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Aces of Aviation

Hawker Hunter F Mark III of Neville Duke

Hawker Hunter F Mark III of Neville Duke

Hawker Hunter F Mark III piloted by Neville Duke, between Tangmere and Littlehampton, the 7th September 1953.

Wingspan: 10.27 meters.

Length: 13.98 meters.

Height: 4.01 meters.

Engine[s]: Rolls-Royce Avon RA7R of 3234.1 kilograms of thrust.

Maximum speed: 1171 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 14875 meters.

Range: 660 kilometers.

Born the 11th January 1922 in Tombridge, Kent, Neville Duke served during the largest part of his active career in the fronts of Middle East and the Mediterranean, where he achieved all except two of his 28 victories. When returning to United Kingdom in September of 1944, he was temporally transferred as Test Pilot to the Hawker Aircraft Limited, to fly the new Hawker Tempest. In 1945 he made the Course Number 4 in the Empire Test Pilots's School, before joining the Royal Air Force High Speed Flight, under command from Captain E. M. Donaldson, who set a new worldwide flight speed record of 990 kilometers/hour with the Gloster Meteor Mark IV.

Always as Test Pilot, Duke spent around eighteen months in Boscombe Down before leaving the RAF, and in the mid 1948 he returned to the Hawker Aircraft Limited, where he was appointed Test Pilot. Initially he piloted the Sea Fury and the Sea Hawk (setting a speed record while flying to Cairo, in 1949) as an assistant of Squadron Leader T. S. "Wimpey" Wade, who was the Chief Test Pilot of the company. The 13th April 1951 Wade died onboard the Hawker P-1081 and Duke became Hawker's Chief Test Pilot. The 20th July of that year, he piloted for the first time the prototype of the Hawker Hunter, serialized as WB188 (the aircraft depicted in the illustration), in Boscombe Down. From that moment he began his prominent contribution to the development of the Hawker Hunter.

For many, the Hawker Hunter became a synonym of Neville Duke, and his brilliant performances in Farnborough would always be remembered, specially that of 1952. Immediately after seeing how his close friend John Derry died while performing a similar deed, Duke took off to effectuate his own performance, close to breaking the sound barrier. The 7th September 1953 Duke piloted the original prototype, now fitted with a new engine, the Rolls-Royce Avon RA7R with afterburner, and denominated Hunter Mark III, on a three-kilometer route from Tangmere to Littlehampton, in Sussex, at an average speed of 1171 kilometers/hour, setting a new worldwide flight speed record. The 19th September Duke piloted the same aircraft on a 100-kilometer closed circuit, reaching a speed of 1141 kilometers/hours and setting a new worldwide record for this type of circuit.