TSR2 – A Step Back in Time

This is a slightly modified article reprinted with kind permission from 13th Spitfire

Over this weekend I attended a fantastic event which was extremely interesting. There were lots people there to which I could relate to very easily. The nature of the event led us naturally to consider aspects of Britain’s military history, present and future. There are few countries which can be so wholesomely buggered as Britain when it comes to research. We have this inane ability as a people, to have these wonderful, marvellous and quite frankly, crazy ideas – but we never have the money to fund them.

I was once told that what is now ethos in the MoD is to have British scientists dream up the ideas, sell them to American, let America develop the idea into a final product, and finally buy it back and improve it. This have been done a lot over recent years in the UK with regards, at least, to military hardware. The Apache is perhaps a quasi-example; the UK did not buy the supplied avionics software for the apache but instead developed their own, which turned out to be so good that eventually the Americans bought it back from us. Who’da thunk?

Which leads us to perhaps the most depressing story yet in Britain’s aviation history; the cancellation of the English Electric/Vickers-Armstrong TSR-2 which was terminated in 1964. This aircraft was so revolutionary that even today it would be modern and it was designed 50 years ago. The whole story is drenched in failure and political dereliction. It has produced one of the, to my mind at least, finest but most depressing statements to date

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

Sir Sydney Camm

There are of course many theories surrounding the whole sorry story of the project mainly relating to economics and politics. The British economy in the 1960s was in huge financial debt and was still struggling to pay back monies owed to America from WW2. The Labour Government was politely told you will buy the F111E, you have no choice. All tooling and production lines of the TSR2 are to be destroyed. This is the unofficial version of the reason why the project was cancelled. Over the years the government has denied these accusations completely. They of course would, but most people who worked on the project know that this is precisely what happened. All tooling, production lines and blueprints were certainly destroyed, so afraid were the Americans that they had their British embassy personnel shipped into the factories to personally make sure that everything was destroyed.

There is more to this shameful piece of British history than meets the eye. The only remains of the project are the prototypes XR220 and XR222. They only survived because they were shipped around the country for engine testing and evaluation. It would have been a scandal to chop up and burn these aircraft in front of the public. Instead a team was dispatched to the testing grounds and took pick axes to the inside of the prototypes so they could never be flown again. Their internal organs were ripped out like savages, where cold calculated economics destroyed one of the finest machines ever built.

I am in favour of the ‘special-relationship’ and I have vigorously defended it in times of need on this blog. But 50 years ago American politicians were frightened TSR2 would affect their exports of aircraft. Coupled with Lord Mountbatten’s desire for this plane not to succeed and personally telling the Australian government not to pursue its commitment to purchase 30 airframes. Previously before being made aware of the whole TSR2 scandal I would have defended the ‘special-relationship’ but what they did was just mean to put it politely. There is not even a hint of good sportsmanship and while the defence industry in this country is still going fairly strong, Great Britain has never recovered its lead in the aviation world since the destruction of the TSR2 project.

I am often called an ‘old man’ by my friends and I think that is because I am very cynical about the world, I think this is fairly obvious when you realise how often we do not end up on top on every sphere of international cooperation. We always manage to get ourselves screwed, this if anything has been the enduring ethos of the past century. There have not been many international cooperations where we have actually benefited. This is not to say that we should not cooperate, we most certainly should, but not in engineering. This is something we do much better on our own and always have done.

There is hope though at least if you are willing to look outside the box and look back to a time when we could built very gucci stuff. TSR2 was to be nuclear weapons capable, and also able to carry conventional bombs. The roll of the fighter/Bomber was to fly from a short runway from within the UK to attack Russia, remember the Cold War was very much still on. The aircraft was to enter Russian air-space at extreme altitude over 58,000ft. Then descend to under to under 200ft to avoid ground radar. Once near the chosen Russian target a nuclear bomb or missile would be released to devastating effect. Now the Cold War is over but the Tories are committed to a new nuclear deterrent in the form of nuclear submarines. I suggest you consider the content of the article below if you have not already guessed where I am going with this.

The TSR2 story is one of incompetence, mismanagement and failure. It is also a story of brilliance, determination and courage. It might sound crazy but if we want to we can build things like the TSR2 again -if we want to. Someone only needs to tell the boys in Whitehall that British manufacturing is nails.

The TSR2 story ended with XR219, XR221 and XR223 being taken to the shooting ranges at Shoeburyness, all eventually to be destroyed as ‘damage to aircraft’ targets. XR220 was kept at Boscombe for a year or so for engine noise testing and then placed in storage at RAF Henlow after it had much of its flight test equipment ripped out (even the wires were cut rather than disconnected). It was later transferred to RAF Cosford’s Aerospace Museum. XR222 was gifted to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield for instructional use. She was later donated to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. All the other airframes were scrapped. In the months after cancellation, all the tooling and jigs were destroyed, and a wooden mockup of the TSR2 was burned while BAC men filmed it for publicity purposes.


In many ways the destruction of so many aspects of the project reflected the even greater act of vandalism that had been perpretrated on the British aviation industry.

And what might have been

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April 6, 2010 5:34 pm

Well – only one snag … it didn’t have the range to reach Soviet Russia from the UK, so your scenario is somewhat flawed.

April 6, 2010 5:46 pm

Interesting how similar politics destroyed the Canadian Avro Arrow project !

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avro_Canada_CF-105_Arrow

CNH – according to the Wikipedia ‘combat radius’ with an internal 2000lb nuclear bomb for TSR2 was to be 1000nm using high level cruise and low level final penetration – a quick glimpse at Google Maps suggests that puts Soviet soil in range of RAF bases in Scotland and Germany. So the planners of the day were not quite as dim as you think !

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 6, 2010 7:32 pm

I believe the Shorts Belfast met the same political fate.

April 6, 2010 7:51 pm

As said in the post if we wanted to we could build aircraft again and this is what really pisses me off and disgusts me at the whole Nimrod mess which could still be remedied albeit at cost. The only part of the air frame that is the original is the fuselage which shouldn’t be that complicated to build it’s a big metal tube. Personally I would subcontract new fuselage production out to the Canadian Bombardier Aerospace to try and tempt Canada into buying the MRA4 which would be ideal to replace the P-3 derivatives. Australia might be a possible candidate as well although I see them as hell bent on American equipment or expensive home grown projects but a proven shiny Nimrod might be tempting. If that is daft then I would find someone to build it in the UK if possible essentially enlarging our aero structure expertise which is concentrated in wings and helicopters. If it’s not obvious I have my doubts about how well a twin engine commercial aircraft, a 737 for those interested, will perform down low in a maritime environment.

Next home grown project would be a large UCAV ideally carrier capable maybe as a joint project with the French although I would insist on a better deal than what we normally get working with them. At the same time I would also be working on something like an Improved Mantis for the current hunter killer predator idea although this would be a higher priority than a large UCAV. An improved or evolved Mantis would take less time as well so lessons learned would be applied to the larger UCAV. Both could possibly be sold abroad although Uncle Sam would be having a fit at this if he wasn’t already about us building and selling aircraft again especially world class aircraft.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 6, 2010 7:59 pm

CNH, I thought the long range missions were the preserve of the Vulcan bomber fleet?

paul g
April 6, 2010 8:15 pm

i was reading defense industry daily an american defence site and one of their headlines was “airbus to pitch 100+ A400m’s to USAF” and in brackets it said good luck with that! sums it up really.

April 6, 2010 9:07 pm

The only US military service I think that could be remotely interested in the A400M would be the Marine Corps who would appreciate its middle ground and unique features. However they have recently received and are receiving J model herky birds but I suppose these could be reassigned to the USAF. The USAF I don’t think would be that interested at all as they have the C-130J which are not going anywhere and if they need a larger aircraft they have the C-17 which can do tactical work (Yes, I’m aware of the drawbacks). They also have a massive dedicated tanker fleet and don’t really need to refuel helicopters as often as the USMC might need to or want to do so that’s the tanker capability in question.

April 6, 2010 9:18 pm

@Richard Stockley, just because TSR2 could reach Russia doesn’t mean it had to. There were plenty of nice big juicy targets in the warsaw pact countries. ( Fixed or otherwise.) Even back in 1964 with the way Soviet air defences were progressing it was realised vulcan would’nt be all that survivable for all that long anyway, hence extreme hight with high speed followed extreme low hight with high speed!

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 6, 2010 11:25 pm

Euan, on the face of it the chances of the UK independently supplying aircraft to the US are pretty slim, but we’ve had a number of notable successes in the past even though US protectionism usually dictates manufacture on home soil.

The US took the Harrier, the Canberra (as the Martin B-57), the T-45 Goshawk (a Hawk derivative), Shorts 360 and the Slingsby firefly, although admittedly that wasn’t a total success. The nearmiss with the VH-71, although India has ordered the model and the US Air Force has re-opened the competition for the HH-60 Pavehawk replacement, which means a possible second chance for the AW-101.

Eurocopter have made in roads with Dauphin and EC145 derivatives, which shows that the US is still receptive to foreign types, so there are opportunities yet to come.

We’ve just got to make something they really need which they don’t make themselves properly and is available now. Which is……..anyone?

April 6, 2010 11:41 pm

The Boiled Sweet or Biscuits Fruit :D

April 7, 2010 1:36 am

Well they could do with a brand new decent Maritime patrol aircraft and they don’t make those themselves properly although shiny new examples are not available now. Nimrod is proven it and the yanks know it kicks arse, it uses large amounts of US equipment the combat system is made by Boeing. What we could do is build what we currently build on the MRA4 and let them build the fuselage somewhere in the states maybe Boeing but they want to sell the P-8 to the US Navy. One reason the US apparently would not buy the Nimrod when we were thinking of new builds is because we would not sell Searchwater. Why we wouldn’t allow the Searchwater to be sold to dear old Uncle Sam is a bit beyond me but its bloody good and they have always been keen on it. I know I might be a broken record but the Nimrod mess is not beyond saving not least because I think we need more aircraft and the possibility of selling them Abroad is rather enticing.

On the subject of the P-8 I think there is the possibility of it not working out entirely as planned with shorter fatigue lives and the risk of cracks appearing from the additional stress of flying down on the deck. Why so cynical? To the best of my knowledge nobody has flown a twin-engine commercial aircraft for long periods of time down on the deck in typical North Atlantic weather but we will see. Although they are apparently going to try ASW, Maritime Patrol etc from a higher altitude and who knows it might work but whizzing past someone at 200ft says hello in a way that leaves an impression.

As for other things nice word choice they ‘took’ those aircraft with the vast majority of the work being done in the USA with full ToT rather than having to play their own game. Alright they have a bigger market and order more aircraft but they exact a high toll for buying ‘foreign’ equipment and then can also sell it abroad. One thing that really got me annoyed was the whole Boeing is the American choice in the as yet unfinished tanker war when parts are produced all over the World all adding up. EADS was going to build a brand new production facility employing new people not merely sustain and existing production line that was due to close within a few years time anyway.

Grumble over with :-)

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 7, 2010 11:15 am

Euan, I gave some serious thought to the UK building aircraft (independently) again and tried to come up with some possibilities. Starting from scratch would be difficult and expensive, so utilising existing designs might give us a bump start. There is also the need to avoid stratospheric development costs, so using proven airframes and systems would be a must.

1. BAe 146/Avro RJ maritime version to match the P-8. Either 2/4 engined version with Searchwater 2000 etc.

2. BAe 146M, this was a BAE proposed military model with a rear loading ramp that never got off the drawing board, this could supplement the Herc. It also gave me an idea for an auxillary airforce squadron operating this type, but that was going even more off tangent.

3. BAe ATP maritime and AEW versions, although studies were carried out in the eighties, they too never got beyond the drawing board. Time for a fresh look?

4. Light naval fighter based on T-45 Goshawk with Hawk 100 style wing tip Sidewinders and a Hawk 200 style cockpit and radar. This could replace Skyhawks used by Brazil, and India could be a possible customer. Sounds like clutching at straws I know, but feasible and British(ish)!


paul g
April 7, 2010 12:30 pm

richard, good point about the 146 as they were touting it like mad at DESi last year as they have a rather large quantity due back from lease in the very near future.
The offical bumpf was going on about rough landing strips quiet engines steep landing angle (as used at london city airport) all the usual stuff, then they were saying prices to start at £5 million, now in my eyes that’s a good idea. This was before your top idea of maritime, wouldn’t this be better for smaller troop/resupply loads than constantly using and wearing the big guns (C130/C17).

Just a thought!

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 7, 2010 12:57 pm

Paul G, I think there’s a very strong argument for using the 146 to supplement the Hercs and C-17’s. The RAF already use it for the Royal Flight so there’s a pool of experienced personnel and logistics chain already set up.

As for the maritime 146, a STOL aircraft would be ideal for low-slow observation in SAR missions. We could also convert existing aircraft rather than build new if need be. Either way, it would be a lot cheaper than a new-build or re-built Nimrod.

April 7, 2010 1:51 pm

Guys come on, get real – BAe 146 as a Nimrod replacement – puh-lease…..

146 as a Coast Guard aircraft for EEZ surveillance and SAR – no problemo, but its not big enough and does not have the legs to be an open ocean MPA. Even in the coast guard role it would be up against entrenched competition in any foreign procurements, such as Bombardier Q300 and various EADS (CASA) types, which probably have cheaper operating costs as they are turbo-props.

April 7, 2010 2:43 pm

Richard the problem I see is the same as what Jed said there are already competitors out there especially for the low end transport and maritime patrol roles they are also well known and entrenched. Nimrod is something that is pretty much unique and has a possibility of selling to folk that need a real MPA it’s competition would really only be the P-8 which is a brand new unproven design. The Nimrod on the other hand is a proven and well respected aircraft in its field and has a massive range and persistence greater than that of the P-8 I believe, it also has 4 engines which is maybe an advantage. I would possibly consider the option of developing an AWACS version of the Nimrod based on something like the IAI CAEW system although we tried it before and we all know that story.

Most of the Nimrod is new build and development has been essentially paid for all that we really need is to manufacture new fuselages something that a decent aero structures company should be able to do. I would imagine also that the fuselage has already been loaded into CAD so it should be a simple here is the CAD data build me a few of those please and then stick them together and sell them. Although one problem might be the US content which they may or might be able to object to being sold if so install the Modular EADS FITS system into the aircraft as it’s not exactly competition to the EADS C-295. Hell as a long shot we might be able to sell the basic Nimrod aircraft to other European nations unless they want to buy the US Boeing P-8 or try and design their own commercial derivative MPA.

The BAe 146 would be an alright bargain basement STOL transporter however as an MPA no thanks they would be a nice wee stopgap however I would rather buy some modern turboprops. France recently signed a deal for 8 CN-235’s* for around 225 million Euros not that bad at all although they already have the type in service. My choice would be the C-295 as a stopgap and low end transport for airborne training and low weight supply runs some would be converted to MPA and given to HMCG. Maybe the BAe 146 could be sold dirt cheap on the open market after all I don’t think we should do what BAE tells us to do and take the 146’s which is what I feel they are doing in a way.


Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 7, 2010 2:58 pm

Jed, I was just toying with ideas, if the 146 isn’t appropriate for a full blown MPA, then the CG/EEZ/SAR it is. This would suit BAe ATP being a lighter, twin-turboprop, as you suggest. The ATP could also compete with the SAAB 2000 Erieye AEW & C. It doesn’t look like the UK will buy enough Nimrods, so a few ‘Nimrod-Lites’ could patrol the home waters while the MRA-4’s go looking in the deep.

The concept was to re-ignite an independent UK aviation industry, I suggested using existing types because of the cost of developing new aircraft, hence the 146 and ATP.

Given that brief what would you suggest?

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 7, 2010 3:11 pm

Euan, I went to make a coffee before I hit the ‘Submit Comment’ button, so I didn’t see your comment. You both make valid points re the Nimrod, but Nimrod in whatever form it takes is going to be expensive compared to something like the P-8. Any ideas on British Aviation = Affordable?

paul g
April 7, 2010 4:34 pm

same as richard i was just toying with ideas, it could never replace nimrod, using the phrase maritime i didn’tmean n the nimrod role sorry if that’s how it came across. I have also championed the eads casa 235/295 on other posts on this site
I was thinking more of a “raf-lite” (terrible expression i know) as we use the big stuff for all sorts short hops etc, this aircraft could fly straight into bastion taking the strain off the other aircraft we use at the moment. A thought that has just come into my head whist typing this could be kitted out properly for serious injury medevac as incredibly moved and proud i was of the recent channel 4 programme it was a bit ad hoc in the back of the C-17.
looking at the webpage there are touting these at $2-3 million standard so that’s dollars and cheaper than my last quote, as stated we have the experience,tooling etc must be handy as the tristars are knocking on.
here’s the webpage


April 7, 2010 5:33 pm

Richard yeah there is admittedly no way in hell to try and hide the Nimrod’s price difference vs the Boeing P-8 Poseidon which India bought for about $220 Million each last year. The Nimrod on the other hand is something like $600 Million each albeit for 9 aircraft so they would really need to sell to get the price down. Either that or we don’t factor in the R&D costs and sell them for production cost plus a little bit essentially it would not be a commercially viable money making project unless we sold dozens of them. However it depends if you want to make money from it or try and rebuild expertise in building aircraft again I would be happy with the expertise and keeping people in aerospace jobs.

British Affordable Aviation erm well the only thing I can think of that sells is possibly the BAE Hawk which was actually the Hawker Siddeley Hawk before it became part of Big And Expensive. The Mantis might be affordable and could sell if we get out fingers out and actually improve the thing and make it attractive. Britten Norman make/made aircraft which sold in small numbers it would be nice to help them build new aircraft that people want but with the twin otter is back in production that’s unlikely. I would really like the UK to partner with someone like Bombardier Aerospace for getting back into the Aircraft market we could give them money for developing new aircraft as long as it’s UK built. We could also do a bigger package deal whereby we also buy more of their trains for modernising the UK rail network etc in other words put work their way in return for a good relationship. Maybe not exactly EU competition rule friendly or WTO friendly but in my opinion Sovereign Nations can do what they want within reason economically etc hence why I don’t like the EU.

Paul good point with the MEDEVAC aircraft role however is the aircraft not a little short legged for the role so would need to do it in legs not really that ideal for the critically ill. The concern I have with the idea however is more to do with the fact that it’s a little too focussed on what we are doing now. In less than 2 years maybe 3 I can see us really leaving Afghanistan unless the Tories are truly stupid and want to keep on fighting an unwinnable war with little real objective or direction. Therefore any aircraft would likely be getting delivered just in time for us leaving the country or might appear only to be used for a year or two before looking for a new role although they are dirt cheap. If we were not a bankrupt nation another thing I would consider is the Bombardier Global Express for VIP transport and MEDEVAC something it should do rather well and we already fly and support them. They should also be relatively easy for the Government to spin to the public, specialist MEDEVAC aircraft for the boys and for the politicians nice private business jets to fly around the world for meetings etc. Although at 10 times the price of a used BAe 146 a couple of new Global Expresses are maybe a bit expensive and excessive but I can dream can’t I:-)

Admin i’ll have a look at the links thank you for posting them.

April 7, 2010 6:14 pm
Reply to  Euan

Euan, have a look here


I argued for a VIP/Aeromed Evacuation version of the Global Express

April 7, 2010 9:06 pm

I did have a feeling that I had noticed it somewhere before but couldn’t remember where or who mentioned it so thanks for reminding me and apologies for nicking it.

April 7, 2010 9:12 pm

Richard said: “The concept was to re-ignite an independent UK aviation industry, I suggested using existing types because of the cost of developing new aircraft, hence the 146 and ATP. Given that brief what would you suggest?”

Ha ha, I reject your brief sir ! As I have said before I am not interested in the military-industrial complex, in the form of any defence-industrial strategy, nor am I interested in the politics of using defence spending to provide jobs etc. The reason why is because I don’t believe any government would invest enough to make it sensible or worth while, as the UK’s armed forces have dropped below the critical mass required to make such investments worth while.

So, and don’t take this as me being rude to Richard, I am just getting my point across, I don’t give a flying frack’ about re-invigorating the UK aerospace industry, I want ‘capabilities’ procured for UK armed forces at reasonable cost and good value – if that means purchasing off shore, then so be it !!

April 7, 2010 9:54 pm
Reply to  Jed

How about the RAF using the Hawk 208 for a hi/lo mix with Typhoon?

I like it, 7 hardpoints, decent avionics, inflight refuelling probe, cheap as chips for what one could characterise as ‘reasonable’ performance.

Teamed up with ASRAAM for short range QRA and AD, or even a targeting pod and a handful of PW IV, CRV7 or Brimstone and you have a low cost CAS platform.

Richard Stockley
Richard Stockley
April 8, 2010 5:50 pm

Admin, they tried a mix of Hawks and Tornado F.2’s back in the 80’s, it was essentially a T.1 with a pair of Sidewinders. Couldn’t tell you what the what the mix ratio was or if it was deemed a success or not. A radar and Asraam etc equipped Mk 208 would be infinitely more potent.

Jed, brief rejection accepted! Politics is probably one of the biggest millstones to any project. It was case of casting yourself as a politician, terrible thought I know. One of the reasons I was banging on about the 146 and ATP was the fact they have a civillian lineage, therefore not totally dependent on home grown, military orders and less (or at least reduced) chance of blackmailing the Government into making orders to secure jobs. I believe one of the biggest problems with our military-industrial complex is its dependency on purely military products without civillian counterparts, hence the need for Government sponsorship. Ok, I accept that there are no civillian counterparts to a Challenger 2, but a defence company needs to take responsibility for diversification to improve its long-term survival.

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
April 8, 2010 10:31 pm

Visitors to RAF Cosford can often see a fat guy with a pony tail staring at XR220 and cursing softly under his breath.

That would be me.

When I look at post-war british aircraft projects I see many lost opportunities. That I now see AFV production going the same way dismays me. Remember (especially those people who think that the british armed forces should slavishly Buy American) that if you don’t build it then you can’t sell it. Look at the export success of the Harrier, CVR(t), Centurion, Saladin series and wonder how well the Lightning might have sold if Lockheed hadn’t been as bent as a bottle of crisps? Or where JSF might have been built if P1154 had been pursued? Rotodyne instead of V-22, anyone?
The UK still has a lead in some high tech industries notably composite mouldings and vehicle armour but I doubt that will stop the decline of the UK’s defence industry.

April 8, 2010 11:52 pm
Reply to  Pete Arundel

Hi Pete, welcome to Think Defence. I wholeheartedly agree with you, we need some conviction and political will to get us back on the track of making things that people want to buy.

Richard, I think the Hawk T1 with Sidewinders was an 80’s last ditch against the Soviet hordes concept but the more I think about a Hawk 208 and ASRAAM combination the more I like it. It would have limitations of course but as a low cost way of maintaining numbers it would be good

March 10, 2011 11:16 pm

Don’t be fooled.British military industry is as dead as a doornail.Instead of spending billions of pounds which you
don’t have for building bullshit try to sort out your economic
problems first. Just forget all this stupid old imperial dream.It is dead.It’s been for a whole century now.
Britain is a small place, no resources and decaying industry

Tim McLelland
Tim McLelland
January 19, 2012 12:23 am

I suggest the creator of this thread gets a copy of my book “TSR2-Britain’s Lost Cold War Strike Aircraft” (Classic Publications/IAP). It might help to explain to him (and anyone else) how such utter garbage has been peddled about this subject for decades. There was no “conspiracy” at all. Just a lot of claptrap written by people who knew absolutely nothing about the story.

Think Defence
January 19, 2012 12:50 am
Reply to  13th

Well said 13th, come on Tim, send me a post and I will link it your your book!

January 19, 2012 12:55 am

Just a note, Mr. McLelland’s book was the one I referenced for my later article! (We stuck an Amazon link in Tim). It truly is an excellent book, I can vouch for that.

And a link to the article in question;


Think Defence
January 19, 2012 12:57 am
Reply to  Chris.B.

Sorry Chris, forgot about your post, its all this rumble in the CVF hilarity distracting me, I usually have a pretty good memory of subjects we have covered!

September 24, 2013 9:16 pm

Fabulous plane, my father had some involvement with but could never talk about. I take one issue with this article and that’s the mention of the “special relationship”, and as someone with an American wife who lived there for 12 years, I hate it, loathe in fact. I can tell you living in the US, its NEVER mentioned. And a “special relationship” only mentioned by one side, is not one. Its an embarrassment and it really, really needs to stop.

And if anything the story of the TSR2 proves it has never existed.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
September 24, 2013 9:29 pm


Where it does exist is the relationship between service personnel and actually the respect that the US public have for UK Armed Forces personnel.
A huge number of people in the US are very insular.

September 24, 2013 9:35 pm

Interesting find digging up this article Gareth didn’t know it existed below is a link with interviews with all the main players involved is quite a big file so do look on a mobile but anyone interested in tsr2’s history is a compelling. Read.


John Hartley
John Hartley
September 24, 2013 9:57 pm

Looking at the prototype in the Cosford museum, I could not help but think a Mk2 with the uprated Olympus from Concorde, + a integrated fuel tank between the fuselage & the wing, would have increased span & range, & still be in service today. By the time the RAF bought Buccaneers, then developed & bought the Tornado, did Britain really save any money in scrapping the TSR2?

Jeremy M H
September 25, 2013 2:05 am


I think you vastly overstate any US role in the demise of the TSR-2. It sounds like the thing has plenty of opposition from all directions. I mean it is kind of flattering to suggest that the US killed both the Arrow and the TSR-2 (and I am sure other national airplanes that I have never even heard of) but there seems to be very little evidence that that is the case.

I quick scanned the document Mark linked and am now reading it for some more detail. It honestly sounds like the program was a bit of a mess from the get go. There was not solid support for it in the UK so pointing fingers outside sounds a bit silly. Even the air staff said that this would probably be the last UK only combat aircraft built which means it was happening right at a time when there were starting to be doubts if the UK could go it alone (page 38). It sounds to me on reading the whole second section that the UK overall was unsure about what it should/could afford to build.

Australia sounds like they made a strategic decision for the F-111 and an American focus for their security rather than with the UK which honestly made a lot of sense. And it is asking a lot for a country like Australia to commit to a major arms purchase when the prospects for British purchases were as up in the air as they appeared to be.

Yes lots of people in the US don’t regularly comment about the UK in regards to the special relationship. But the dynamics are slightly different in the US than in Europe. I mean the US has 6 fighter squadrons in Europe and has more tanker aircraft in the UK than the RAF owns. It is just not the same in the US and it is very hard to make comparisons between how the two nations see one another. There are no corresponding British deployments to the US. One could go their whole life quite easily without ever seeing anything at all from an allied military mission. APATS is right that many people in the US are quite insular in their thinking. But there is also not nearly the exposure here that the average British citizen has gotten to the US military over the years.

I personally don’t doubt the value of the special relationship to the US and enjoy the fact that the UK would presumably be there in a situation where we really needed it and I expect my government to do the same (even though we will disagree at times). But for the average American citizen the way they understand that relationship is very different than the way the average British (or European) citizen does due to the long and enduring US military presence in Europe.

September 25, 2013 8:04 am

I think TSR2 should have been cancelled: it was effectively a sub strategic bomber which we didn’t need. Even now I can hear my former Dynamics and Control lecturer spinning in his grave…..

Why don’t we do a Luftwaffe, and move basic and fighter pilot training to the US? Perfect weather, so training times will decrease (along with costs), and the Yanks can see more of the Brits :-)

September 25, 2013 9:29 am

The demise of TSR2 was just before my time, so I can’t put first hand recollection into any assessment of its problems or promise. I do just about remember the politics of the day as the news was then as now obsessed with what politicians promise one week and reject the next while assuring all there was no U-turn involved. I recall images of Harold Wilson proclaiming he would make UK the High Tech engineering focus of the World, it future forged “in the White-Heat of a technological revolution” (I also saw the reports where after a major devaluation of Sterling he promised “This won’t affect the pound in your pocket” which clearly was 100% untrue.) Anyway – the political landscape was pushing the idea of continued and ever stronger UK technological pre-eminence as a matter of national pride verging on national survival, while in the background the economy was wildly overstretched. The UK had used the momentum of wartime scientific and engineering advances to make great strides through the 50s, but it was becoming clear that the investment required for such a rate of development was far outstripping potential returns. If it hadn’t been for the Cold War and the fear that the Evil Soviet might be getting the upper hand, no doubt the funding for defence projects would have dried up years before. So up to the early 60s the political imperative was to forge ahead with technological brilliance channelled into both high profile defence projects and modern labour-saving marvels for the domestic market. The UK would engineer its way to world dominance and prosperity.

With the Wilson government though we had divergent ideals. On the one hand was the advance of the industrialisation of the country with the evident advantages for the working man (Labour’s reason for existence), on the other was the growing anti-war ‘peacenik’ movement that coalesced into organisations such as CND, which senior Labour MPs such as Michael Foot championed. To keep their ‘people’s party’ credentials, Labour had to appease the disarmament lobby and distance themselves from any policy that might be branded ‘warmongering’. As the majority of the White-Heat-of-Technology money was spent on defence projects that had to be redirected. I suspect a lot of it went to finance the glory that was British Leyland. Drain, money, throw. The rest was money we didn’t really have anyway, investment based on projected returns from defence exports down the line.

I can’t say if Denis Healey (the man with the job of axing TSR2) thought that shutting down this project was right or wrong. It was ultimately a political decision driven by financial limitations and a changing public perception of defence spend value. It became overtly political when Healey demanded not only the destruction or damage beyond repair of all aircraft and component assemblies, but also the destruction of all tooling jigs, special manufacturing fixtures etc. This wasn’t a cost saving “stop work now” measure, but the eradication of the project for all time. The actions were of course to prevent any future Tory government from restarting the project and making TSR2 into a global success (and a Labour embarrassment).

As Jeremy has said, I don’t think the Wilson government reacted to US lobbying for UK F111 purchase, although having the possibility and even provisional agreement for such an option no doubt allowed the killing of TSR2 to appear more rational to Joe Public. Let’s face it, if the US was so keen to sell F111s to us why did it never happen? Probably because the US administration was much less interested than the Labour government suggested.

I knew a draughtsman who worked on TSR2 (or Tear-@rse 2 as he said it was known). Specifically he worked on the drawings for the wing structure. He told me the wing framework was essentially one component, a titanium structure he said that was to be machined from solid, and which spanned wingtip to wingtip. The drawings were full scale, laid out on hangar floors, and the draughtsmen used (his description) fluffy slippers and kneepads so they could kneel on the drawing while they worked without damaging it. I may have remembered this wrong, or he may have embellished the tale a bit, but that’s what I recall him saying. He also said he’d never seen so many grown men crying their eyes out as on the day the project was cancelled.

As for the aircraft itself, give or take the state-of-the-art of its avionics the platform was as modern and capable (although unproven) as Tornado, which owes a lot of its engineering to TSR2, so I would have thought its service life would have been just as long as its descendant. We might still have had TSR2 in service now – who knows? One thing that has always been evident was that it was at least as good as (and almost certainly considerably better than) the best aircraft the rest of the world could offer at the time. And beautiful with it.

So to me it looks a lot like it was killed off not only because the funding projections were growing without sign of control (other projects in this state have been continued before and since), but also because it suited the changing political posture of the Labour party into an anti-war anti-nuclear pro-international-left-wing-disarmament-movement party. Chasing the popular vote – who’d have thought it? I suspect in policy terms the late 60s Labour party looked more like the Green party does now. (The popular vote grab still apparently remains the major policy driver for them, as this week’s Conference headlines demonstrate. Not that the other parties don’t do the same, just that Labour seem so committed to it, to the absence of almost any other doctrine.) TSR2 then was the sacrificial lamb, killed off to evidence the Labour government’s shift leftwards as much as to stem the uncontrollable flow of funds into the project. In my opinion.

dave haine
dave haine
September 25, 2013 12:14 pm

One of the great sadnesses of the TSR2 was the loss of the innovative techniques and advances in manufacturing that it would have led to. I’ve been chatting to a chap who’s been involved in the new Range Rover. He said that when they decided to go all aluminium chassis, they were desperate to get hold of anything on the TSR2 wing manufacturing process, because they believed they could transfer the process to a combined chassis/frame for the new car. But there was nothing left. So they’ve had to go with a more conventional approach, albeit pushed as far as possible.

I’m not sure that the navy didn’t poke it in the eye too- because it would have been a competitor to their polaris programme.

Shame that politics got in the way of all those potential jobs, and export sales.

We must forget the other fatality in this wholesale destruction of a once vibrant industry:


15900kg payload (about 60troops), range 7725km, STOL performance with RR Medways, or, (get this!) VTOL with BS pegasus. 5000 jobs lost when the programme was cancelled, one year before the prototype would have flown. Victory for the common man hey?

September 25, 2013 2:29 pm

I really liked the HS681 (Whitworth Gloster, Hawker Siddeley, Armstrong Whitworth, whoever) but I suspect it would have been a very difficult plane to work with. In forward flight the wings & tail share lift duties and with a bit of trim dialled in can cope with imperfect CoG, as will happen now & then with shifting cargo. But as a VTOL carrier the aircraft had to balance on the vectored thrust of what were in essence four Harriers strapped line abreast under the wings. Even the personnel walking through the cargo deck would have strained its balance. At least in the Harrier everything stayed put (not sure if the weapon stations were all on neutral longitudinal CoG axis), but even then the thing is festooned with small trim jet nozzles that try to hold its balance. Imagine how much worse a cargo plane of Herc C4 size would have been.

So I suspect had it made it past prototype stage, it would have been limited to short rolling take off, short rolling landing at best, just to let the flight surfaces add some stability.

You’d have to expect that any attempt to make the aircraft stable while not moving forward would have increased system complexity in a big way. Both in terms of physical pipework for trim vents and in the function of the flight control system.

I’m guessing the specific fuel consumption is on the high side for Pegasus if only because a) its a hugely powerful engine that spent most of its time providing a tiny fraction of its full capability thrust, and b) because the jet eflux has two 90 degree turns to make to exit the aircraft, each using up some of the energy of its thrust. And it was always a noisy beast as the bypass thrust didn’t shroud the jet exhaust as in a conventional bypass engine but popped out the side of the airframe via its own nozzles.

But apart from the stability, the complexity, the fuel consumption and the noise, it was just peachy.

I look at BAE146 and wonder how much HS681 survived into its smaller simpler cousin.

Peter Elliott
September 25, 2013 3:00 pm

HS681 looks like a very interesting design that I hadn’t seen before. Given how much VAAC and SRVL technologies have moved on, and the level of on-board computing power now available this design could be worth another look.

A medium jet able to lift 15,000 kg of payload, go 7,620m high, and fly at mach 0.71 would knock spots of (for example) v-22 for both carrier AEWC and AAR.

dave haine
dave haine
September 25, 2013 3:11 pm


The Medway, in that incarnation was a vectored thrust beast, as well, albeit to improve short field performance. I suspect that we wouldn’t have seen a pegasus engined variant anyway, because of all the reasons you mention, and the fact that we wouldn’t have really needed a VTOL transport.

146? I’d forgotten that that had started out as Hawker Siddley design, does make you wonder doesn’t it. Albeit much smaller, it gives you an indication of how useful a medway engined 681 might have been.

Peter Elliott
September 25, 2013 3:12 pm

Although looking at the dimensions I suspect the original concept was rather too massive for carrier ops even if the wings and tail could be made to fold up.

Maybe the new design would aim to be about 2/3 the size of the original with 2 engines rather than 4.

How hard could it be to stick a pair of F-135 one under each wing…?

ari mitrani
ari mitrani
May 4, 2014 8:13 pm

What a nonsense! Americans were afraid of the TSR2?? this is the most ridiculous statement one can imagine
why should the Americans be afraid of it ?? TSR-2 would never have sold any plane to another country.
who needed this bomber?? a country with nuclear strike capability so how many potential customers were there? none..The French had thier own Mirage 4000 and the Americans F-111..TSR-2 had no market potential outside the UK.. This article is a complete fantasy.. The fact is that Americans didn’ t give a damn about this bomber.
Of course they were interested in the capability of it since Britain was the only NATO member with nuclear strike capability when it became clear General De Gaulle was going to take France out of the structural command. Contructions plans were destroyed so what?? Americans had nothing to do with that Harold Wilson government decided to do that.. This article is full of nonsense..Such as Americans buying British avionics for their Apache helicopters or something..What a fantasy is this..On the contrary the Brits have decided to buy the latest version of the Apachi from Americans few monts ago.
The truth of the matter is that the Americans have upgraded the old fashioned British Harriers and sold it back to Brits AV-8B Harrier. Everything about TSR-2 was on paper, it was a paper plane and none of its designed capabilities have been proven.F-111 on the other hand was a combat proven bomber, did an excellent job during 1986 Libya assault. When the TSR-2 program was canceled, none of the prototypes build had satisfied the MOD requirements and the project faced enourmous technical problems.
This articles proves one thing. Famous british inferiorty complex toward America..

ari mitrani
ari mitrani
May 4, 2014 8:27 pm

A lot of stuff is still claimed about ‘US interference and pressure’ and a wanton desire to sabotage the industry by the Wilson government illustrated by the breaking up of not only the TSR-2’s save for two, in building, but also the scrapping of the production equipment to stop a future government re-starting the project.
Both are untrue.
From the RAF F-111 order to it’s 1968 cancellation – when economic problems accelerated the role ‘East of Suez’ ending – the fact was that the purchase of the projected 50 F-111’s could be financed over years, TSR-2 was all up front.
The head of BAC, Sir George Edwards, had a company policy of once a project is cancelled, scrapping all of it, including production equipment, since he thought it unhealthy for his company to not move on to new projects right way and no dwelling on what might have been.
He did the same thing when the Vickers 1000 jet transport was axed in the mid 1950’s, everything associated with it was scrapped and later the BAC 3-11 wide-body airliner.
The whole TSR-2 story is highly exaggerated nonsense and has little to do with reality .F-111 had better field performance overall, TSR.2 had better aerodynamic perfomance in the arena for which it was designed F111s vg wing made it somewhat more versatile and efficient, but a lot was in areas that USAF didn’t need. F-111 turned better at low speed, TSR.2 accelerated a lot better and would probably have made its performance specs, wheras F-111 didn’t. F-111’s engines were more miserly in fuel usage, TSR.2’s were more powerful power came on faster. Remember , though, TSR.2 was optimized around that mission and didn’t have to worry about doing a whole series of tricks. On the other hand, TSR.2 woulld have been a beast to maintain. Brits really didn’t worry much about maintainence when designing aircraft in those days.

May 9, 2014 4:07 pm

” I was once told that what is now ethos in the MoD is to have British scientists dream up the ideas, sell them to American, let America develop the idea into a final product, and finally buy it back and improve it. This have been done a lot over recent years in the UK with regards, at least, to military hardware. The Apache is perhaps a quasi-example; the UK did not buy the supplied avionics software for the apache but instead developed their own, which turned out to be so good that eventually the Americans bought it back from us ”

You were told wrong mate ..This is a complete fantasy ….There is not a single example of what you mention above .You want a prove here it is : If British Apache’s are so advanced, which they are not so why try to replace them with the latest versions made by Boeing ?


The Other Chris
May 9, 2014 7:07 pm

That’s certainly the latest chapter, but not the whole story.

Prior to involvement in the AH-64E, the UK modified the previous AH-64D model to produce the AH-1 model. This is an improvement over the D model.

Subsequently Boeing have developed the E model, which leapfrogs some of the capabilities of the AH-1 in turn.

This isn’t a bad thing, the UK fleet is due for renewal and the UK always likes High-End equipment.

Chances are the UK will modify the E model still further, probably into an AH-2 model. They can’t help themselves when it comes to tweaking, but the differences will probably be less stark compared to the differences in the current fleets. Marine sealing, flotation devices, folding rotors, etc.

Worth reading more on the AH-1 development, it’s an eye opener. The improvements in the AH-1 are noticeable over the D model it is based on – the UK can operate the Longbow radar freely in Afghanistan and deploy more safely from carriers, for example.

Remember it’s not a pissing contest. The UK and USA share a large proportion of innovations with each other. It’s mutually beneficial.

Also worth reading up on the UK rescue operation with an Apache. Highlights the brass balls of the Brits and their sometimes insane way of applying what they have at hand to the task: