The Hawker Fury epitomised the Royal Air Force of the early 1930s, the biplane fighter’s sleek lines echoing the elitism of the force at a time when the service’s technological advancements mirrored its rapid growth. Today just one Fury remains, owned by the Historic Aircraft Collection (HAC) and flown by renowned warbird pilot Charlie Brown – Mk.I K5674 is a unique survivor from the golden age of aviation.
When the Hawker Fury (or Hornet, to give it its original designation) was unveiled at the Olympia Aero Show, London in July 1929 it caused quite a stir. Displayed alongside the similar Hart light bomber, the Hawker biplane it had been designed to outpace in flight, the Hornet had an air of panache lacking in its predecessors. It stood proudly on long fixed undercarriage legs astride a neat radiator unit, pointing its sleek bullet-like spinner and closely cowled inline nose skyward. The lower and upper wings differed in length, area, incidence, chord and dihedral, lending it the look of an art deco sculpture. Cabane struts had been kept to a minimum, with just four supporting the top wing from the fuselage and two ‘N’ struts connecting the wings, and minimal bracing wires. From the cockpit, the silver doped linen covered fuselage tapered back to a rounded tail fin, horizontal stabilisers and a tail skid. The aluminium-clad cowlings and forward fuselage gleamed – the Fury looked fast just sitting on the ground, and it was.
During its service trials the Hart outpaced the RAF’s contemporary frontline fighters by around 15mph, giving it a maximum airspeed of 176mph and making it faster even than the Bristol Bulldog, which was yet to enter service; accordingly, in April 1929 it was accepted for the Air Ministry’s Specification 12/26 for a light day bomber. Hawkers were also working on a design to meet Specification F.20/27 for an ‘interception single-seat fighter’, with their submission being powered by a Bristol Jupiter VI and later Bristol Mercury VI radial engines. Despite achieving 202mph at 10,000ft, an impressive feat for an aircraft with an uncowled radial engine, it was clear to Sir Sydney Camm that the future lay with inline engines and so the design was altered to incorporate the new Rolls Royce F.XIA – thus, the Hornet was born. Successful service trials led to the RAF’s acceptance of the Hornet, after which they renamed the aeroplane ‘Fury’ in line with the air force’s decree for its fighters’ names to ‘reflect ferocity’. Hawker’s charismatic biplane designs defined the RAF of the early 1930s.
Just as the Hornet had done at the 1929 Olympia Aero Show, the HAC’s Fury Mk.I K5674 drew great interest when it emerged from Retrotec’s workshops for reassembly at IWM Duxford in 2011. When the time came for the Fury to take flight again it was HAC’s Charlie Brown, a serving military aviator with extensive vintage aircraft experience, who was chosen for the job by HAC directors Guy and Janice Black and Angus Spencer Nairn. Joining the RAF in 1982, Brown went on to fly Tornado GR1s in Germany and acted as a unit test pilot on Embraer Tucanos at RAF Cranwell. He is still in the force today and is a flying instructor on the Grob Prefect at Cranwell.
Having started out flying the likes of the Scottish Aviation Bulldog in the London University Air Squadron, admission to the RAF saw Charlie flying Chipmunks, Stampes and Tiger Moths in his spare time. As his experience developed he progressed into the warbird scene and with that came checkouts and display flying on myriad types – Hurricane, various marks of Spitfire, Mustang, Buchón and Bf 109G to name prominent examples – gaining a wealth of experience on tail-dragging piston fighters. Charlie’s test flying background and prior experience piloting Nimrods Mk.I S1581 and Mk.II K3661 made him the ideal candidate to fly the Fury post-restoration. To this day he remains the only pilot to have flown K5674 and can offer unique insight into flying what is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful aircraft ever made.
In its striking nose-high three-point attitude, the Fury’s fuselage sits high on its undercarriage legs. Getting into the cockpit is something of an art, and some mild athletics are required to ascend from a footstep in the fuselage to the wing root and then up to the next footstep before finally reaching the cockpit opening. “I’ll know when I’m past it and unable to fly the Fury anymore because I won’t be able to climb into the bloody thing!”, Charlie jokes. “There is a jettisonable side panel but if you use that you’re either too large or not able enough to get into it.”
The cockpit reveals itself to be quite spacious, the fuselage widening below the opening and offering a reasonably comfortable environment for the pilot. Dominating the cockpit on the left and right above the instrument panel are the cocking handles of the two 0.303 Vickers Mk.II machine guns; in between is a Reid and Sigrist turn and slip indicator typical of the period. Below this are the airspeed indicator and rpm gauges, partially obscured by a piece of the metal fuselage structure tubing onto which the machine guns are mounted. In the centre of this bar are the two fuel tank levers. A left-to-right sweep of the lower instrument panel identifies the clock and stopwatch, main magneto switch (set in a large brass cover plate akin to an old light switch), altimeter, oil temperature and pressure gauges, fuel gauge, the starting magneto and radiator temperature gauge.
On the left of the cockpit are the boost (throttle) and mixture levers, with the oxygen system controls on the right. Down by the pilot’s knee sit the engine pre-oil pump, gas start fuel primer and ki-gas engine primer; besides them sits a large handle for adjusting the seat height, with the seat placed in its highest position for ground handling. Also down beside the seat is the gas starting magneto, which is wound into life with a handle before a starting button on the cockpit floor is engaged to fire the engine. In between the pilot’s legs is a typical spade grip control column, complete with gun firing levers (now brake levers). To the untrained eye the cockpit can look cluttered; the Fury came along before the instrument panels of most of the RAF’s aircraft were standardised to include the key six blind flying instruments in a set pattern, but Charlie assures it is a relatively straightforward aeroplane to operate in many respects: “It couldn’t be simpler in terms of interface – essentially you’ve got rudder pedals, control column and a throttle – that’s your lot, that’s what we’re going flying with.”
Ahead of the pilot, a small windscreen is intersected by a long Aldis gunsight, beyond which under smooth cowlings lies the Rolls-Royce Kestrel IIS engine. Starting the engine is one of the trickiest aspects of the Fury’s operation and can be achieved by one of three methods; the Hucks starter auxiliary power unit, hand crank or the internal gas starting system. All three have been used since K5674’s return to flight, however, the gas starting system is most commonly used, as Charlie explains. “All three require a different approach. The most athletic for the pilot is the gas starter. The most athletic for the ground crew assisting in the starting procedure is the hand crank”. The gas system is designed to utilise a starting carburettor which is primed with fuel and feeds timed pulses of fuel-air mixture into the cylinders, negating the need for regular pre-start-up engine priming.
This is achieved with about 20 strokes of the gas start primer and Charlie will call ‘ready to start’ to the ground crew and confirm that the throttle is set, cracked by about an inch or two, before calling ‘contact’. At this point, the main magnetos and starter magneto switch are turned on. “Now here’s the tricky bit! Hold the control column between your knees with the seat adjusted right the way down so you can reach the gas starting magneto and turn it. It’s simply a question of winding this, and it winds anticlockwise just to make it more fun, and then pushing down with your right heel on the starter button which is located on the cockpit floor – then the engine should turn over”. After a couple of blades the Kestrel bursts into life in a cacophony of burbling and snarling, with Charlie switching off the starting magneto and checking for the oil pressure and temperature rising whilst idling at 500 to 600 rpm.
After the engine has warmed up the magnetos are checked for any drop at a low rpm. “The next time you do it is going to be at significantly higher power and if you’ve got a dead cut then the engine won’t like it particularly much”, adds Charlie. “Let the coolant temperature come up a bit and away you go. She does heat up on the ground, so you haven’t got a lot of time to play with – it’s a bit like a small Spitfire in that respect. The coolant behaves itself to about 80 degrees, and above that, the radiator temperature gauge needle will be all over the place, with the Kestrel pulsing and starting to fire out hot coolant at you!”
For taxying the adjustable seat is raised to its highest position to afford the best visibility, an effortless action conducted via a large adjuster handle that can be manipulated both on the ground and in the air. Original Furies were fitted with hydraulic brakes and a tail skid, however, K5674 has been retrofitted with a pneumatic system as well as a tail wheel to aid ground control. “Now that transformed the aircraft”, Charlie says. “God knows what it would have been like with hydraulic brakes. I can imagine it would have been all over the place, but the pneumatic brakes give you proper control and it feels fairly stable”. With an eye on the radiator temperature gauge, Charlie taxies the Fury to the runway threshold where the pre-take-off checks are performed. The Kestrel is pushed to a higher power of 1,400 rpm for another mag check, with Charlie looking for no more than a 5% drop in rpm on each magneto. “One mag’s much like the other, you might get a little drop with one, or just a change in the engine note more than anything else”, he notes. With final checks complete, Charlie lines the vintage biplane up ready for departure.
For take-off, the throttle is advanced to the gate, which is conveniently set at +3 lb./sq.in. boost, the maximum take-off three-minute limit on the Kestrel IIS. “Like the Nimrod, it’s easy to keep straight and the wings level”, Charlie continues. The tail rises almost immediately and the Fury leaps off the runway at around 80 mph after a short take-off run. “You get airborne and as you’re sat quite high, still with the seat fully up, you lower the nose to an improbable nose down attitude from your viewpoint and it just seems to levitate. I would describe it as almost like transitioning a helicopter!” Charlie lowers the seat so that he is sitting more ‘in’ than ‘on’ the Fury as the airspeed increases. With the boost brought back to -0.5 lb./sq.in., K5674 achieves an initial climb rate of 1,500ft per minute at 115 mph. There is no automatic altitude compensation for the boost, and as the aircraft gains height the boost output from the Kestrel decreases, resulting in an average rate of climb of 1,090ft per minute if Charlie leaves it to drop off rather than ‘topping it up’ to maintain -0.5 lb./sq.in..
Once Charlie has climbed to height the biplane is found to be “pleasant in pitch, with plenty of elevator authority throughout the range”. The Fury is trimmable in pitch only, with this set by the variable incidence tailplane – that is, the entire tailplane moves, rather than a trim or balance tab on the elevator dictating pitch trim. “It’s a Hawker thing – they did the same with the Hurricane and the Hunter. The idea is that the elevator just sits in trail and you essentially get the same breakout forces once you’ve set the tailplane. It works very well. To a great extent, though, you don’t need to fiddle with it much at all. Whilst the ailerons are nice and effective, it’s not an aeroplane that I would try to aileron roll at low level, put it that way, so in that regard, it’s a bit ‘Tiger Moth-ish.'”
In 1936 one of the Fury’s key capabilities that impressed the Air Ministry was its unbelievably high rate of climb. The Fury had first flown in March 1929 (when still designated the Hornet) in the hands of renowned Hawker test pilot George Bullman at Brooklands Aerodrome in Surrey, with service trials at RAF Martlesham Heath following later that year. With the supercharged 525hp Rolls-Royce Kestrel IIS, the Fury could climb to 10,000ft in 4 minutes and 25 seconds and achieve 207mph at 14,000ft. “The cockpit is a surprisingly pleasant place to be”, Charlie muses, “and despite being an open cockpit, the only thing it isn’t is cold. In fact, I’d be quite happy in a flying suit at 10,000ft because you can just open the radiator shutter, as you’re sitting with the radiator down by your feet effectively, on the underside of the fuselage, and can filter warm air into the cockpit”.
As the Air Ministry was already tied into a contract for the Bristol Bulldog, compounded by the high cost of production and national financial constraints at the time, only small numbers were ordered. Specification 13/20 was drafted around the design and an initial order of 21 aircraft was placed in August 1930. The first production aircraft flew seven months later on 25 March 1931 and the first batch was delivered to No. 43 (Fighting Cocks) Squadron at RAF Tangmere.
The RAF classed the Fury as an interceptor due to its rate of climb, and as the type was tricky to fly only three of the RAF’s premier squadrons received the Fury for the majority of the type’s time in the RAF. As such, No. 1 Sqn at Tangmere, and No. 25 Sqn at Hawkinge soon joined No. 43 as Fury squadrons, receiving production aircraft in early 1932. Several other air arms also ordered the Fury, with small numbers going to Norway, Persia, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Yugoslavia, some with alterations such as different undercarriage configurations and even engine installations.
When Charlie took K5674 aloft for its first post-restoration flight in 2012, there were virtually no Fury-specific materials to draw on – no written notes or detailed pilot recollections – so it was of great benefit that he had accumulated considerable experience flying both the Nimrod I and Nimrod II in recent years. Fitting it was that when Charlie flew the Fury for the first time on 30 July 2012, he did so from Goodwood aerodrome – just a stone’s throw from the site of the former RAF Tangmere, where K5674 had been based with 43 Sqn. In some ways, the Fury was returning to its old haunt – the sky above the beautiful West Sussex countryside.
Delivered to Tangmere on 2 June 1936, K5674 (serial number 41H/67550) became the personal mount of Flying Officer Frederick Rosier (later to become Air Chief Marshal Sir Frederick Rosier GCB, CBE, DSO), Officer Commanding B Flight. He absolutely fell in love with his aeroplane, naming her ‘Queen of North and South’, although it is not thought that this name was ever physically applied to the airframe. Rosier flew K5674 a total of 394 times on 217 different days, amassing 293 hours and 35 minutes of time in the ‘Queen of North and South’. Their escapades during this time included flying home at weekends to Sealand, near his home in Wrexham; commanding No. 43 Sqn’s B Flight at the age of 21; leading the squadron’s six-ship display team in 1938/9 (at that time the RAF’s aerobatic team); flying at the Empire Air Days and other airshows and events; visiting RAF Duxford (K5674’s modern-day home), and taking the Fury up to 29,000ft. “It’s remarkable isn’t it?” Charlie ponders of K5674’s history, “If these things could tell a story!”
No. 43 Sqn began re-equipping with Hurricanes at the start of 1939, with the Furies passing to various Maintenance Units (MUs). K5674 is noted as passing through No 5 and 47 MUs before departing for South Africa by sea, where a large quantity of the RAF’s surplus Furies ended up. Taken on charge by No. 13 Sqn South African Air Force on 15 March 1941, K5674 was given the serial ‘215’ and just a few weeks later ran out of fuel and force landed near Pitsani, with the pilot unhurt but the airframe receiving CAT 2 damage, which led to its scrapping. The remains of K5674 were recovered from a derelict farm in Pretoria by Guy Black and his team in 1994, following a tip-off from the RAF Museum who didn’t have the resources to recover it themselves – K5674’s rebirth began. Over the next 18 years at Retrotec Ltd’s (formerly Aero Vintage) workshops in East Sussex, Guy Black and his team overcame vast engineering hurdles to restore a trio of Hawker biplanes, completing Nimrod Mk.I S1518, Nimrod Mk.II K3661 and Fury Mk.I K5674 as well as beginning work on Audax K5600.
The Fury marked the company’s most challenging project to date due to the scarcity of surviving information and parts, the complex nature of its construction and the re-engineering of the rare Rolls-Royce Kestrel IIS. K5674 has been finished in the flamboyant No. 43 Sqn markings of the period with black and white chequers adorning the upper wing and sides of the fuselage. The spinner, wheel hubs and vertical stabiliser pop in a crimson red, with the squadron sigil emblazoned on the fin – a fighting cock. K5674 looks every bit the golden age of aviation and the epitome of the 1930s RAF.
The aircraft was publicly unveiled at IWM Duxford in June 2011 and later that year was taken south by road to participate in the Goodwood Revival’s prestigious Concours d’Elegance, where K5674 was awarded the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation Trophy by the panel of judges – a great accolade for the Retrotec team. The Fury stayed at Goodwood until the following summer, when post-restoration flight testing began.
For the second flight of K5674, the HAC invited David Rosier, Frederick Rosier’s son, to witness his late father’s aircraft in flight. David brought along his father’s logbook, the one which includes the hundreds of hours he spent flying K5674, and Charlie Brown took it flying in ‘Queen of North and South’ once more in a pocket of his flying suit: “I remember that trip down at Goodwood well; it was a lovely afternoon with beautiful rays of sunshine over Tangmere and puffy clouds around about 3,500ft. I wonder if anybody knew the significance of the Fury being above Tangmere?” From Goodwood, the Fury moved to Pent Farm Airfield in Kent where testing continued.
One of the requirements for the CAA test regime was to stall and spin the aeroplane, which revealed some interesting results as Charlie explains. “It’s normally the reverse of this but with power on the aircraft is very stable laterally, you can sit there with light buffet moving into heavy buffet with the aircraft just mushing, however with power off there’s slightly more tendency to drop a wing, which is really quite strange”. The Fury will stall at 50mph, with recovery effective once the angle of attack has been reduced. “With power off stalls the Kestrel tends to behave itself at idle but it’s very disturbing because when you throttle it right back you really can count the blade revolutions! If you’re going to play that sort of game, I think the idea is to have plenty of height or just a dribble of power to make sure you know the engine’s going to keep alight.”
Once Charlie was used to stalling the Fury, the testing moved onto spinning: “The way to do it is to creep up on it, of course, stall it power on, stall it power off, then move onto deep stalling it. Holding the aircraft in the stall and seeing how it progresses. If it does go incipient and starts to roll, see how it responds to closing the throttle and centralising the controls in that early phase. It should go straight like a dart and pop out, which it did.
“Eventually though you come to a point where you can no longer tart about any more, you’ve put all your risk mitigation in place and now you’ve just got to go for it and do a full two-turn spin.” Moving through the same process of holding the Fury in the stall and letting it depart into a spin, completing two full rotations before initiating the recovery, full opposite rudder is applied, pausing a moment to allow the airflow to stabilise over the airframe before bringing the control column forward until the spin stops. “The moment it stops rotating centralise the controls and off you go. It’s quite unremarkable really!” The whole manoeuvre, from entry to level flight, is possible within 1,100 and 1,400ft.
The test flying of historic aeroplanes naturally takes them closer to the edge of the envelope of their performance, and that can become particularly apparent with unique types such as the Fury, where there is little if any, extant test data. Another requirement for testing is a dive to VNE (velocity never exceeded), and it was this which caused a significant setback in the Fury’s test regime. Charlie continues, “I dived the aeroplane to the maximum speed on the airspeed indicator – 240mph. My estimation is that I had it up at around 270mph, and I was in about a 40-degree dive with a significant handful of power on it. I took the view that 40 degrees nose down was as bad as you were likely to get it wrapped around your neck in aerobatics, and then just let her out until I couldn’t conceive that any reasonable person would get it going faster, throttle on or off. It was an interesting experience because you find yourself almost hiding in the aeroplane, ducking down, with the engine roaring and the old wires singing until you pull out of the manoeuvre. It was in that terminal velocity dive that I had a centre main bearing go in the Kestrel.”
“You know, sometimes you make your own luck. I flew the terminal velocity dive towards Pent Farm airstrip, straight into the overhead. As I pulled out of the dive and climbed up I thought, ‘Well, that’s the tricky bit done’, but the oil temperature was just going up and up, and it wasn’t stopping. Meanwhile, the oil pressure was dropping, so I used my height to get straight back into the overhead and into the landing pattern. I was landing with a significant south-westerly wind so it was pretty much down the strip, and I had to use what I like to call ‘the gentleman’s end’, coming in over the Kent Downs with a hefty sideslip. I landed without issue and obviously shut the engine down on the runway. It was still idling, but it was trashed.” Upon inspection, the engine oil was found to be thick with metal particles.
The expert team at Retrotec inspected the damaged engine and deduced the likely cause of the issue, the centre main bearing being the prime suspect. “It’s always one of those things in test flying, and I think Guy is very good at this, that all we can deal in is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, and I’m quite happy to be in that part of that world. If you’re not happy to be in that part of the world, test flying’s not for you. But there’s no room for gung-ho either, it has to be measured and it has to be beyond reasonable doubt. So when Guy says ‘Charlie, we don’t know, but we think beyond reasonable doubt that the issue is the centre main bearing’, I’m quite happy with that.”
“Whilst I had flown the aeroplane for three or four hours, I had transited all the way from Goodwood up to Pent Farm, trotting along quite happily with the rpm never really getting up above about 2,200 rpm. On the terminal velocity dive, I was looking at about 2,500 rpm.” The centre main bearing on Kestrel (and Merlin) engines acts as a thruster, with loads going forward and back on the crankshaft being taken on the face of the bearing. “On closer inspection, the original had a chamfered edge, about 16th of an inch radius on the edge, but the reworked ones were just sharp, true 90 degrees. With the high rpm, that sharp edge broke the oil film and it just took that edge off in double short order, with metal coming off and instantly being pushed around under pressure all round the engine”.
Following the rebuild of the Kestrel IIS, K5674 flew again on 22 April 2015, with the second test schedule completed in time for the Fury to debut at the IWM’s VE Day 70th Anniversary Airshow at Duxford that May, flying alongside the Shuttleworth Collection’s Gloster Gladiator and making a stunning pairing harking back to the 1930s. Charlie has amassed a wealth of experience flying historic aeroplanes over the years, including over 1,300 hours logged on Spitfires. The time logged on the Fury couldn’t be more different, however, with the total to date only just approaching the 20-hour mark, as the aircraft is only flown in suitable conditions and seldom away from its home base of Duxford. Divided over the five years that K5674 has been operational, that averages to just over three hours per year. This presents its own challenges, as Charlie says it can be like re-learning the aircraft all over again and indeed, he is learning new things about the Fury even now.
2018 was one of the Fury’s busiest flying years, with the RAF centenary commemorations seeing it booked for displays away from its Duxford base. In June, Charlie and K5674 carried out a display at the RAF Cosford airshow, the aircraft’s first flying appearance outside Duxford, and the following month the Fury was on static display at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. “One of the things we’ve found out is how to manage the fuel on the cross country legs to these shows”, Charlie says. When in transit to events, Charlie insists on having an aerial chaperone, often in the form of a Vans RV, to lead the navigation, take charge of comms (it can be very noisy in the Fury, making this difficult) and to act as an external pair of eyes. This allows Charlie to concentrate on flying the Fury and monitoring the systems throughout the journey, including managing the fuel system.
The Fury has two fuel tanks – a gauged 28-gallon gravity tank which, if the engine-driven pump fails, will always feed the engine, and a lower tank of around 34 gallons. Maximum continuous cruise on the Kestrel IIS is -1/4lbs however Charlie generally flies it at -3lbs, giving a fuel burn of 25 gallons per hour with the mixture leaned off. “With that in mind I worked out that I was going to run the main tank on time and leave about five or six gallons in there, which worked out as a flying time of 45 minutes”, he says. The two fuel levers have a prominent place on the panel, with both positioned on a central shaft with one longer than the other. For take-off both are selected ‘On’ and once established in the cruise, the gravity tank is turned off. “Fuel pressure drops by about a quarter of a pound so I now know I’m running on the main tank”, Charlie explains. “Then at minute 45, I turn the gravity tank back on and it will feed with preference from the gravity tank rather than the main tank.
“You’ll see the ball start to go down on the fuel gauge, and know that even if you run the gravity tank out, you’ve still got another six gallons at the bottom of the lower tank provided the engine driven pump continues to run. That has been tremendously useful because that means the longest flight I’ve done in it so far is around about an hour and 5 minutes, and I know it will do that and have about 16 gallons remaining total – 6 in the bottom and 10 in the top. It’s about finding out all these nuances and writing them down so that we know for the future, because we might not do that again for years.”
During the mid-1930s the Fury became the poster child of the RAF, as the Spitfire did some years later, with squadron pilots showcasing the aircraft’s capabilities and their flying skills at air displays and competitions across the UK, Europe and worldwide. Almost as soon as the Fury entered service it became synonymous with the Hendon Air Pageants, and at the 1933 event No. 25 Sqn provided a unique spectacle as nine of their Furies performed formation aerobatics (whilst tied together no less), the most impressive of which being a roll in formation. In the same year, No. 43 Sqn travelled to Brussels to participate in the International Air Meeting (IAM), which was marred by poor weather. This didn’t stop the Fury pilots getting aloft and wowing the crowds in the terrible weather, whilst the French team cancelled their display. A Swiss team consisting of Dewotines decided to brave the weather later in the day, but one crashed into a hangar. A flight of No. 1 Sqn Fury’s displaying at the 1937 IAM in Zurich, once again in poor weather, drew congratulations from the Luftwaffe’s General Erhard Milch.
At the 1937 Hendon Air Pageant, it was the turn of No. 1 Sqn’s A Flight to display. The leader, Flt Lt Donaldson, suggested a change from the norm and had his flight change position during their display sequence. Following loops and rolls in a box formation, the quartet moved into line astern or echelon formations for the subsequent manoeuvres, constantly renewing their formation profile for the successive figures and impressing the crowds in the process, so much so that the pilots were presented to King George VI following their marvellous display. Charlie enjoys rekindling those classic days of the RAF wearing a superb replica prestige all-white flying suit whilst flying the Fury. Coupled with his trademark handlebar moustache and the fact that he is the proud owner of two classic Riley sports cars of the period, Charlie really plays the part well.
Charlie’s solo displays in the Fury are conservative, keeping in mind that this is a unique survivor, and simply aim to showcase the lines of the biplane as well as the sound of the Kestrel. “It’s quite delightful to aerobat”, says Charlie. “The minimum looping speed on the aeroplane is around about 170mph and that is achieved at +0.5lbs boost, which is the five-minute limit”. At this conservative power setting, there is little risk of over speeding the propeller on the recovery from loops, whilst the option of extra power up to +3lbs of boost is held in reserve.
“For my display, I will dive in from about 2,000ft and starting high at about 1,000ft I pull up into my first loop, and if I’ve got the energy I go twice, even three times.” To the untrained ear, a Hawker biplane running in to display can sound like a Hurricane or a Spitfire before the sight of the sun glinting off the pair of wings gives it away. “Then I move into the rolling manoeuvres, with lots of big, sweeping barrel rolls. I think they show the aeroplane off well and you can really enjoy the rasping note of the Kestrel.” With airspeed and energy decaying, Charlie will bring the Fury down to lower level, often with an arcing pass to display the chequered 43 Sqn markings on the top surface of the wing.
During its service career, the majority of Fury accidents occurred either during landing or whilst formation flying. Despite affording generally good visibility, the Fury suffers from the restricted visibility inherent in all biplanes, hence the higher rate of collisions. Since its debut on the airshow scene, K5674 has appeared in several formations, alongside the Gloster Gladiator as well as in formation and tail chasing with the sole surviving Hawker Nimrods. “With formations, you’ve got to maintain positioning by putting the lead in between the wings and keeping them there. It’s a trick to join formation as well; normally in a monoplane, you’ve got an unrestricted view above, so you can join from slightly below. I tend to just slip the Fury a bit, so I can get the wing up and out of the way a just little.”
Charlie continues: “I normally conclude a display with a gentle break into the downwind to position the Fury in an oval circuit, if I can, at about 700ft.” A fairly flat circuit allows for a more straight-in approach, whereas a tighter turn would obscure the airfield behind the top wing. As with the take-off, raising the seat affords improved visibility. “Generally I keep the throttle high on the downwind then turn final and throttle back as much as it will take without popping and banging. I don’t do anything weird like trimming the nose up or anything silly like that when I’m on the approach. It’s got all the elevator authority you could possibly need. If I need to sideslip off some height I like to keep the throttle on the higher side because if the engine goes at that stage, I can square it up and get it back onto the airfield.”
The approach is flown at around 90mph, decreasing over the threshold to 80mph, which is reasonably high for an aircraft with a stalling speed of 50mph. “It’s high for a reason,” says Charlie, “as you need the elevator authority with airflow over the tail when the throttle’s closed to be able to round it out, sit it up on the main wheels and then just keep the tail up as long as you possibly can”. Before touchdown, Charlie brings the Kestrel back to idle at around 500 to 600 rpm. “If you have it even 100 rpm higher you won’t be able to land the aeroplane, it just won’t settle. The big fixed pitch prop will just keep wafting along at 700 rpm, keeping you floating along until you run out of runway. You want the idle to be as low as you can possibly have it.
“When the tail comes down the possibility of directional issues and ground loops creep in. You have to be prepared as normally she does have a little dart. Then you’ve got to keep looking ahead to avoid making your own directional issues by drawing your attention into the cockpit.”
“The real Fury-specific thing is its tolerance to crosswinds”, adds Charlie. “I would have thought that it would have been far more tolerant than it has turned out to be, particularly when compared to the Nimrod, which can cope well with up to an 18 knot crosswind.” The Fury’s shorter upper wings place the small ailerons closer to the fuselage, giving them less authority and making it “a bit more cheeky in a crosswind”. The operating limits are adjusted accordingly: “I think the real limit for the Fury is 10 knots across, because if you fly in a stronger crosswind, you might find yourself on your ear! It’s when you get near to the limit of control and there’s nothing else there that the aeroplane is most likely to bite you hard. I remember at the Duxford September Air Show in 2017 I ended up with full into-wind aileron from the beginning of the landing roll to the very end, and I had nothing left at all. 10 across – that’s your limit!” All of these experiences continue to feed into HAC’s knowledge of operating this rare machine, and with safety being paramount, opportunities to see the Fury in the air can be few and far between.
The Fury was designed and flown operationally at a time when all-grass aerodromes were the norm. To that end Duxford makes a good base for K5674 with the large grass runway and the option to angle into wind a little more, however, the trips to Cosford and the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford necessitated utilising hard surfaces. “Knowingly, that’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in an aeroplane, landing the Fury on the hard – it is very difficult.
“At Cosford, I was lucky to keep it on the bloody runway! It was all over the place – bloody hard work! Thing is when she does start to duck and dive, you’ve got to catch that one, a bit too much and she wants to go off the other side, so you’re just constantly firefighting this thing all the way to a standstill and that’s not a pleasant place to be in an aeroplane.” The hard surfaces only exacerbate the Fury’s squirmy landing tendencies, the big bald Dunlop balloon tyres being designed for grass operations.
“I had the conversation with Angus and Guy and I said ‘You want me to take it to Fairford? You may as well take it to pieces, crate it there and reconstruct it, because either way it stands a good chance of arriving in pieces, whether it’s on the runway or in a box! So the choice is yours, but you have to make that choice’. I think if you’re honest about it then you’ve confronted it, you can set some operational parameters to mitigate against the risks, such as flying only in perfect conditions, and that’s exactly how the situation played out.”
As luck would have it, conditions were beautiful and with eight knots almost straight down RAF Fairford’s runway 09, Charlie and K5674 departed Duxford to follow Adrian Hatten down to Gloucestershire in his RV. “I was very lucky at Fairford. I went in before Adrian and I touched down on the black top so the tyres had a better chance to skid a little. Down I went and she just stabilised – keeping the tail up as long as possible with my hand hard on the front stop until it gradually came down very gently. Again, as the tail comes down she’s usually going to try to dart on you, but at Fairford she just sat down ever so gently on the tail wheel and nothing happened. I just held the control column back and didn’t move a thing! No brakes, no rudder, no aileron – nothing, until I was down at walking speed. I was just dead lucky!”
As the world marched inexorably towards another war, rapid technological advancements rendered the Fury obsolete by the late 1930s. Whilst the Chief of Staff at the time, Sir Edward Ellington, may have lacked the charisma that embodied Trenchard, he proved himself a sound staff officer and was keen to push the technical revolution of the air force. Though the Fury was among the zenith of biplane fighter designs, it was also one of the last of its breed, only to be superseded in RAF service for a short while by the Gloster Gladiator from 1937. Ultimately both were outclassed and outdated by the turn of the Second World War, albeit Gladiators saw action with the British forces. By contrast, only exported Furies were still in frontline service and saw aerial engagements, and even then most were severely outpaced and outgunned. The South African Air Force enjoyed limited success with the type, with several Italian Caproni Ca133s shot down and damaged between August and October 1940. The Fury was less of a match for the Luftwaffe, as demonstrated when Yugoslavian licence built Furies, called Fjuries, were decimated in action against Bf 109s and Bf 110s on 6 April 1941 when the 36.grupa Royal Yugoslavian Army Air Force (VVKJ) airfield at Režanovacka Kosa was attacked. The Germans downed 11 of the Fjuries – easy prey as they struggled for airspeed after take-off. The Yugoslavians did claim two Bf 109s destroyed in air-to-air combat, with a further three Bf 110s and a Bf 109 rammed out of the sky, with fatal consequences for the Fjuri pilots.
Monoplane designs had gradually become more commonplace in the RAF’s transport, bomber and coastal command fleets, but monoplane fighters were slow to enter service. From 1932, Sydney Camm had worked to improve the Fury design with the Intermediate Fury, built to trial various installations and design alterations. This work rolled into the High-Speed Fury and whilst 98 of the type were eventually ordered by the Air Ministry, arriving on squadrons in 1937, they were practically redundant from the offset. Ellington had also put out an advanced Air Ministry specification in 1934 (updated in 1935), F5/35, for a high-speed monoplane fighter. The clear forerunners were the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. The Hurricane had initially been dubbed the Monoplane Fury and much of the technology that had been incorporated into the Fury went into it; indeed, it looked almost identical to the Fury, sans the upper wing and with an enclosed cockpit and retractable undercarriage. Hurricanes began entering squadron service at the end of 1937. The age of the biplane was over and at the time of the Munich crisis, the repainting of service Furies from their bright squadron colours into camouflage was as symbolic of the world climate as it was of their fate, muddying their sleek lines and dulling their shine.
Though destined for obsolescence, the Fury arrived at absolutely the right time to serve as a stepping stone in Hawker’s aeronautical advancements. Whilst all of Sydney Camm’s contemporary designs fed into the company’s technological advancements, it was the Fury that condensed all of this knowledge and expertise into what was the direct forerunner of the Hurricane. That aircraft’s importance in the Second World War, particularly the Battle of Britain, cannot be understated, its success due in no small part to the Fury – that, perhaps, is the Fury’s legacy.
The Fury played a significant role interwar, not least thanks to the experience it afforded its pilots. Although only three squadrons flew the Fury for any prolonged period, they would all have a prominent part to play in the coming conflict and it is with the Fury that many pilots cut their teeth and honed their skills in the preceding years. No. 1 Sqn became one of the first RAF squadrons to see action during the Battle of France in 1939, living up to its squadron motto, In omnibus princeps, or ‘First in all things’, by claiming the first RAF kill of the war when one of its Hurricanes downed a Dornier Do-17. Indeed, Flying Officer ‘Prosser’ Hanks, who had been part of that exuberant flowing formation display at the 1937 Hendon Air Pageant, claimed six victories in the first five days of May before having to exit his own burning Hurricane. The unit went on to have much success in France and later in the Battle of Britain, as did No. 43 Squadron. Frederick Rosier himself shot down a pair of Messerschmitt Bf 110s near Arras during a squadron detachment to France whilst a flight commander with No. 229 Sqn, before being shot down himself. He had likened his time with the Furies and No. 43 Squadron before the war as, ‘The world’s finest flying club’, and had won numerous gunnery awards. That experience was put to test in those early engagements between the RAF and Luftwaffe, particularly so when the British fighter pilots fought against seasoned Germans who had prior combat experience over Europe.
Though overshadowed by the Spitfire, Hurricane and even the Gladiator, the Fury has its understated place in the annals of RAF history – a subtle, perhaps immeasurable legacy forged in the pomp and pageantry of the interwar era. K5674 flies in memorial to all that.
Charlie reflects: “It’s nice to gradually get to know it a bit better, get to trust it a bit more, get to know what you can do, what you really don’t want to do. In the fullness of time I won’t fly it anymore, but at least I’ll have some decent notes to pass on to someone else. It’s such a privilege to fly these old aeroplanes and be around the people who build and maintain them. I’ve got to pinch myself when I realise that I’ve had the opportunity to fly a Spitfire Mk.V and a Fury on the same day on more than one occasion. Two iconic piston engine aeroplanes of the last century. The Fury’s the most photogenic, beautiful silver biplane ever produced. Nobody’s going to top it!”
One of Charlie’s fondest recollections of his time flying the Fury captures the quintessential purity and beauty of those 1930s silver biplanes. “I left the aerobatics to the end of the second period of flight testing, and it was a lovely evening”, he recalls. Taking off from Pent Farm, Charlie climbed to height over the Kent Downs, and with southern England spread beneath mottled clouds and his only company the rasp of the Kestrel engine, he set to wheeling and looping and barrel rolling K5674 – likely the first time the Fury had flown aerobatics since Frederick Rosier was at the controls, perhaps on his final flight in the aircraft on 22 February 1939 when he added the comment in his logbook, ‘Last fling in Queen of North and South. Perfect’.
“If I’m up amongst the clouds, some puffy cu[mulus], it’s just magical as you really get that sensation of speed. Looking out over those wings as you skirt them, it’s just so beautiful. That’s my lasting impression of the Fury”, Charlie concludes.
Dancing on laughter-silvered wings.
With thanks to Charlie Brown and the Historic Aircraft Collection.
it’s just so beautiful."