Development of the Typhoon began in 1938. The Air Ministry saw that war clouds were looming and were already looking for an aircraft to replace its new fighters that had only just appeared, those being the Spitfire and the Hurricane.
Sir Sidney Camm, head designer of the Hurricane at the Hawker group, already had a design in mind that was larger and more powerful. His initial thoughts for armament was to equip this new fighter with the proven .303 machine gun. The Air Ministry, though, wanted the much heavier choice, the 20mm cannon. This would necessitate a larger airframe and therefore a much more powerful engine.

 

 

There were 3 contenders; Napiers had the Sabre, a 24 cylinder block with 4 rows of 6 cylinders in an H pattern. Think of a Porsche boxer engine, double that and stick one on top of the other! Rolls Royce had the Vulture and Bristol had the Centaurus. The Ministry considered the Centaurus too advanced, the Vulture was underpowered, weighed too much and had mechanical problems. The Centaurus went on to power such aircraft as the Beaufighter. The Vulture was chosen to power the predecessor to the Avro Lancaster, the Avro Manchester.

They eventually chose the Sabre, but this too had teething problems. As with all new inventions, rushing production always results in development problems. These troubles followed it into the first squadrons to be equipped with the new fighter. Unfortunately, this gave the new aircraft a bad name with both pilots and the ground crew who had to work on them.

The maiden flight took place on 24 February 1940. Almost immediately the Air Ministry ordered 100 aircraft. The first aircraft went to 3 squadrons at Duxford, making up the first Typhoon wing. The boffins thought that the long grass runways at Duxford would help brake this huge aircraft and that RAF Duxford was far enough inland that German reconnaissance aircraft would be blind for a while longer. Within the year 1941-42 the RAF had received 500! This number is despite the typhoon been delayed due to Hawker having to replace lost Hurricanes during the Battle of Britain.

Major problems plagued the aircraft from the start. One of the initial drawbacks was the rearward visibility.

 

 

The cockpit was heavily framed and to escape, the pilot had to somehow open a car type door into a 400mph breeze! This caused many pilots to choose trying to make a crash landing instead of bailing out at altitude, resulting in many deaths.

 

 

 

Another problem was that the start up procedure was very difficult and if done incorrectly could destroy an engine.

I was surprised to find out that the first aircraft were equipped with six .303 machine guns. Thankfully the armament was changed to the 20mm cannon before the Duxford Wing went operational. The initial role of the Typhoon was as a fighter. It was faster than both the Spitfire and the Hurricane but was not as maneuverable due to its weight and size. The pilots found it to be an excellent gun platform, something that would serve it well in the future.

 

 

However, as the hours climbed, so did frustrations with the aircraft. The engine, oil system, fuel system and hydraulic system all gave problems. The most dangerous trouble, though, was that when pulling out of a high G dive, the tails on some aircraft came off, killing valuable pilots. This was fixed with strengthening fillets placed around the tail. A cockpit redesign fixed not only the visibility problem but the near fatal entrance/exit problem too as the cockpit was now covered by a bubble canopy. The other troubles also were fixed but it all took time and because the war continued, pilots died. It was mid ’42 before the Typhoon went operational.

Several aircraft were also lost since in plan view, the Typhoon closely resembled the FW190 Butcher Bird. Quite a few Typhoons were lost when shot down by either other allied aircraft or by friendly AA fire.

 

It became apparent early on that the aircraft wasn’t a pure fighter. As the Spitfire was developed along with American designs, it allowed the Typhoon to become a superlative fighter/bomber. It was eventually armed with either the 20mm and 500lb-1000lbs bombs or the 20mm and 60mm rockets. The Typhoon crewed with aggressive pilots, many of which were Canadians and because the ground attack role was so lethal, all pilots were volunteers to the typhoon wings. The combination is what made the legend that swept the Germans aside on the fight to Berlin.