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A famed ground-pounder—the sole surviving complete example of its type—has been returned to display in Britain.

Late in November 2018, the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon, England, put its Hawker Typhoon Mark IB, serial no. MN235, back on static display. Although it is not slated to fly, the museum has good reason not to risk it, for in one respect it is the last of its kind. 

Originating from Air Ministry Specification F.18/37 calling for a single-engine fighter armed with four cannons, the Hawker Typhoon underwent a long, frustrating genesis before entering service in September 1941 with a still-troublesome 2,000-hp 24-cylinder Napier Sabre engine. While it was the first British fighter to exceed 400 mph, the Typhoon never topped 412 mph, much less its projected 464 mph. Moreover, its thick wing section and high wing loading gave it a poor rate of climb, and performance dropped off significantly at high altitude. Early Typhoons were plagued by tailplane flutter and structural weakness in the fuselage just forward of the tail.


Even while Hawker labored to remedy the airplane’s shortcomings, the company’s continued commitment to building Hurri­canes led to Gloster Aero­plane Co. Ltd. subcontracting to build all but the first 15 of 3,317 Typhoons produced. Operations patrolling the English Channel began in May 1942, but it was not until August 9 that Pilot Officers Ian M. Munro and Norham Lucas of No. 266 Squadron shared in the first confirmed Typhoon kill, a Junkers Ju-88 off Cromer. Typhoons supported the Dieppe raid 10 days later, claiming one enemy bomber for the loss of two Typhoons and pilots—one falling victim to a Supermarine Spitfire pilot who mistook it for a Focke-Wulf Fw-190. To avert future “friendly fire” incidents, Typhoons were first distinguished by yellow bands under the wings, followed by a white nose and black underwing bands and finally, in 1943, black and white wing bands similar to those universally used in the Normandy landings in June 1944. 

It was after D-Day that the Typhoon fully came into its own as a low-level fighter-bomber, wreaking havoc on German armor and road transport during the Battle of Falaise in August 1944. While it never excelled as a fighter,  a major redesign, especially to the wings, produced a successor that did: the Hawker Tempest.

The RAF Museum’s Gloster-built Typhoon MN235 was powered by a 2,180-hp Napier Sabre IIA engine. After first flying at Hucclecote Aerodrome on February 8, 1944, it was shipped to Wright Field in Ohio in May, for a “complete flight test and extensive comparative tests with our standard fighters.” The U.S. Army Air Forces was also investigating the possibility of extending its range and payload as a fighter-bomber. But a minor accident after only nine flying hours, combined with the conclusion that the thousand pounds of wing ordnance and auxiliary fuel tanks the Typhoon already carried could not be exceeded (not to mention the advent of the superior Tempest), led to its being placed in storage. 

On January 3, 1949, MN235 was shipped to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., but apparently was never put on display. Instead, it was stored at Silver Hill, Md., until April 1967, when the RAF Museum requested its return in exchange for a Hawker Hurricane IIC. 

In April 1968 the Typhoon arrived at 27 Maintenance Unit, Shawbury, for restoration to display condition by a largely civilian team. The aircraft was in generally good shape with only slight corrosion, but one 20mm cannon was missing, along with most of the engine cowlings, the right aileron, undercarriage parts, the radiator–oil cooler unit, side panels below the cockpit and various inspection panels. The missing cannon was replaced from museum stocks, and the spinner was adapted from that of a Handley Page Hastings. The maintenance unit fashioned engine cowlings from sheet aluminum and replicated the radiator using a Bedford truck unit cut down to look like the original…from the front, at least. 

Restoration was completed in November 1968, when Wing Cmdr. D.A. Gifkins, CO of 27 Maintenance Unit, formally presented the aircraft to Dr. John Tanner, founding director of the RAF Museum. It remained in storage, being repainted in February 1972 before it was moved to Hendon for the opening of the new RAF Museum that November. Since then, it has been on display in the Camm Hall area, in what is now known as “Fighter Hall” after the museum’s recent renovation. 

In 1994 the Typhoon was painted in D-Day markings for the 50th anniversary. In November 2013 it was dismantled for inspection and conservation. Removal of the cannon fairings revealed traces of its original wartime colors, including a yellow leading-edge wing band, upper surface gray and even clearly delineated black underside stripes—original Typhoon markings to avoid confusion with the Fw-190. After maintenance, in March 2014 the Typhoon was repainted in the markings of No 440 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Meanwhile, during excavations of its original storage site in Ohio, the volunteer Freeman Field Recovery team found the complete missing Typhoon radiator core, at least one engine cowling, a complete main undercarriage leg, propeller blades and other spares.

With those long-lost parts incorporated into its airframe, the Typhoon was loaned in 2014 to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Rockcliffe, Ottawa, for D-Day’s 70th anniversary. It returned to Britain on April 12, 2018, and was stored at the RAF Museum in Stafford, except for a loan to British Aerospace Systems/RAF Coningsby in July. On October 18 the Typhoon went back to Hendon, where it was reassembled on November 26–28 for its return to public display. 

At least four other partial Typhoon airframes can be seen in Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, and a replica incorporating some surviving components hangs in the Memorial de la Paix in Caen, France. Several cockpit sections survive toward a variety of future restoration projects. If one wants to view a Typhoon sporting virtually all of its original components, however, Hendon’s MN235 uniquely remains the genuine article.  


This feature originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Aviation History. Subscribe here!