The Paper Hurricane: Part 2

Have you seen the Paper Hurricane that flies alongside Spitfire RW388 in the Spitfire Gallery? Artist Suhail Shaikh takes us through the epic journey of the sculpture’s creation. In this second installment, Suhail takes us through the detailed process of building the Hurricane.

Suhail Shaikh, 2021

I started by diving into research on the plane itself. The thing about research is that it is never linear, but rather goes off in all sorts of directions. Studying the design led me to study the conditions in which it was designed which in turn led me to the designer Sydney Camm and his incredible journey through aviation design, right from the first world war, through the second and into the cold war. Fascinating isn’t it, that one brain can fathom the ever evolving subject and parameters and project ahead to satisfy performance with existing technologies and processes. It takes courage and confidence and clear thinking to encompass all the parametres that involve a whole set of people, from riveter to pilot. And aeronautical design was in it’s infancy then. The fact that in the 30’s almost 80 percent of RAF aircraft were Hawker designs says something about Sydney Camm.

I read about pilot experiences, battles, aircraft modifications, mechanic’s feedback, deployment overseas and more. All that information ‘coagulates’ in the mind to create a base on which to launch the actual building of the Hurricane. I wanted to focus on the following elements that I found particularly important and interesting.

  1. Design. The structure was made partly out of tubular steel, wood and canvas, and partly out of aluminium alloy sheeting. The aircraft ‘bridged’ the change-over from the older technology to the newer monocoque designs like the Spitfire or rival Messerchmitt’s.

    The Hurricane had an advantage in battle. Enemy cannon shells could puncture the wood and fabric covering, without touching the metal structure and exploding. Any damage was quickly repaired at the airfield. The simplicity of its design enabled it’s assembly, repairs and remarkable improvisation in squadron workshops with basic equipment under field conditions.The Hurricane involved less labour – 10,300 man hours to produce versus 15,200 for the Spitfire and thus was significantly cheaper. This was very much a manufacturer’s, mechanic’s and pilot’s airplane, willing to take a beating and yet throw a big punch.
  2. The complexity. From the outside we always see airplanes as streamlined shapes slipping through the air. What lies under the surface is fascinating. The structure carefully studied to withstand the four forces of Thrust, Drag, Lift and Weight at different speeds and attitudes, stay stable and intact. I wanted to show the skeleton inside which has an ‘industrial beauty’ to itself.
  3. The engine under the bonnet. The Rolls Royce Merlin was a magnificient and timely invention that is testimony to the brilliance of British engineering. Evolved from the racing engines of the Schnieder Trophy races the Merlin powered the Hurricane, Spitfire, Lancaster, Mosquito and many other types of aircraft and was continously upgraded upto 1950. The Griffon, descendant of the Merlin, was built till 1955. By then jet engines were taking over with their power/weight/complexity ratio advantage. I wanted to salute and honour the merlin and decided to build it, in as much detail as I could, in paper. I wanted to bring to light the layers and complexity of what it takes to make a plane fly.
  4. The Hurricane is remembered as a war machine. In order to put the spotlight more on the historical and design aspects I decided to omit the guns and the markings so that we see it in the light of the pure genius of the human mind, our capacity to create amazingly complex and beautiful machines that can defy the forces of physics, and fly!

I began by printing out whatever drawings I could trawl off the net and from books, to scale. Over 50sq m of drawings!

I then made my own drawings from these, carefully tracing out the fuselage and wing profiles, all the time studying where and how the original structure was built, in order to follow it to the letter.

I built my own sections in paper. This is the part where I needed to understand the material and see how the strength/weight ratio plays out. T sections, L sections, I sections, C sections…trying to get the right section for the right job. Mainly in .7mm thick paper, layered and glued together in different ‘grain’ or rather ‘fiber’ directions for strength, much like ply-wood.

Since I was building the inner Warren truss box-girder frame and engine that would go in the plane, I built the outer fuselage in two halves to accommodate frame, engine and cockpit later. I studied the actual Hurricane construction methods from what available information I could fine ( not much) to take cues from there.

I measured the lorry in which it would all go on it’s cross channel voyage from my workshop in southern France to Stoke-on-Trent. And made sure that the lorry had it’s permissions and would still be available a year later. The knock-down design of the paper Hurricane was planned around the lorry space.

Once the fuselage halves were ready I began work on the engine…

Written by Joe Perry (Curator, Local History)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *