The Woman Behind the Hawker Hurricane

Hawker Hurricane Mk.XII

By Blair Stein

 

The Hawker ‘Hurricane’ Model XII was a single-engine fighter aircraft manufactured at Canadian Car and Foundry in Fort William (now Thunder Bay,) ON, between 1938 and 1943. Over 1,400 Hurricanes were produced at Canadian Car and Foundry. They were extremely versatile, serving from ships at sea, on the North African front, and even as a “winterized” versions with skis and de-icing equipment. This versatility stems partially from the Hurricane’s relatively simple, modular design, featuring the steel and aluminum alloy skeleton and combination of doped linen and stressed-metal covering largely typical of the immediate pre-war period. Hurricanes were subsequently widely available to Allied forces at the beginning of the war, and could easily be disassembled for transport. Canadian-manufactured Hurricanes played a decisive role in the Battle of Britain (1940) and are considered responsible for shooting down more enemy aircraft than all other defenses combined. The Chief Aeronautical Engineer at Canadian Car and Foundry was the first woman to graduate with an electrical engineering degree from a Canadian university, Elsie Gregory MacGill. At Canadian Car and Foundry, MacGill oversaw the design and testing of the Maple Leaf Trainer II, the first registered aircraft designed by a woman, and Hurricane manufacture between 1939 and 1943. The Hurricane in the Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s collection was built in 1942, near the end of MacGill’s tenure, and remained in Canada as a training aircraft until 1946. Therefore, this Hurricane, and MacGill’s career more generally, represents two major ways Canada contributed to the war in the air. First, due to its distance from the theatres of war and abundant natural resources, Canadian plants manufactured over 16,000 aircraft for various Allied forces. For these same reasons, Canada also housed 137—essentially all—of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) training sites. The Hurricane, then, served as a symbol of the Canadian war effort on a number of fronts.