Hawker Hunter F.6
Single engine single seat jet fighter
Barely one year after the delivery of the first Hawker Hunter F.4 to the Belgian Air Force, the first Hunters of the improved F.6 version joined the Belgian fighter units. The F.6 variant was powered by the more powerful Rolls-Royce Avon 203 engine producing 10.000lbs of thrust at sea level (an 25% increase over the F.4’s Avon 100). Early on in its service life the Hunter F.6 was retrofitted with a “saw-tooth” wing that prevented a “pith-up” effect at higher speeds and made the aircraft easier to control in high-speed turns. This modification was later introduced in the course of the production process. Additionally the F.6 was also equipped with a 'flying-tail' meaning that besides its power-assisted elevators the fighter was also equipped with an electrically operated variable incidence tail plane. A liquid fuel (AVPIN) starting system replaced the cartridges, resulting in a considerably reduced scramble time. Furthermore, these aircraft could carry wing pylon tanks giving them a greater range while a more advanced radio and navigation system was introduced. All these improvements allowed the Hunter to easily compete with most of the fighters of its generation but unfortunately not for long. The new class of Mach 2 capable fighters/interceptors was already being tested out.
The Belgian Air Force’s requirement was for 144 aircraft (registered IF-1 to IF-144), of which 52 were to be delivered straight from Fokker, whilst Belgian companies Sabca and Fairey at Gosselies produced another 92 from Fokker assembly kits. The first Belgian Hunter F.6 (IF-1) left the Fokker plant on March 3, 1957. On August 30, 1957 the first Belgian assembled aircraft (IF-9) left the Avions Fairey plant and on October 2nd, 1957. Hunter IF-8 was the first F.6 to leave the Sabca line.
The first unit to be equipped with the Hunter F.6 was N° 9 Fighter Wing with 22 Squadron (code 'IS-') and 26 Squadron (code 'JE-') at Bierset. It had received its first Hunters F.4 in August 1957, and already in September of that same year the 9th Wing received brand new Hunter F.6s.
The second Hunter F.6 unit was No 7 Wing at Chièvres, whose first aircraft arrived in December 1957. No 8 Squadron (code 'OV') was the first squadron to be equipped with the aircraft, followed by No 7 Squadron (code '7J') in late 1959. In addition to its air defence role, No 8 Squadron also acted as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for all new Hunter pilots entering the Belgian Air Force. In the early years No 7 Wing operated a mixed fleet of Hunter F.4 and F.6s. During the course of 1958 all the Hunter F.4s from the second batch were sent to Sabca and brought up to partial F.6 standards; their engines had to remain unchanged as the Avon 200s were too large for the airframe. Just a year later all these modified aircraft were flown to Koksijde to be stored and sold as scrap.
In 1960 No 7 Wing was the sole Hunter operator and in 1963 the first rumours appeared that No 7 Wing was to be disbanded quickly confirmed by the disbandment of No 8 Squadron on August 1st, 1963, followed by No 7 Squadron on November 4, 1963. All the remaining Hunters were flown to Koksijde for storage. Here at least 93 were prepared for a ferry flight to the United Kingdom after being bought by Hawker Siddeley Aviation. A large number of these aircraft were upgraded or rebuild as dual seaters and sold on to new users such as India, Iraq, Kuwait, Chile and Lebanon were some of these former Belgian Hunters are still operational. Only a single Belgian Hunter F.6 (IF-65) remains preserved on a roundabout near Chièvres airbase.
The Hawker Hunter F.6 was also the mount of the famous Belgian aerobatic Team the Red Devils (Rode Duivels, Diables Rouges). The team gave their first presentation at the Valenciennes airshow in France on June 12th, 1957 while the last show of the team on Hunter took place at Chièvres airbase on June 23rd, 1963. (Daniel Brackx)