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Lost Classics - BAC TSR.2

Enlarge image (will open in a new window)The troubled story of what was in itself an excellent aircraft, the TSR.2, begins and ends in politics. In April 1957, the British Secretary of State for Defence had declared that the RAF should have no more warplanes. The RAF found a loophole in this ban, insofar as they had already begun negotiating a replacement for the English Electric Canberra.

In May 1957 the RAF wrote into its requirements a series of difficult demands which it hoped could not be met by filling the order with some variation to the Fleet Air Arm's new Blackburn Buccaneer. It called for advanced inertial navigation, terrain-following radar, supersonic speed at low level and Mach 2 at high altitude and, if possible, some way of operating their new bomber / reconnaissance aircraft from very short unpaved airstrips.

A good many design proposals were submitted, and there was a fair choice of advanced afterburning engines. The design submitted by English Electric, who of all contenders had actually produced a supersonic military aircraft, was an outstanding one. Part of the proposal was for a VTOL variant, to be built in collaboration with Short Brothers, but even the standard version looked versatile and capable.

Following political argument, on 1st January, 1959 the contract went to English Electric and Vickers-Armstrongs (who had no supersonic experience) on a 50/50 basis, under protest from the two companies. The preferred Rolls-Royce engine was overruled in favour of the Olympus 22R, to be developed by Bristol and Armstrong-Siddeley.

Enlarge image (will open in a new window)Over the next several months, the airframe companies had, with others, formed British Aircraft Corporation (BAC); the engine companies formed Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd. (BSEL).

Vickers insisted the aircraft be assembled in their works at Brooklands, which had only a tiny airfield. English Electric pointed out that the Warton plant would allow the aircraft to roll out onto a superb field which was already the base for the Mach 2 Lightning aircraft. In the absence of agreement, it was arranged that each aircraft be taken by road to Boscombe Down.

Meanwhile, the Air Staff requirement became more demanding. The design now had to be able to carry advanced reconnaissance systems, including 3-cm side-looking radars, 1.8 cm oblique radars, and an IR linescan installation. It also required blown flaps, low-pressure tyres and very high installed thrust to allow operation from unprepared airstrips. It was to be designated TSR.2, for Tactical Support and Reconnaissance, later becoming Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance. By implication, the Canberra, which it was to replace, became 'TSR.1'. The project began under constant oversight of numerous committees.

The project attracted just the wrong kind of publicity when, on 3rd December 1962, one of the Olympus engines test-mounted under a Vulcan bomber blew up on the ground at Bristol. At full power resonance built up which quickly caused dangerous levels of fatigue. A second engine took the roof of a test building.

As the Weybridge production line took form in 1964, whence it was expected 20 development prototypes and the first 30 production aircraft would come, the project faced problems. Apart from the engine's instability at high power, the two Olympus engines simply did not fit into the fuselage as designed.

It was not as if the project was a simple one following well-established patterns. Most of the TSR.2's systems were completely new to the British industry's experience. Somehow, all the new equipment fitted into the first aircraft, XR-219.

Enlarge image (will open in a new window)The first flight, piloted by Roland "Bee" Beamont with Don Bowen as navigator, took off from Boscombe Down on 27th September, 1964. It had been conceded that one test flight could be made with the troublesome engines unmodified. They were considered likely to blow up at any thrust level over 97%. Britain's Labour government made no secret of its dislike for the project, and the press was playing along.

The Government would cancel the project if it won them the next election. Beamont realised that if one engine failed on takeoff, the other would have to run at 100% thrust. He decided he might as well take off at 100%, and promised to keep under 97% after takeoff. The test flight went well, the aircraft displaying firm, responsive, stable characteristics. It should be noted that this flight took place without any form of autostabalisation.

This success was no small achievement, since Vickers and English Electric both had their own designs, and the Vickers front fuselage, with all the advanced systems, had to be merged with English Electric's fuselage and wings, all with the constant interaction of the diverse committees. The result was a beautifully streamlined machine capable of supersonic performance at very low altitude.

Such a design demanded a short wing span, but small wings did not help it meet the requirement that it be able to operate from short airstrips. The TSR.2 was therefore fitted with the most powerful blown flaps ever designed, giving it fantastic lift at takeoff and landing.

The radome and cockpit contained equipment taken for granted now, but advanced for the early 1960s; heads-up display, one of the world's first terrain-following radars, a projected moving map driven by Doppler and inertial inputs. The canopy transparencies were coated with gold alloy to reflect nuclear flash.

Although the short wing required anhedral (downward angling) for stability, this interfered with airflow to the tail surfaces, so only the wing tips were angled down. Full-span flaps left no room for ailerons. The tail surfaces were 'slab' units - the entire surface moving - and could be operated in unison, or in opposition as 'tailerons'. The vertical surface was also a single slab surface.

Enlarge image (will open in a new window)In the course of further test flights various lesser problems were resolved, leaving a superb aircraft, with exquisite handling and with possibly the most formiodable strike and recon capabilities in the world. On its 14th flight, on 22nd February, 1965, the prototype went supersonic for the first time, over the Irish Sea en route for Warton. The aircraft made 24 flights, most of them more than satisfactory.

Unfortunately for TSR.2, Labour won the 1964 election. A large part of its platform was a strong attack on the British aircraft industry. It proposed to do away with British aircraft, replacing them with "cheaper" aircraft from the United States. It cancelled the Hawker P.1154 and Whitworth Gloster 681 jet-lift aircraft and bought the Phantom and Hercules. It tried without success to cancel development of the Concorde.

They decided to put off any decision until June 1965. The final review had begun a little after its first flight, before the first problems had been resolved; but the obvious success of the TSR.2 was becoming embarrassing. Therefore the program was terminated in the April budget.

The F.111 was ordered to fill the role for which the TSR.2 had been designed. The F-111 in many respects failed to meet the RAF's original Operational Requirement. In time it was widely publicised that, unlike the extremely satisfactory British design, the F-111 was plagued with a variety of problems in its early stages. Eventually the F-111 contract was cancelled on the pretext that with reduced interests west of Suez, such an aircraft was not required.

BAC TSR.2 data:
Two Bristol Siddeley Olympus Mk.320
afterburning turbojets, each of 30,610 lb.
(13885 kg) thrust

44,850 lb (20344 kg)

95,900 lb (34500 kg)

840 mph (1352 km/h)

Mach 2.5, 1,360 mph (2185 km/h)

4,261 mls (6857 km)
(2000 lb/907 kg load); 460 mls (741 km)

37 ft 0 in (11.28 m)

89 ft 0 in (27.13 m)

24 ft 0 in (7.32 m)

Internal bay for 1-2 nuclear bombs,
6x 1000 lb (454 kg) bombs or long range tank;
four wing pylons for up to 6,000 lb (2722 kg)
of bombs, four AS.30 missiles, nuclear bombs,
rocket pods or tanks.

Related links:

More websites with info about the BAC TSR.2:
Thunder and Lightnings


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