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The Great White Elephant

Holy fcuking shit! I gotta get me one of these babies! - Roland Beaumont. BAC Chief Test Pilot.

All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. TSR-2 simply got the first three right. - Sir Sydney Camm, designer of the Hawker Hurricane

Potentially the finest long range, low-level strike aircraft in the world. Way ahead of its time and any competition. This baby had serious potential. British-designed and built to specs that were quite astonishing, but nevertheless achieved - albeit at great expense. So it was only natural for the project to be cancelled by Harold Wilson's Labour regime to allow him to establish a refuge for strange, brainy people with facial hair and a penchant for corduroy (the Open University).

The mission of the TSR-2 - and what gave it that name - was Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance. It was meant to fly straight over the enemy front lines at low altitude, drop a nuclear bomb or two in the 100 - 300 kiloton range on such useful targets as bridges, supply depots, airfields or columns of tanks, and then beat a hasty retreat. Unfortunately, it now emerges that in 1962 the Conservative PM at the time (Harold Macmillan) cancelled the development of the bombs that would have armed it, leaving it fast, expensive, shiny and useless. The enduring lesson of the whole thing is never to allow anyone called Harold to run the country. Some say the hypothetical supersonic development of the Buccaneer would have been a better choice from the start. The story could have been much worse - the original specification asked for vertical take off as well.

The TSR2 to this day elicits strong feelings amongst many - forty years on. Almost overnight the airframes, jigs and tooling were destroyed in an orgy of wanton vandalism that left BAC staff in shock. All that development and hard graft wasted on a pen stroke that many suspected was deliberately contrived to appease the Spams who wished to see their F-111 in the winning slot. That too never happened. All in all a total Cake and Arse Party, something Labour politicians seemingly enjoy and undoubtedly excel at throwing. Future Carrier anyone?

You can see one of these at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford and the RAF Museum at Cosford- quite an impressive sight.