out of business and in 1922 Camm joined the Hawker Engineering Company, successor to the Sopwith Aviation Company Ltd. as a senior draughtsman. Within two years he was appointed Chief Designer and stayed with Hawker for 43 years, becoming a Director of the famous firm in 1935.
In the 1920s and early 30s Camm designed the classic Hart ‘family’ of fabric and metal biplanes – including the Demon and Fury – putting Hawker in the front line of aircraft manufacture. At one time in the 1930s no fewer than 84% of RAF aircraft were of Hawker/Camm design.
But it was clear that monoplanes were the aircraft of the future and Hawker and Camm decided to specialise in fast fighter aircraft. In 1934 the Air Ministry issued specification F.36/34, for a monoplane eight-gun fighter. Built by Hawker it became the iconic Hurricane – 100 mph faster than anything previously flown. It was in full production at the outbreak of war in 1939 and with Mitchell’s Spitfire, the Hurricane formed a major part of Fighter Command strength during the Battle of Britain. The News Chronicle hailed Camm as the man who saved Britain and he was made CBE in 1941. An RAF fly-past over London to commemorate the Battle of Britain was led by a lone Hurricane.
After the Hurricane and Henley, Camm went on to design the Typhoon fighter-bomber – also built by the Gloster Aircraft Company: a part of the Hawker empire from 1934. The tank-busting Hawker Typhoon was heavily involved in the 1944 Normandy invasion, and was followed off Camm’s drawing board by the Tempest and Sea Fury, the ultimate in high-performance, piston-engined, propeller-driven monoplanes which even managed to shoot down MiG-15 jets in the Korean War.
In the Post War Jet Age, Camm produced both the straight winged Hawker Sea Hawk ( pictured) and the swept wing Hunter fighter, the latter gaining the world air speed record in 1953, the year in which Camm was knighted.
With the Hunter the possibilities of subsonic aircraft had reached a peak. Camm’s designs for a supersonic fighter were never realised, but he joined Bristol Siddley Engines in developing the radical concept of VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) which, as the Harrier jump jet, revolutionised military aviation and warfare.
Sydney Camm was one of the last great individual designers, his intuitive feel for design more than compensating for any lack of advanced scientific training. The Times accurately called him “one of the most consistently successful designers the aircraft industry has ever had” who triumphed “without making a false step”. Sir Thomas Sopwith credited him with being the greatest designer of fighter aircraft the world had ever known.
By the time of his death in Richmond in 1966, Camm could also count Commander of the British Empire and Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society among his accolades.
Sydney Camm’s first straight winged jet prototype, the Hawker P1040, had first flown on 2 September 1947 and entered Royal Navy service as the Sea Hawk. VX 272, the first of two swept wing P1052 aircraft – ordered under Air Ministry Specification E 38/46 – followed on 19 November 1948 to explore work done by German aerodynamicists and was again powered by a single Rolls Royce Nene turbine. The second P1052 – VX 279 – first flew on 13 April 1949 but was soon rebuilt as the Hawker P1081 and flew again in this guise on 19 June 1950 with a swept horizontal tail and single jet tailpipe rather than the split exhaust of both the Sea Hawk and P1052.
Although deck landing trials were undertaken aboard HMS Eagle in May 1952, experience gained by VX 272 (pictured above) and VX279 was to lead not to a naval aircraft but to Britain’s most widely exported land based swept wing fighter: The Hawker Hunter.
After a number of experimental modifications VX 272 last flew in 1953 and is preserved at Yeovilton while the sole P1081 was destroyed during a test flight on 3 April 1951 with the loss of test pilot Squadron Leader Trevor Sydney “Wimpy” Wade AFC DFC.
The Hawker Hunter was developed from three P1067 prototypes built to Air Ministry Specification F3/48, calling for a high altitude, high performance single seat fighter armed with four Aden Canon. First flown on 20 June 1951 at Boscombe Down with Squadron Leader Neville Duke at the controls, the Rolls Royce Avon powered Hunter began to replace Gloster Meteor F8s in RAF service during 1954: 43 Squadron at Leuchars in Scotland being the first to re-equip with the Mark 1 variant.
The F6 version, represented in grey and green camouflage by XL 619, above (a serial later used by a Hunter T7), also served with the Swiss Air Force as well as the famous “Black Arrows” display team of the RAF. Similarly IF 70 was part of the Belgian “Red Devils” from 1961 –63.
Effective though the Hunter was, Sydney Camm’s last and most radical design was the vertical take off Harrier family. XP836 was the second of two P1127 prototypes that sprang from a design study carried out by the Hawker Project Office in 1957. Supported by the American Mutual Weapons Development Programme, the first bicycle-undercarriaged P1127 began tethered flights at Dunsfold in 1960 to prove the concept of using vectored thrust from the Pegasus turbofan engine. XP836 was first flown conventionally from Dunsfold on 7 July 1961 but unfortunately crashed near Yeovilton on 14 December 1961, after the loss of the port front engine nozzle. Pilot Bill Bedford ejected safely from an altitude of 200 feet but the aircraft exploded on impact.
The P1127 evolved into the Kestrel, which equipped a multinational British, American and German proving unit in the mid 1960s, while the World’s first operational “jump jet” squadron – No 1 RAF – was formed in 1969 with the Harrier GR1. XW 769 was a GR1 later upgraded to GR3 standard with a distinctive long, thin nose and served with 4 Squadron at RAF Gutersloh.
As well as winning the 1969 Daily Mail Trans Atlantic Air Race for Britain, the Harrier GR1 – which avoided the need for long, vulnerable runways – was also sold to the Spanish Navy (as the Matador) and the United States Marine Corps (as the AV-8A). A distinctive feature of 158389 – in the colours of VMA-513 “Flying Nightmares” is the large dorsal radio aerial.
Experience of flying GR1s off relatively small aircraft carriers led to the British Aerospace Sea Harrier being developed for the “Invincible” class through deck cruisers of the Royal Navy. The Sea Harrier FAW1 arrived in Fleet Air Arm squadrons just in time for the Falklands conflict of 1982, which proved the worth of the Harrier concept beyond doubt. XZ454, seen here, was not included in the overall diorama box picture above – having been acquired as a Corgi die-cast model some time later. The white undersides were characteristic of the FAW1 Sea Harriers when first delivered to the Royal Navy although they went to war in the South Atlantic in an all-over grey scheme. The tail letter N signifies HMS Invincible (R05).
In fact existing American interest in the Short Take Off / Vertical Landing concept led to the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II, flown for the first time on 5 November 1981. Known as GR5s in RAF service, aircraft such as ZD 363 were distinguished from its predecessors by a new wing – mainly constructed of carbon fibre composite materials – featuring extra weapon hardpoints and outrigger wheels moved inboard. The new cockpit was also a development of that fitted to the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and an uprated Pegasus engine offers a larger payload without performance loss.