In the immediate post-war years, the Royal Air Force was content that the English Electric Canberra would suffice as a method of delivering weapons on almost any target in Western Europe.

However, by the early 1950s, the prospects of the Canberra being able to survive an encounter with the large numbers of MiG-15s that were equipping Warsaw Pact air forces looked ever more dismal.

It was on this basis that the Ministry of Supply issued a specification for design studies for a new bomber in 1952. For the time, the specification was very demanding, calling for a bomber capable of delivering a 6-tonne nuclear weapon over a combat radius of 1,500 miles at high subsonic speeds and at low level.


The RAF initially considered the Blackburn Buccaneer as a replacement for the Canberra but while the airframe seemed made to measure, its avionics fell short of the mark and the specification was put on hold until such time as technology could achieve the desired performance.

In November 1956 the specification was dusted off once again (this time as General Operational Requirement 339) — but the criteria was even more taxing thanks to a requirement to carry an inertial navigation attack system and also fly at up to Mach 1.3.

By early 1958 some eight companies were in a position to submit tenders for the project and there was also a fair choice of advanced afterburning engines. The design submitted by English Electric was deemed to be the best but following one of many political arguments, the contract was awarded jointly to English Electric and Vickers-Armstrongs (who had no supersonic experience) on a 50/50 basis. The proposed engine was overruled in favour of the Olympus 22R, to be developed by Bristol and Armstrong-Siddeley The RAF’s new tactical strike and reconnaissance (TSR) aircraft was born.

The infighting between the manufacturers continued throughout the aircraft’s lifespan, beginning when Vickers insisted the airframe be assembled in their works at Brooklands, which had only a tiny airfield. English Electric suggested its Warton plant would allow the aircraft to use the airfield that was already the base for the Mach 2 Lightning. But in the absence of an agreement, it was decided that each aircraft be taken by road to Boscombe Down for testing!

Design Process

Design of the airframe progressed well but in I960, after governmental pressure, Vickers and English Electric were among the many firms swallowed up into the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) conglomerate. From this point forward the TSR-2, as it would become, was hampered by committees that were to plague it until its dying day.

With such an advanced aircraft, it was perhaps to be expected that design costs would rise dramatically but with so many companies contributing parts of the airframe, this began to cause a problem.

Ferranti was developing the terrain-following radar and navigation/attack system, while Elliot Automation was developing the automatic flight system. Meanwhile Marconi was working on the general avionics suite and EMI was concentrating on the sideways-looking radar.

The Bristol Siddeley (later Rolls-Royce) Olympus engine was also proving more difficult and expensive to develop — and initially would simply not fit into the airframe — so the costs spiralled further.

In I960 the Research and Development costs had been estimated at £90M million, but by the beginning of 1963 this had more than doubled and the schedule had also slipped by at least two years.

TSR-2 was to feature 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 to fulfil the short take-off and landing requirement and roll control was provided by differential movement of the tailplanes (dubbed ‘tailerons’).

Twice the Speed of Sound

The projected performance for the TSR-2 made impressive reading when details were released by BAC in 1962; in fact they still do today, The aircraft would cruise at Mach 0.9 and could break the sound barrier at sea level. At altitude it was capable of twice the speed of sound. It had a combat range of I,000nm with a 2,000lb internal bomb. Carrying external fuel tanks would increase the range by another 50% and the aircraft could climb at a staggering 50,000ft/min!

Moreover; this performance did not come at the cost of slow speed handling and the TSR-2 was designed to operate from 900m semi-prepared runways.

Recce Bird

While it is easy to focus on the aircraft’s nuclear bombing potential, it is worth remembering that it was in the reconnaissance role that it really would have excelled. The jet could have carried a complete reconnaissance pack in a pannier in the weapons bay and this included a moving target indicator and active optical line-scan radar which could transmit the picture in near real-time to a ground station. Three FXI26 cameras were fitted to the pannier and the aircraft was also permanently fitted with one forward and two sideways-looking F95 cameras in the nose.


In October I960 the Ministry of Supply ordered nine development aircraft and this was followed by a preliminary order for eleven pre-production aircraft in June 1962.

By now the Labour party, then in opposition, made it clear they would cancel the project if they were elected to parliament. It has been suggested that the then Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Louis Mountbatten, was determined to protect the Royal Navy’s fixed-wing aircraft carriers and set out to scupper the TSR-2 for the RAF -thereby ensuring the RAF had to order the Buccaneer alongside the Navy, It is claimed his favourite tactic in meetings was to slap down five photographs of the Buccaneer next to one photograph of a TSR-2 and state «Five of one or one of the other at the same cost,» No mention was made of the differing capabilities of the two jets.

First Flight

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 the 1964 Farnborough Airshow, but eventually, the first example was finally ready to be flown.

On September 27, 1964 XR2I9 lifted off from Boscombe Down with test pilot Roland ‘Bee’ Beamont and navigator Don Bowen at the controls. Despite engine problems, it was decreed that one test flight could be made, even though it was felt that the Olympus units may blow up if more than 97% thrust was used — but Beamont realised that if one engine failed on take-off, the other would have to run at 100% thrust just to keep the jet flying. He therefore decided to take off at 100% but promised to keep under 97% once he was airborne.

The test flight went well and the aircraft displayed good handling characteristics, although the undercarriage woes meant the gear remained extended throughout and the aircraft was limited to 250kts and I0,000ft.

It would be the tenth test flight before the landing gear was successfully retracted.

On the second flight vibration from a fuel pump — at the same resonant frequency as the human eyeball — caused Beamont to throttle back one engine to avoid loss of vision!

Over a period of six months, a total of 24 test flights were conducted and the last test flight took place on March 3I, I965.


Shortly after the TSR-2’s maiden flight there was a change in Downing Street and Harold Wilson’s Labour party came to power and, true to its election promises, began to decimate British aircraft industry, replacing British aircraft projects with ‘cheaper’ aircraft from the USA. The Hawker P.l 154 and Whitworth Gloster 681 jet-lift aircraft were cancelled in favour of the Phantom and Hercules and the government also tried, without success, to cancel development of Concorde.

Cancellation of the TSR-2 project was soon discussed and the RAF was asked to consider the American-built General Dynamics F-111 as a more cost effective alternative, This led to BAC employees holding a protest march, and the Labour government strongly denying they were considering termination of the development…

However, as expected, the politicians soon went back on their word and at two Cabinet meetings held on April 1, 1965, it was decided to cancel the aircraft, Instead, Labour took options to acquire up to 110 F-llls, but with no immediate commitment to buy The controversial move was announced during Chancellor of the Exchequer; James Callaghan’s budget speech on April 6, the day the second TSR-2 (XR220) was due to make it maiden flight. However; due to a minor accident whilst being moved by road to Boscombe Down, coupled with the shock announcement by government, XR220 was destined never to fly.

As it happens, the F-lll programme was also beset with delays and escalating costs so the Labour government cancelled those on order for the RAF, leaving it with no option but to accept the Buccaneer; some of which were transferred from the Royal Navy.

The Buccaneer was a fine aircraft, but it never had the abilities of the TSR-2 and the RAF had to wait until l982 — and the arrival of the Tornado — before it was finally equipped with an aircraft as capable as the TSR-2 of 1965…


Such was the Labour party’s desire to eradicate the project they ordered that not only should both prototypes be destroyed, the entire assembly line, jigs and tools should also be cut up to ensure TSR-2 could never be resurrected.

Thankfully the destruction of all prototypes didn’t occur but XR2l9 (along with the uncompleted XR22l and XR223) were taken to Shoeburyness, Essex and destroyed on the target range. However, XR222 was sent to the College of Aeronautics at Cranfield and XR220 was hidden away in a hanger at RAF Henlow.

XR222 would end up on display at the Imperial war Museum at Duxford and XR220 would ultimately go on display at the RAF Museum at Cosford — both providing a fitting reminder of an aircraft that showed much promise and was a political fiasco from start to finish.

Canadian Arrow

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic the Canadians had been working on an equally advanced jet — and one that had already been marred by politics as much as the TSR-2.

Development of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow began in l953 and it was to be one of the most advanced interceptor fighters in the world, with promised speeds of around Mach 3 at altitudes greater than 60,000ft. Envisaged as a replacement for the CF-100 Canuck the large delta-winged aircraft was considered an advanced technical and aerodynamic marvel at the time.


Increasingly bitter relations between the Soviet Union and the West in the l950s put Canada firmly in the firing line of the USSR’s new fleet of long-range nuclear bombers flying up over the Arctic towards North America. The nation therefore decided it needed a high-performance missile-armed replacement for the Canuck that could engage and destroy these bombers before they reached their targets.

And so it was in March 1952 that the RCAF’s Final Report of the All-Weather Interceptor Requirements Team was submitted to Avro Canada in Toronto calling for a supersonic interceptor.

The company had previously explored swept-wing and tail modifications to the CF-l00 (known as the CF-l03) and wooden mock-ups had been built, but the RCAF’s requirements exceeded the capabilities of this machine.

Delta Force

The radical redesign by the company’s engineers at Malton, Ontario Airport (now Toronto Pearson International Airport) saw the use of a delta wing to reduce transonic drag as well as increasing lift and providing copious amounts of internal space for fuel and weapons. The delta wing would also enable slower landings than a swept wing aircraft.

The design was refined into two basic variants: the single engined Cl04/4 and the larger twin-engined CI04/2, the latter costing more but offering a much larger internal weapons bay and twin-engine reliability.

AIR 7-3

Both proposals were submitted to the RCaF in June 1952 and RCAF Specification AIR 7-3 was issued in April 1953, effectively tailor-made for the CI04/2.

The specification called for a supersonic twin-engined jet with a crew of two and the ability to operate from a 1,830m runway,, Range was to be 300nm for a low-speed mission and 200nm for a high-speed intercept and the aircraft needed to have the ability to cruise at Mach 1,5 at 70,000ft, It also had to have the ability to perform 2G turns at Mach 1,5 at 50,000ft without losing speed or altitude and the jet must be able to reach 50,000ft within 5 minutes from engine start.

A quick turnaround was also deemed necessary and the RCAF demanded the aircraft be able to be refuelled and rearmed in less than 10 minutes!

US, British and French manufacturers were invited to tender, but the Avro Canada product was the only aircraft likely to meet the criteria.


Avro submitted its CI05 design in May 1953 and it changed very little from the CI04/2 concept. A second seat was added and the wing moved from a low set position to a shoulder-mount to allow rapid access to the aircraft’s weapons bay and engines. This also allowed the wing to be built in a single piece, thus simplifying construction and increasing strength. This did, however, provide an engineering challenge when it came to fitting the required long undercarriage into the relatively thin wing.

Power was to be provided by the Curtiss Wright J-67, the Rolls-Royce RB.I06, the Bristol Olympus OL-3 or the Orenda TR,9 engines.

The RB,I06 powered CI05 was given the go ahead in July I953 and dubbed the CF-I05 Arrow, but only C$27 million was assigned to the project for development testing. This soon changed, however, when the Soviet Union tested its first hydrogen bomb and introduced long range aircraft to carry it. The Cold War had heated up and in March I955 the contract was upgraded to provide five Arrow Mk,I flight-test aircraft and 35 Arrow Mk, 2s worth C$260 million.


In order to meet the timetable set by the RCAF, Avro decided that Arrow program would adopt the Cook-Craigie plan, as had also been the case with the TSR-2.

This approach to developing aircraft was pioneered in the late 1940s by USAF Major Generals Laurence C Craigie and Orval R Cook, who proposed that new designs should move directly into the production phase without the construction of prototypes.

In the case of the CF-I05, the first test airframes were to be constructed on production jigs and any changes incorporated into the jigs while testing continued. It was a risky project but in order to mitigate risks, a massive testing programme was started with wind tunnel assessments beginning in mid-I954. Advanced (for the day) computer modelling also took place and nine instrumented models were mounted on solid fuel rocket boosters and launched over Lake Ontario to test their aerodynamics. Construction of the aeroplane itself was relatively conservative but it did include small amounts of magnesium and titanium, particularly around the engines. A simple fly-by-wire system was also employed as well as one of the first ‘artificial feel’ systems.

Engine Woes

In I954, the RB,I06 program was cancelled, leaving Avro Canada little option but to use the backup Wright J67 engine instead. However, a year later the J67 was also canned and the CF-I05 entered a state of limbo as Avro Canada looked for a new engine. Eventually the Pratt & Whitney J75 was selected for the test aircraft, while it was decided that the new Orenda TR I3 engine would be developed for the production variant.


The first CF-I05 was rolled out on October 4, I957 wearing the fuselage codes RL-20I. There was much pomp and circumstance with I3,000 people invited to the occasion, but unfortunately the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite the same day — rather taking the wind from Avro Canada’s sails.

Delays meant the Arrow would not fly until March 25, 1958 but when test pilot Janusz Zurakowski took the jet into the skies, he found the CF-105 to have excellent handling throughout the flight envelope.

The aircraft went supersonic on its third flight and on the seventh it exceeded 1,000mph at 50,000ft while climbing and accelerating.

Flight testing progressed apace, with only minor undercarriage and stability augmentation system ‘niggles’.

More Politics

Meanwhile, behind the scenes the Canadians were seeing as much political infighting as the British were experiencing with TSR-2.

As early as 1953, some senior Canadian military officials began to question the cost of the programme and in June 1957 the governing Liberal party lost the election to a Progressive Conservative government under John Diefenbaker.

Diefenbaker had won the election on a promise to rein in «rampant Liberal spending» and the CF-105 Arrow was high on his agenda. In August 1957 Diefenbaker signed the NORAD (North American Air Defence) agreement with the USA, a move that gave Canada access to American assets and intelligence to help defend its borders.

One or the Other

Among the tools on offer to Canada was the BOMARC nuclear-tipped anti-aircraft missile, but by 1958 it was obvious the country could afford either the C$271 million missile programme ‘or’the C$260 million CF-105 Arrows… but not both.

In August 1958 George Pearkes, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, requested cancellation of the Arrow programme but the Cabinet Defence Committee (CDC) refused.

The following month he tabled the motion again, this time recommending the installation of the BOMARC missile system. The latter was accepted but, again, the CDC refused to cancel the Arrow until a major review in 1959.


Canada also tried to sell the Arrow aircraft to the U. S. and Britain, but had no takers. With no money at home and no export market, the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow’s cancellation was announced on February 20, 1959.

The decision immediately put 14,528 Avro employees out of work, as well as nearly 15,000 others in the supply chain. Just three years later Canada found it necessary to obtain from the US the two-seat McDonnell F-101B Voodoo to fill the role for which the Arrow had been designed.

Within weeks of the cancellation of the programme, all five Arrow Mk.1s, the unflown Mk.2 and the four near-complete aircraft were ordered to be scrapped along with engines and tooling — and unlike their British cousins, the Canadians did as they were told. Sadly no Arrow survived into posterity, although a replica was built in recent years.


Crew 2

Length 77ft 9in (23.71m)

Height 21ft 2in (6.25m)

Wingspan 50ft 0in (15.24m)

Wing area 1,225sq ft (113.8m2)

Empty Weight 49,040lb (22,245kg)

Max Take-Off Weight 68,605lb (31,120kg)

Max Speed 1,135kts (Mach 1.98/1,307mph/ 2,104km/h)

Combat Range 410 miles (660km)

Ceiling 53,000ft (16,150m)

Powerplant Two Pratt & Whitney J75-P-3 turbofans (12,500lb/thrust each / 23,500lb/thrust with reheat)

Armament Four AIR-2 unguided nuclear rockets or up to eight AIM-4 Falcon or three AIM-7 Sparrow II air to air missiles

First Flight March 25, 1958

Cancelled February 20, 1959


Crew 2

Length 89ft 0in (27.13m)

Height 23ft 8in (7.25m)

Wingspan 37ft 1 in (11.32m)

Wing area 703sq ft (65.3m2)

Empty Weight 54,750lb (24,834kg)

Max Take-Off Weight 103,500lb (46,980kg)

Max Speed 1,290kts (Mach 2.35/1,485mph/ 2,390km/h)

Combat Range 860 miles (1,390km)

Ceiling 40,000ft (12,000m)

Powerplant Two Bristol Siddeley Olympus B.OI.22R turbojets (22,000lb/thrust each / 36,610lb/ thrust with reheat)

Armament Up to 6,000lb of internal stores and 4,000lb of external stores including one 15kt Red beard nuclear weapon

First Flight September 27, 1964

Cancelled April 6, 1965

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