Over fiftyy years after its cancellation the British Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 remains a subject that invokes a great deal of emotion. Widely regarded as the most beautiful and advanced aircraft of its type.
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.
However, much skullduggery took place behind the scenes, lead in particular by the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) Lord Louis Mountbatten, in many people's opinion, was possibly the worst person 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. He completely ignored the capabilities of the TSR2 which even today a extremely impressive.
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.
Mountbatten was ably assisted in the task of decrying the TSR-2 by Sir Solly Zukermann, the Ministry's Chief Scientific Advisor, a man with a background in Zooology who had no technical understanding. Zukerman rubbished the TSR-2 at every opportunity by saying it was a waste of money and we would be better off 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. The cancellation was also tied up in the governments request for financial support from the IMF which needed approval from the USA who recognised and feared the impact that such a massive technological advanced aircraft would have. Thus it was decided that the TSR-2 was to be sacrificed for the support of the US government
The prototype TSR-2, XR219 flew from Boscombe Down on 27 Sep 64 and the test programme soon made progress, despite some initial problems. . 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.This was despite a personal promise from Prime Minister Harold Wilson to the Weybridge workers that the project was save. 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. Luckly two complete airframes were saved which are now at Cosford and Duxford museums. XR219 was nicknamed Jim by the workforce and XR220 was called Joe. Joe now resides at Duxford.
Artist Paul Howard.
Available as an A3 size or 20x16 print.