Cancelled: Britain’s High-Mach Heartbreak
The TSR-2 bomber was a case of aeronautical genius foiled by political foolishness.
- By David Noland
- Air & Space magazine, April 2013
Ministry of Defense
(Page 4 of 4)
BAC pleaded for a limited test-flight program for the two flyable prototypes, but the Air Ministry refused. The wooden mockup in Warton was transported to the far end of a runway and burned. XR219, the only TSR-2 to have flown, was sent to a gunnery range for vulnerability testing—and was eventually shot to pieces.
Two non-flying TSR-2 airframes survived the cancellation and currently reside in museums in Duxford and Cosford. They are the sole remnants of Britain’s most ambitious technological accomplishment in aviation up to that time.
After three decades of reflection, Roland Beamont concluded, “The TSR-2 was simply too much for our industry to cope with.” He’s probably right; the once-proud British aircraft industry, racked by massive consolidations, was never the same after the TSR-2’s demise. With the exception of the subsonic Harrier jump jet, every RAF and Royal Navy combat aircraft since then has been developed jointly with, or bought from, other countries.
Ironically, after killing the TSR-2, Britain cancelled its plan to buy F-111s from the United States because their price had escalated beyond even what the TSR-2 would have cost. It wasn’t until 1980 that the RAF finally acquired an aircraft that could match the TSR-2. The Panavia Tornado, jointly developed by Britain, Germany, and Italy, is still a mainstay of the Royal Air Force, along with another multi-nation product, the brand-new Typhoon. But, oh, what might have been.
David Noland, a lifelong TSR-2 fan, writes about aviation from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley.