Aircraft, Awful and Awesome:
TSR.2, one of military aviation’s great might-have-beens

Dr. Marshall Michel

86th Airlift Wing Historian

The British TSR.2 (Tactical Strike, Reconnaissance), first flown in September 1964, was a highly advanced strike aircraft intended to penetrate Soviet air defenses at very low altitude. It fulfilled roughly the same requirement as the U.S. F-111 and, like the F-111, pushed the “state of the art” envelope. The main initial difference was that the TSR.2, unlike the swing-wing F-111, had a fixed wing.

***image1***Flight testing, however, showed other significant differences. While the F-111 was bedeviled with problems, the TSR.2 exceeded all performance expectations from its first test flight and, fulfilling the adage, “if it looks good, it’ll fly good,” the TSR.2 was by all test pilot accounts a delight to fly. Early tests showed it had a phenomenal combat radius of 1,000 miles and a top speed at sea level of more than Mach 1. Test pilots noted that it was also extremely stable at high speed at low level, as well as being very maneuverable throughout the flight envelope. Though the advanced terrain following radar and navigation systems would take some development time (though they were 80 percent complete when the first prototype flew), the TSR.2 was clearly a superior aircraft for its mission and had considerable development potential.

But despite the TSR.2’s performance, the new liberal Labour Party took over the British government in late 1964 and in April 1965 cancelled the project, saying it would be considerably less expensive to buy the F-111. The first prototype was used as a gunnery target, while the other aircraft were chopped up (two were reassembled and reside in museums today). Ironically, the British government cancelled its orders for F-111s because of the aircraft’s skyrocketing costs, leaving many to ponder to this day one of military aviation’s great “might have beens.”