H.J. Tuffen at Hawkers


“A wholly committed aviation man” – thus the President described himself, having spent his entire working life with one company and its successors, and on military aircraft, Mr. Tuffen started at the Kingston- on-Thames works of H.G. Hawker Engineering Co., in June 1927. The company was formed by T.O.M. Sopwith shortly after World War I when his original company went into liquidation, and was named after his Australian test pilot. Sydney Camm joined as Chief Designer in 1923. The company was renamed Hawker Aircraft Co. when it became a Public Company in 1933.

The first phase of development became the era of “the beautiful biplanes”; early versions were wooden aircraft, e.g. Horseley, giving way to all-metal construction with fabric cover (about 1927). The Hawker fuselage shape, accommodating an in-line engine, was fully developed in the Hart and its variations, which were considerably faster than the fighter aircraft of the day: the latter were fitted with radial engines which were favoured by the Air Ministry at that time. Mr. Tuffen recalled that his first job was on drawings for the Fury biplane as the Hart production was coming to an end.

The monoplane phase (1933-46) was ushered in when Hitler renounced the Versailles Treaty and initiated the design of a complete new range of monoplanes for the Luftwaffe with maximum speeds far in excess of anything held by Britain or its allies. At about this time Camm, though noted for conservatism in design, realised that the end of the biplane was in sight, and looked towards a monoplane powered by a Rolls Royce engine developed from that used in the Schneider Trophy winners. Mr. Tuffen described the drawing he produced of a ” Fury monoplane”. Under pressure from Camm, and Mitchell (of Supermarine-Vickers) the Air Ministry issued a specification, F36/34, which covered the Hurricane, the first (and only) prototype of which first flew at Brooklands on 6th November, 1935 achieving a maximum speed of 315 m.p.h. The Air Ministry was delighted with its overall performance, though the Spitfire (first flight March 1936) was faster. The design was then adjusted to incorporate eight Browning machine guns, altered to use British ammunition, as no suitable British weapon existed at this time.

Meanwhile Hawker’s success in selling aircraft, e.g. Hart, Osprey, overseas prompted the Ministry to release orders to other companies which were then able to produce copies of Hawker aircraft, sometimes at lower cost. In 1933 Hawker acquired Gloster and now absorbed others, including High Duty Alloys.

By the end of World War II 14,500 Hurricanes had been produced.
At the time of the Battle of Britain 35 squadrons of Hurricanes were in service compared with 19 of Spitfires. Hawker had retained a structure of the type used in the “beautiful biplanes” whereas the Spitfire- had a monocoque form which led to troubles in early production. At peak output 10250 man-hours were required for a Hurricane; a Spitfire needed 15000.

Camm, still involved in development of piston-engined aircraft, didn’t come easily into the age of jet propulsion. A Ministry suggestion for a Hawker-English Electric partnership did not materialise, but Page from the Hawker design team, joined Petter at E.E.Co. and there produced the Canberra and, later, the Lightning. Meanwhile Robert Lickley and his team, of which Mr. Tuffen was a member, were working up the design of the PI040, ‘Hawker’s first, jet with an R.R. Nene engine, but the Air Ministry was not interested as it had the meteor and the Vampire. A substantial order was received from the Navy for the P1067 (Sea Hawk), Hawker made 25%; the remainder were produced by Armstrong Whitworth as the efforts of the Hawker design team were now directed on aircraft with higher performance (Hunter).

This was the time of the Berlin air lift and the presence of MIG fighters intensified the drive towards a “modern” jet fighter. This was what Camm wanted. After a year of research and development of a high tailplane design with air intake in the nose, the idea was dropped in favour of a design using bay type fuel tanks in a lengthebned fuselage, started by a layout produced on a Saturday morning in May 1949, nicknamed Tuffen’s Folly. This became the final form of the Hunter which first flew in July 1952. Initially intended as a high altitude fighter to counter the Russian bombers, it was later adapted for ground attack. Over 2,000 were produced; many are still in use by foreign air forces.

These were lean times at Kingston in the post-Hunter period. Bristol Engines proposed an engine for a vertical take-off (VTO) aircraft, but there was no encouragement from the Air Ministry. The Americans, however, were interested, and Hawker produced the first two PI 127s as a private venture. At first the engine power (11,000 lb. thrust) was too low, but Bristol’s were able to increase this to 13,500 lb. and the first tethered flight took place in October 1960. As the concept developed new materials were introduced to reduce weight and the Harrier, with a 20,000 lb. thrust Pegasus engine resulted. It was ordered for service and over 100 were purchased by the American Marine Corps.

Mr. Tuffen retired from Hawker’s in 1976 when the Harrier was still being developed for the Royal Navy and the Indian Navy, but he avowed that his “love affair with aircraft remains a life-long passion.”