A highly potent and reliable multi-role aircraft of its time, the Hunter epitomised in its class the peak development of the subsonic jet in the early 1950s. Acknowledged as the classic single-seat fighter of the 50s, it was an exhilarating aircraft to fly and a treat to those who would watch it flying. Its excellent handling characteristics at all speeds made it a dream aircraft for aspiring fighter pilots all over the world. The flamboyance of this class of fighter remains as a cherished memory for many days to come. The story of the Hunters cannot be reduced to mere statistics. Excellent handling capabilities, flawless agility, robustness and reliability are some of its characterstics which a generation of fighter pilots will fondly remember.
The Hawker Hunter aircraft itself was an excellent one. That was agreed by the pilots who flew it. The difficulties which emained by 1956 were those with the formidable installation of four 30 mm. cannon which were introduced at the same time as the aircraft. It was a big decision to take to introduce simultaneously a new aircraft of advanced design and a new armament of very advanced design. Doing two such things simultaneously will mean that in practice a lot of difficulties will arise, and they were often difficulties of a kind which become apparent only after a considerable amount of service use.
The difficulties which were first apparent were the troubles relating to engine surge when the guns were fired, which occurred in certain marks of the Hunter, and also occurred at certain heights. That problem had been solved by 1956; the technical solution had been found, and the necessary modifications to the engines were being installed retrospectively. The Avon and Sapphire series of the Hunter both had had trouble with surging of the engine resulting from the guns. While the Hunter Avon — that is, Marks I and IV — originally had an altitude limitation of 20,000 feet, another compressor trouble started, and there were for a time altitude limitations at 20,000 feet and 24,000 feet.
Further troubles led to a limitation on the amount of firing that can be done with the guns. It is not a limitation that stopped one firing, but rather a limitation on the amount that can be fired. As a result of intensive flying trials which could only take place after the aircraft has got into service in some numbers, it was found that the enormous kick of the big battery of cannons began to do some damage to the small components in the nose of the aircraft. The problem would then be that after a certain number of sorties we should have an increased maintenance requirement because of the replacement of the parts damaged by the firing of the guns. Hawker devised modifications which were fitted to strengthen those parts and deal with that trouble.
When the design of Hunters was made before 1950, knowledge of guided missiles was very rudimentary, and from the start it was designed around the Aden gun installation. The Swift, which was designed later, was always intended to be the first aircraft to carry guided missiles. The firms of Hawkers and Fairey Aviation produced a "Fireflash" version of the Hunter as a private version. From the Royal Air Force point of view the "Fireflash" version of the Hunter would not be completely designed, developed and available until a time when a later air-to-air guided missile was likely to be available. Though the "Fireflash" was more effective than any cannon and would be a useful weapon, it was the first British guided missiles and later missiles would have more advanced features. The Royal Air Force concentrated on missiles which came out later, but was able to offer for export the "Fireflash-Hunter" combination.
The Hawker Hunter fighter was a superb aircraft, but had a serious pitch stability problem at high speed. Bill Lear Jr. visited Hawker Siddeley in England, attempting to sell them our Lear electronic pitch-damper, which would have corrected this deficiency. When Lear proposed this improvement to Sir Sidney Camm, designer of the Hunter, he became very defensive and responded in no uncertain terms that his aircraft designs required no artificial aerodynamic stabilization. (He was wrong - film of Hunter high-speed passes at low-level showed the aircraft was bobbing up and down like a yo-yo.)
The Hunter aircraft was on its last flight in India on 08 October 2001, bidding adieu to the Indian Air Force after its distinguished service for over four decades. The Hunters were inducted into service in the Indian Air Force [IAF] in December 1957 as a multi-role aircraft for use during interception ground attack and reconnaissance.
In March 1958, a couple of months after its induction into the Indian Air Force, the Hunters of No 7 Squadron had put up an aerobatic team of five aircraft. This number was steadily increased till one day when nine aircraft took off and disappeared over the horizon only to reappear in a flawless formation. They carried out a loop and dived in again to carry out a breathtaking formation barrel roll, a feat unequalled in the Air Force at that time.
The Hunters, the war-horses of the Indian Air Force proved its mettle in 1965 operations and 1971 Indo-Pak conflict, bringing laurels to the squadrons it served. In the 1965 operations, the Hunters operating from Halwara carried out several interdiction missions that were not only destructive but proved decisive in future missions. Pakistan's first armoured brigade had launched an armour attack with 300 Patton tanks in Khemkaran Sector during the battle of 'Asal Uttar' on September 9, 1965. Hunters of No 27 Squadron attacked the Pakistani brigade and dropped one hundred bombs over it, followed by another attack, the next day. The battlefield was virtually converted into a graveyard for the Pakistani Patton tanks. Flying Officer Pingale flying a Hunter shot down the supersonic Sabre in straight battle over Jalandhar on September 16, 1965.
During the war for liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, Hunters escorted by MiGs from Guwahati were the first to attack Tezgaon airfield near Dhaka on December 4, 1971. The PAF lost seven F-86 aircraft in aerial battles over Dhaka. The Hunter pair-piloted by Wg Cdr Sundersan and Flt Lt Tremenhere were hounded over Dhaka by six F-86s. Flt Lt Tremenhere was shot down in the battle, but ejected safely. By noon on the same day, PAF had lost its sting. But Hunters continued their attacks on the enemy supply lines. On the western front, a flight of Hunters single-handedly demolished a tank at Longewala in Rajasthan on the same day. About 37 Pakistani tanks were demolished and a company of the Indian Army held its own against Pakistan's infantry brigade. On the same day, Hunters from Jamnagar attacked Karachi Harbour and started the burn-out of oil installations at Kiamari. Four Hunters from Pathankot attacked the Mangla Dam on December 5, 1971 putting the Hydel project out of gear. A week later four Hunters from Jaisalmer carried out rocket attacks on the SUI gas plant in Northern Sindh and set on fire a part of the plant.
On December 13, 1971, four Hunters along with Canberras, MiGs and AN-12s attacked the Joydebpur Ordnance Factory and severely damaged it. The Hunters along with MiGs wrecked the East Pakistan Governor's house and expedited the end of the war.
In 1981, No 20 Squadron comprising of Itlics moved to Hashimara to form the aerobatic team better known as the Thunderbolts. Throughout the decade, a large number of people enjoyed looking at nine Hunters of IAF flying in a 'diamond' formation executing loops, rolls, dives and different aerobatics in a show of skill and precision. They enthralled the crowds at many an air show flying the length and breadth of the country performing their routine again and again. The Thunderbolts made their last public display in March 1989.
The trainer version of the Hunter has been used as an advanced trainer for initial operational training of young fighter pilots in India. The Hunter has won for India a large number of gallantry awards and has established a record as the longest serving aircraft with the IAF along with the Canberra.
The Hunter fleet of Aircraft (fighter and trainer) used by Indian Air Force (IAF) was introduced in service during 1957 and was being considered for phasing out during 1994-95. Accordingly, about 9520 items of spares costing Rs. 9.90 Crores (book value), stocked at 25 Equipment Depot, Devlali that were found to be 'non-moving' were declared surplus and Ministry of Defence (MoD) sanctions to this effect were obtained in April 1994 and February 1996. However, because of non availability of alternative aircraft, the Hunter fleet, which was to be phased out in June 1996, was allowed to keep flying until much later and extensions in the life of this fleet were given by MoD in phases upto 1998, and then upto 2000 and lastly upto 2002.
Under the circumstances, the disposal of surplus spares (sanctioned in 1994 and 1996, based on considerations of phasing out of Hunter aircraft by June 1996 itself) had to be kept in abeyance, since when the fleet is operational, any item(s) of spares could be required for its maintenance. Had the spares been disposed off, the aircraft would have been grounded for want of certain items and/or, it could have cost IAF heavily to re-purchase/procure such item from the world market because of obsolescence of the Hunter aircraft and their production having been stopped over 15 years back. Besides, availability of required spares could not have been assured. Now that the Hunter fleet has actually been phased out since Oct 2001, instead of 2002 the job of disposal of surplus spares of this fleet was taken up in right earnest.
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