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BAC TSR.2 : The F-111 beater killed by ineptitude.

Discussion in 'GD Archive' started by UncleBob, 2 Jun 2003.

  1. UncleBob


    Joined: 6 May 2003

    Posts: 2,758

    After seeing the fruits of Russian aeronautic engineering via reverse engineering and spying, here's a chance to see how the UK had the potential to make something truly spectacular but fumbled every step.


    The story begins in the late 1940s; English Electric had realised the need for a modern Canberra replacement even before the official requirement for the Canberra had been issued. However, it was only in 1956 that serious consideration began in cooperation with the Ministry of Supply. At the time the MoS wanted a small, fast, strike-fighter. Official thoughts turned to developing the P.1B (soon to become the Lightning) but English Electric preferred an all-new aircraft. Studies began on both ideas, and by a month later clearer requirements were also forthcoming. What was wanted was an aircraft with a 2,000 nautical mile [ferry] range, capable of Mach 1.5 at altitude, able to carry a variety of weapons and reconaissance equipment, attack at very low level, and vertical or short take-off capability.

    English Electric had been working on a design designated the P.17, and this moved on from their initial layout (basically straight wings with podded engines hanging off them) to being a delta wing design with engines buried in the rear fuselage (and now designated the P.17A).

    Discussions began in the MoS and the RAF. Soon more specific requirements were made available - a crew of two was required, at least four and preferably six 1,000lb bombs were to be carried, and more emphasis was put on low-level performance and short take-off runs, with a preference for vertical take-off. The developed P.1B, the P.18, fell by the wayside as it was not proving to be a viable proposition. Around this time a report on the supply of military aircraft was issued by the House of Commons Select Comitte on Estimates. It included recommendations to limit the number of aerospace companies by forcing them to band together to win contracts. This was the beginning of the end for the majority of the famous British aircraft manufacturers. Meanwhile, the air staff were drawing up General Operational Requirement (GOR) 339 to cover a Canberra replacement, and finished it days before Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Defence, announced in the infamous 1957 Defence White Paper that manned aircraft were obsolete. GOR 339 was then the subject of much debate before it was finally issued to various companies in late September.

    Shorts Brothers made a submission to cooperate with English Electric and cover all aspects of GOR 339. Their outlandish idea was for the P.17A to be joined by the P.17D, a platform with no fewer than 56 lift engines which would lift off vertically and from which the P.17A would then launch. Understandably this idea did not come to fruition! In March 1958 an announcement was made on which companies had been successful in their bids for the contract - Avro, Hawker, Vickers-Armstrong and English Electric. Cooperation from them all was expected. The requirement was refined, reissued, renamed and renumbered - first OR 339 then OR 343. Now operation from semi-prepared strips was mentioned along with higher speed, longer range, higher altitude, shorter take-off run... the straight-forward Canberra replacement was rapidly becoming the stuff of science fiction, plus the MoS wanted the new aircraft to fulfill every role the Canberra was undertaking, including reconaissance. The MoS had decided that the best way forward was a partnership between Vickers Armstrong and English Electric, even though neither company had much contact with the other. The first public acknowledgement of the new project was made in the House of Commons in December. In January 1959 more details were forthcoming, including the designation of TSR.2 (the Canberra was regarded as the TSR.1). This designation originally stood for Tactical Support and Reconaissance, then later became Tactical Strike and Reconaissance once the possibility of a nuclear role was considered.

    Blackburn Aircraft had seen GOR 339 and realised that their Buccaneer already went some way towards satisfying the requirements. With improvements, the Buccaneer could be made into an aircraft that would satisfy most of the requirements (though not all). This idea had a lot of merit; developing a completely new aircraft was obviously going to cost much more than modifying an existing one, and the Fleet Air Arm were already delighted with the performance of the Buccaneer. However, the RAF would have none of this - they had nothing but contempt for this naval aircraft, and inter-service cooperation was a concept far removed from their minds. Blackburn's P.150 design (which appeared some years later in 1968) was a supersonic Buccaneer with Spey engines with reheat, new TSR.2 style intakes, longer fuselage, thinner non-folding wings and twin mainwheels. It gives some idea of how Blackburn may have proceeded had their been any interest in their proposal. Despite this lack of interest, the Buccaneer would return to haunt the TSR.2 project later on.

    Progress continued within Vickers and English Electric to combining the two company's designs to form a single design that could satisfy OR 343. By July 1959 they had submitted their new design (which did not actually differ too much from English Electric's P.17A) despite worries about the restrictive aspects of the specification. Agreement on work-sharing had been reached, though no detailed arrangements were in place. First flight was scheduled for January 1963 with introduction into service by January 1966. While the contract had been expected by late 1959, it was not actually awarded until October 1960, a year late. The delays had begun even before the first part was manufactured, hardly a good omen. In the mean time the British Aircraft Corporation had been formed (on the 1st of January 1960); with the formation of Hawker-Siddeley a few years later much of the British aviation industry would be contained within one of two groups, BAC and Hawker-Siddeley.

    The government had looked at American methods of project management and development, and while finally admitting that the American's methods were superior to traditional British methods, they make a complete mess of implementing these improved methods. To all intents and purposes it appeared that the government's version threw away all the good points and kept the bad - the new, more 'efficient' management techniques would soon turn into the most bloated and inefficient bureaucracy ever seen in the aviation industry. One celebrated incident occurred when a meeting was called and the meeting's chairman decided that far too many people had turned up. He cleared the room and asked for only essential personnel to turn up for the second attempt at the meeting. When the reconvened meeting arrived, and the essential personnel had trooped in, it was found that there were actually more people present than in the first meeting.

    Design and manufacture proceeded despite these problems and despite poor cooperation between the constituents of BAC. One example of this was that when the engines were ready to be placed in the airframe it was found that they simply did not fit in the supplied tunnels! In addition, some sub-contractors were not working for BAC, but were working for the Ministry instead, with communication problems being a result. The Ministry's interference extended into the design and manufacture of the aircraft itself; they took charge of the cockpit layout, and often had three hour meetings to decide the location of a single switch (and often got it wrong). Compare that arrangement with the Vulcan cockpit design, where the chief test pilot, Roly Falk, fought for and got permission to design the cockpit himself; after all, who better to decide the layout than a pilot? Other forces were gathering against the TSR.2. The Americans' TFX programme had begun, and much pressure was placed on the UK to buy the TFX (later to become the F-111) instead of the 'more expensive' TSR.2.

    A BAC delegation had visited Australia and left with high expectations of an export order for the TSR.2; the Australians were very interested in the new wonder-plane. By this time Lord Louis Mountbatten had became famous within the industry for slapping ten photographs of a Buccaneer on a desk followed by a single picture of a TSR.2, and then stating that he could buy that many Buccaneers for the price of a single TSR.2. Then when an Australian delegation visited the UK, Mountbatten joined them to discuss the TSR.2. Afterwards the Australians had lost interest in the TSR.2; we shall never know what Mountbatten actually said, but it had obviously had a big effect, and the TSR.2's export prospects had suddenly disappeared. The Australians chose to buy the F-111 shortly afterward. That this would cost 10 times more than they had been told and would be 10 years late into service was not something they expected.

    Engine development problems had also surfaced. The Bristol-Siddely Olympus engines were an all-new development and suffered various problems, which resulted in the destruction of a Vulcan testbed aircraft on the ground. With the first prototype now complete, it was transported in sections to Boscombe Down. Vickers had wanted test flying to begin at their airfield at Wisley, but the chief test pilot, Roland Beamont, objected to this because of the short runway there. English Electric's airfield at Warton would have been ideal, but tas a compromise Boscombe Down was chosen. This meant more delays; neither company had a base of operations there, and the prototype had to be reassembled at Boscombe over a period of three months. On the 6th of May 1964 the fully assembled prototype, XR219, was removed from its hangar at Boscombe Down to begin testing, including taxi trials. Various minor problems occurred, including the failure of the braking parachute to deploy on one fast taxi run (where the long runway came in useful, vindicating Beamont's objection to the shorter airfield at Wisley), but most were overcome.

    The cause of the engine problems was finally identified only days before the TSR.2 was due to fly. However, with pressure on the project increasing all the time, it was decided to go ahead with the first flight. The then-Conservative government was in serious trouble; a general election was looming for the end of the year and Labour were widely expected to win. Obviously BAC hoped that presenting the new government with a flying prototype would put some firmer foundations under the troubled project. The final decision was down to BAC's chief test pilot; Roland Beamont. Despite the engine problems (the manufacturers would not guarantee them lasting beyond five hours of use at a maximum of 97% power), despite many items of equipment not being ready and despite expected problems with the undercarriage and braking parachute, he decided the flight should go ahead; he was prepared to accept the risk for a single flight.
    Last edited: 2 Jun 2003
  2. UncleBob


    Joined: 6 May 2003

    Posts: 2,758

    Bristol-Siddeley fully expected the engines to rip themselves apart if kept at more than 97% throttle. Had an engine failed on this first flight, the remaining one would have had to have been run at maximum, and that could have been disastrous. On the 27th of September, the first flight was duly made, with Roland Beamont as pilot and Donald Bowen as navigator. XR219, callsign Tarnish 1, flew and performed generally as it had been expected to. Beamont summed up the flight as 'a very good start'. However, XR219 at this point was hardly representative of an operational version; with limitations on engine power, many missing systems (both to keep weight down and to hurry up the first flight) and no attempt was made to retract the undercarriage (a complicated affair made necessary by the lack of room in which to place it).

    After that first flight no more flights were carried out until the end of the year, by which time the engine problems were beginning to be overcome, though flight tests were proceeding slower than they could have because of remaining niggles with the engines. The engines were not the relatively clean engines of present-day jets. Each engine produced thick black smoke, which, with the TSR.2's distinctive wingtip contrails, meant that it was not hard to spot a TSR.2 in the air! Other problems continued, however. Serious vibration problems related to the undercarriage meant that at the instant of landing, the crew became momentarily blinded - the frequency of the vibration matched the natural frequency of the human eyeball. A further serious vibration problem was traced to a faulty pump near the cockpit.

    Undercarriage problems were not limited to vibration; there were also sustained problems with hydraulics and sequencing. Malfunctions varied from doors refusing to close to more serious problems like one leg staying extended while the others had retracted correctly. On one occasion the undercarriage came down but the main bogies did not lock into the correct position. Nothing could be done to get the gear down correctly, so Beamont told his navigator that it could be time to leave by Martin Baker (i.e. eject). Beamont, with typical bravery, elected to stay with the aircraft and try to land it, and his navigator stayed with him. In the event, the landing was successful, the bogies rotating into the correct position as the aircraft settled onto the extended gear.

    Finally, on flight number 10, after four months of attempts to fix the problems, the undercarriage was successfully retracted. Beamont soon decided that XR219 was ready to continue its flight test programme at Warton while XR220 would be brought to Boscombe. Flight 14 was XR219's trip to Warton, during which it went supersonic for the first and only time. TSR.2's performance was shown to good effect on this flight; when Beamont engaged reheat on a single engine, the chase aircraft (a Lightning T.5, a mach 2 aircraft and certainly no slouch) was left behind despite engaging reheat on both of its engines!

    The TSR.2 programme was, however, now under serious and concerted attack; poor management and inter-company cooperation were causing spiralling costs and rumours abounded of impending cancellation. In early 1965 the national newspapers reported that an RAF team was in the USA to consider purchasing the TFX (F-111) instead of continuing the TSR.2 programme. Urgent discussions between BAC and the new Labour government ensued, and there was even a protest march in London where 10,000 BAC employees called for the keeping of the TSR.2. The government issued such strong denials of cancellation that The Times quipped that they had 'stuck fear into the heart' of the industry. XR220, the second prototype, was undergoing inspection and repair after being damaged on delivery to Boscombe Down, and was ready to fly for the beginning of April. That the aircraft was incredibly advanced was not in question; and the problems besetting development were being solved one by one. But it would all be to no avail.

    The second prototype would never fly; the government, in the Budget Day announcement on the 6th of April 1965, announced that the TSR.2 programme was to be terminated immediately. The aircrew were at the time having lunch in a pub near Boscombe Down; on hearing the shocking announcement they rushed back to the airfield in an attempt to get XR220 into the air and to at least present the government with a second flying prototype. This was not to be; permission was denied. While the management of BAC were informed before the budget speech was made, they were forbidden to tell their employees, who then had to hear the news on the radio. The House of Commons was in uproar over the cancellation; but no debate could take place during the budget speech so not only had the government treated BAC's workforce with contempt, they had tried to slip a major defence project cancellation past the opposition. A debate one week later in the house was a rough ride for Dennis Healey (the new Defence Minister), who tried to justify the cancellation on the basis that the F-111 could be bought more cheaply, though he could not state a cost or exact timescale for the buy.

    Healey has since stated that getting American backing for an International Monetary Fund loan was not a reason behind the British order for the F-111 instead of continuing the TSR.2 programme. However, the TSR.2 was certainly a serious worry to the Americans, being vastly more capable than the F-111 and could have made a serious dent in the F-111's export prospects. A denial from a politician, as the TSR.2 programme showed on numerous individual occasions, is not worth the paper they refuse to write it on.

    XR219, XR221 and XR223 were taken to the shooting range at Shoeburyness to be destroyed as 'damage to aircraft' targets. XR220 was kept at Boscombe for a year or so and then placed in storage at RAF Henlow after it had had all internal equipment ripped out (even the wires to equipment were cut rather than disconnected). It was later transferred to RAF Cosford's Aerospace Museum. XR222 was initially to be scrapped but was instead sent to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield and later saved for restoration and moved to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. All other airframes were scrapped. All tooling was destroyed; on the production line, as workers completed assembly of some airframes prior to their transport to the scrap yard, the tooling was being destroyed with cutting torches behind them.

    A wooden mockup of the TSR.2 was dragged out of the Warton factory and burned while the workers looked on. All technical publications were ordered to be destroyed; even photographs of the aircraft were destroyed. Boscombe Down's official records of test flights were 'lost'. In many ways the destruction of every aspect of the actual hardware reflected the even greater act of vandalism that had been perpretrated on the British aviation industry.

    Also cancelled along with the TSR.2 were Hawker-Siddeley's two major projects; a new transport aircraft and the P.1154 (the 'supersonic Harrier'). The P.1154 had also been victim of the infighting between the Navy and the Air Force, but some good was to come of these two cancellations. The P.1127, a less ambitious project, was allowed to proceed. This became the Harrier, a world-beating VTOL light strike aircraft and fighter which has since been developed into a number of versions for countries around the world, including the UK, the USA, India and Italy.

    The TFX programme continued in the US; but when it too became massively expensive and development ran into major problems, the UK (and the US Navy) cancelled their orders. Britain was to pay hugely for the TSR.2 cancellation; not only in the waste of the TSR.2 development, but now in cancellation fees to General Dynamics. Instead it was decided to buy the F-4 Phantom II. But the government could not be seen to be buying an inferior American aircraft after this fiasco, so specified that British engines were to be used.

    The UK Phantoms were to use Speys, an engine generally thought to be unsuitable for a fighter. Problems with the Spey and Phantom marriage meant that not only were British Phantoms the most expensive of all, but they also performed nowhere near as well as the original US models. TSR.2 was long gone, and all we had in its place was an aircraft of nowhere near the capability. Not only did the Phantom not come close to fulfilling the TSR.2's role, it could not adequately fulfil narrower roles such as air defence. The aging Lightning continued to outfly Phantoms until its retirement in 1988.

    BAC survived the TSR.2 cancellation; the only major project not cancelled was the Anglo-French Concorde supersonic transport, which while never being a massive commercial success, gave BAC valuable experience and prestige both with advanced aircraft and with international cooperation. The SEPECAT Jaguar, near enough a 'baby TSR.2', gave them even more experience of this kind of cooperation, and produced a useful strike aircraft, though it did not compare with the TSR.2. Following soon after came the MRCA (Multi Role Combat Aircraft, or, more humorously, Must Replace Canberra AGAIN!) project, a truly European project, which despite its detractors produced another world-beater - the Panavia Tornado.

    Strangely, in 1981, the then Conservative government briefly looked at reviving the TSR.2 programme. This got as far as looking at possible modifications to bring it up to date (Tornado style intakes, modern electronics, extensive use of carbon fibre construction to lower the weight and so on) before the project was once again returned to the grave. It was certainly a strange episode; with the Tornado shortly to enter service, developing the TSR.2 to completion (using XR220 and XR222 as a basis for the new project!) would have been a very odd thing to do.

    As it turned out, the Tornado became more or less what the TSR.2 was to have been. That it was still slightly less capable than the TSR.2 had been projected to be a full fifteen years earlier says a great deal about how far advanced the TSR.2 project really was. That the TSR.2 was all-British (bar some electronics) and the Tornado required the cooperation of three countries also says a great deal about just how good the British aircraft industry was.
  3. Rilot


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 20,315

    Location: Wargrave, UK

    Excellent read. 5 stars.
  4. Bungee

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 2,375

    Location: Bath

    Excellent stuff UncleBob :)

    Was at Duxford the other week, and out of all the hundreds of planes they have there, the TSR2 is my favourite!
  5. Murf


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 5,441

    Location: Newcastle

    Very interesting read. Saw a documentary on Discovery about this. Can't believe the morons cancelled it! :mad:
  6. Colossus


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 550

    Location: Berkshire

    Nice post. Seems like England is starting to get into a habit of canceling / scrapping our own work despite the high quality. :mad:
  7. Meridian

    Man of Honour

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 11,959

    Location: Vvardenfell

    Because it was always breaking down, way over budget, badly thought out, and the project was out of control. Apart from that, no reason. What is more interesting is: why is everyone so hung up on this aircraft? I suspect because it was the last time the UK developed a fighter on it's own (excepting the specialised Harrier).

    Another interesting fact: the range submitted in the spec was (I believe) 3000 miles (not the 2000 quoted above). Do you know why? No? Well, neither does anyone else - some MoD walla pulled the figure out of thin air. It seems obvious to me from the very detailed story above (good post UncleBob), and everything else I have heard,that there was no chance on earth that plane could have succeeded. A combination of constantly shifting specifications, hopeless management, political interferance and inter-service rivalry saw to that. It looks great (I used to work at Duxford so I've crawled all over theirs), but it was a shambles. Let it go.

  8. Murf


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 5,441

    Location: Newcastle

    I'm just annoyed that a project with such potential was ruined through politicians and bad management. I bet the engineers could have done it without the politics of the rival companies and the government. I also don't like the fact we decided to go for something american instead when ours could have been much better. It's just taking business away from our industry. But it was a long time ago and matters little, I just wish we still built things we can be proud of on a world stage such as Concorde.
  9. Capt Doufos


    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 2,602

    Location: Nr Colchester, Essex

    Don't forget the Avro Vulcan... That is a spectacular aircraft. They are trying to get it airborne again, and when they do... Boy will that be a fantastic sight.

    I was at southend last weekend to watch it fast taxi, nothing short of breathtaking, and the noise. I have never heard anything as loud.... Ever. It's an all British bomber the worked, and out performed figher jets at altitude. Not to mention it hold the world record for longest ever bombing run (UK to the Falklands) to bomb port stanley.

    Pics for those interested:

    Last edited: 2 Jun 2003
  10. Moby-Dick

    Wise Guy

    Joined: 18 Oct 2002

    Posts: 1,057

    Location: Milton Keynes

    there is a chap at cranfield with a lightening that he periodically hammers up and down the run way at the cost of 600 quid a time :)
  11. Ahh......the TSR.2

    I've looked all over this air craft in the museum @ RAF cosford. For the time of it's design it was nothing short of amazing.
    This is just another reminder of how people with ego lust spoil our country. wrong thinking meddlers everywhere. :(

    The vulcan is STILL my favorite aircraft of all times. I remember the days of my child hood when the yearly airshow would bring the Vulcan into view.

    It used to sweep low (ish) over the houses, before throttling up and banking. the noise used to make all the windows in the house rattle and you could smell the jet fuel.

    iirc the lottery comissionrefused to help get the vulcan up in the air again, instead they felt the cash was better served else where.
    guess i'll just continue to make donations to "the friends of the vulcan"...and no thats not giving money to doctor spok