Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Now, if we want to start thinking about, if you like, a post Skybolt RAF-- we're standing in front of the TSR-2, Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance 2. Now when was this aircraft actually originally designed to be put into production? So, we know it gets to about 1965, but when did it start off its process?

Skip to 0 minutes and 29 secondsROSS MAHONEY: The design is late '50s. Short period. It is, of course, the TSR-2 is either one of the most iconic aircraft in British aviation industry history, or one of the most infamous. Depends on your perspective. It's designed, initially, as a replacement for the Canberra. That's its original design. The RAF enters the late '50s, 1960s, despite what comes out of the Sandys defence review of 1957, recognises that there is a need for manned aircraft. There is need for manned aircraft that will replace the Canberra. Unfortunately, to paraphrase Sir Sydney Camm, there are four things you need for an aircraft design-- span, length and height and politics. TSR-2 does well on the first three, fails on the fourth.

Skip to 1 minute and 19 secondsIt is the victim, again depending on your viewpoint, of changing defence requirements, escalating costs, and Britain's financial situation. The costs for the TSR-2 spiral out of control. And eventually the RAF, in conjunction with the Wilson Government, and so forth, take the decision to cancel the aircraft. And unfortunately, it's been left in history that the RAF had this fantastic aircraft. And you only have to look around this hall, here at the museum at RAF Cosford to see that, actually, some of the aircraft the British were designing in the 1950s, were world beaters. The RAF-- the British aviation industry was at the cutting edge. But the problem was cost, at the end of the day.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: The cancellation of TSR-2 in 1965, is something that was met with much regret. Even 50 years on, we still talk about it in those terms. But, from 1965, how much more development would have had to go into the aircraft to actually make it operational?

Skip to 2 minutes and 29 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Well, the key problem was the changing requirements. As I said, it originally had been designed to replace the Canberra. But there's then this idea that it will also help replace the V Force, eventually. As I think there's a recognition that the strategic role is changing. So, we still need an interdictor that this aircraft is designed to attack behind the battlefield, as an interdiction role. So, it still would have required quite a bit of development, a lot more cost going into it. And ultimately, as with any aircraft, there's a maturation period. And it would've still taken, in my opinion, quite a while for the aircraft to reach its full potential. When it's cancelled, there are the alternatives.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 secondsThe RAF initially looked at ordering the F-111 or the 111-K. And also, it's working on a project, or begins work on a project with the Anglo-French Variable Geometry aircraft, which was eventually cancelled.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 secondsThe F-111 order is eventually cancelled in itself. The RAF eventually end up with the F-4 Phantom, and also, ironically, the Blackburn Buccaneer. In the debates behind a lot of this, there's also a debate over Navy carriers. And there is this ongoing debate-- the navy avoided the Blackburn Buccaneer and have tried to offer it to the RAF in the early '60s. The RAF said, no, they want the TSR-2. Eventually, we end up with the Buccaneer. Not all is lost, though. Some of what comes from the experience gained from the TSR-2, ends up in the Tornado. Indeed, ironically, the Tornado, when it starts development, is known as the multirole combat aircraft. Its other acronym is, Must Replace Canberra Again.

Skip to 4 minutes and 16 secondsWe get to that point-- and the experience is not lost, there is a link between TSR-2 and Tornado.

Skip to 4 minutes and 23 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: It's interesting the process we go through. You mentioned the Phantom, and also the Buccaneer. And the RAF ends up inheriting the Royal Navy Buccaneers when the-- if you like-- the fixed winged fleet is retired in conventional aircraft.

Skip to 4 minutes and 37 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yeah, so eventually once the Naval fleet carriers are decommisioned we do inherit more naval aircraft, Phantoms and Buccaneers. We do order some new Buccaneers as well. And they're used in very similar roles to what this would have been used in.

Skip to 4 minutes and 52 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: So, we go through a progression from the cutting edge of aircraft technology, to a very advanced aircraft in the Aardvark. Eventually, plump for the Phantom-- which is what, about 10 years old when it's ordered-- and ultimately for the interdictor role, end up with the Buccaneer. Which first flies about 1952? Something around there?

Skip to 5 minutes and 16 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Early 1960s.

Skip to 5 minutes and 20 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: Now in this context, the Australians take the F-111, Aardvark, and operate it for a long period of time. Compared to the TSR-2, if we'd gone down that route, would it have been a reasonable alternative?

Skip to 5 minutes and 33 secondsROSS MAHONEY: It would've been a reasonable alternative. Of course, the Australians are interested in the TSR-2. And the reason they ordered the F-111 is, they're done with this. But ultimately, the RAF decided to cancel it. And potentially, one of the problems in the British aviation industry in the 1960s and 1970s is that when we look at foreign designs, American designs principally, we want to put our own stamp on it. We see that with the Phantom. We put the Spey engine into the Phantom. The same is true of the F-111. Ultimately, by the time we get around to the Tornado, we end up with an aircraft that is more capable. And it's still in service today, of course.

Skip to 6 minutes and 16 secondsThe F-111 would have been a useful aircraft, but we were only buying 50 of them. So, we still would've had to find alternatives, in my opinion.

Skip to 6 minutes and 26 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: So to a certain degree, it would have been another stop gap.

Skip to 6 minutes and 30 secondsROSS MAHONEY: Yes, I mean the reason the F-111 was being ordered was because the long-term plan was the Anglo-French Variable Geometry aircraft. That is eventually cancelled. That's where some of the challenges emerge.

Skip to 6 minutes and 45 secondsEMMETT SULLIVAN: OK. Ross, thank you for that. So, we see an issue here about RAF preferences but also the political realities of budgeting in the 1960s. Putting paid to this aircraft behind us. Let's move on from this point.

TSR-2 – Introduction

Replacing the Canberra

In this video we cover the following:

  1. The TSR-2 holds a particular place in British aviation - and is a source of much regret
  2. What were the additional developments need to make the TSR-2 operational?
  3. Would the Aardvark have been a comparable replacement?

The TSR-2 was initially considered as a replacement for the Canberra; but it was also conceived that it could do the job of the Vulcan in the longer term. The General Dynamics F-111 was only christened ‘the Aardvark’ on the day it formally left the USAF service, although it had been known informally as such throughout its service, because of its long nose.

Please add your comments on the subjects raised in the video below.

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This video is from the free online course:

From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

Royal Holloway, University of London