Hawker Hunter F.4
Single engine single seat fighter interceptor
In the early fifties Belgium’s air defence consisted of several squadrons of Gloster Meteor F.8s. With the lessons learned from the Korean War (ending in 1953) in which swept wing fighters such as the F-86 Sabre and Mig-15 played a major role; it was obvious that the days of the Meteor F8 as a fighter-interceptor were numbered. To find a worthy successor several new designs were tested including the Canadair Sabre, Dassault Mystère IVA and the Hawker Hunter F.1. The evaluation of the Hunter by a team consisting of Major Remi Van Lierde and Captain Yves Bodart and Marcel Mullenders was very successful and even allowed Major Van Lierde to become the first Belgian to pass the sound barrier on November 19th 1953.
In the past the Belgian and Dutch governments and their local aviation industries had co-operated for the construction under licence of the Meteor. As the Dutch were also looking for a Meteor replacement, it became obvious that the new fighter would require the agreement of both parties.
Finally the Hawker Hunter emerged as the winner of the evaluation process. Both Avions Fairey and Sabca were to co-operate with Fokker from the Netherlands to build the Hunters. The Rolls-Royce Avon engines were to be built exclusively by the Fabrique Nationale (FN) at Herstal in Belgium.
In 1954 an initial national Belgian contract was placed for 48 Hunter F.4s (and 144 Hunter F.6 fighters).
In the mean time the US financed European Off Shore Programme (OSP) had to revise its planned attributions as one country refused the delivery of Hawker Hunters (Germany?). These contracted aircraft were redistributed between Belgium and the Netherlands. Of these Belgium received 64 Hunters - Hawker Aircraft Ltd in the UK, would deliver the first aircraft (serial number ID-1) straight from their lines while another six (ID-2 to ID-7) were to be produced as assembly kits. The remaining 57 aircraft were constructed by Fairey and Sabca (ID-8 – ID-64). The OSP Hunters (ID-1 -ID-64) would be short lived in Belgian service as all were withdrawn from use by May 1958.
The initial national contract for 48 Hunters F.4’s was also honoured, these Fokker build aircraft becoming ID-101 till ID-148 with the Air Force. (Fokker constructed 12 aircraft and delivered 52 assembly kits to Fairey and Gosselies).
During their short career with the Belgian Air Force several of the national contract Hunter F.4s (ID-101 -ID-148) received a limited upgrade to Hunter F.6-standards, introducing the extended wing leading edges (saw-tooth) (which made the aircraft easier to control at high-speed turns and preventing a known pitch up problem), fully powered elevators and gun blast deflectors. However, upgraded Hunter F.4’s never received the more powerful powerplant of the F.6 because the wider engine diameter would not fit into the existing fuselage and thus these modified aircraft kept their F.4 designation. All of the Hunters of this second batch were withdrawn from us and stored at Koksijde by early 1960.
The Hunter entered service in June 1956 when the first F.4s arrived at N° 7 Squadron of Chièvres based N° 7 Wing (Squadron code '7J') to be followed soon by No 8 Squadron (code 'OV') and 9 Squadron (code 'S2'). By the end of 1956, 44 Hunters were operational with the 7th Wing. Already in December 1957 the first advanced Hunter F.6s started arriving at Chièvres.
Also in 1957 the Hunter F.4 was delivered to N° 349 and 350 Squadrons of N° 1 Fighter Wing at Beauvechain. The career of the Hunter at No 1 Wing already came to an end in 1958, when it was decided to re-equip the 1st Wing with the all-weather Avro Canada CF.100 Canuck 5. On April 30th, 1958 a flypast of 12 aircraft marked the official end of Hunter era with the 1st Fighter Wing; all remaining aircraft were flown into storage at Koksijde during the month of May 1958.
The third major unit to receive the new fighter was No 9 Fighter Wing at Bierset receiving its first Hunter F.4 (all former 7 Wing aircraft) equipment during August 1957. The fighters were operated by N°22 Squadron (code 'IS') and N°26 Squadron (code 'JE'). The pilots barely were used to the new aircraft when their replacement the Hunter F.6 started to arrive in September 1957.
Practically all of the surviving Hunter F.4s were sold as scrap after a very short service life while the remainder was used during fire-fighting exercises at various bases while only a handful were kept for preservation. (D. Brackx)