The British Aircraft Corporation TSR-2 was a cancelled Cold War strike and reconnaissance 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 stand-off, side-looking, radar and photo imagery and signals intelligence, 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. The design specifications had been reduced as the results of flight testing.

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costs, in favour of purchasing an adapted version of the General Dynamics F-111, a decision that itself was later rescinded as costs and development times increased. The replacements included the Blackburn Buccaneer and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, both of which had previously been considered and rejected early in the TSR-2 procurement process. Eventually, the smaller swing-wing Panavia Tornado was developed and adopted by a European consortium to fulfil broadly similar requirements to the TSR-2.

Class Aircraft
Type Bomber
Manufacturer British Aircraft Corporation
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1964
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
British Aircraft Corporation 23 View

Throughout 1959, English Electric (EE) and Vickers worked on combining the best of both designs in order to put forward a joint design with a view to having an aircraft flying by 1963, while also working on merging the companies under the umbrella of the British Aircraft Corporation (along with Bristol Aircraft). EE had put forward a delta winged design and Vickers, a swept wing on a long fuselage. The EE wing, born of their greater supersonic experience, was judged superior to Vickers, while the Vickers fuselage was preferred. In effect, the aircraft would be built 50/50: Vickers the front half, EE the rear.

The TSR-2 was to be powered by two Bristol-Siddeley Olympus reheated turbojets, advanced variants of those used in the Avro Vulcan. The Olympus would be further developed and would power the supersonic Concorde. The design featured a small shoulder-mounted delta wing with down-turned tips, an all-moving swept tailplane and a large all-moving fin. Blown flaps were fitted across the entire trailing edge of the wing to achieve the short takeoff and landing requirement, something that later designs would achieve with the technically more complex swing-wing approach. No ailerons were fitted, control in roll instead being implemented by differential movement of the slab tailplanes. The wing loading was high for its time, enabling the aircraft to fly at very high speed and low level with great stability without being constantly upset by thermals and other ground-related weather phenomena. The EE Chief Test Pilot, Wing Commander Roland Beamont, favourably compared the TSR-2's supersonic flying characteristics to the Canberra's own subsonic flight characteristics, stating that the Canberra was more troublesome.

According to the Flight Envelope diagram,[60] TSR2 was capable of sustained cruise at Mach 2.05 at altitudes between 37,000 ft (11,000 m) and 51,000 ft (16,000 m) and had a dash speed of Mach 2.35 (with a limiting leading edge temperature of 140 degrees Celsius). Its theoretical maximum speed was Mach 3 in level flight at 45,000 ft (14,000 m).

The aircraft featured some extremely sophisticated avionics for navigation and mission delivery, which would also prove to be one of the reasons for the spiralling costs of the project. Some features, such as forward looking radar (FLR), side-looking radar for navigational fixing, only became commonplace on military aircraft years later. These features allowed for an innovative autopilot system which, in turn, enabled long distance terrain-following sorties as crew workload and pilot input had been greatly reduced.

There were considerable problems with realising the design. Some contributing manufacturers were employed directly by the Ministry rather than through BAC, leading to communication difficulties and further cost overruns. Equipment, an area in which BAC had autonomy, would be supplied by the Ministry from "associate contractors", although the equipment would be designed and provided by BAC, subject to ministry approval. The overall outlay of funds made it the largest aircraft project in Britain to date.

Unlike most previous projects, there were to be no prototypes. Under the "development batch" procedure pioneered by the Americans (and also used by English Electric for the Lightning), there would instead be a development batch of nine airframes, to be built using production jigs. The choice of proceeding to production tooling turned out to be another source of delay, with the first aircraft having to adhere to strict production standards or deal with the bureaucracy of attaining concessions to allow them to exhibit differences from later airframes. Four years into the project, the first few airframes had effectively become prototypes in all but name, exhibiting a succession of omissions from the specification and differences from the intended pre-production and production batches.

Despite the increasing costs (which were inevitable, given the low original estimates), the first two of the development batch aircraft were completed. Engine development and undercarriage problems led to delays for the first flight which meant that the TSR-2 missed the opportunity to be displayed to the public at that year's Farnborough Airshow. In the days leading up to the testing, Denis Healey, the Opposition defence spokesman, had criticised the aircraft saying that by the time it was introduced it would face "new anti-aircraft" missiles that would shoot it down making it prohibitively expensive at £16 million per aircraft (on the basis of only 30 ordered).

Test pilot Roland Beamont finally made the first flight from the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire, on 27 September 1964. Initial flight tests were all performed with the undercarriage down and engine power strictly controlled—with limits of 250 kn (460 km/h) and 10,000 ft (3,000 m) on the first (15-minute) flight. Shortly after takeoff on XR219's second flight, vibration from a fuel pump at the resonant frequency of the human eyeball caused the pilot to throttle back one engine to avoid momentary loss of vision.

Only on the 10th test flight was the landing gear successfully retracted—problems preventing this on previous occasions, but serious vibration problems on landing persisted throughout the flight testing programme. The first supersonic test flight (Flight 14) was achieved on the transfer from A&AEE, Boscombe Down, to BAC Warton. During the flight, the aircraft achieved Mach 1 on dry power only (supercruise). Following this, Beamont lit a single reheat unit only (because of problems with the other engine's reheat fuel pump), with the result that the aircraft accelerated away from the chase Lightning flown by Wing Commander James "Jimmy" Dell, who had to catch up using reheat on both engines. On flying the TSR-2 himself, Dell described the prototype as handling "like a big Lightning".

Over a period of six months, a total of 24 test flights were conducted. Most of the complex electronics were not fitted to the first aircraft, so these flights were all concerned with the basic flying qualities of the aircraft which, according to the test pilots involved, were outstanding. Speeds of Mach 1.12 and sustained low-level flights down to 200 ft (above the Pennines) were achieved. Undercarriage vibration problems continued, however, and only in the final few flights, when XR219 was fitted with additional tie-struts on the already complex landing gear, was there a significant reduction in them. The last test flight took place on 31 March 1965.

Although the test flying programme was not completed and the TSR-2 was undergoing typical design and systems modifications reflective of its sophisticated configuration, " there was no doubt that the airframe would be capable of accomplishing the tasks set for it and that it represented a major advance on any other type."

Costs continued to rise, which led to concerns at both company and government upper management levels, and the aircraft was also falling short of many of the requirements laid out in OR.343, such as takeoff distance and combat radius. As a cost-saving measure, a reduced specification was agreed upon, notably reductions in combat radius to 650 nmi (1,200 km), the top speed to Mach 1.75 and takeoff run up increased from 600 to 1,000 yards (550 to 910 m).

Role Tactical strike/reconnaissance
Manufacturer British Aircraft Corporation
First flight 27 September 1964
Status Project cancelled
Number built 23 (including 2 static/fatigue test airframes, not all were completed, only 1 flew)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 89 ft (27.13 m)
  • Wingspan: 37.14 ft (11.32 m)
  • Height: 23.77 ft (7.25 m)
  • Wing area: 702.9 ft² (65.3 m²)
  • Empty weight: 54,750 lb (24,834 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 79,573 lb (36,169 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 103,500 lb (46,980 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Bristol Siddeley Olympus B.Ol.22R (Mk. 320) turbojet
  • Dry thrust: 22,000 lb (97.87 kN) each
  • Thrust with afterburner: 30,610 lb (136.7 kN) each


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2.35 at 40,000 ft/12,000 m (Mach 1.1+ at sea level)
  • Range: 2,500 nmi (2,877 mi, 4,630 km)
  • Combat radius: 750 nmi (860 mi, 1,390 km) ; hi-lo-lo-hi
  • Ferry range: 2,500 nmi (2,877 mi, 4,630 km)
  • Service ceiling: 40,000 ft (final specification) (12,000 m)
  • Rate of climb: 15,000 ft/min (4,575 m/min)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.59


  • Total weapons load of 10,000 lb (4,500 kg); 6,000 lb (2,700 kg) internal and 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) external
  • Internal weapons bay, 20 ft (6 m) long, with (initially) 1 Red Beard 15 kt nuclear weapon or as intended 2 x OR.1177 300 kt nuclear weapons or 6 x 1,000 lb (450 kg) HE bombs. Final designed normal load in nuclear role of up to 4 x WE.177 nuclear weapons, two side-by-side or in tandem in weapons bay, two on external underwing stores pylons, Or
  • 4 x 37-inch (0.94 m) rocket pods or nuclear weaponry on inner pylons only.


  • Autonetics Verdan autopilot modified by Elliot Automation
  • Ferranti (terrain-following radar and navigation/attack systems)
  • EMI (Side looking airborne radar)
  • Marconi (general avionics)
  • Cossor (IFF)
  • Plessey (Radio)

End notes