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The British Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 was a cancelled Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft developed by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The TSR-2 was designed to penetrate a well-defended forward battle area at low altitudes and very high speeds, and then attack high-value targets in the rear with nuclear or conventional weapons. Another intended combat role was to provide high-altitude, high-speed stand-off, side-looking radar and photographic imagery and signals intelligence, aerial reconnaissance. Some of the most advanced aviation technology of the period was incorporated in order to make it the highest-performing aircraft in the world in its projected missions. Only one airframe flew and test flights and weight-rise during design indicated that the aircraft would be unable to meet its original stringent design specifications. The design specifications were reduced as the result of flight testing.

The introduction of the first jet engines in the late-World War II period led to calls for new jet-powered versions of practically every aircraft then flying. Among these was the design of a replacement for the de Havilland Mosquito, at that time among the world's leading light bombers. The Mosquito had been designed with the express intent of lightening the aircraft in order to improve its speed as much as possible, a process that led to the removal of all defensive armament, improving performance to the point where it was unnecessary anyway. This high-speed approach was extremely successful, and a jet-powered version would be even more difficult to intercept.

As this specification was being studied by various manufacturers, the first of the political storms that were to dog the project reared its head, when Defence Minister Duncan Sandys stated in the 1957 Defence White Paper that the era of manned combat was at an end and ballistic missiles were the weapons of the future. Within a decade, this philosophy became thoroughly discredited, but at the time, and in the climate of the Cold War and "mutual deterrence", the missile as a weapons system appeared to make some sense, especially as it seemed missiles would offer significant cost savings over manned aircraft. This viewpoint was vigorously debated by the aviation industry and within the MOD for years. Senior RAF officers argued against the White Paper's premise, stating the importance of mobility, and that the TSR-2 could not only replace the Canberra, but potentially the entire V bomber force.

Another political opponent of the TSR-2 project was Sir Solly Zuckerman, at the time the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence. Zuckerman had an extremely low opinion of British technological achievements and was much more in favour of procuring military hardware from the United States.

A drawback of carrying WE.177 on external pylons was a limitation due to aerodynamic heating of the bomb's casing. WE.177A was limited to a maximum carriage time of five minutes at Mach 1.15 at low level on TSR-2, otherwise the bomb's temperature would rise above its permitted maximum. This would impose a severe operational restriction on TSR-2, as the aircraft was designed for Mach 1+ cruise at this height.

Throughout 1959, English Electric (EE) and Vickers worked on combining the best of both designs in order to put forward a joint design with a view to having an aircraft flying by 1963, while also working on merging the companies under the umbrella of the British Aircraft Corporation (along with Bristol Aircraft). EE had put forward a delta winged design and Vickers, a swept wing on a long fuselage. The EE wing, born of their greater supersonic experience, was judged superior to Vickers, while the Vickers fuselage was preferred. In effect, the aircraft would be built 50/50: Vickers the front half, EE the rear.

The RAF's Phantoms were replaced in the strike/reconnaissance role by the SEPECAT Jaguar in the mid-1970s. In the 1980s, both the Jaguar and Buccaneer were eventually replaced in this role by the variable-geometry Panavia Tornado, a much smaller design than either the F-111 or the TSR-2. Experience in the design and development of the avionics, particularly the terrain-following capabilities, were used on the later Tornado programme. In the late 1970s, as the Tornado was nearing full production, an aviation businessman, Christopher de Vere, initiated a highly speculative feasibility study into resurrecting and updating the TSR-2 project. However, despite persistent lobbying of the UK government of the time, his proposal was not taken seriously and came to nothing.

Missouri Civil War Museum

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