British Aircraft Corporation TSR.2 (XR220) [@ RAF Cosford]

"All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics.  TSR.2 simply got the first three right."  Sir Sydney Camm

Although never developed beyond the prototype stage, the British Aircraft Corporation TSR.2 was one of the most exciting and controversial British combat aircraft designs.  The cancellation of the project is a subject of great debate to this day.  The TSR.2 was the last UK independent large bomber aircraft ending the heritage of the Avro Lancaster, English Electric Canberra and V bombers (Valiant, Vulcan and Victor).  The project brought together key elements of the British aircraft industry for a cutting edge requirement that kept us in the league of high capability and technology.  These elements are the airframe, engine and avionics.  Not to mention undercarriage and other on-board systems.

During the mid 1950s, the increasing sophistication of air defence systems led the RAF to consider the procurement of a high speed, low-level strike and reconnaissance aircraft to replace the English Electric Canberra, regarded as the TSR.1.  The Blackburn Buccaneer was briefly considered by the RAF as a possible replacement but although the airframe was suitable, as subsequent events was to prove, the aircraft's avionics fell well short of the RAF requirements.  In October 1957, the Ministry of Supply released the first specification for such an aircraft.  On 1st January 1959 the Ministry of Supply announced a that a joint design had been selected for production from Vickers-Armstrong and English Electric (later BAC).  Designated TSR.2 (Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance Mach 2), a contract for 9 TSR.2 development prototypes was concluded on the 6th October 1960 and this was followed by a preliminary order for 11 pre-production aircraft in Jun 1962.  The first (XR219) made its maiden flight from Boscombe Down on 27th September 1964 and by 31st March 1965 XR219 had completed the last of its twenty-four flights with a second TSR.2, XR220, ready to join the programme.  During Flight 14 to Warton XR219 went supersonic for the first and only time.  When the pilot engaged reheat on a single engine the chase aircraft, a Mach 2 Lightning T.5, was initially left behind despite its pilot engaging reheat on both of its engines! Initial reports indicated that the TSR.2 was an outstanding technical success.

British Aircraft Corporation TSR.2 (XR220) [@ RAF Cosford]

By September 1964, XR220 had been completed and was delivered by road to A&AEE, Boscombe Down.  Due to an accident when unloading the fuselage suffered damaged with the result that repairs were not completed until the following February.  The maiden flight XR220 was scheduled for 6th April 1965, the day the cancellation was announced, and so XR220 never flew.  XR220 was earmarked for flutter testing and weapons and store separation trials.  A careful examination of the wings finds some small circular panels marking the locations where stores pylons would have been attached and there are fairings on each intake side that would have contained cameras to monitor the stores separation trials.  After the announcement XR220 remained at Boscombe Down to be used for noise trials as part of the Concorde programme.  In June 1967 XR220 was transported to RAF Henlow and placed into storage.  While in storage many parts of XR220 “went missing” but fortunately during the 1980s and 1990s many of the missing parts turned up and were reunited with XR220.  During 1975 XR220 was dismantled and moved to RAF Cosford.

British Aircraft Corporation TSR2 (XR222)British Aircraft Corporation TSR2 (XR222)

British Aircraft Corporation TSR2 (XR222) [@ RAF Duxford]

Built by British Aircraft Corporation at the former Vickers factory at Weybridge, Surrey.  With the cancellation on the TSR.2 programme on the 6th April 1965, XR222 was transported in bits to the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, during October 1965.  XR222 arrived with many bits missing including panels and items of equipment.  In early 1978 XR222 was transferred to RAF Duxford and a complete restoration was carried out during 2004/2005.

British Aircraft Corporation TSR2 (XR222)

British Aircraft Corporation TSR2 (XR222) [@ RAF Duxford]

 Bristol Siddeley Olympus 22R - 320 engineThe design of the airframe progressed without too many problems but the advanced avionics and hence the spiralling costs involved were problematic.  Elliot Automation was developing the automatic flight system, Ferranti were developing the terrain following radar and navigation/attack system, EMI was developing the sideways looking radar and Marconi the general aircraft avionics.  Even the Bristol Siddeley Olympus 22R - 320 engine, now with reheat, [photograph - right] was proving difficult to develop.  The Olympus axial-flow turbojet engine was originally developed and produced by Bristol Aero Engines in 1950 as the powerplant for the Avro Vulcan.  Developed by Bristol Siddeley for the TSR.2 it was developed again, after the takeover of  Bristol Siddeley by Rolls Royce in 1966, as the powerplant for Concorde.

TSR2 ejector seatHowever political opposition both in and out of the Government to the project led to it being scrapped on 6th April 1965 as a budget cut back.  This decision to cancel TSR.2 was probably one of the most ill advised ever made by a British Government and signalled the beginning of the serious incline in the British aircraft industry.  A number of unfinished airframes, together with the tooling, were hastily scrapped.  XR219 and two unfinished frames (XR221 and XR223) were taken to Shoeburyness (PEE Foulness Island) and used as a target to test the vulnerability of a modern airframe and systems to gunfire before being scrapped.  What a waste! TSR.2s XR224 to XR227 all went directly to the scrap merchant while RAF Cosford [XR220] and RAF Duxford [XR222] museums received, eventually, the remaining TSR.2s.

The main competitor to the TSR.2 was the US General Dynamics F.111A.  A number of key TSR.2 technicians ended up working on the F.111 programme after the closure of the TSR.2 project.  In the end the F.111 project suffered enormous cost escalation, far exceeding that of the TSR.2 projection, and many technical problems including a poorer than projected performance.  The order for 50 F.111Ks for the RAF was subsequently eventually cancelled in January 1968, which involved cancellation fees to General Dynamics, and the US built F.4 McDonnell-Douglas Phantom II (powered by Rolls Royce Spey engines) and Blackburn Buccaneer were ordered instead while the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar bomber was developed and purchased.  The Buccaneer, some of which was transferred from the Royal Navy, was the very same aircraft that the RAF had apparently derided in order to get the TSR.2 go-ahead, however, the Buccaneer proved capable and was still in service with the RAF into the early 1990s.  Joining of the Spey engines to the Phantom fuselage meant that not only were British Phantoms the most expensive of all but their performance was nowhere near as good as the US counterparts.


When the variable-geometry Panavia Tornado entered service it was still slightly less capable than the TSR.2 had been projected to be a full fifteen years earlier.  The Soviet Union also developed swing-wing fighters and strike bombers, such as the Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer, in the late 1960s and 1970s.  Given that the TSR.2 was entirely British made (bar some electronics) and the Tornado required the cooperation of three countries it says a great deal about how good the TSR.2 project and British aircraft industry was! Cancelled shortly before the TSR.2 were Hawker-Siddeley's two major projects; a new transport aircraft, the HS.681 and the P.1154 tactical strike fighter, the so called “supersonic Harrier”.  The P.1127, a less ambitious project, was allowed to proceed and develop into VTOL Harrier.