From Academic Kids

Missing image
TSR-2 at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, England
RoleBomber, tactical strike and reconnaissance
Crew2 - pilot, navigator
First flightSeptember 27 1964
Entered servicenever
Wingspan37 ft 1.7 in11.3 m
Height23 ft 9 in7.2 m
Wing area702.9 ft²65 m²
Empty54,750 lb24,834 kg
Loaded79,573 lb36,169 kg
Maximum takeoff102,200 lb46,357 kg
Engines2x Bristol-Siddeley Olympus B.O1.22R
Total Thrust61,220 lbf272 kN
Maximum speedMach 2.75 (design maximum Mach No.) cruising speed Mach 2.05
Maximum speedmphkm/h
Combat range1150 miles 1850 km radius of action at Mach 1.7 (supercruise)
Ferry range4256 miles6850 km
Service ceiling54,000 ft16,459 m
Rate of climbft/minm/min
Wing loadinglb/ft²kg/m²
Thrust/weight0.77 lbf/lb7.5 N/kg

Autonetics Verdan autopilot modified by Elliot Automation, Ferranti (terrain following radar and navigation/attack systems), EMI (sideways looking radar) and Marconi (general avionics)


Internal weapons bay, 20 ft (6 m) with 1 nuclear or 6 x 1000 lb (450 kg) HE, or 4 x 37 rocket packs or nuclears on inner pylons only. Planned to be extendable by a further 25,000 lb (11,000 kg) in further delevopments of the aircraft.

The British Aircraft Corporation's TSR-2 was an ill-fated cold war project in the early 1960s to create what would, at that time, have been one of the most advanced aircraft in the world, with supercruise ability, and similar thrust and Mach 2+ performance to the Rockwell B-1A and significantly higher performance than the current Boeing IDS B-1B (

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


GOR 339

In the 1950s, the British Royal Air Force was aware that the Canberra bomber would need to be replaced, and a specification for its replacement with additional strike and reconnaissance roles was drafted in the form of GOR (General Operational Requirement) 339 in 1956. This specification was exceptionally ambitious for the technology of the day, requiring a supersonic all-weather aircraft that could deliver nuclear weapons over a long range, operate at high level (at Mach 2+) or low level (at Mach 1.2), with a short takeoff ability from rough and ready airstrips. As this specification was being studied by various manufacturers, the first of the political storms that were to dog the project reared its head - the then defence minister Duncan Sandys stating that the era of manned combat was at an end and that guided missiles were all that would be needed in future. Within a decade this philosophy became thoroughly discredited, but at the time, it may have made a great deal more sense in the climate of the cold war and "mutual deterrence". Furthermore, it seemed at the time that guided missiles would offer significant cost savings over manned aircraft.

Another political matter that did not help was the mutual distrust between the various services - the Air Force were looking at GOR 339, but it was alleged that the development of the sub-sonic Blackburn Buccaneer for the Royal Navy was competitive with this project. The RAF claim that they did not ignore or deride the project (as politicians such as Denis Healey claimed) but in fact invited Blackburn to submit a pre-tender brochure for consideration and discussion. However, the requirement was for a Mach 2 aircraft, not a sub-sonic one,and the STOL requirement was intended to allow the TSR-2 to operate from roads and bush runways in a similar manner to the Saab Draken, whilst the Blackburn Buccaneer required a shipborne steam catapult to achieve short take off. So although various proposals were submitted, in 1959 the go-ahead was given for the BAC entry, named the TSR-2, for Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance 2 (the TSR-1 being the pre-war Fairey Swordfish biplane, an aircraft that fulfilled a similar role in its day). In testing the TSR-2 was found to significantly exceed GOR 339 performance specification with a required runway length of less than 600 metres and a speed on part throttle (i.e. on a single reheat/afterburner) exceeding Mach 2.5 as measured in chase by a Lightning.


The leading designer was Barnes Wallis, the legendary aeronautical engineer famous for his contribution to the Dambusters raids. The design was a large aircraft with large shoulder mounted slab-wing with down-turned tips, all-moving swept tailplane, a large all-moving fin. powered by two Bristol-Siddeley Olympus afterburning turbojets. The latter were similar to but a much more powerful variant of those used in the Avro Vulcan and Concorde).

The design featured blown flaps to achieve the short take off and landing requirement, something which later designs would achieve with the technically more complex "swing-wing" design. The aircraft featured some extremely sophisticated avionics for navigation and mission delivery — far ahead of anything else available at the time — which was also to be one of the reasons for the spiralling costs of the project. Some features, such as ground-following terrain radar, FLIR cameras, side-looking airborne radar and the sophisticated autopilot did only become commonplace on military aircraft later.

Despite the rocketing costs (which were inevitable, given the low original estimates), two prototype aircraft were completed. The first flight took place on 27 September, 1964. Over the next 6 months, many test flights were conducted, though none of the complex electronics was ready, so those flights were all concerned with the basic flying qualities of the aircraft, which were by all accounts excellent. A few niggling faults with the landing gear came to light but were relatively straightforward issues.

Missing image
BAC TSR-2 prototype on its maiden flight

Project cancellation

A change of government in 1964 meant that the project, which had received a lot of negative public attention due to cost, was held up as an example of the waste and inefficiency of the previous government. Without notice, the project was cancelled on April 6, 1965. At that moment, the leadership in world aviation that Britain had enjoyed for much of the 20th century was removed, and has never been regained to this day. Some face was saved by the Concorde and Harrier projects, but from then on the Americans took the lead.

Missing image
Surviving airframe at RAF Museum, Cosford

The TSR-2 tooling and partially completed aircraft were scrapped - many feel with undue haste and excessive thoroughness - though the two finished aircraft survived, though with substantial internal damage inflicted, and can be seen in the RAF Museum at Cosford, and the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. A number of unfinished airframes were hastily scrapped, with very few parts retained intact. The only airframe to ever fly, XR219, was taken to Shoeburyness and used for as a target to test the vulnerability of a 'modern' airframe and systems to gunfire. The haste with which the project was scrapped has been the source of much argument and bitterness since - some feel it was done with vindictiveness to score political points, though others have suggested that it was simply to prevent the very high technology secrets falling into the wrong hands, as the cancellation came at a period of particular paranoia during the cold war. Instead of the TSR-2, the RAF decided it would buy the complex swing-wing American General Dynamics F-111 - however, the F-111 itself suffered such enormous cost escalation - exceeding that of the TSR-2 projection by some margin - that the RAF eventually cancelled their order, procuring instead the Phantom and the Buccaneer, some of which were transferred from the Royal Navy. Ironically, this was the very same aircraft that the RAF chose to deride in order to get the TSR-2 the go-ahead. Fortunately, the Buccaneer proved very capable and was still in service into the early 1990s. The TSR-2 nonetheless remains a lingering 'what if?' of British aviation, as painful in Britain as the Avro Arrow in Canada.

A government study into the feasibility of resurrecting the TSR-2 project was carried out during the early 1980s shortly after Margaret Thatcher came to power. There was, briefly, some speculation that TSR-2 might yet see the light of day in an updated form, but after the study concluded that it would be far too expensive (the previous destruction requiring a complete start-over from scratch) and that the technology was no longer cutting edge, TSR-2 was buried forever.

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