The Life and Work of Sir Sidney Camm

“THE LIFE & WORK OF SIR SIDNEY CAMM” by Sir Robert Lickley.
At the Lecture Theatre, Worthing Central Library, 27th November, 1987

The President introduced the speaker, a past President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Professor of Aircraft Design at the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield. He was earlier involved in the design of biplanes and monoplane fighters, and subsequently with the Fairy Aviation Company and Hawker Siddeley Aviation as Director & Chief Engineer of the Hawker/Blackburn Division.

Sir Robert:
Sketched Sidney Camm’s early career, as a carpenter interested in the model aeroplane club at Windsor. They built gliders, one considered capable of powered flight, but could not find a suitable power unit as war broke out.

He worked at Brooklands for a small engineering firm, Martinsydes, and by the end of the ’14-18′ war was working in the drawing office. During this time he remained in touch with the Windsor club and began to express strong views on aircraft design and construction.
Martinsydes entered the aircraft field and Camm formed a close partnership with Raynham, their chief test pilot. They flew together in the second Kings Cup Round Britain Race, coming in second. After the war Martinsydes built a glider to Camm’s design which he and Raynham flew in one of the first competitions being pipped on the post by a French machine which ran into very favourable air conditions in its circuit!

After the war Reynham joined Hawkers as chief test pilot, and Camm followed him in 1923 to remain with the company until his death in 1966, designing small aircraft. Throughout his long career Camm maintained a close link with test pilots and encouraged close collaboration between them and designers.

He took part in the design of small machines, and soon became chief Designer. Under him Hawkers used metal for wings and fuselage primary structures for the first time, and in 1925 the beginning of “the Camm-line” of military designs – the Hornbill – was built. It had cleaner lines and was faster than its competitors. From then he was only interested in military aircraft.

The basis of his design was simplicity and ease of manufacture. In 1927 he patented a jointing technique for air frame construction to replace welded joints that were difficult to make. It was subsequently used on the Hurricane, and even in the much heavier Typhoon in the early part of World War 2.

His designs fell into three overlapping groups. This allowed smooth transitions, and proved financially sound. First the biplanes from 1928, the Hart two-seater and the Hornet single seater. Then the piston engined mono planes from the Hurricane to the Sea Fury, and thirdly the jet monoplanes to the Hunter.

Bi-planes;- The Hart, though a bomber was faster than the fighters! It was the basis of the Fury and the Nimrod, a sea fighter plane. The Harts were widely used as test beds for aero-engines from 500 h.p. to l,000 h.p. and from 1935 to 1940 all British engines were tested in a Hart.

Camm claimed that in the‘30s half the aeroplane manufacturers were building these machines for Hawker. Seme were built in Persia. One Hind supplied to Afghanistan about 1939 was brought back in the early ’50s, reconditioned and flown here. It is now in the R.A.F. museum, Hendon.

Piston-engined Monoplanes: Limitations of speed of the bi-plane stimulated mono-plane design, and subsequent development of the retractable under carriage. The first machine, in 1934, led to the Hurricane. It proved capable of increasing armament – initially four 0.303 guns in the wings to a later provision of 40 m.m. cannon – used once in anger at Tobruk.

Camm was a marketeer, personally taking well prepared drawings to the Air Ministry, persuading service staff to buy his machine. 14,500 Hurricanes were built, not one failing structurally. The older fabric covered frame was replaced by stressed skin metal design. The early design continued in production while the new was developed and this ensured that 1,200 were available for the Battle of Britain. They shot down more enemy aircraft than any other type of fighter.

The Typhoon followed with thicker wings and more powerful. Deeper Wings enabled wider tyres on the undercarriage – proved very useful for soft landings in active service.

The fastest Camm propeller plane was the Tempest, achieving 490 m.p.h. A light weight development of it, the Sea Fury, won. the 1,000 mile event in California at 344.6 m.p.h. – still used for racing by the Americans.

Jet Engined Monoplanes:- Rolls Royce persuaded Camm to apply this type engine. The Sea Hawk, and then the Hunter for the navy at
first – some 3,000 Hunters were built and was Camms second major fighter; some are still flying. However, it was not supersonic, a criterion becoming important in the mid ‘50s.

A supersonic machine called the P1121 was then conceived, which would have had a high performance comparable with the American F4/Phantom. A “blinded by science” reaction of the Government Duncan Sandys committee to a story that unmanned flight would soon be available, caused them to reject the design. Meanwhile the Americans flooded the market with 14,000 F4s. This was Camm’s greatest disappointment. Hawkers had insufficient funds to proceed alone.

Almost as an act of defiance, seeing the chance of something unique for the R.A.F. Camm designed the Harrier – which proved crucial in the Falklands war – a case of seeing the need and having the skill to produce and sell a product.

In 1918 Camm wrote a book on design. He had almost an obsession with the importance of detail and the ability to produce an elegant shape; doubtless leading to reliability. He was not easy to work with but of his design staff eight became Chief Designers of other companies in the 1950s.

The brilliance of the Harrier was demonstrated in the Falklands. In appalling conditions of fog, ice etc., only the Harrier could fly off decks. Many more British ships would have been lost without them. Their availability was very high, flying 50-60 hours a month, well above normal, with short down time for maintenance – 95% availability at the beginning of each day.

Camm died as the Harriers came into production.

The Hendon Aeronautical museum has the Camm Memorial Hall with many of his planes exhibited. He was given the U.S. Guggenheim Medal for design and elected to the International Hall of Fame in Aviation in San Diego in 1984.