Both fighters and bombers improved their range and capacities to carry more. Overall, the period between the wars saw aircraft go from slow, rickety wooden boxes to sleek, metallic speedsters capable of performing integral military operations.
Nothing best defines the advancements made in aircraft design and capabilities that the Hawker company. Beginning shortly after the First World War, Hawker continually and steadily improved his designs making faster and better aircraft. With designs like the Hawker Fury (1931), the company continually modified it's fighter into new designs like the Hind (1934) and the Hurricane (1935). (Angelucci 1983) by the start of World War II, the Hurricane was Britain's frontline fighter and was powered by the famous Rolls Royce Merlin 12 cylinder liquid cooled engine. This engine could produce over 1000 hp and allowed the aircraft to reach speeds of more than 300 mph. While the cruising speed was lower, the Merlin engine would continually be improved until by 1939 the Merlin III was being used. Eventually the Merlin would have up to twenty variants. Using this Merlin XX 1185 hp engine, the Hurricane MK II could reach speeds of 340 mph, had a top ceiling of 36,000 ft, and was armed with four 20mm cannons. (Sharp 1999) This was a considerable amount of firepower as most fighters of the day were armed with smaller machine guns and the 20mm cannon allowed for a greater range when hitting targets. More than 14,000 Hurricanes were produced and they served in all theaters. The Hurricane shot down more enemy aircraft than any other British plane during the war, and even though they were surpassed by other aircraft like the Spitfire, they remained in service until the end of the war. Hawker's designs eventually culminated in the Hawker Tempest MK V, which possessed a single Napier Sabre engine capable of more than 2,100 hp, could reach speeds of more than 430 mph had a range of over 740 miles, and could reach a height of 36,500 ft. (Angelucci 1983)
Like fighter aircraft, by the time World War II started the development of bombers had rapidly advanced. This can be demonstrated by the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber. World War I had taught military theorists that long-range bombing of the enemy's homeland could be an effective means of waging war. Destroying the enemy's means of production, transportation, and communication could disrupt the enemy's war effort. The British meant to do this through large scale bombing raids using heavy bombers. These aircraft had to be large enough to carry enough of a bomb load to cause significant damage, they needed a long enough range to reach the enemy's homeland, and they had to be armed enough to protect themselves against enemy fighter planes. All these capabilities emerged in the Avro Lancaster heavy bomber which had four Rolls-Royce Merlin engines with 1460 hp each, could carry 22,000 lbs of bombs over 1660 miles at a speed of 285 mph. it's crew of 7 was armed with 10-.303 machine guns making it one of the most heavily armed in the British arsenal.(Donald 1998) However, these propeller driven aircraft were beginning to reach the limit of their capabilities, if they were going to fly faster and higher a new type of engine was needed.
If there was anything that the British learned during the war was that Propeller aircraft had limitations. They could only reach tops speeds in the 400 mph range and could not fly higher than around 35-40,000 ft. These limitations could be overcome through the development of a new type of engine: the Turbojet. Both Germany and Britain began to developed jet aircraft as early as 1940, but it was the British who developed and flew the first jet: the Gloster Meteor. This new aircraft first flew on May 15, 1941 but was not able to be produced in large numbers until 1944. The Meteor was powered by two Rolls Royce Derwent 8 turbojets which allowed it to reach speeds of 600 mpg, had a ceiling of 43,000 ft., and a range of more than 600 miles. (Angelucci 1983) it was armed with four 20 mm cannons and could carry 16-60lb rockets. The meteor was the beginning of a quantum level advance in aircraft capabilities which would allow aircraft to reach previously un-thought of speeds.
While jets steadily advanced, the capabilities may have improved but they did not expand. While jets became faster, better maneuverable, had longer ranges, and could carry more ordinance, they could not perform in new ways; until the introduction of the Harrier Jump Jet. Since the time of the Wright Brothers, all airplanes needed a long straight runway from which to take off, this was one of the vulnerabilities of aircraft. Without a working runway, a fighter jet couldn't take off, it was utterly useless. However the Hawker company, renamed Hawker Siddeley, utilized a new technology called thrust vectoring, which directed the thrust of the engines in different directions. By directing the thrust downward the Harrier was able to lift off vertically, like a helicopter, but then transition into horizontal flight and fly like a fighter. This ability for vertical/short take offs and landings, referred to as V/STOL, enabled the Harrier to operate in areas previously impossible for fighters. The British Navy was also able to change the design of aircraft carriers, making them smaller and more efficient. This amazing aircraft began it's career in the but is still in use today. The current version of the Harrier, the AV-8, is powered by a Rolls-Royce turbofan engine capable of reaching 660 mph (mach 0.89), has a range of close to 1500 miles and can carry a wide range of armaments ranging from cannons to bombs and missiles. (Angelucci 1983)
British military aircraft design and capabilities have change dramatically in just one hundred tears. From a start where aircraft could barely achieve speeds of 70 mph, WWII aircraft attained speeds in the hundreds of miles per hour, while modern jets reach top speeds in the Mach range. While WWI aircraft could barely reach altitudes above 10,000 ft., WWII aircraft reached altitudes of 30,000 to 40,000 ft., and in the modern world jets, reach altitudes…