Originally built in Canada, Phil Lawton’s Hawker fighter incorporates backstories from Britain, the USSR, Rhodesia and Finland.
Built in Canada and restored in England, a Hawker Hurricane returned to the sky in July 2014 sporting markings utterly alien to anyone who associates the fighter with its iconic role as the Royal Air Force’s mainstay during the Battle of Britain. Instead of British cockades, it wore blue swastikas on white disks, and the serial number of the last Hurricane to serve in the Finnish air force.
By now you’ve probably asked, “What the hell?” If so, take a deep breath and ask a more pertinent question: “How on earth?”
The answer begins at the Canadian Car and Foundry, which built Hurricane Mark XIIB R30040, a license-produced version of the British Mark IIB, in mid-1941. This variant upgraded the Hurricane Mk. I’s 880-hp Rolls-Royce Merlin III V-12 engine to a 1,280-hp Merlin XX, and was produced in two versions: the Mk. IIA with eight .303- inch Browning machine guns in the wings, and the Mk. IIB with 12 wing-mounted weapons. Given the Royal Canadian Air Force serial no. 5487, this particular Mk. XIIB flew coastal defense sorties from Gander, Newfoundland, with No. 127 Squadron until a night training flight on November 22, 1942, in which Flight Sgt. A.R. Taylor crashed into a snowdrift near Indian Bay Pond. Taylor suffered minor injuries; the airplane was written off in March 1943.
After decades on the scrapheap, the Hurricane’s remains were bought by Hawker Restorations in 1990 and shipped to Classic Aero Engineering at Thruxton, in Hampshire, England, which worked on them from 2002 to 2011, when the firm went out of business. At that point Phoenix Aero Services, also at Thruxton, took over.
“As a kid I used to put together scale model aeroplanes,” said Phillip Lawton, who as director of Phoenix Aero Services now assembles the real thing. In 2006 he had purchased a partly completed Mk. XIIB, but found the previous restorer’s work so substandard that “the whole project, which included a large quantity of original Canadian parts and spares, was put into storage.” Components from that plane were combined with the fuselage, center section and engine bearer of the newly acquired Canadian Hurricane to produce a flyable aircraft. Lawton had considered cannibalizing a British Mk. IIB he’d also acquired (Z5207), but found it to have so many more original parts than the Canadian that “the decision was made to start afresh on Z5207 and rebuild an ‘English’ Hurricane.”
The Gloster-built Hurricane had been flown from the aircraft carrier Argus on September 7, 1941, to land at Vaenga, Russia, where it served in No. 81 Squadron, 151 Wing, before being presented to the Soviets. Long after the war ended, a Swiss buyer purchased the Hurricane, but it was subsequently returned to Britain under the civil registration G-BYDL. In 2009 Phil Lawton acquired the plane and also met Dave Anson, whose father, Peter Anson, had flown Z5207 off Argus, and who still had his father’s flight log, with a wealth of useful information.
The Canadian Hurricane’s cockpit was restored to its original appearance, but Lawton had a 1,650-hp Merlin 24/500 installed as the power plant, driving a Hamilton Standard 23E50 airscrew. The project required the work of six mechanics and cost 1.5 million Euros. Finally, having been cleared by the Civil Aviation Authority’s Safety Regulation Group, the Hurricane—in an aluminum finish with Rhodesian Air Force markings and civil registration G-CBOE—took off with Stuart Goldspink at the controls on July 16, 2014.
“The idea of painting CBOE in Rhodesian colors was that it was low cost, different and would allow a potential customer to repaint it at minimal cost,” Lawton explained. So why the change to a Finnish finish? “I have lived in Finland since 2008,” he said. “From a marketing point of view it’s easier to get airshow bookings with a unique color scheme….The plane flew for the first time on July 16 in Rhodesian colors, was repainted over the following weekend, completed its test program the following week, received its permit on the 25th and was ferried to Finland the following week.”
The markings temporarily applied to the Hurricane authentically represented the only Mk. IIB ever to serve in the Finnish air force, bearing the national code HC-465. And therein, too, lies a tale.
Late in Finland’s Winter War with the USSR, Britain belatedly sold the Finns 12 Hurricane Mk. Is in March 1940. Two crashed en route, and the rest fought in the Continuation War, scoring 5½ victories for the loss of one to groundfire, three in fatal crashes and two damaged. Hurricane I HC-452, in which 2nd Lt. Resko Ruotsila scored 2½ victories, survived to go on static display at the Aviation Museum of Central Finland in Tikkakoski.
As for HC-465, it has as dual a pedigree as the plane representing it. Hurricane Mk. IIA Z2585 flew with Nos. 56 and 316 (Polish) squadrons, RAF, before it was shipped to Russia and assigned to the 152nd Fighter Aviation Regiment (IAP). During a reconnaissance flight on February 16, 1942, Lieutenant Feodor G. Zadorozhny suffered engine failure, force-landed on Lake Tuoppajärvi and made his way back to friendly territory. Soviet aircraft strafed the plane two days later, putting 25 bullet holes in it, but the Finns recovered it. Their State Aircraft Factory replaced its engine and eight-gun wings with the engine and 12-gun wings of Z3577, a Hurricane IIB of the 769th IAP that had been downed on April 6, along with a de Havilland propeller salvaged from one of the Mark Is.
By the time HC-465 became operational, the Finns had retired their Hurricanes from first-line service. It was used as a trainer and target tug at Kotka from March 16 through May 31, 1944, then grounded to waste away like all but one of its Mk. I cousins.
Clive Davidson flew Lawton’s Finnish marked Hurricane from England to Finland, accompanied by the owner flying a T-6 Texan as a “support plane.” Besides working out a flight itinerary of several days, they had to deal with some European countries’ ban on swastikas as provocative Nazi symbols, notwithstanding Finland’s adoption of the blue swastika as an air force marking in 1918, long before Adolf Hitler came to power. By 2014, however, Germany had relaxed its ban, provided the swastika was displayed in a historically correct context.
On August 9, then, Hurricane HC-465’s Anglo-Canadian surrogate made its public debut at Finland’s Tour de Sky International Airshow, an annual two-day event that is rotated among various Finnish airports. It was hands down the star of the show, surprising and delighting the air-minded Finns, a good many of whom had forgotten that their air force had ever used Hurricanes.
Afterward Lawton put the fighter—back in Rhodesian livery—up for sale, but took it off the market in late August, “planning on selling the project Hurricane G-BYDL to finance its running.” Then, however, he reported: “In November 2014 G-CBOE was sold to a German collector, along with G-BYDL and all the spares, plus my Texan. I’m closing Phoenix Aero, and probably restarting restoration work in Finland at some time.” One can only speculate on what rara avis will turn up as his next project.
Originally published in the May 2015 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.