|Two-seat Hunter at Shuttleworth Military airshow 2013|
|National origin||United Kingdom|
|First flight||20 July 1951|
|Status||In service with the Air Force of Zimbabwe (2022)|
Active as a warbird and contractor aggressor aircraft
|Primary users||Royal Air Force|
Indian Air Force
Swedish Air Force
Swiss Air Force
The Hawker Hunter is a transonic British jet-powered fighter aircraft that was developed by Hawker Aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was designed to take advantage of the newly developed Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet engine and the swept wing, and was the first jet-powered aircraft produced by Hawker to be procured by the RAF. On 7 September 1953, the modified first prototype broke the world air speed record for aircraft, achieving a speed of 727.63 mph (1,171.01 km/h; 632.29 kn).
The single-seat Hunter was introduced to service in 1954 as a manoeuvrable day interceptor aircraft, quickly succeeding first-generation jet fighters in RAF service such as the Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Venom. The all-weather/night fighter role was filled by the Gloster Javelin. Successively improved variants of the type were produced, adopting increasingly more capable engine models and expanding its fuel capacity amongst other modifications being implemented. Hunters were also used by two RAF display teams: the "Black Arrows", who on one occasion looped a record-breaking 22 Hunters in formation, and later the "Blue Diamonds", who flew 16 aircraft. The Hunter was also widely exported, serving with a total of 21 overseas air forces.
During the 1960s, following the introduction of the supersonic English Electric Lightning in the interceptor role, the Hunter transitioned to being operated as a fighter-bomber and for aerial reconnaissance missions, using dedicated variants for these purposes. Two-seat variants remained in use for training and secondary roles with the RAF and the Royal Navy until the early 1990s. Sixty years after its original introduction it was still in active service, being operated by the Lebanese Air Force until 2014.
The Hunter saw combat service in a range of conflicts with several operators, including the Suez Crisis, the Aden Emergency, the Sino-Indian War, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, the Rhodesian Bush War, the Second Congo War, the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War. Overall, 1,972 Hunters were manufactured by Hawker Aircraft and its successor, Hawker Siddeley, as well as being produced under licence overseas. In British service, the Hunter was replaced in its principal roles by the Lightning, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier and the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.
During 1945, the Second World War came to a close and a new postwar Labour government, headed by Clement Attlee, came to power in Britain. The incoming Attlee government's initial stance on defence was that no major conflict would occur for at least a decade, and thus there would be no need to develop or to procure any new aircraft until 1957. In accordance with this policy, aside from a small number of exceptions such as what would become the Hawker Sea Hawk for the Royal Navy, the majority of Specifications issued by the Air Ministry for fighter-sized aircraft during the late 1940s were restricted to research purposes. Aviation author Derek Wood refers to this policy as being: "a fatal error of judgement which was to cost Britain a complete generation of fighters and heavy bomber aircraft".
As the Cold War arose in the late 1940s, the RAF came to recognise that it would urgently require the development and procurement of fighters equipped with features such as swept wings. By this time, it had also become apparent that newly developed jet propulsion would form the future of fighter aircraft development. Many companies were quick to devise their own designs to harness this means of propulsion. Hawker Aviation's chief designer, Sydney Camm, had proposed the Hawker P.1040 for the RAF, but the demonstrator failed to interest them. Further modifications to the basic design resulted in the Hawker Sea Hawk carrier-based fighter. However, the Sea Hawk possessed a straight wing and was powered by the Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine, both features that rapidly became obsolete.
Seeking better performance and fulfilment of the Air Ministry Specification E.38/46, Sydney Camm designed the Hawker P.1052, which was essentially a Sea Hawk outfitted with a 35-degree swept wing. Performing its first flight in 1948, the P.1052 demonstrated good performance and conducted several carrier trials, but was ultimately determined to not warrant further development into a production aircraft. As a private venture, Hawker proceeded to convert the second P.1052 prototype into the Hawker P.1081 with swept tailplanes, a revised fuselage, and a single jet exhaust at the rear. On 19 June 1950, the P.1081 conducted its maiden flight, and was promising enough to draw interest from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF); however, further development was stalled by difficulties with the engine's reheat. In 1951, the sole P.1081 prototype was lost in a crash.
In 1946, the British Air Ministry issued Specification F.43/46, which sought a daytime jet-powered interceptor aircraft. Camm promptly prepared a new design for a swept-winged fighter that would be powered by the upcoming Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet. The Avon's major advantage over the earlier Nene engine, as used in the earlier Sea Hawk, was adoption of the axial compressor, which allowed for a much smaller engine diameter and provided greater thrust; this single engine gave roughly the same power as the two Rolls-Royce Derwents of the Gloster Meteors, a fighter aircraft that would be replaced by the envisioned new aircraft. In March 1948, the Air Ministry issued a revised Specification F.3/48, which demanded a speed of 629 mph (1,010 km/h) at 45,000 ft (13,700 m) and a high rate of climb, while carrying an armament of four 20 mm (0.79 in) or two 30 mm (1.18 in) cannon (rather than the large-calibre gun demanded by earlier specifications). Initially fitted with a single air intake in the nose and a T-tail, the project rapidly evolved into the more familiar Hunter shape. The intakes were moved to the wing roots to make room for weapons and radar in the nose, and a more conventional tail arrangement was devised as a result of stability concerns.
In 1950, the outbreak of the Korean War and Britain's heavy involvement in this conflict led to a flurry of orders being issued; the need for capable modern interceptors was felt to be so pressing that the RAF was willing to consider accepting interim fighter aircraft while more capable fighters would continue to be pursued. In particular, the RAF felt that a pair of proposed fighter aircraft from Hawker Aircraft and Supermarine were of high importance and thus placed orders for these proposed fighters 'off the drawing board' in 1950. The reasoning behind these two aircraft being ordered in 1950 was intended to serve as an insurance policy in the event of either one of these projects failing to produce a viable aircraft; these two aircraft would later become known as the Supermarine Swift and the Hawker Hunter respectively.
On 20 July 1951, the P.1067 made its maiden flight, flown by Neville Duke, from RAF Boscombe Down, powered by a single 6,500 lbf (28.91 kN) Avon 103 engine. The second prototype, which was fitted with production-standard avionics, armament and a 7,550 lbf (33.58 kN) Avon 107 turbojet, first flew on 5 May 1952. As an insurance against development problems on the part of the Avon engine, Hawker modified the design to accommodate another axial turbojet, the 8,000 lbf (35.59 kN) Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 101. Fitted with a Sapphire, the third prototype flew on 30 November 1952.
On 16 March 1953, the first production standard Hunter F.1, fitted with a single 7,600 lbf (33.80 kN) Avon 113 turbojet, made its first flight. The first 20 aircraft were, in effect, a pre-production series and featured a number of "one-off" modifications such as blown flaps and area ruled fuselage. On 7 September 1953, the sole Hunter Mk 3 (the modified first prototype, WB 188) flown by Neville Duke broke the world air speed record for jet-powered aircraft, attaining a speed of 727.63 mph (1,171.01 km/h) over Littlehampton, West Sussex. This world record stood for less than three weeks before being broken on 25 September 1953 by the Hunter's early rival, the Supermarine Swift, flown by Michael Lithgow.
The Hunter entered service with the Royal Air Force as an interceptor aircraft. It was the first jet aircraft produced by Hawker for the RAF. From the outset it was clear that the type had exceptional performance, being the first RAF aircraft capable of effectively matching the English Electric Canberra bomber. The Hunter also set numerous aviation records, including absolute speed records. The type was also lauded for its quick turnaround time, enabled by features such as its removable gun pack and pressurised fuelling system, and for its easy handling in flight.
The definitive version of the Hunter was the FGA.9, on which the majority of export versions were based. Although the Supermarine Swift had initially been politically favoured by the British Government, the Hunter proved far more successful, and had a lengthy service life with various operators, in part due to its low maintenance requirements and operating costs, while the Swift programme was cancelled in 1955.
As the RAF received newer aircraft capable of supersonic speeds to perform the air interceptor role, many Hunters were modified and re-equipped for undertaking ground-attack and reconnaissance missions instead. Hunters deemed surplus to the RAF's requirements were also quickly refurbished for continued service abroad. The Hunter would be procured by a considerable number of foreign nations. In addition to former RAF aircraft, roughly half of the nearly 2,000 Hunters produced had been manufactured specifically for overseas customers. The Hunter would be in operational service with the RAF for over 30 years. As late as 1996, hundreds were still in active service with various operators across the world.
The single-seat fighter versions of the Hunter were armed with four 30 mm (1.18 in) ADEN cannon, with 150 rounds of ammunition per gun. The cannon and ammunition boxes were contained in a single pack that could be removed from the aircraft for rapid re-arming and maintenance. Unusually, the barrels of the cannon remained in the aircraft while the pack was removed and changed. In the two-seat version, either a single 30 mm ADEN cannon was carried or, in some export versions, two, with a removable ammunition tank. Later versions of the Hunter were fitted with SNEB Pods; these were 68 mm (2.68 in) rocket projectiles in 18-round Matra pods, providing an effective strike capability against ground targets.
The Hunter featured a nose-mounted ranging radar, providing range input to the gyro gunsight for air-to-air gunnery only. Other equipment included pylon-mounted underwing external fuel tanks, a forward-facing gun camera, and large streamlined pods for collecting expended shell cases beneath the gun pack. These were nicknamed "Sabrinas", after the buxom actress of the time. Several variants were fitted with tail-mounted brake parachutes. Typically, export Hunters were equipped to be compatible with additional types of missiles, such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile and the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile.
The Hunter is a conventional swept wing all-metal monoplane. The fuselage is of monocoque construction, with a removable rear section for engine maintenance. The engine is fed through triangular air intakes in the wing roots and has a single jetpipe in the rear of the fuselage. The mid-mounted wings have a leading edge sweep of 35° and slight anhedral, the tailplanes and fin are also swept. The Hunter's aerodynamic qualities were increasingly infringed upon by modifications in later production models, such as the addition of external containers to collect spent gun cartridges, underwing fuel tanks to increase range, leading edge extensions to resolve pitch control difficulties, and a large ventral air brake.
The airframe of the Hunter consists of six interchangeable major sections: the forward fuselage (housing the cockpit and armament pack), center fuselage (including the integral wing roots and air duct intakes), rear fuselage, tail unit assembly, and two individually produced wings. Production was divided up so major sections could be completed individually and manufacturing of the type could be dispersed to reduce vulnerability to attack. Establishing initial full-rate production for the type was difficult; manufacturing the Hunter required the development of 3,250 tool designs and the procurement of 40,000 fixtures, jigs, and tools.
The P.1067 first flew from RAF Boscombe Down on 20 July 1951, powered by a 6,500 lbf (28.91 kN) Rolls-Royce Avon 103 engine from an English Electric Canberra bomber. The second prototype was fitted with a 7,550 lbf (33.58 kN) Avon 107 turbojet. Hawker's third prototype was powered by an 8,000 lbf (35.59 kN) Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 101. Production Hunters were fitted with either the Avon or the Sapphire engine.
Early on in the Hunter's service the Avon engines proved to have poor surge margins, and worryingly suffered compressor stalls when the cannon were fired, sometimes resulting in flameouts. The practice of "fuel dipping", reducing fuel flow to the engine when the cannon were fired, was a satisfactory solution. Although the Sapphire did not suffer from the flameout problems of the Avon and had better fuel economy, Sapphire-powered Hunters suffered many engine failures. The RAF elected to persevere with the Avon to simplify supply and maintenance, since the Canberra bomber used the same engine.
The RAF sought more thrust than was available from the Avon 100 series; in response Rolls-Royce developed the Avon 200 series engine. This was an almost wholly new design, equipped with a new compressor to put an end to surge problems, an annular combustion chamber, and an improved fuel control system. The resulting Avon 203 produced 10,000 lbf (44.48 kN) of thrust, and was the engine for the Hunter F.6.
The Hunter F.1 entered service with the Royal Air Force in July 1954. It was the first high-speed jet aircraft equipped with radar and fully powered flight controls to go into widespread service with the RAF. The Hunter replaced the Gloster Meteor, the Canadair Sabre, and the de Havilland Venom jet fighters in service. Initially, low internal fuel capacity restricted the Hunter's performance, giving it only a maximum flight endurance of about an hour. A fatal accident occurred on 8 February 1956, when a flight of eight Hunters was diverted to another airfield owing to adverse weather conditions. Six of the eight aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed, killing one pilot.
Another difficulty encountered during the aircraft's introduction was the occurrence of surging and stalling with the Avon engines. The F.2, which used the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire engine, did not suffer from this issue. Further problems occurred; ejected cannon ammunition links had a tendency to strike and damage the underside of the fuselage, and diverting the gas emitted by the cannon during firing was another necessary modification. The original split-flap airbrakes caused adverse changes in pitch trim and were quickly replaced by a single ventral airbrake. This meant, however, that the airbrake could not be used for landings.
To address the problem of range, a production Hunter F.1 was fitted with a modified wing featuring bag-type fuel tanks in the leading edge and two (or 4 on later aircraft) "wet" hardpoints for 100-gallon drop tanks. The resulting Hunter F.4 first flew on 20 October 1954, and entered service in March 1955. A distinctive Hunter feature added on the F.4 was the pair of blisters under the cockpit, which collected spent ammunition links to prevent airframe damage. Crews dubbed them "Sabrinas" after the contemporary movie star. The Sapphire-powered version of the F.4 was designated the Hunter F.5.
The RAF later received Hunters equipped with an improved Avon engine. The Avon 203 produced 10,000 lbf (44.48 kN) of thrust and was fitted to XF833, which became the first Hunter F.6. Some other revisions on the F.6 included a revised fuel tank layout, the centre fuselage tanks being replaced by new slightly smaller ones in the rear fuselage; the distinctive "dogtooth" leading edge extension (Mod 533) to alleviate the pitch-up problem; the "Mod 228" wing, with increased structural strength and four (rather than the previous two) "wet" hardpoints, finally giving the aircraft a good ferry range. The Hunter F.6 was given the company designation Hawker P.1099.
During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Hunter F.5s of No. 1 and No. 34 Squadrons based at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus flew escort for English Electric Canberra bombers on offensive missions into Egypt. For most of the conflict the Hunters engaged in local air defence due to their lack of range.
During the Brunei Revolt in 1962, the Royal Air Force deployed Hunters and Gloster Javelins over Brunei to provide support for British ground forces; Hunters launched both dummy and real strafing runs on ground targets to intimidate and pin down rebels. In one event, several Bruneian and expatriate hostages were due to be executed by rebels. Hunter aircraft flew over Limbang while Royal Marines from 42 Commando rescued the hostages in a fierce battle. In the following years of the Borneo Confrontation, Hunters were deployed along with other RAF aircraft in Borneo and Malaya.
The Hunter F.6 was retired from its day fighter role in the RAF by 1963, being replaced by the much faster English Electric Lightning interceptor. Many F.6s were then given a new lease of life in the close air support role, converting into the Hunter FGA.9 variant.[Note 1] The FGA.9 saw frontline use from 1960 to 1971, alongside the closely related Hunter FR.10 tactical reconnaissance variant. The Hunters were also used by two RAF display units; the "Black Arrows" of No. 111 Squadron who set a record by looping and barrel rolling 22 Hunters in formation, and later the "Blue Diamonds" of No. 92 Squadron who flew 16 Hunters.
In Aden in May 1964, Hunter FGA.9s and FR.10s of No. 43 Squadron RAF and No. 8 Squadron RAF were used extensively during the Radfan campaign against insurgents attempting to overthrow the Federation of South Arabia. SAS forces would routinely call in air strikes that required considerable precision, and, predominantly using 3-inch high explosive rockets and 30 mm ADEN cannon, the Hunter proved an able ground-attack platform. Both squadrons continued operations with their Hunters until the UK withdrew from Aden in November 1967.
Hunters were flown by No.63, No. 234 and No. 79 Squadrons acting in training roles for foreign and Commonwealth students. These remained in service until after the Hawk T.1 entered service in the mid-1970s. Two-seat trainer versions of the Hunter, the T.7 and T.8, remained in use for training and secondary roles by the RAF and Royal Navy until the early 1990s; when the Blackburn Buccaneer retired from service. The requirement for Hunter trainers disappeared so the Buccaneer-oriented trainers were retired, leaving the RN T.8Ms to soldier on for a while longer.
Hunters were also used by the Empire Test Pilots' School at MoD Boscombe Down. The Hunter is unusual among swept wing jet aircraft in being able to be safely spun inverted. This would be demonstrated to students of the school.
As early as 1953 the first Hunter flew over Denmark, when test pilot Neville Duke demonstrated the F.1 over Copenhagen Airport. During this demonstration, the pilot broke the sound barrier in a shallow dive.
Air Force officials were very impressed with the demonstration and since the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) were looking for a replacement for the Gloster Meteors in service at the time, the Hunter was a natural choice. Consequently, a contract for delivery of 30 F. Mk. 51 was signed on 3 July 1954. RDAF took delivery of the first two of these on 31 January 1956 and nine months later, all 30 Hunters had been delivered to 724 Squadron.
Since the Hunter was a significantly different aircraft to fly, compared to older types such as the Meteor, the need for a two-seat trainer soon arose, and the RDAF took delivery of two T.Mk. 53 two-seat trainers in 1958.
In contrast to most other users of the Hunter, RDAF never converted the Hunter to the fighter-bomber role. Although some studies and experiments carried out in 1959, the project never materialised and the Hunter carried on as a day fighter until its retirement in 1974.
The last flight of the Hunter in RDAF service was carried out on 30 April 1974. The entire fleet was initially preserved at Aalborg Air Base, in the hopes of a future sale to other users. No such sale was ever carried out, but 16 F.Mk. 51s and four T-Mk.53 (two additional T.Mk. 53 had been purchased from the Netherlands in 1967) were sent back to Hawker Siddeley in December 1975. Ultimately, most Hunters were sold either to private buyers or to military museums around the world. Only one example (47-401/E-401) was reserved for museum use in Denmark and currently resides in “Danmarks Flymuseum” in Stauning.
In 1954, India arranged to purchase Hunters as a part of a wider arms deal with Britain, ordering 140 Hunter single-seat fighters at the same time that Pakistan announced its purchase of several North American F-86 Sabre jet fighters. The Indian Air Force (IAF) was the first to operate the Hunter T.66 trainers, placing an initial order in 1957. The more powerful engine was considered beneficial in a hot environment, allowing for greater takeoff weights. During the 1960s, Pakistan investigated the possibility of buying as many as 40 English Electric Lightnings, but Britain was unenthusiastic about the potential sales opportunity because of the damage it would do to its relations with India, which at the time was still awaiting the delivery of large numbers of ex-RAF Hunters.
By the outbreak of the Sino-Indian War in 1962, India had assembled one of the largest air forces in Asia, and the Hunter was the nation's primary and most capable interceptor. During the conflict, the Hunter demonstrated its superiority over China's Russian-sourced MiGs and gave India a strategic advantage in the air.[Note 2] India's aerial superiority deterred Chinese Ilyushin Il-4 bombers from attacking targets within India. In 1962, India had selected to procure its first supersonic-capable fighter, the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21; large numbers of Russian-built fighters had increasingly supplemented the aging Hunters in the interceptor role by 1970.
The Hunter was to play a major role during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965;[Note 3] along with the Gnat the Hunter was India's primary air defence fighter, and regularly engaged in dogfights with the Pakistani F-86 Sabres and F-104 Starfighters. The aerial war saw both sides conducting thousands of sorties in a single month. Both sides claimed victory in the air war, Pakistan claimed to have destroyed 104 aircraft against its own losses of 19, while India claimed to have destroyed 73 enemy aircraft and lost 35 of its own. Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate.
IAF Hunters performed extensive operations during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971; India had six combat-ready squadrons of Hunters at the start of the conflict.[Note 4] Pakistani infantry and armoured forces attacked the Indian outpost of Longewala in an event now known as the Battle of Longewala. Six IAF Hunters stationed at Jaisalmer Air Force Base were able to halt the Pakistani advance at Longewala by conducting non-stop bombing raids. The aircraft attacked Pakistani tanks, armoured personnel carriers and gun positions and contributed to the increasingly chaotic battlefield conditions, which ultimately led to the retreat of Pakistan's ground forces.[Note 5] Hunters were also used for many ground-attack missions and raids inside Pakistan's borders, such as the high-profile bombing of the Attock Oil refinery to limit Pakistani fuel supplies. In the aftermath of the conflict, Pakistan claimed to have shot down a total of 32 of India's Hunters.
Due to unfavourable currency conditions and conflicting pressures on the military budget, several prospective procurements of modern aircraft such as the SEPECAT Jaguar and the British Aerospace Sea Harrier were put on hold following the 1971 war; the indigenously developed HAL HF-24 Marut had also not been as successful as hoped, thus the IAF decided to retain the ageing fleets of Hunters and English Electric Canberra bombers. After considering several foreign aircraft to replace the Hunter, including the Dassault Mirage F1, the Saab 37 Viggen, and several Soviet models, the Indian government announced its intention to procure 200 Jaguars, a large portion of which were to be assembled domestically, in October 1978. In 1996, the last of the IAF's Hunters were phased out of service, the last squadron operating Hunters later converting to the newer Sukhoi Su-30MKI.
In the early 1950s, the Swedish Air Force saw the need for an interceptor that could reach enemy bombers at a higher altitude than the J 29 Tunnan that formed the backbone of the fighter force. A contract for 120 Hawker Hunter Mk 50s (equivalent to the Mk 4) was therefore signed on 29 June 1954 and the first aircraft was delivered on 26 August 1955. The model was designated J 34 and was assigned to the F 8 and F 18 wings that defended Stockholm. The J 34 was armed with four 30 mm (1.18 in) cannon and two Sidewinders. The Swedish Air Force's aerobatic team Acro Hunters used five J 34s during the late 1950s. The J 34s were gradually replaced by supersonic J 35 Draken and reassigned to less prominent air wings, F 9 in Gothenburg and F 10 in Ängelholm, during the 1960s.
A project to improve the performance of the J 34 resulted in one Hunter being fitted with a Swedish-designed afterburner in 1958. While this significantly increased the engine's thrust, there was little improvement in overall performance, so the project was shelved. The last of the J 34s was retired from service in 1969.
Main article: Hawker Hunter in service with Swiss Air Force
In 1957, the Swiss Air Force performed an extensive evaluation of several aircraft for a prospective purchase; competitors included the North American F-86 Sabre, the Folland Gnat, and the Hawker Hunter; a pair of Hunters were loaned to the Swiss for further trials and testing. In January 1958, the government of Switzerland chose to terminate their independent fighter aircraft project, the in-development FFA P-16, instead choosing to order 100 Hunters to replace their existing fleet of de Havilland Vampire fighters. Further development of the indigenous P-16 was discontinued. This initial order for 100 single-seat Hunters consisted of 12 refurbished RAF F.6s, and 88 new-built F.58s.
Swiss Hunters were operated as interceptors, with a secondary ground-attack role; from 1963 onwards, the outboard wing pylons were modified to carry two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. In the ground-attack role, the Swiss Air Force maintained an arsenal of conventional iron bombs, a number of compatible napalm bombs were also maintained for intended use by the Hunters. In the interceptor role, the Hunters were supplemented by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) defence system also procured from the United Kingdom, based on the Bristol Bloodhound. In case of unserviceable airstrips, Swiss Air Force Jets would take off from adjacent highways, using them as improvised runways.
The Patrouille Suisse flight demonstration team were prominent fliers of the Hawker Hunter for several decades. Squadron aircraft were fitted with smoke generators on the engine exhausts and, later on, were painted in a distinctive red-and-white livery. The group officially formed on 22 August 1964, and used the Hunter as its display aircraft until it was withdrawn from use in 1994, the team continued to perform flight display using newer aircraft.
The Hunter fleet endured several attempts to procure successor aircraft to the type; in the case of the Dassault Mirage III this had been due to excessive cost overruns and poor project management rather than the attributes of the Hunter itself. A second attempt to replace the Hunter resulted in a competition between the French Dassault Milan and the U.S. LTV A-7 Corsair II. Although the A-7 was eventually chosen as the winner, it would not be purchased and further 30 refurbished Hunters (22 F.58As and eight T.68 trainers) were purchased in 1974 instead.
By 1975, plans were laid to replace the Hunter in the air-to-air role with a more modern fighter aircraft, the Northrop F-5E Tiger II. The Hunter remained in a key role within the Swiss Air Force; like the RAF's Hunter fleet, the type transitioned to become the country's primary ground attack platform, replacing the Venom. While the Swiss Hunters already had more armament options than the RAF aircraft, being cleared to carry Oerlikon 80 mm rockets instead of the elderly 3-inch rockets used by the RAF, to carry bombs from both inner and outer pylons and to launch AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, the change to a primary air-to-ground role resulted in the Hunter 80 upgrade, adding chaff/flare dispensers, BL755 cluster bombs and the ability to carry AGM-65 Maverick missiles.
In the 1990s, the discovery of wing cracking led to the quick retirement of all Hunter F.58As. The end of the Cold War also allowed Switzerland to retire its Hunters earlier than expected; the Hunter was completely withdrawn from Swiss service in 1994. The Swiss Air Force lost the capability to carry out air-to-ground operations when the Hunters were withdrawn from service.
Singapore was an enthusiastic operator of the Hunter, first ordering the aircraft in 1968 during a massive expansion of the city-state's armed forces; deliveries began in 1971 and were completed by 1973. At the time, considerable international controversy was generated as Britain (and, as was later revealed, the U.S.) had refused to sell Hunters to neighbouring Malaysia, sparking fears of a regional arms race and accusations of favouritism. The Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) eventually received 46 refurbished Hunters to equip two squadrons.[Note 7]
In the late 1970s, the Singaporean Hunter fleet was upgraded and modified by Lockheed Aircraft Services Singapore (LASS) with an additional hardpoint under the forward fuselage and another two inboard pylons (wired only for AIM-9 Sidewinders) before the main gears, bringing to a total of seven hardpoints for external stores and weapons delivery. As a result of these upgrades, they were redesignated as FGA.74S, FR.74S and T.75S. The RSAF Black Knights, Singapore Air Force's aerobatic team, flew Hunters from 1973 until 1989.
By 1991, Singapore's fleet of combat aircraft included the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Northrop F-5 Tiger II, as well as the locally modernised and upgraded ST Aerospace A-4SU Super Skyhawk; the Hunters were active but obsolete in comparison. The type was finally retired and phased out of service in 1992, with the 21 surviving airframes being sold off to an Australian warbird broker, Pacific Hunter Aviation Pty, in 1995.
The Lebanese Air Force operated Hawker Hunters from 1958 to 2014. A Lebanese Hunter shot down an Israeli jet over Kfirmishki in the early 1960s; its pilot was captured by the Lebanese Armed Forces. One Hunter was shot down on the first day of the Six-Day War by the Israeli Air Force. They were used infrequently during the Lebanese Civil War, and eventually fell out of usage and went into storage during the 1980s.
In August 2007, the Lebanese Armed Forces planned to put its Hunters back into service following the 2007 Lebanon conflict, to deal with Fatah al-Islam militants in the Nahr el-Bared camp north of Tripoli. The programme was delayed by lack of spare parts for the aircraft, such as cartridges for the Martin-Baker ejection seats. On 12 November 2008, 50 years after its original introduction, the Lebanese Air Force returned four of its eight Hunters to service with 2nd Squadron, based at Rayak AB: one two-seater and three single-seaters. Military exercises were conducted with Hunters, such as those that took place on 12 July 2010. The Hunters were retired from service during 2014.
During the 1950s, the Royal Rhodesian Air Force was an important export customer of Britain, purchasing not only Hunters but also De Havilland Vampires and Canberra bombers. Rhodesia later deployed its Hunter FGA.9s extensively against ZANLA and ZIPRA guerrillas during the Rhodesian Bush War in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, occasionally engaging in cross-border raids over Zambia and Mozambique. The Zimbabwean Air Force Hunters were flown to support Laurent Kabila's loyalists during the Second Congo War, and were reported to be involved in the Mozambican Civil War. They remained in service in 2022. In Somalia, the Siad Barre regime's fleet of ageing Hunters, often piloted by former Rhodesian servicemen, carried out several bombing missions against rebel units in the late 1980s.
The Belgian Air Force received 112 Hunter F.4s between 1956 and 1957 to replace the Gloster Meteor F.8. The aircraft were built under licence in both Belgium and the Netherlands in a joint programme, some using US offshore funding. SABCA and Avions Fairey built 64 aircraft in Belgium and a further 48 were built in the Netherlands by Fokker. The Hunters were used by Nos. 1, 3 and 9 Wings but did not serve for long; the aircraft with 1 Wing were replaced in 1958 by the Avro Canada CF-100 Canuck, and most were scrapped afterwards.
The Belgian and Dutch governments subsequently ordered the improved Hunter F.6, with Nos. 1, 7 and 9 Wings of the Belgian Air Force receiving 112 Fokker-built aircraft between 1957 and 1958. Although built in the Netherlands, 29 aircraft had been assembled from kits in Belgium by SABCA and 59 by Avions Fairey, and were operated by 7 and 9 Wings. No. 9 Wing was disbanded in 1960, and by 1963 the Hunter squadrons in 7 Wing had also been disbanded. A large number of the surviving Hunters were sold to Hawker Aircraft and re-built for re-export to India and Iraq, with others to Chile, Kuwait and Lebanon.
Between 1964 and 1975, both Britain and France delivered significant quantities of arms, including Hunters, to Iraq. The Hunters were far more effective in fighting guerrilla activity than the Russian MiG-17s then operated by Iraq. In 1967, Hunters of the Iraqi Air Force saw action after the Six-Day War between Israel and several neighbouring Arab nations. During the War of Attrition Iraqi Hunters usually operated from bases in Egypt and Syria. While flying a Hunter from Iraqi Airbase H3, Flight Lieutenant Saiful Azam, on exchange from the Pakistan Air Force, shot down three Israeli jets including a Sud Aviation Vautour and a Mirage IIICJ.[Note 8] Some missions were also flown by the Royal Jordanian Air Force, but most of the Jordanian Hunters were destroyed on the ground on the first day of the Six-Day War. Replacement Hunters for Jordanian service were acquired from both Britain and Saudi Arabia in the war's aftermath. These were used with considerable success in ground attacks against Syrian Army tanks during the Black September Crisis.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Chile completed the acquisition of Hunters from Britain for service in the Chilean Air Force. In June 1973, the Liberian oil tanker Napier ran aground on Guamblin Island, accidentally releasing 30,000 tons of oil. After the rescue of the crew, the vessel was fired upon and set on fire by Chilean Hunters in an effort to burn the oil to avoid further environmental contamination.
During the 1973 Chilean coup d'état, some of the Hunters were used by military officers as part of the effort to successfully overthrow the socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, on 11 September 1973. On 10 September 1973, coup leaders ordered the Hunters to relocate to Talcahuano in preparation. The following morning, the aircraft were used to conduct bombing missions against Palacio de La Moneda, Allende's official residence in Santiago, and several radio stations loyal to the government. The UK had signed contracts prior to the Chilean coup d'état for delivery of a further seven Hunters, as well as performing engine overhauls and the delivery of other equipment. The government under Prime Minister James Callaghan delayed the delivery of the aircraft, along with vessels and submarines also on order; the trade unions took action to block delivery of refurbished Hunter engines at the East Kilbride plant until October 1978. The action was led by Rolls-Royce workers, Bob Fulton, Robert Sommerville and John Keenan, who hid the engines in the factory. The Government of Chile bestowed on 16 April 2015, its highest civilian medal the Order Bernardo O'Higgins Medal on the three workers for their action of solidarity. The protest is the subject of the 2018 documentary film Nae Pasaran. In 1982, after the Falklands War, a number of Hunters were air freighted to Chile as part of the arrangements for providing support for UK operations in the South Atlantic.
The purchase of Hunters by Chile may have been a factor in the decision by the Peruvian Air Force to acquire Hunters of their own. Britain was keen to sell to Peru as the decision to sell Hunters to Chile became a controversial political issue for the British government following the Chilean coup; the sale also upheld Britain's concept of regional "balancing".
Further information: Hawker Hunter variants
Main article: List of Hawker Hunter operators
|Cockpit recording of flight between St Athan and RAF Cranwell|
|Documentary on the Hunter's role in the Battle of Longewala|
|Footage from Swiss Hunter exercise in 1991, including take offs performed upon public roads|
A number of civil organisations operate or have operated Hunters for use as aerial targets and for threat simulation under contract with the military. Other Hunters are owned and operated for public display and demonstration:
|Cutaway diagram of a Hunter F6, from Flight International's flickr page.|
Data from The Complete Book of Fighters, The Great Book of Fighters
Main article: Hawker Hunter in fiction