Sir Stanley Hooker

Sir Stanley Hooker

Sir Stanley Hooker played a major part in Fighter Command’s success in the Battle of Britain. Hooker has remained in the shadows of Battle of Britain folklore and whereas many will automatically associate Sidney Camm with the Hawker Hurricane and Reginald Mitchell with the Supermarine Spitfire, few will know that Stanley Hooker played a major part in making these legendary aircraft what they were.


Stanley Hooker was born on September 30th 1907 in Sheerness, Kent. He was educated at Borden Grammar School in Sittingbourne, Kent. Hooker won a scholarship to Imperial College, London University where he studied Mathematics. Hooker’s particular speciality was hydrodynamics. In 1935, he studied aerodynamics at Oxford.


In 1938 Hooker joined Rolls-Royce. The company was in the process of developing what was termed its ‘family’ of Merlin engines. By 1938, many feared that the turmoil in Europe would ultimately descend into all-out war. Nazi Germany had very publicly shown off its Luftwaffe and many knew about what had happened at Guernica, Spain, where the Condor Legion had decimated the town. The Me-109 was a highly praised fighter and the British government was desperate to get Fighter Command up to sufficient strength so that if it had to, Fighter Command could cope with everything the Luftwaffe had. The Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire were rightly praised as aircraft that could rival the Me-109. Powered by a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine they had revolutionised the RAF. However, despite the Merlin engine’s historical reputation for efficiency and reliability, it did have one weakness. The early Merlin engines supercharger did not produce sufficient power when used. In combat, such a weakness could have been fatal.


Hooker was given a brief at Rolls-Royce to work on any project that took his fancy. Hooker chose to work on the supercharger issue. He took a mathematical approach to the problem. His initial changes to the engine created an extra 22 mph and the Merlin 45 had an increased power rate of 30%. The Spitfire Mark V was fitted with the Merlin 45 – the most produced Spitfire of all. The more powerful Merlin 61 was fitted to the Spitfire Mark IX – the second most produced Spitfire. The Mark IX was able to climb better and could fly higher than other variants. The importance of what Hooker did in terms of success in the Battle of Britain cannot be understated as he gave Fighter Command’s pilots the ability to successfully fight Me-109’s and Me-110’s. The Spitfire Mark IX was also more than able to compete with the Focke Wolfe 190 when it appeared. 


Hooker also helped Sir Frank Whittle in his development of the jet engine. Whittle grew increasingly concerned about Rover’s inability to make the parts he needed for his project. Hooker persuaded the chairman of Rolls-Royce, Ernest Hives, to meet Whittle. He was so impressed with what Whittle planned that he got Rolls-Royce’s Derby factory to produce what Whittle needed. Rolls-Royce took over the Rover factory in Barnoldswick in an exchange with Rover that saw Rover take over the Rolls-Royce factory in Nottingham. Hooker was made chief engineer of the Barnoldswick factory working on the jet engine. Hooker worked on the successful ‘Nene’ jet engine, an unlicensed version was used on the Mig-15 during the height of the Cold War, and the ‘Olympus’ engine that was used on later versions of the Vulcan bomber – the mainstay of the ‘V Force’ during the Cold War. Hooker also played his part in the development of the ‘Pegasus’ engine that allowed the Hawker Harrier Jump Jet to take off vertically.


Hooker initially retired in 1967 but acted as a consultant for the industry. However, he returned to Rolls-Royce in 1971 and finally retired in 1978. 


Stanley Hooker was knighted in 1974. A modest man who underplayed his achievements, Hooker titled his autobiography “Not much of an engineer” – something that had been said to him at an earlier stage in his career.


Sir Stanley Hooker died on May 24th 1984.


September 2010

MLA Citation/Reference

"Sir Stanley Hooker". 2014. Web.

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