The British TSR-2 aircraft XR219 made its maiden flight from Boscombe Down in Wiltshire 27 September 1964. The British Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 was a cancelled Cold War strike andreconnaissance aircraft developed by the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The TSR-2 was designed to penetrate a well-defended forward battle area at low altitudes and very high speeds, and then attack high-value targets in the rear with nuclear or conventional weapons. Another intended combat role was to provide high-altitude, high-speed photo reconnaissance. Some of the most advanced aviation technology of the period was incorporated in order to make it the highest-performing aircraft in the world in its projected missions. Only one airframe flew and test flights and weight rise during design indicated that the aircraft would be unable to meet its original stringent design specifications which had been reduced as the results of flight testing became available.

Prior to the TSR-2, Britain’s Royal Air Force had deployed the English Electric Canberra bomber, capable of flying at high altitudes and subsonic speeds. Like the de Havilland Mosquito before it, as originally conceived, the Canberra carried no defensive weapons and relied on its high performance to allow it to avoid defences. The introduction of the radar-guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) was a significant threat to this tactic. SAMs had speed and altitude performance much greater than any contemporary aircraft; the Canberra, and other high-altitude aircraft like the V bombers or United States’ B-52 Stratofortress, were extremely vulnerable to these weapons. The first aircraft to fall victim to the Soviet S-75 Dvina (NATO name “SA-2 Guideline”) SAM was a Taiwanese RB-57, a reconnaissance version of the Canberra, shot down in 1959.

The solution was to fly lower; since radar operates in line-of-sight, detection of an aircraft flying at low altitudes is significantly hindered, thereby reducing time for enemy counter measures. In practice, trees, hills, valleys and any other obstructions reduce this range even more, making a ground-based interception extremely difficult. The Canberra was designed for medium- to high-altitude flight and was not suitable for continuous terrain-hugging flight; this would require a completely different aircraft.Low-level strike aircraft, or “interdictors”, grew into a new class of their own during the late 1950s. They generally featured high wing loading to reduce the effects of turbulence and cross-wind, some form of high-performance navigational radar to allow very low flight at high speeds, and large fuel loads to offset the higher fuel use at low altitudes. So the Ministry of Supply started work with English Electric in 1955, to create A new light bomber to replace the Canberra. These early studies eventually settled on an aircraft with a 2,000 nmi (3,700 km) ferry range, Mach 1.5 speed “at altitude” and 600 nmi (1,100 km) low-level range. A crew of two was required, one being the operator of the advanced navigational and attack equipment. The bombload was to be four 1,000 lb (450 kg) bombs.

The envisioned “standard mission” for the TSR-2 was to carry a 2,000 lb (900 kg) weapon internally for a combat radius of 1,000 nautical miles (1,900 km). Of that mission 100 nautical miles (190 km) was to be flown at higher altitudes at Mach 1.7 and the 200 nmi (370 km) into and out of the target area was to be flown as low as 200 ft (60 m) at a speed of Mach 0.95. The remainder of the mission was to be flown at Mach 0.92. If the entire mission were to be flown at the low 200 ft (61 m) altitude, the mission radius was reduced to 700 nmi (1,300 km). Heavier weapons loads could be carried with further reductions in range. Plans for increasing the TSR-2’s range included fitting external tanks: one 450 Imperial gallon (2,000 L) tank under each wing or one 1,000-Imperial gallon (4,500-L) tank carried centrally below the fuselage. If no internal weapons were carried, a further 570 Imperial gallons (2,600 L) could be carried in a tank in the weapons bay. Later variants would have been fitted with variable-geometry wings

Sadly The TSR-2 was the victim of ever rising costs and inter-service squabbling over Britain’s future defence needs, which led to the controversial decision to scrap the programme in 1965. With the election of a new government, the TSR-2 was cancelled due to rising costs, in favour of purchasing an adapted version of the General Dynamics F-111, a decision that itself was later rescinded as costs and development times again skyrocketed. A replacement for the TSR 2 was eventually found in the Blackburn Buccaneer and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, both types being previously considered and rejected early in the TSR-2 procurement process. Eventually, the smaller Swing-wing Panavia Tornado was also developed and was adopted by a European consortium to fulfill broadly similar requirements to the TSR-2.

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