Product Reviews

Published on June 12th, 2020 | by Guy Warner

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Book Review – Sydney Camm – Hurricane and Harrier Designer

Sydney Camm – Hurricane and Harrier Designer – Saviour of Britain by John Sweetman  HB 320 pages, 28 B&W illustrations, Pen & Sword, £25, ISBN 1526756226

Sydney Camm is undeservedly not as well known as RJ Mitchell (of Spitfire fame). However, along with Roy Chadwick of AVRO, really should be remembered as one of a trio of war winning British designers. Camm had the longest career of the three, rising from shopfloor worker to Managing Director. He was involved in the design of no less than 52 aeroplanes from Martinsyde G100s in the First World War to the Hawker Cygnet in the early 1920s and finally the HS P1127 and P1154. Naturally as he gained in seniority and experience he became less intimately involved with the nuts and bolts of design, as high level meetings and committees took up more of his time but to the end, he was well known for his personal inspection of and comments on the current work of individual draughtsmen in the drawing room. He was a perfectionist, who could be very testy indeed, but if his questions were answered capably and reasonably, he paid heed.

He was born in 1893 in Windsor, the son of a journeyman carpenter and joiner. At the age of 14 young Sydney was apprenticed to a local builder. He was already showing considerable mathematical ability and his interest in aviation was furthered as a founding member of the Windsor Model Aircraft Club; winning second prize for a model of a Sopwith in 1911, which was presented by TOM Sopwith himself. He was an avid reader of Flight and, spotting an interesting advert therein, he bought Lilian Bland’s engine, when she was induced by her father to give up flying.

He began working at Brooklands, one of the hubs of early British aviation, in 1914 for Martin and Handasyde, advancing from cleaning the hangar floor to craftsman, mechanic and draughtsman. He also started writing well-received articles for technical journals. In 1923 he joined HG Hawker Ltd and by 1925 he was the Chief Designer. The list of aircraft types from the next decade or so was staggering – Horsley, Tomtit, Hart, Hind, Audax, Osprey, Demon, Hardy, Nimrod Fury and Hector – elegant and advanced biplanes for their time.

The design and development of the Hurricane is covered in considerable detail with much space being devoted to a fascinating description of the interaction between Camm and the Air Ministry.

Hawker’s wartime role is covered at a brisk pace but with enough content to satisfy this reader. It is a remarkable fact that 12974 Hurricanes were produced in 17 versions for service on 23 battlefronts. It is the only British fighter of the war to operate in every theatre. Following on from the Hurricane we had the Tornado, Typhoon, Sea Fury and Tempest. Then post-war came the Sea Hawk and Hunter. Camm is described as inspiring, awing and, at times, intimidating his team. The author gives a rounded portrait of Camm’s, at times, contradictory character. He also fills in the background of Camm’s family life and broader developments at Hawker Siddeley.

The final part of the book examines, again in appropriate detail, the HS supersonic strike and VTOL projects, P1121, P1127, P1129 and P1154. The P1127, which, of course, became the Harrier, it is said, ‘illustrated Camm’s philosophy: identify a need and seek to provide for it; work closely with an engine company to achieve management of airframe and engine; simplicity in layout and design and do not exceed existing knowledge in too many areas at once.’

Camm did not retire, he died in 1966 at the age of 72, having suffered a heart attack while playing golf.

This is an excellent, well well-researched and highly readable book – not that one would expect anything less of John Sweetman – who members may recall gave a talk in May 2001 to the Ulster Aviation Society about his book on the Dambusters. Highly recommended.

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