The tale of the TSR.2
began in March 1957, when the Air Staff announced its operational
requirement GOR.339. The GOR.339 document (which later became OR.339,
and after review OR.343) called for a tactical strike and
reconnaissance aircraft, to enter service in 1964. The GOR.339 aircraft
was to be able to operate in all weather conditions, without relying on
external systems (such as navigation beacons) to complete its mission.
The mission pattern assumed was an attack at very low level, at high
subsonic speed on most of the way to the target, with a supersonic dash
over the target. At high altitude, the aircraft should be able to fly
at Mach 2 and to "supercruise", although this term had not been
invented yet. Despite being a tactical strike aircraft, it had to be
able to reach targets up to 1000nm (1850km) away. The load would be a
tactical nuclear free-fall bomb, or conventional bombs. A crew of two,
pilot and navigator, was to fly the aircraft. A good take-off and
landing performance was required.
From the start, some
fog surrounded GOR.339. The introduction to this document stated that
the requirement contained the "broad outlines" of the project. It also
stated that the aircraft would be able to fly missions to the USSR,
with in-flight refuelling, and thus added an unofficial strategic
dimension to the GOR.339 requirement. This suggests strongly that,
although the GOR.339 was officially intended to replace only the
Canberra, it was also being regarded by the Air Staff as a possible
replacement and enhancement for the V-bomber force. After the
cancellation of the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile, it had been
decided to transfer the nuclear deterrent to the Royal Navy and its
Polaris submarines. But the RAF wanted to retain a nuclear capability.
The GOR.339 was considered to be suitable for a condition of "limited"
submitted by Avro, Blackburn, Bristol, Fairey, English Electric,
Handley Page, de Havilland, Short Brothers, and Vickers. The proposal
from Blackburn was a modified version of the NA.39 Buccaneer naval
attack aircraft, which it was going to build for the Royal Navy.
Although the NA.39 did not meet the requirements of GOR.339, the
Secretary of State for Air suggested that the Buccaneer could be
required as an interim replacement for the Canberra. The GOR.339, he
suggested, would not enter service before 1968. But this idea was
dismissed by the RAF:
The Blackburn NA.39 was unsuitable because it was
subsonic, had a too short range, required a too long runway, and had an
insufficiently advanced bombing system. The RAF would rather prefer the
keep the Canberra (subsonic, and with a primitive bombing system) in
service a few years longer! Obviously, there was a fear that adoption
of the NA.39 as a palliative would lead to abandonment of the GOR.339.
Nobody can have expected that in the end, it would be the other way
around. The RN of course liked the idea of the RAF accepting a
derivative of its NA.39, because this would reduce the costs. The First
Sea Lord advocated the NA.39 as much superior to the Canberra, and
available in 1961. He even offered to share the ordered pre-production
aircraft with the RAF. His suggestion was again rejected by the Air
Ministry. As the Air Ministry would state later, for the purposes of
the RAF the NA.39 would be obsolescent by the time it could enter
On 17 June 1958, the
Deputy Chief of Air Staff defended the OR.339 in the Defence Research
Policy Committee (DRPC). AM G. Tuddle argued that the OR.339 was also
vital to the aircraft industry, the position of the UK in the NATO, the
Army, and (surprise!) the Navy. He added that it would probably be "the
last military fighting aircraft developed in the UK." This statement
was probably based on the 1957 "Defence White Paper", that boldly had
declared all manned aircraft obsolescent in favour of missiles. The
GOR.339 was making an exception on this rule.
According to Tuddle,
the development of OR.339 would cost 35 million, and it would be ready
in 1965. The representative of the Navy correctly dismissed these
predictions as overly optimistic, and advocated NA.39 again to fill the
gap between the Canberra and OR.339 --- it was even possible, he
suggested, to delay OR.339 by two years. However, when it was later
suggested that the RN could adopt the aircraft developed for the RAF,
the Admiralty was quick to answer that NA.39 and OR.339 were not in
competition and designed for different roles.
On 10 September, the
Minister of Defence authorized a production order for the NA.39, and
indicated that he would not yet set a limit on production. The
suggestion that in the future some surplus NA.39 might be available
upset the RAF, and it began putting pressure on the Minister, H.
Watkinson, to decide on OR.339. In November the Ministry of Defence
gave authorization to ask the Treasury for the money for the
development. But then the estimated development costs were already up
to 70 million, twice the amount mentioned in June. When the Air
Ministry asked the Treasury to allocate 62 million to them, with an
option on an additional 15 to 25 million, this provoked a sharp
reaction. The response from the Treasury amounted to a thinly veiled
accusation that the RAF had deliberately underestimated the costs to
safeguard the programme, and suggested to look at the NA.39 option
again. The Treasury also complained that the MoD asked for large
amounts of money, while it was not yet itself convinced of the need for
On 1 January 1959, a
press statement was issued, using for the first time the name TSR.2.
The acronym TSR indicated the aircraft's function of Tactical Strike /
Reconnaissance, although the first documents described it as Tactical
Support / Reconnaissance. TSR.1 was supposed to be the Canberra. It is
also possible that someone had remembered the original TSR.II
--- the prototype of the Fairey Swordfish! The air staff requirement
was revised and now became OR.343. It was required that one squadron
would be fully equipped at the end of 1965. Thus began the long fight
of the RAF against delays of the TSR.2 program. The 1965 goal could
only be met, it was agreed, if no changes were made to the
specifications during development and by a very concentrated effort.
There was still anxiety
about the very high costs, and on 7 March the Chiefs of Staffs were
asked to review the need for the TSR.2 again. They submitted a paper in
May. In a later meeting, Minister of Defence mentioned that there were
two cures to the cost problem. The first was selling the TSR.2 to the
USAF, which he intended to try during his next visit to the USA. This
was a reasonable hope, because the USAF did already have a
licence-built version of the Canberra in service, the Martin B-57. The
other option was giving the TSR.2 an extended strategic role by fitting
it with a missile. The latter option would of course not reduce the
cost, but it would make the TSR.2 more useful, and thus help justifying
the expenditure. But the Minister's suggestion that this could be a
weapon "like Bulpup" revealed his lack of technical knowledge: The US
Bullpup had a range of about 10km. The development of a new cruise
missile for the TSR.2 was under consideration. Blue Steel, the missile
carried by the V-bombers, was much too large.
The first TSR.2
contract was placed on 3 June 1959, but this was only a development
contract, running until 30 July 1960. It was not until the autumn of
1960 that all branches of the government finally agreed with the
development of the TSR.2, and the contract was signed on 6 October. The
Treasury agreed with an expenditure of 61.7 million pound. A Progress
Review Committee, a Development Progress Committee, a Management Board
and a Steering Committee would supervise the TSR.2 development. In the
long run, these committee would show themselves complete incapable of
controlling the TSR.2 project.
After the 1959
elections, Duncan Sandys had begun to reorganize what was left of the
British aviation industry. There was a feeling that there were too many
and too small companies --- the financial weakness of some of them was
due to Sandys' own 1957 Defence White Paper. Not only were these
thought to be uncompetitive, it was also an expensive situation for the
taxpayer. The creation of the V-bomber force had resulted in contract
for two interim types (the Sperrin and the Valiant) and two definitive
types (the Victor and the Vulcan) at great expense. In the future there
would certainly be fewer, but more expensive development contracts, and
the creation of larger conglomerates was logical. To achieve this
reorganisation, the government made it a condition in the contracts for
GOR.339 and other projects, and even cancelled orders for a batch of
Victor bombers because Handley Page refused to cooperate.
Hence the contract for
GOR.339 was placed with a conglomerate of Vickers-Armstrong, English
Electric, and Bristol Aeroplane. BAC was created speedily, and a final
agreement was signed in in June 1960. The three merging companies had
40:40:20 shares. At the engine side a similar merger occurred: The
Olympus 22R Mk.320 engines would be developed by Bristol-Siddeley
Engines, also recently created by a merger of Bristol Engines and
Armstrong Siddeley. This choice of engine had not been the one of BAC,
which had preferred Rolls-Royce engines. It was easier to sign a formal
merger than to achieve integration between design team and work forces
that were used to compete sharply with each other. Not everyone was
enthusiast about the enforced merger, and the cooperation within BAC
often lacked effectiveness.
The allocation of the
contract was by no means the end of the political discussions. On 27
March 1962 the MoD called for a new review of the TSR.2 project,
because estimates of the development cost had risen to 137 million. The
DRPC decided that the TSR.2 development could continue, but only on
condition that the project would be reviewed again when new cost
estimates became available. In July 1962 the Management Board for the
TSR.2 project heard more bad news: The first flight date was being
shifted back to August 1963. The reason was highly embarrassing: BAC
had failed to produce a number of drawings, and certain parts of the
prototypes had therefore not been manufactured!
In December 1962 the
cost estimates were up to 175--200 million, with a rather large margin
of error. The estimated unit cost had risen to 2.1 million, and the
predicted service entry of the TSR.2 had slipped back to late 1967. The
Management Board was highly dissatisfied, and suggested that BAC could
improve its own management of the programme. The director of BAC,
George Edwards, agreed and made some suggestions. BAC was also willing
to accept "incentive clauses" in their contract. Officials began to
take a cynical view at the cost of the TSR.2 program, but in February
1963 the DRPC agreed again with the continuation of it. Suggestions
were made by the MoD and the Admiralty that the number of TSR.2s could
be reduced to 50 or 60 instead if 138, but the RAF and MoA rejected
these. In June the estimates were up again, to 197--222 million.
In June 1963 an order
was placed for eleven pre-production TSR.2s, to reinforce the
development batch of 9 aircraft. Important was also a visit by an
Australian delegation, because the RAAF wanted 24 strike aircraft. (The
RAAF would later also select the F-111, and it would actually receive
these aircraft.) The confidence was now growing, and in October the MoA
gave a press release on the TSR.2. The reaction from the press was
considered favourable by the MoA, but "inevitably there was a tendency
to dwell upon the cost." The RAF began making plans for the training of
In December 1963 the
TSR.2 program was debated in the House of Commons. The Times
commented sarcastically that there were "rumours of cancellation", and
official denials of this "strenuous enough to spread panic through the
arms industry". There were also questions about the strategic role of
the TSR.2, because of an earlier decision that the RAF would abandon
this role to the RN and its Polaris missiles. In his reply the MoD
stressed that the strategic role of the TSR.2 was only a bonus, not the
reason for its existence.
As far as the TSR.2 was
concerned, 1964 was just more of the same: Rising costs, slipping time
schedules, and disagreements between government officials and BAC. It
was now obvious that the RAF, MoA and MoD had lost their confidence in
the management of BAC. The TSR.2 had still not flown in July 1964, but
cost estimates were now at 240 million, with an unit price of 2.3 to
2.8 million. It made its first light on 27 September.
In October 1964, a
Labour government came in power. It wanted to reduce the defence budget
to 2000 million a year by 1969/1970. And because TSR.2 was the most
expensive development contract running, it was a logical target. The
R&D costs were now estimated at 272 million, and the production costs
for 158 aircraft at 469 million. This prompted yet another review of
the TSR.2 program, and a number of foreign types were considered to
replace it, including the TFX, later known as the F-111. This was,
sadly, also a mismanaged project, and an Air Staff team sent to
Washington reported that "There is some reason to believe that there
are difficulties about aerodynamics, weight growth and rising cost."
Nevertheless, it was estimated that 158 TFX aircraft could be acquired
for 332 million.
Several means of
cutting the costs were also considered, and a proposal to negotiate an
agreement on a fixed-price contract was approved in March 1965.
Meanwhile, it was decided to update the specifications of the TSR.2 by
taking into account the first flight test results.
On 15 January 1965, the
Secretary of State for Defence expressed for te first time his view
that the TSR.2 should be cancelled, along with the P.1154 and the
HS681. The TFX would be cheaper, although it was admitted that costs
might rise --- this aircraft was still in an early stage of
development. At the end of January, it was decided to defer a decision
until a closer comparison of the TFX and the TSR.2 had been made. The
Prime Minister announced this decision on the House of Commons in early
February. He estimated that this would cost the taxpayer 4 million per
At the end of March,
the Defence and Overseas Policy Committee reviewed its position. BAC
had refused to accept a fixed price contract, although it had been
willing to accept a limited financial responsibility. The final
decision was made in two Cabinet meetings on 1 April. An option for the
F-111A was secured before announcing the cancellation, because the
government did not want to be "in the hands of the Americans". The USA
was willing to sell the F-111 at an unit price of 2.125 million pound
for the first ten and 2.32 million for later aircraft. The UK did not
yet have to commit itself to actually buying the F-111.
On 6 April 1965, the
Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, announced the cancellation of the TSR.2
in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State for Defence, Denis
Healey, explained that the government had been very reluctant to do so,
but that the cost of the TSR.2 program was becoming an "intolerable
burden", because the total cost of 750 millions pounds amounted to 5
million per aircraft, assuming a production of 150 aircraft. Such an
expenditure, he declared, could not be cost-effective. He added that
even the best efforts of BAC and the government could not provide any
"assurance that the Government's ultimate financial responsibility
would be limited".
Healey continued to say
that Britain could no longer afford to produce combat aircraft for its
own armed forces only. He went one important step further when he
announced the governments intention to reduce the number of strike
aircraft that would be bought for the RAF. "It might even be possible
to reshape our defences in such a way as to dispense with this type of
aircraft altogether." When questioned about this remarkable statement,
Healey admitted that this was very unlikely. It would only occur if
Britain would decide to retire its forces from the Middle East and
Asia. He mentioned that the government did indeed intend to buy a new
strike aircraft, the General Dynamics F-111A, and that this could be
done for less than half the price of the TSR.2 program.
To that date, BAC had
received 125 million for the development of the TSR.2, and about 70
million had still to be paid.
The TSR.2 was intended
to cruise at Mach 2.05 at an altitude of 36000ft (10100m), and to
achieve supersonic speeds at treetop height. This had to be combined
with a long range and a good take-off and landing performance. These
requirements called for powerful engines, a large fuel load, and a
The most remarkable
characteristic of the TSR.2 was its enormous length. >From front to
tail the fuselage contained a small radar, the cockpit, an avionics
bay, a large fuel tank, the jet intakes and another fuel tank, the bomb
bay, and the large engines with two more fuel tanks. The fuselage was
crammed with fuel, and even the engines were almost completely
surrounded by fuselage fuel tanks 3 and 4. About 80% of the fuel was in
the fuselage, the rest was integral wing tanks. The internal fuel
capacity was 5588 imp. gallons (25425 litre). The small wing was of
delta planform with cropped wingtips. Instead of giving the entire wing
anhedral, the wingtips were turned sharply downwards. Almost the entire
wing was an integral fuel tank. Two pylons could be fitted under each
wing, to carry missiles, bombs, or even more fuel --- the ferry tanks
contained 2400 imp gallons, 10920 litre.
A small, highly loaded
wing gives the smoothest ride at very low altitude, but to achieve the
requested good take-off and landing performance, the entire wing
trailing surface had to be fitted with blown flaps. They could be
turned down to 50 degrees for landing, the take-off setting was 35
degrees. There were no ailerons, and the TSR.2 relied on differential
operational of the tailplanes for roll control.
The tailfin and
tailplanes had no fixed parts, but the elevators were split in two
sections. Four airbrakes were fitted on the aft fuselage, in the narrow
gap between the wing trailing edge and the tailfins.
The engine intakes were
of half-circular type, with movable shock cones. There were auxiliary
intake doors behind the lips of the main intakes.
The Olympus 22R Mk.320
engines were twin-spool axial-flow engines, with variable afterburners
and water injection. They were designed for sustained cruise at Mach
2+, a feature which would be used later in the Concorde, which was also
powered by the Olympus --- at least the money for the engine
development was not wasted.
The development of the
Olympus 22R engine was not without problems. That there was a serious
problem was demonstrated in December 1962, when a Vulcan testbed
exploded during ground running. The event was traced back to a resonant
vibration of the turbine, excited by the coolant air flow for the
turbine blades. In July 1964 the shaft of an Olympus engine failed
during ground testing, requiring more modifications. And after the
engines had been installed in the first TSR.2, the vibration problems
The two crew members
sat far forward in the fuselage, on Martin Baker Mk.8A ejection seats.
The location of the cockpit was chosen to reduce the vibrations during
low-level flights as much as possible.
The view from the front
cockpit was very good, without any glare even in bright sunlight
conditions. Only during the initial climb had the seat to be raised.
The navigator only had a view on the outside world by two small windows
in the side of the hood. Directly in front of him was nothing but a
large electronics panel. The most serious complaint about the cockpit
design was related to the very unreliable and temperamental air
The Autonetics Verdan
computer system was an American product, developed for the A-5
Vigilante carrier-based jet bomber --- an aircraft which had many
similarities with the TSR.2. It combined data from the nose radar, the
Doppler navigation radar, and an inertial navigation system. The TSR.2
was also fitted with a radar altitude meter and systems to keep the
TSR.2 automatically at an altitude of 90m. The system was designed for
blind attacks with an error of less than 100ft (30m).
The nose radar had
limited search capability, only over sea or flat terrain, and an
air-to-air capacity suitable to assist in the connection with tanker
aircraft. It was intended primarily for navigation and bomb aiming.
For the reconnaissance
radar, a pallet could be installed in the bomb bay. This contained a
side-looking radar, cameras, and a line scanner.
The TSR.2 stood high
above the ground, and a not too tall person could walk under it. It had
a backward retracting nose leg with twin wheels. The mainwheel had two
wheel in tandem, and retracted into the fuselage. During tests, there
were several occurrences of heavy vibrations upon touchdown, and
modifications to the landing gear were planned.
A tail parachute was
fitted and routinely used during the test flights.
The original contract
called for 9 prototypes. This was later extended by the order of 11
The first TSR.2 was
rolled out at Weybridge (Vickers) on 4 March 1964, but the first flight
was repeatedly delayed. It was found that the engines required
modification because they did not fit into the TSR.2, a sign of the
poor communications between BAC and Bristol Sidddeley. After relocation
of the engine accessories they were installed, but during ground tests
there were serious vibrations. A palliative was implemented, and the
TSR.2 was cleared for its first flight, but with an engine power
limitation. Afterwards, test pilot Roland Beamont commented: "It is
clear that the current engine ratings leave the aircraft critically
short of thrust, and this situation is likely to dictate the rate of
flight development." New engines would have to be fitted, and this
caused again a delay of months.
There was pressure to
have the TSR.2 ready to fly at Farnborough's SBAC show in September.
But the first flight of XR219 was finally made on 27 September, with
Roland P. Beamont at the controls and D. J. Bowen in the navigator's
seat. For this flight, the undercarriage was left extended and the
engine intake configuration fixed. Beamont found that the TSR.2 was
pleasant to fly, without any major deficiencies. The behaviour was very
close to that predicted by design studies and a simulator.
The second flight was
not made until the end of December, because the engines had to be
replaced. The undercarriage was also troublesome, and not until the
tenth flight was a successful undercarriage retraction achieved. This
was on 6 February 1965. Supersonic speed was achieved on the 14th
flight, on 22 February, when XR219 achieved supersonic speed at "Max.
Dry Intermediate" power. The full performance envelope could not be
investigated during this flight, because of an error in the No.2 engine
(port) which prevented the selection of afterburning. Nevertheless
Beamont flew the aircraft to Mach 1.12, with only the No.1 engine at
1/3 afterburner. The XR219 remained completely controllable, with only
a small trim change required.
The TSR.2 was
directionally very stable, stable in pitch, and somewhat unstable
laterally at subsonic speeds. Supersonic flight was reached with only
mild buffet between Mach 0.93 and Mach 1, and no trim change was
needed. At supersonics speeds it became laterally stable, and behaved
While everything was
fine on the aerodynamics side, there were numerous teething troubles
with other elements of the TSR.2. The undercarriage continued to cause
problems, with serious (1.5g) oscillations on touch-down. The cabin air
conditioning failed to operate in any reasonable way. The engines were
a source of constant problems.
After the cancellation
on 6 April 1965, the three TSR.2s built were immediately grounded. They
were never to fly again.
In January 1968 the UK
cancelled its option on the F-111. At that time the favourite aircraft
of McNamara was in serious trouble. It fell below the specifications,
was seriously delayed and had become even more expensive than the
TSR.2. Although the USN abandoned its F-111B carrier-borne fighter
version as totally unsuitable, the F-111 was not cancelled. Later the
F-111 would prove that it was an effective strike aircraft.
It was decided to buy
the F-4 Phantom for the tactical attack role, and the Buccaneer as
long-range strike aircraft. This was a remarkable reversal of fortunes.
A single Buccaneer, XK487, had been used as a testbed for the TSR.2's
radar in 1963, and had attracted new interest from the RAF because of
its excellent performance at low altitudes. In 1969 the RAF received
the first example of the aircraft it had rejected twelve years earlier.
In July 1970 No.12 squadron became the first operational Buccanneer
unit of the RAF. The land-based version of the Buccaneer was the S.2A.
The S.2B was a modified version, which had a bulging bomb bay door with
an additional fuel tank, and provision for the Martel missile.
XR222 is in the
Imperial War Museum at Duxford
XR220 is on display at
Cosford in Wolverhampton
XR219, XR221 and XR223
are reportedly at the shooting range of Shoeburyness.
XR224, XR225, XR226
and XR227 were scrapped. The nose of one is at the Brooklands museum
Here four aircraft are
compared: The TSR.2, the Buccaneer S.2 that effectively replaced it,
the General Dynamics F-111A that was once selected to replace it, and
the North American A-5 Vigilante. The mention of the latter may be a
surprise in this context. But this carrier-borne attack aircraft
resembled the TSR.2 in many ways, and actually preceded it by seven
years. It had the same all-moving tail surfaces, the long fuselage, the
blown flaps, the inertial navigation system, the twin engines and the
internal bomb bay. It failed as an attack aircraft because of a
complicated and ineffective bomb bay design. The data listed here are
for the reconnaissance version, which carried more fuel.
Blackburn Buccaneer S.2
North American RA-5C
Rolls-Royce RB168 Spey
19.20m / 9.74m
6 * 454kg
4 * 454kg
2 * 340kg
2337km/h at 16290m
2229km/h at 12190m
Low Level Speed