#BookReview – The de Havilland Hornet & Sea Hornet

Richard A. Franks, The de Havilland Hornet & Sea Hornet: A Detailed Guide to the RAF & FAA’s Last Twin-engine Fighter. Bedford: Valiant Wings Publishing, 2015. Images. Colour Profiles. Appendices. Bibliography. Pbk. 146pp.

The de Havilland Hornet is arguably one of the most beautiful aircraft ever designed. The development of the Hornet can be traced to work undertaken by de Havilland to develop a twin-engine night bomber that would be powered by the Napier Sabre engine. While work on this project, the DH.101, and the related DH.102, were dropped, development of the associated DH.103 continued. The DH.103 was a proposed twin-engine single-seat long-range fighter. While rejected as a general-purpose fighter, the British recognised that the DH.103 project had the potential for future operations in the Far East and the Pacific. As such, eventually, development continued with Specification F.12/43 and Operational Requirement OR.126 written around the type.

The first flight of the prototype (RR915) of the Hornet took place on 28 July 1944. On 22 August 1944, RR915 logged a top speed of 491mph. As well as the land-based Hornet, which was produced over four different variants, de Havilland also developed a naval-based variant, the Sea Hornet. Famously, the Sea Hornet was a well-regarded aircraft with Captain Eric Brown being quite profuse in his praise for the aircraft when he tested it. Ultimately, 383 Hornets and Sea Hornets were built including the prototypes. While the Hornet was quickly removed from service in the UK, it continued to serve in the Far East until the mid-1950s. The Sea Hornet was withdrawn from Royal Navy service in the mid-1950s.

Armourers arm a De Havilland Hornet with rockets prior to an airstrike mission in Malaya. (Source: © IWM C(AM) 496)

This book, published by Valiant Wings Publishing, is squarely aimed at modellers and forms part of the publisher’s ‘Airframe Album’ series. The book’s layout is logical and starts with the introduction before through chapters that provide a technical description of the Hornet, a history of the evolution of the aircraft and its variants, camouflage and markings, and a final section with examples of built models by Libor Jekl and Steve Evans. There are also three appendices covering kits and accessories produced of the Hornet as well as books about the type. You can find some examples of the page layouts on the Valiant Wings website here.

The book is illustrated profusely with drawings and photos that help the modeller understand both internal and external details of the Hornet and Sea Hornet. Indeed, Chapter One, which provides a technical description of the Hornet, is just under 80 pages long – more than half of the book. The drawings in this section are taken from the various contemporary technical Air Publications associated with each mark of the aircraft. These historical drawings are incredibly detailed and also have a period feeling to them. More importantly, supported by photos, there is much information in this section that will help the modeller detail their model of the Hornet.

For the modeller, the next significant section of the book is Chapter Three, which deals with camouflage and markings. A good description is provided of the camouflage and markings used by the Hornet and Sea Hornet in the theatres in which they operated. As such, the descriptions cover operations in both the UK and the Far East. As well as the useful description of camouflage and markings provided, this chapter is supported by excellent colour profiles produced by Richard Caruana. There is plenty of inspiration to be found in these pages.

A de Havilland Sea Hornet NF.Mk21 of No. 809 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm takes off from the deck of HMS Vengeance during squadron working up exercises in advanced night interception techniques. (Source: © IWM A 31906)

The last chapter provides modellers with two examples of built models. Unfortunately, despite the type’s good looks, the Hornet has not been well served by manufacturers, and even those kits that have been produced have issues. The first example provided is one of the troubled Special Hobby 1/72 Hornets. In this case, the variant constructed is the Sea Hornet NF Mk. 21 and is built by Libor Jekl. On a personal level, the Sea Hornet Mk.21 is a splendid example of how to turn a good-looking aircraft ugly! Jekl does an excellent job with this kit despite its challenges. The second example presented, built by Steve Evans, is the Trumpeter Hornet FMk.1 in 1/48 scale. Again, a troubled kit most notably with the shape of the nose. Nevertheless, Evans shows what can be produced with this kit.

The appendices are also beneficial with Appendix I providing a detailed list of what Hornet and Sea Hornet kits are available. At the same time, Appendix II details what accessories exist to detail your chosen model of the type. It is not a huge list but is detailed. Obviously, this list only includes those kits and accessories released at the time of publications. For example, Appendix I does not include the recently released 1/72 Hornets by AZ Model.

Overall, this is an excellent publication. Squarely aimed at the modeller, the book does an excellent job of balancing text with images. There is just enough history and information for those who want to know how the aircraft was developed and used as well as enough drawings, photos, and colour plates to keep modellers happy for hours. This, coupled with high production values, makes for a publication that is well worth adding to your reference library if you are interested in the Hornet specifically, or British aircraft more generally.

Header Image: A de Havilland F.MK3. (Source: Wikimedia)

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