Over forty years after its cancellation the British
Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 remains a subject that invokes a great deal
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
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 now resides at Duxford.
Artist Paul Howard.
Available as an A3 size or 20x16 print.