River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The First Hurricane Squadron

September 2002

Reprinted from the 'Journal of the Royal Air Force College'

So little was known of our new aeroplane that there were few regulations about our training. It was up to us to discover how much could be done. It was important that no accidents should occur, for if they did, small regulations would necessarily creep in, which might hinder our training and cramp the type of morale which we considered it sound to stimulate.

With this end in view we gave all our officers and sergeant-pilots clearly to understand that, as members of the first Hurricane Squadron, they had a mission; they had to show that, in spite of its performance and its more complicated mechanism, the Hurricane was a simple, safe and efficient aircraft in which to go to war.

The first aeroplane arrived on 17th December 1937 and, in the order of things, the Squadron Commander had been ordered to a Station 70 miles away to investigate why a fitter had failed to check the oil in a Tutor, which had successfully "forced-landed" some months before.

During January, 1938, all our pilots went solo by day and three of the more experienced went solo by night; and by the end of the month the unit was beginning to think that there was little difference between the Hurricane and any other aeroplane.

On the morning of 1st February 1938, the Commander-in-Chief visited our unit and was glad to hear that there had been no difficulty with the new aircraft.

The same afternoon a pilot was killed unaccountably; but the same night the remainder of the Squadron did their first night solo.

Before this we had made endurance tests at the operational height, largely to see how long the aeroplane could stay in the air; it became a regular custom to fly up to Edinburgh, turn round and come back at various air speeds.

Once a pilot, flying at one of the lower speeds, had returned from Edinburgh in sixty-five minutes at an air speed of 220. This was mentioned to the Technical Branch from the Air Ministry, who were visiting the Station, and they reported the matter to the Press Section.

The Press Section rang up the unit and asked for more details, saying they felt the matter should be reported in the newspapers. They were given all the details and requested not to hand their information to the Press because under the same conditions (but at full power) the journey could be done in under fifty minutes; then was the time to let the Press know.

This it was thought would not cheapen the Royal Air Force and produce such headlines as "Edinburgh-London Record Beaten." This the Press Section agreed to do, and one or two newspapers who had heard about these tests agreed to wait until the full-power trial had been completed. They were told that apart from the effect on the speed of the journey, in the interests of safety it was essential to have a strong following wind, as it was not anticipated that the endurance at full power would exceed fifty minutes.

I made this flight myself, and this is how I tell the story:

"I was slumbering in the ante-room after lunch - a pleasant custom I had learned in the East - and it was a bitter day, a gale was blowing and the clouds were at 500 feet. All our aeroplanes were in the hangars and there appeared no prospect of our being disturbed; all our paper work was complete, and I had heard that the telephone system in the Camp had broken down. There were lots of coal on the fire and I remember wondering in my sleep whether it was not one of those days when one smoked one of the fast diminishing supply of cigars I had received as Christmas presents, when I was rudely awakened and shown a paragraph in a technical paper: ' Hurricane Flies from Edinburgh in Sixty-five Minutes."

"The afternoon was spoiled. I remembered the full-power trial which had to be - reluctantly."

"I went to the telephone, called the Air Ministry to hear about the weather. They spoke of everything from ice formation to clouds covering the high ground; but they did say wind was from the north at 75 miles per hour at 17,000 feet."

"This was the end of an afternoon of leisure."

"I went down to the hangars at 2 p.m.; I had the aeroplane pulled out and started, and sent a telegram to Turnhouse asking for petrol. I was just going to leave when I was called back to the Mess - 'wanted by the Air Ministry'; the Press Section had noticed the announcement in the Technical Press. When was the full-power trial to be done? This afternoon they were told, and requested not to ask questions. I wanted to be back by dusk and I promised to ring them on my return, and flew off to Edinburgh."

"I have read much about the return journey; but nothing about the journey up, which was much more hazardous. As the wind was much stronger than I expected I arrived at Turnhouse at 4.15 p.m. instead of 3.45 p.m., and found no petrol waiting, as I had arrived sooner than my telegram; but owing to the efficiency of the Station this was forthcoming quickly, and I was ready to start back at 4.30 p.m."

"But a characteristic of the Hurricane engine when hot is that it is hard to start. Finding that I could not start the thing I left it on the tarmac while I made an inquiry about the weather the next morning. While I was doing this an inquisitive airman climbed into the cockpit and made the thing go."

"It was now approaching dusk; there were no clouds in Edinburgh and the sky was that dark blue that precedes the dusk. There was a northerly gale blowing and I decided that I would fly back as I felt it would be impossible to miss London in the dark. Taking off at 5.5 p.m., and climbing at 200 m.p.h., I noticed with some pleasure that I had no drift, and at 5,000 feet that I had a considerable sensation of speed. This meant a good wind and less chance of running out of petrol in the dark near London in the event of a miscalculation."

"The ground then disappeared and soon I was at my height with only my instruments, and a rapidly tiring left leg. My air speed varied between 305 and 325. The engine revolutions were constant at 2,975, and boost constant at 51/2 lb. There were ten minutes of high cloud to go through, when the cabin frosted up and a hoar frost formed on the wings."

"Sometimes I felt sorry that I was doing this, and thought of the comfort of the Mess at Northolt; at other times I felt glad. After forty minutes I decided to descend. The airspeed was now 400; the revolutions 3,600; the groundspeed was probably 550. I had an odd feeling flying through cloud at night at a speed I knew to be in excess of 500 miles per hour. Coming out of a cloud at 5,000 feet, I saw momentarily a red light flashing the letter of my Station. By the time that I had registered this I was seven miles further on."

"The signal time from the take-off to going over Northolt was 43 minutes; the time on my own watch 44 minutes."

"I returned to Northolt five minutes later and landed."

Squadron Leader J. W. Gillam

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