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Book Review: Hawker’s Early Jets – Dawn Of The Hunter

Published on: 1 Mar, 2022
Updated on: 1 Mar, 2022

By Paul Robinson

Having been involved professionally in aircraft engineering for 46 years and having a particular interest in British post-war aviation, Christopher Budgen’s book Hawker’s Early Jets – Dawn Of The Hunter really piqued my interest.

Particularly as I have read very little on Hawker jets as I have always had a leaning towards Surrey’s other big aircraft manufacturer, Weybridge-based Vickers-Armstrong.

I found the book very interesting and frustrating in so far as “what might have been” with more enthusiastic governments.

The cover of Hawker’s Early Jets – Dawn Of The Hunter by Christopher Bugden, just published by Pen & Sward Books.

The first chapter gives a potted history of jet engine development and the missed opportunities brought about by the British governments apathy towards this new method of propulsion before the Second World War. The world’s first jet engine was run in Britain in April 1937!

The following eight chapters are taken up with the development of each aircraft type that took Hawker a step further towards the development of the Hawker Hunter.

The book concludes with chapters that describe the early Hunter, a brief description of Hawker’s British competitors aircraft of the time and finally Hawker’s post-Hunter projects.

There were missteps during this time as Hawker’s learnt about the characteristics and difficulties of high-speed flight, and the difficulties of working with ever-changing government policies and aircraft specifications, a problem that dogged civilian aircraft manufacture in this country as well.

There were also trials and tribulations along the way such a the fatal crash of one aircraft near Lewes, in East Sussex. Although the pilot ejected he wasn’t released from the seat – it was also early days for ejector seats.

On another occasion a test pilot had to make an engine-out landing at Dunsfold with the aircraft coming to halt on the Cranleigh side of the A281, Guildford to Horsham Road!

The book is lavishly illustrated with 121 pictures and 27 general arrangement drawings of the aircraft discussed in the book and the designs Hawker’s had in the pipeline when the British aviation was restructured in the late 1950s.

One or two photos have been cropped too tightly resulting in a bit of the nose and tail being cut off and a few GA 9general arrangement) drawings are bit too small to be able to read the dimensions and other comments on the drawing. But this may be down to the quality of the source material.

That said, these minor criticisms do not detract from the book in any way.

The author grew up around Dunsfold and joined BAe Dunsfold shortly after the nationalisation of the industry. During his 21 years with BAe he worked on many of Dunsfold’s products and spent some time involved with Hawker Hunter that was used in the development of the Sea Harrier.

He is now an archivist at Brooklands Museum and has a particular interest in Hawker Aircraft Ltd and its successors.

The 7in x 10in inch hardback book contains 295 pages including two appendices, an index and, thankfully, a glossary of abbreviations that covers such things as the various government departments. An example being  DDARD – Deputy Director Aircraft Research & Development.

The first appendix contains brief biographies of Hawker’s four test pilots of the time, one of whom went on to develop the Harrier and its predecessors at Dunsfold.

The second is quite a comprehensive list of all the flights undertaken during the early testing of the Hawker jet aircraft from 1947 until 1953, compiled from the company pilots’ log books.

In conclusion, I thoroughly recommend this book to anybody who has an interest in Britain’s early jet fighter development, although if local historians are looking for details of Dunsfold’s history it is not for you.

The good news is that the Christopher Budgen has already written a history of post-war Dunsfold – Hawker’s Secret Cold War Airfield.

The book is published by Pen & Sword Books and can be bought from its website for £20 (normally £25), plus £4.50 postage and packing.

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