Bloodhound (missile)

The Bristol Bloodhound is a British surface-to-air missile developed during the 1950s as the UK's main air defence weapon, and was in large-scale service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the forces of four other countries.

Designed to provide a last line of defence for the V bomber bases to destroy any Soviet bombers that got past the defending Lightning interceptor force operating over the North Sea, the Bloodhound Mk. I entered service in December 1958, and began to be replaced by the much more capable Mk. II starting in 1964. The last Mk. II missile squadron stood down in July 1991, although Swiss examples remained operational until 1999.

The Bloodhound Mk. II was a relatively advanced missile for its era, roughly comparable to the US's Nike Hercules in terms of range and performance, but using an advanced continuous-wave semi-active radar homing system, offering excellent performance against electronic countermeasures, as well as a digital computer for fire control that was also used for readiness checks and various calculations. It was a relatively large missile, which limited it to stationary defensive roles similar to the Hercules or the Soviets' S-25 Berkut, although the Swiss operated theirs in a semi-mobile form.

Bloodhound shares much in common with the English Electric Thunderbird, including some of the radar systems and guidance features. Thunderbird was smaller and much more mobile, seeing service with the British Army and several other forces. The two served in tandem for some time, until the shorter-range role of the Thunderbird was replaced by the much smaller and fast-acting BAC Rapier starting in 1971. Bloodhound's longer range kept it in service until the threat of bomber attack by the Soviet Union disappeared with their dissolution in 1991.

Bloodhound (missile)
Class Missile
Type Surface to Surface
Manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Company
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1958
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia View
Singapore View
Sweden View
Switzerland View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Bristol Aeroplane Company 783 View

As the 1220 required long range, Bristol made the decision early on to use a ramjet for power. However, they had no experience with this engine design, and started a long series of tests to develop it. As the ramjet only operates effectively at high speeds over Mach 1, Bristol built a series of testbed airframes to flight-test the engines. The first, JTV-1, resembled a flying torpedo with the ramjets fitted to the end of the cruciform rear fins. Early problems were ironed out and the JTV series was the first British ramjet powered aircraft to operate continually at supersonic speeds.

Once the JTV testing started to proceed, Bristol studied a series of airframe designs. The first was a long tube with an intake at the front, and four delta-shaped fins arranged near the front of the fuselage. The intake and wings give it some resemblance to the English Electric Lightning, albeit with a long tube sticking out of the aft end. This arrangement left little internal room for fuel or guidance. A second design was similar, but used mid-mounted fins of reverse-delta shape (flat at the front) with small intakes at their root. The performance of these intakes was not well understood, and considered risky. The final design was essentially a small aircraft, with mid-set trapezoidal wings and four small swept wing fins at the extreme rear. In this version two engines were mounted on the wing tips, similar to the JTV series mounting and better understood due to those flight tests.

One unique feature of the new design was the aerodynamic control system known as "twist and steer". Typical large missile designs use control surfaces at the tail mounted in-line with symmetric wings mounted near the fuselage midpoint. The control surfaces tilt the missile relative to its direction of travel, causing the wings to become non-symmetrical relative the airflow, generating lift that turns the missile. Bristol was concerned that the angles needed to generate the required lift using this method would be too great for the engines intakes to deal with, so they adopted the system first experimented with on the war-era Brakemine project. In this system the four cropped-delta surfaces at the tail were fixed and used only for stability, not control. Directional control was provided though two large mid-mounted wings which could be rotated independently to large angles. The guidance system rotated the wings in opposite directions to roll the missile until the wings were perpendicular to the target, and then rotated them in the same direction to provide lift in the required direction. This meant that the wings could be rotated to the large angles required to generate large amounts of lift, without rotating the missile body itself. This kept airflow in the direction of the missile body, and thus the engine intakes, as well as greatly reducing the drag caused by the tilting of the fuselage across the relative wind. The long, thin fuselage offered very low rotational inertia, conferring excellent homing performance in the last few seconds. The engines were mounted above and below these wings on short extensions.

In the initial designs, a single very large solid fuel booster launched the missile off its launcher and powered it to speeds where the ramjets could take over.

In 1956, Second World War Battle of Britain ace, Wing Commander Frederick Higginson DFC DFM was recruited and placed in charge of the new Guided Missile Defence group inside Bristol Aircraft, charged with sales and service of the new systems. Higginson was awarded an OBE in 1963 for the overseas sales that Bloodhound gained, and promoted to the board of Bristol Aircraft in the same year.

The initial Bloodhound Mk. I deployment consisted of eight missile sites: RAF Dunholme Lodge, RAF Watton, RAF Marham, RAF Rattlesden, RAF Woolfox Lodge, RAF Carnaby, RAF Warboys, RAF Breighton and RAF Misson with a trial site at RAF North Coates. The primary reason for these sites being chosen was the defence of the nearby V bomber stations.

Australian deployments started with No. 30 Squadron RAAF at RAAF Base Williamtown in January 1961. A detachment formed in Darwin in 1965. By 1968, the Bloodhound Mk. I missiles were obsolete, and both elements of the squadron had been disbanded by the end of November 1968.

Swiss deployments started in 1964, and by 1967 six sites were operational with a total of nine firing units. These remained operational until 1999 when they were removed from service, and the Gubel site was declared a national historical property.

After the RAF passed the nuclear deterrent role to the Royal Navy in 1970, all Bloodhound systems within the UK were withdrawn and either stored or transferred to RAF Germany for airfield defence with No. 25 Squadron. The possibility of low-level sneak attack by bombers or cruise missiles led to a reappraisal of UK air defences, resulting in No. 85 Squadron forming at West Raynham on 18 December 1975.

With deployment of the Rapier missile to Germany, Bloodhounds were returned to England in 1983 and were in operation at four additional sites, Bawdsey, Barkston Heath, Wyton and Wattisham. These installations used both the 'fixed' type 87 radar (Marconi Scorpion) and the 'mobile' Type 86 radars (Ferranti Firelight) of their German deployments, with some being mounted on a 30-foot tower to improve visibility and reduce ground reflections. In 1990 as the cold war wound down the remaining missiles were concentrated at West Raynham and Wattisham with plans to operate them until 1995, but these were later removed in 1991.

In South East Asia, the Bloodhound was deployed with the RAF No. 65 Squadron based out of RAF Seletar, Singapore as part of the RAF Far East Air Force. With the withdrawal of British forces announced in 1968, Singapore bought the entire Bloodhound assets of No. 65 Sqd and established the Singapore Air Defence Command's 170 Squadron. The squadron was disbanded and the missile retired at a ceremony in 1994.

Type SAM
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1958 (MK 1)/1964 (MK 2) - 1991
Used by See operators
Wars -
Production history
Designed 1950s
Manufacturer Bristol Aeroplane Co.
Number built 783
Variants See variants
Weight Overall: 2,270 kg (5,000 lb)
Length Overall: 8.46 m (27 ft 9 in)
Diameter Main body 54.6 cm (1 ft 9.5 in)
Warhead Continuous-rod warhead
Proximity fuse
Engine 2× Ramjets, 4× solid fuel boosters
Wingspan Overall: 2.83 m (9 ft 3 in)
85 km
Speed Mach 2.7
Semi-active radar homing
Control surfaces
Fixed installation

End notes