BAC TSR-2

BAC TSR.2

The sad, sorry saga of the destruction of what could have become one of the great aircraft of the 1970s and 1980s, has been the subject of numerous magazine articles, books and even a TV documentary. What follows is an overview of the aircraft, its planned reconnaissance capability and why it was eventually cancelled.

For a decade after the Canberra entered service with the RAF in May 1951, the RAF possessed an aircraft that was more than capable of delivering weapons onto almost any target in Western Europe. However, within a short space of time, the prospects of the aircraft being able to survive an encounter with the large numbers of MiG-15s that were equipping Warsaw Pact air forces, looked decidedly bleak. As a consequence, in 1952 the Ministry of Supply issued a specification for design studies for a new bomber. The specification was very demanding and called for an aircraft capable of delivering a 6-ton nuclear weapon over a combat radius of 1500 miles at low level and at high subsonic speed. Several firms submitted proposal, but the requirement exceeded current technologies and the specification was quietly returned to the shelve.

BAC TSR.2

The Blackburn Buccaneer was briefly considered by the RAF to replace the Canberra, but although the airframe was suitable, as subsequent events were to prove, the aircraft's avionics were well short of the demanding specification the RAF had set. In 1956 the RAF had dusted off the 1952 specification and made it even more demanding by calling for an over the target speed of 1.3M together with the need for a inertial navigation / attack system to ensure pinpoint weapons delivery. Eight firms were eventually invited to submit tenders by Jan 1958. As a result of the submission by Bristol Aircraft and Vickers-Armstrong, which included an integrated terrain following navigation/attack system, the specification was refined in the spring of 1958 to ensure the aircraft would be a complete weapons system. In Jan 1959 it was announced that Vickers-Armstrong and English Electric had been awarded the contract to develop a new tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, know as TRS-2. These firms and others eventually merged to become BAC.

BAC TSR.2

The development of TSR-2 was beset with committees that bedevilled the project until the end. The design of the airframe progressed without too many problems, but the advanced avionics was another matter entirely. Elliot Automation were developing the automatic flight system, Ferranti were developing the terrain following radar and navigation/attack system, EMI were developing the sideways looking radar and Marconi the general aircraft avionics. By early 1960 it became apparent that the cost of developing these advanced systems by going to be much higher than previously estimated. The Bristol Siddeley Olympus 22R engine was also proving more difficult to develop than the designers imagined and this too added to the spiralling costs.

BAC TSR.2

By autumn 1962 BAC provided some estimated performance figures and even today they make impressive reading. They included a cruising speed of 0.9M - 1.1M at sea level and 2.05M at altitude. Combat radius with external fuel would be 1500nms or 1000nms with a 2000lb internal bomb load on internal fuel only. Initial rate of climb would be around 50,000 feet per minute with a service ceiling of 60,000ft. In addition, the aircraft was designed to operate from semi-prepared or low-grade surfaces only 3000ft in length, enabling it to be deployed at a wide variety of airfields. The planned reconnaissance capability of the TSR-2 was extensive. In a purely reconnaissance role the aircraft would have carried a complete reconnaissance pack in a pannier in the weapons bay. The reconnaissance pack included the EMI Q-Band SLAR, a moving target indicator and active optical linescan radar, which could also transmit the picture in near real-time to a ground station, together with three FX126 cameras. One forward and two sideways looking F95 cameras were permanently fitted in the aircraft's nose. The SLAR could provide continuous coverage up to 10mn either side of track and the results were stored in a special recorder using photographic film.

BAC TSR.2

A contract for 9 development aircraft was placed in Oct 1960 and this was followed by a preliminary order for 11 pre-production aircraft in Jun 1962. It was hoped to fly the first prototype in the autumn of 1963, with delivery of the first pre-production aircraft in 1965. In 1960 the R&D costs had been estimated at 90M, but by the beginning of 1963 this had more than doubled and the schedule had slipped 2-3 years. Development problems with the avionics and the Olympus 22R engine continued and by now the Labour opposition were making it clear they would cancel the project if they were elected.

Lord Louis Mountbatten

However, much skullduggery took place behind the scenes, lead in particular by the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Lord Louis Mountbatten, an over-promoted charlatan, who was, in many people's opinion, was possibly the worst CDS ever to hold that office. Mountbatten, who allowed his own biased opinions to over-rule any reasoned argument, was determined to protect the Royal Navy and their fixed-wing carrier capability at any cost and set out to scupper the TSR-2 for the RAF - thereby clearing the way for the RAF having to order the Buccaneer - a vastly inferior aircraft in every sense. Mountbatten's favourite habit was to slap down five photographs of the Buccaneer next to one photograph of a TSR-2 and state 'Five of one or one of the other at the same cost'. The vast difference in capability between the two aircraft didn't seem to feature in this argument.

Mountbatten was ably assisted in the task of decrying the TSR-2 by non other than Sir Sir Solly Zukerman Solly Zukermann, the Ministry's Chief Scientific Advisor, a man with a background in Zooology who had little understanding of aviation. Zukerman rubbished the TSR-2 at every opportunity by saying it was a waste of money and we would be better off simply buying aircraft from the USA. Zuckermann once remarked that 'There was more technology in the little finger of one Professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology than in the whole of British industry' - a remark that illustrates the anti-British industry attitude he espoused from within the heart of the UK government. Together Mountbatten and Zukerman did immense damage to the TSR-2 project. When the Australian Government expressed an interest in the TSR-2 and visited the UK to review the aircraft, Mountbatten was quick to inform them that, in his opinion, the mounting costs and complexity would prevent the aircraft ever entering service, effectively ending their interest in a potential order. The Australian's eventually purchased 24 F-111A's, which had even greater development problems than the TSR-2 and eventually ended up costing far more than the TSR-2 would have done.

BAC TSR.2

The prototype TSR-2, XR219 flew from Boscombe Down on 27 Sep 64 and the test programme soon made progress, despite some initial problems. However, a Labour Government had taken office shortly after the TSR-2's first flight and the writing was on the wall. Acting on false advice, probably supplied by Mountbatten, the Prime Minister Harold Wilson believed that some 300M could be saved by cancelling TSR-2 and buying the F-111A. The end came on 6 Apr 65 when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, James Callaghan, announced during his budget speech that the project would be cancelled immediately. Not content with that, no trace of TSR-2 was supposed to survive - orders were given for the two completed prototypes to be destroyed, together with all the remaining aircraft on the assembly line, even down to the jigs and tools - ensuring that the project could never be resurrected.

BAC TSR.2

The decision to cancel TSR-2 was probably one of the most ill advised ever made by a British Government and nearly crippled the British aircraft industry. The F-111A only survived because the US government had the good sense to stick with the project, however, the delays and ever mounting costs convinced the Labour government to cancel the RAF order. The RAF eventually was forced to accept the Buccaneer and although this aircraft provided sterling service for many years, it never possessed the capability of the TSR-2. Only with the introduction of the Tornado in 1982 was the RAF finally equipped with an aircraft with the ability of the TSR-2.

BAC TSR.2

Thankfully the ordered destruction of all TSR-2 prototypes didn't occur. The only example that flew, XR219 along with two other prototypes, XR221 and XR223 were taken to Shoeburyness Range in Essex and gradually destroyed as targets for testing various weapons. XR220 was hidden away in a hanger on the far side of RAF Henlow airfield for many years, with all its internal equipment ripped out and the wiring cut, rather than disconnected, to prevent to aircraft ever being resurrected, and was eventually placed on display at RAF Cosford's Aerospace Museum. XR222 was initially sent to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield and is now on display at the Imperial war Museum at Duxford.

BAC TSR.2

That, in essence, is the story of the TSR-2 fiasco - a lamentable tale from start to finish. However, as the years have progressed and more details have emerged about the project and, in order to be entirely objective, it's only right to consider the many factors that also influenced the decision to cancel the project.

BAC TSR.2

Operational Requirements

The Operational Requirement was, in retrospect, highly confused. To try and design an aircraft with such conflicting requirements as a Mach 2.25 dash capability at high level & a transonic capability at low level was bound to cause severe problems, particularly when a variable geometry wing was not employed. Why was 2.25M so important? A reduced speed of 1.8M would have been almost as effective and allowed a much less complex design. The Hi-Low-Hi sortie range of 1000nms also appears unnecessarily demanding and ensured a large aircraft with considerable internal fuel. Both industry and the RAF must share the blame - the RAF for issuing a 'gold-plated' requirement that wasn't clearly thought through and industry for continually dangling the carrot of being able to meet that requirement and more, without being totally honest about the costs and delays that would invariably result.

BAC TSR.2

Another confusing requirement was the need for a 600yd take-off fully loaded from semi-prepared surfaces of LCN20. Who in their right mind ever really though this through? The idea of dispersal away from the MOB was already in use with the V-Force, had been thoroughly tested a number of times and the necessary infrastructure was already in place at a variety of smaller RAF airfields. A similar dispersal plan for TSR-2 using the same airfields and infrastructure would have removed the 600yd/LCN20 requirement and simplified the design and performance criteria enormously. In retrospect this requirement should have been challenged at a very early stage of the design process.

BAC TSR.2

If the idea of dispersing the TSR-2 to very small airfields with semi-prepared or even grass surfaces was genuine, then the supporting logistical infrastructure would have been absolutely huge. BAC had drawn up designs for two specialised support vehicles, but these would have only been the very tip of a vast iceberg. I think a direct comparison could been drawn between the RAFG Harrier Force field operations in Germany between the 1970's and 1990s. Groups of Harrier GR3/GR5/GR7 aircraft were operated from either 'tin' strips laid in fields, roads or small airfields for a few weeks at a time. However, the logistical back-up to support a couple of dozen aircraft was vast, with hundreds of vehicles required to sustain operations. In comparison to the TSR-2, the Harrier was a relatively simple aircraft, quite how vast and expensive the deployment convoy necessary to support TSR-2 dispersed operations would have been is anyone's guess.

BAC TSR.2

Project Management

The project management of the TSR-2 was poor. In part this was caused by the forced amalgamation of a number of diverse companies, in different locations and with very different cultures. The project was beset by endless committees, in which dozens of people tried to influence the design, regardless of the overall affect their actions often had on the final product. The Ministry of Defence, the Aviation Ministry and the Ministry of Trade all had their fingers in the TSR-2 pie, rarely seemed in agreement and gave every impression of working for competing organisations.

BAC TSR.2

Competition from the F-111A

The TSR-2 and F-111A were in direct competition and General Dynamics, along with the US Government, were keen to kill off the competition. In an attempt to eliminate the TSR-2, General Dynamics and the US Government continually over-egged the performance and under stated costs of the F-111A, when discussing the aircraft to potential customers. This 'miss-information' was quickly picked up by Mountbatten and Zukermann, who were more than happy to quote these figures to any influential politician they encountered, further damaging the TSR-2 cause.

BAC TSR.2

Australia

The most obvious customer for the TSR-2 was Australia. But Australia was keen to establish links with the USA, to replace the dwindling link it had with the UK, through the ineffectual Commonwealth. The USA built on this desire by dangling the carrot of a cheaper F-111A and on 24 Oct 63 the Australians eventually took the bait and ordered 24 F-111A's for delivery in 1967. The aircraft eventually entered service in 1973, six years late at 3 times the original cost - enough said.

BAC TSR.2

Lack of consistent support at the highest levels of the RAF.

There were also severe doubts about the viability of the TSR-2 at the top levels of the RAF. If certain influential people in the RAF were wavering in their support, it's hardly surprising that other people were quick to seize on their remarks and use them to denigrate the aircraft - who follows the sound of an uncertain call to arms?

BAC TSR.2

In the end the politicians had their way and a potentially superb aircraft was destroyed. However, many, many people, both service and civilian, must share the blame for a whole variety of reasons, many outlined above. I have no doubt that had everyone involved had the guts to stick with it and pay the bills, the TSR-2 would eventually have performed to the design criteria. Whether the country at that time could really afford to pay the bills is another matter. Had it entered service it might even have been used in the Falklands conflict, where it could, in theory, have operated from the original runway at Port Stanley - who knows how the presence of a few TSR-2's might have influenced subsequent events.