Through the 1970s modern fighter aircraft were becoming increasingly complex and expensive and even the mighty economy of the New Commonwealth was struggling to maintain an effective and modern fighter force in the face of increasing threats from both the East and West.In 1974 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) conducted a theoretical war games exercise called "Current Analysis-74". The purpose of the exercise was to establish how a modern war with a power such as China might take shape. One of the startling results of the exercise was the realization that most military powers expected their main front line fighter force to be all but destroyed within a few days of the start of a war and that secondary aircraft would then take to the fore. One of the recommendations was to produce a cheap and simple but relatively capable aircraft to act in support of the main force. In order to keep costs down it was decided to develop the proven Hawker Hunter to fit the role.
The 'new' Hunter featured the proposed supersonic thin wing that was rejected several years earlier. The outer leading edges of this new wing featured small electrically operated manoeuvering flaps stretching from the wingtips to the dogtooth notch. These flaps increased slow speed roll and pitch rates but at higher speeds were locked into place as they put unnecessary strain on the wing spar. The electric mechanism for the manoeuvering flaps would cause immense headaches for the development team as it initially proved somewhat unreliable being prone to breakages during high-G turns (precisely the time they were needed). On one test flight the starboard flap of the second prototype actually locked in the downward position causing the aircraft to maintain an uncontrollable roll. Only the skill of the pilot avoided disaster. The problems were eventually resolved and the Hunter FG.16 would prove a fierce dogfighter thanks to their addition.The aircraft received the new Blue Foxhound radar, a development of the Blue Fox that was fitted to the Sea Harrier FRS.1. This upset the centre of gravity and necessitated a fuselage plug at the rear to address it. This plug was used to house additional avionics to bring the aircraft up to a more comparable level to other modern combat aircraft. The additional equipment included radar warning equipment, a new navigation system and a limited Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) suite although the aircraft carried additional jamming pods as a matter of routine.
Power was to come from a single Rolls-Royce Sapphire afterburning turbofan. Tests showed that this coupled with the new wing could propel the aircraft to a speed of Mach 1.67 in level flight. The Sapphire was a marvel of Commonwealth engineering proving highly efficient and quite gutsy at low level although in the thinner air of higher altitudes it did tend to be less responsive. It was designed to be maintained using the minimum of support thus improving its ability to operate from semi-prepared strips.
Armament and External Fuel TanksEditThe Hunter FG.16 had seven hardpoints; six underwing and a centreline fuselage hardpoint. Because of its relatively short legs the Hunter FG.16 almost always carried external fuel tanks on the central wing pylons (No.2 and No.6 stations). The standard Hunter external tank of 190 Imperial gallons was retained although later a 235 gallon tank appeared for use by some operators who required greater range.
Primary armament came in the form of four Blue Vesta Infra red guided air-to-air missiles two being mounted on each wing. Because it was envisioned that the aircraft would have a supporting role rather than a front line combat role this was seen as sufficient by the RAF and the Queen's German Legion (who had expressed keen interest in the aircraft from the start) some other potential buyers from outside the Commonwealth armed forces wanted the aircraft to have some kind of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capability and so Radar Red Top missiles were available for export customers although some did eventually arm RAF and QGL machines by 1991.
The radar equipment housed in the nose resulted in the deletion of two of the four 20mm guns that armed previous Hunters but there was enough space to fit two 25mm Aden guns either side of the antennae. These guns would prove devastatingly effective in the tight confines of the fighting over Germany in 1991 where BVR missiles were rendered almost useless.
Alternatively a wide range of unguided air-to-ground ordinance could be carried in the forms of bombs and rockets.
Royal Air Force (RAF)Although it was Australian and British interest that allowed the FG.16 to see the light of day, the Royal Australian Air Force quickly lost its enthusiasm in the type quoting poor range as the primary reason. Indeed, it looked as though the Royal Air Force (RAF) might go the same way until it was decided that they would go directly to Royal Auxillary Air Force (RAuxAF) squadrons. Traditionally RAuxAF squadrons received hand-me-down aircraft from front line units but now for the first time they were getting their own brand-new machines.
The first unit to equip with the type was No.602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron who traded in their English Electric Lightning F.6s for Hunter FG.16s on April 16th 1979. Somewhat ironically it had only been eight years since the unit had converted onto the Lightning from the Hunter FGA.9. Seven RAuxAF squadrons would reequip with the type. Each squadron had at least four T.18 trainers for operational conversion duties by qualified instructors. All seven units were active on home defence duties during the '91 Disaster.
Queen's German Legion (QGL)EditBy far the most enthusiastic and numerically significant operator was the QGL who eventually receive 234 examples including 57 T.17 trainers. Unusually the Hunters did not carry export designations and retained the RAF FG.16 designation. The aircraft was ideal for combating the numerous single engined fighters and attack aircraft of East Germany and the Warsaw Pact such as the MiG-21 and Su-17 (the former still seeing extensive service east of the border).
The most famous operator of the aircraft was undoubtedly No.631 (QGL) Squadron whose aircraft fought with distinction during the Namibian Bush War and later during the '91 Disaster. The squadron was the New Commonwealth's highest scoring unit during the six days of war although at the cost of half their entire strength.