Contains threads on Joint Service equipment of the past, present and future.
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The Blackburn Buccaneer originated in the early 1950's as a design for a carrier-borne attack aircraft able to carry a nuclear bomb below radar coverage. It was a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft that served with the Royal Navy (RN) and later the Royal Air Force (RAF), retiring from service in 1994. Designed and initially produced by Blackburn Aircraft at Brough, it was later known as the Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer when Blackburn became a part of the Hawker Siddeley group.
The Royal Navy originally procured the Buccaneer as a naval strike aircraft capable of operating from their aircraft carriers, introducing the type to service in 1962 to counterbalance advances made in the Soviet Navy. The Buccaneer was capable of delivering nuclear weapons as well as conventional weapons for anti-shipping warfare, and was typically active in the North Sea area during its service. Early on the initial production aircraft suffered a series of accidents due to insufficient engine power, thus the Buccaneer S.2, equipped with more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engines, was soon introduced.
Although they originally rejected it in favour of the supersonic BAC TSR-2, the RAF later procured the Buccaneer as a substitute following the cancellation of both the TSR-2 and its planned replacement, the F-111K. When the RN retired the last of its large aircraft carriers, its Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF. The South African Air Force also procured the type. Buccaneers saw combat action in the Gulf War and the South African Border War. In RN service, the Buccaneer was replaced with the V/STOL British Aerospace Sea Harrier. In RAF service, they were replaced by the Panavia Tornado.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Royal Navy soon found itself needing to respond to the threat posed by the rapid expansion of the Soviet Navy. Chief amongst Soviet naval developments in the early 1950s was the Sverdlov class cruiser; these vessels were classifiable as light cruisers, being fast, effectively armed and numerous. Like the German "pocket battleships" during the Second World War, they presented a serious threat to the merchant fleets in the Atlantic. To counter this threat, the Royal Navy decided not to use a new ship class of its own, but instead introduce a specialised strike aircraft employing conventional or nuclear weapons. Operating from the Navy's fleet carriers and attacking at high speed and low level, it would offer a solution to the Sverdlov problem.
A detailed specification was issued in June 1952 as Naval Staff Requirement NA.39, calling for a two-seat aircraft with folding wings, capable of flying at 550 knots (1,019 km/h; 633 mph) at sea level, with a combat radius of 400 nautical miles (741 km; 460 mi) low down and 800 nmi (1,482 km; 921 mi) at altitude. A weapons load of 8,000 pounds (3,629 kg) was required including conventional bombs, the Red Beard free-fall nuclear bomb or the Green Cheese anti-ship missile. Based on the requirement, the Ministry of Supply issued specification M.148T in August 1952, and the first responses were returned in February 1953. Blackburn's design by Barry P. Laight, Project B-103, won the tender in July 1955. Owing to secrecy, the aircraft was called BNA (Blackburn Naval Aircraft) or BANA (Blackburn Advanced Naval Aircraft) in documents, leading to the nickname of "Banana Jet". The first prototype made its maiden flight from RAE Bedford on 30 April 1958.
The first production Buccaneer model, the Buccaneer S.1, entered squadron service with the Fleet Air Arm in January 1963. It was powered by a pair of de Havilland Gyron Junior turbojets producing 7,100 pounds-force (32 kN) of thrust. This mark was somewhat underpowered and as a consequence could not take off fully laden with both fuel and armament. A temporary solution to this problem was the "buddy" system; aircraft took off with a full load of weaponry and minimal fuel and would sortie with a Supermarine Scimitar that would deliver the full load of fuel by aerial refuelling. The lack of power meant, however, that the loss of an engine during take-off or landing at full load, when the aircraft was dependent on flap blowing, could be catastrophic.
The long-term solution to the underpowered S.1 was the development of the Buccaneer S.2, fitted with the Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engine, which provided 40% more thrust. The Spey had other advantages: greatly reducing the aircraft's fuel consumption provided more range. The engine nacelles had to be enlarged to accommodate the Spey, and the wing required minor aerodynamic modifications as a result. Hawker Siddeley announced the production order for the S.2 in January 1962. All Royal Navy squadrons had converted to the improved S.2 by the end of 1966.
Royal Air Force
Blackburn's first attempt to sell the Buccaneer to the Royal Air Force (RAF) occurred in 1957–58, in response to the Air Ministry Operational Requirement OR.339, for a replacement for the RAF's English Electric Canberra's light bombers, with supersonic speed and a 1,000 nmi (1,852 km; 1,151 mi) combat radius; asking for an all-weather aircraft that could deliver nuclear weapons over a long range, operate at high level at Mach 2+ or low level at Mach 1.2, with STOL performance. Blackburn proposed two designs, the B.103A, a simple modification of the Buccaneer S.1 with more fuel, and the B.108, a more extensively modified aircraft with more sophisticated avionics. Against a background of interservice distrust, political issues and the 1957 Defence White Paper, both types were rejected by the RAF, as being firmly subsonic and incapable of meeting the RAF's range requirements, while the B.108, which retained Gyron Junior engines while being 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) heavier than the S.1, would have been severely underpowered, giving poor short-take off performance. The BAC TSR-2 was eventually selected in 1959.
After the cancellation of the TSR-2 and then the substitute American General Dynamics F-111K, the Royal Air Force still required a replacement for its Canberras in the low-level strike role, while the planned retirement for the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers meant that the RAF would also need to add a maritime strike capability. It was therefore decided in 1968 that the RAF would adopt the Buccaneer, both by the purchase of new-build aircraft, and by taking over the Fleet Air Arm's Buccaneers as the carriers were retired. A total of 46 new-build aircraft for the RAF were built by Blackburn's successor, Hawker Siddeley, designated S.2B. These had RAF-type communications and avionics equipment, Martel air-to-surface missile capability, and could be equipped with a bulged bomb-bay door containing an extra fuel tank.
Some Fleet Air Arm Buccaneers were modified in-service to also carry the Martel anti-ship missile. Martel-capable FAA aircraft were later redesignated S.2D. The remaining aircraft became S.2C. RAF aircraft were given various upgrades. Self-defence was improved by the addition of the AN/ALQ-101 ECM pod (also found on RAF's SEPECAT Jaguar GR.3), chaff / flare dispensers and AIM-9 Sidewinder capability. RAF low-level strike Buccaneers could carry out what was known as "retard defence"; four 1,000 lb (454 kg) retarded bombs carried internally could be dropped to provide an effective deterrent against any following aircraft. In 1979, the RAF obtained the American AN/AVQ-23E Pave Spike laser designator pod for Paveway II guided bombs; allowing the aircraft to act as target designators for other Buccaneers, Jaguars, and other strike aircraft. From 1986, No. 208 Squadron RAF then No. 12 (B) Sqn replaced the Martel ASM with the Sea Eagle missile.
Fleet Air Arm
The Buccaneer entered service with the Fleet Air Arm on 17 July 1962 when 801 NAS was commissioned at RNAS Lossiemouth in Scotland. The Buccaneer quickly replaced the FAA's Supermarine Scimitar, which had previously been performing the naval attack flight duties. In addition to conventional ordnance, the Buccaneer was type-approved for nuclear weapons delivery in 1965; weapons deployed included Red Beard and WE.177 drop-bombs, which were carried internally in a rotating bomb-bay. Two Fleet Air Arm operational squadrons and a training unit were equipped with the Buccaneer S.1. The aircraft was well liked by Navy aircrew for its strength and flying qualities, and the BLC system gave them slower landing speeds than they were accustomed to. The Buccaneers were painted dark sea grey on top and anti-flash white on the undersides.
The Buccaneer S.1's Gyron Junior engines were not powerful enough, and they led to the type's career coming to an abrupt end in December 1970. On 1 December, an S.1 was making a landing approach when an engine surge disrupted the approach and forced the two crewmen to eject. On 8 December, an S.1 on a training flight suffered a turbine failure. The pilot successfully ejected, but due to a mechanical failure the navigator was killed. Subsequent inspections concluded that the Gyron Junior engine was not to a standard now considered to be suited for operations. All surviving S.1s were grounded immediately, and permanently.
By April 1965, intensive trials of the new Buccaneer S.2 had begun, with the type enter operational service with the FAA later that year. The improved S.2 type proved its value when it became the first FAA aircraft to make a non-stop, unrefuelled crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. On 28 March 1967, Buccaneers from RNAS Lossiemouth bombed the shipwrecked supertanker Torrey Canyon off the western coast of Cornwall to make the oil burn in order to avoid an environmental disaster. In 1972, Buccaneers of 809 Naval Air Squadron operating from HMS Ark Royal took part in a 1,500 mile mission to show a military presence over British Honduras (modern day Belize) shortly before its independence, to deter a possible Guatemalan invasion in pursuit of their territorial claims over the country.
The Buccaneer also participated in regular patrols and exercises in the North Sea, practising the type's role if war had broken out with the Soviet Union. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Royal Navy standardised the air wings operating from their carriers around the Phantom, Buccaneer, and the Fairey Gannet aircraft. A total of six FAA squadrons were equipped with the Buccaneer: 700B/700Z (Intensive Flying Trials Unit), 736 (training), 800, 801, 803 and 809 Naval Air Squadrons. Buccaneers were embarked on HMS Victorious, Eagle, Ark Royal and Hermes.
The Buccaneer was retired from Fleet Air Arm service with the decommissioning in 1978 of the Ark Royal, the last of the navy's fleet carriers. Their retirement was part of a larger foreign policy agenda that was implemented throughout the 1970's. Measures such as the withdrawal of most British military forces stationed East of Suez were viewed as reducing the need for aircraft carriers and fixed-wing naval aviation in general. The decision was highly controversial, particularly to those within the Fleet Air Arm. The Royal Navy would replace the naval strike capability of the Buccaneer with the smaller V/STOL-capable British Aerospace Sea Harrier, which were operated from their Invincible class aircraft carriers.
Royal Air Force
After the F-111K was cancelled in early 1968, due to the programme suffering serious cost escalation and delays, the RAF was forced to look for a replacement that was available and affordable, and reluctantly selected the Buccaneer. The first RAF unit to receive the Buccaneer was 12 Squadron at RAF Honington in October 1969, in the maritime strike role, at first equipped with ex-Royal Navy Buccaneers S.2As. This was to remain a key station for the type as 15 Squadron equipped with the Buccaneer the following year, before moving to RAF Laarbruch in 1971, and the RAF Buccaneer conversion unit, 237 OCU, forming at Honington in March 1971. The Buccaneer was seen as an interim solution, but delays in the Panavia Tornado programme would ensure that the "interim" period would stretch out, and the Buccaneer would remain in RAF service for over two decades, long after the FAA had given up the type.
With the phased withdrawal of the Royal Navy's carrier fleet during the 1970s, the Fleet Air Arm's Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF, which had taken over the maritime strike role. 62 of the 84 S.2 aircraft were eventually transferred, redesignated S.2A; some of these were later upgraded to S.2B standard. Ex-FAA aircraft equipped 16 Squadron, joining 15 Squadron at RAF Laarbruch, and 208 Squadron at Honington; the last ex-FAA aircraft went to 216 Squadron.
From 1970, with 12 Squadron initially, followed by 15 Squadron, 16 Squadron, No. 237 OCU, 208 Squadron and 216 Squadron, the RAF Buccaneer force re-equipped with WE.177 nuclear weapons. At peak strength Buccaneers equipped six RAF squadrons, although for one year only. A more sustained strength of five squadrons was made up of three squadrons (15 Squadron, 16 Squadron, 208 Squadron) plus No. 237 OCU (a war reserve or Shadow squadron) all assigned to Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) for land strike duties in support of land forces opposing Warsaw Pact land forces on the Continent, plus one squadron (12 Squadron) assigned to SACLANT for maritime strike duties.
Opportunities for Buccaneer squadrons to engage in realistic training were limited, and so when the US began their Red Flag military exercises at Nellis Air Force Base in 1975, the RAF became keenly interested. The first Red Flag in which RAF aircraft were involved was in 1977, with 10 Buccaneers and two Avro Vulcan bombers participating. Buccaneers would be involved in later Red Flags through to 1983, and in 1979 also participated in the similar Maple Flag exercise over Canada. The Buccaneer proved impressive with its fast low-level attacks, which were highly accurate despite the aircraft's lack of terrain-following radar and other modern avionics. They were able to penetrate adversary defences, and were credited with "kills" on defending fighters using AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
During the 1980 Red Flag exercises, one of the participating Buccaneers lost a wing in mid-flight due to a fatigue-induced crack and crashed, killing its crew. The entire RAF Buccaneer fleet was grounded in February 1980, subsequent investigation discovered serious metal fatigue problems to be present on numerous aircraft. A total of 60 aircraft were selected to receive new spar rings while others were scrapped; the nascent 216 Squadron was subsequently disbanded due to a resulting reduction in aircraft numbers. Later the same year, the UK-based Buccaneer squadrons moved to RAF Lossiemouth.
In 1983, six Buccaneer S.2s were sent to Cyprus to support British peacekeepers in Lebanon as a part of Operation Pulsator. On 11 September 1983, two of these aircraft flew low over Beirut, their presence intended to intimidate insurgents rather than inflict damage directly. After 1983, the land strike duties were mostly reassigned to the Tornado aircraft then entering service, and two Buccaneer squadrons remaining (12 Squadron, and 208 Squadron) were then assigned to SACLANT for maritime strike duties. Only the 'Shadow Squadron', No. 237 OCU, remained assigned to the role of land strike on long term assignment to SACEUR, No. 237 was also to operate as a designator for Jaguar ground strike aircraft in the event of conflict. The Buccaneer stood down from its reserve nuclear delivery duties in 1991.
The Buccaneer took part in combat operations during the 1991 Gulf War. It had been anticipated that Buccaneers might need to perform in the target designation role, although early on this had been thought to be "unlikely". Following a short-notice decision to deploy, the first batch of six aircraft were readied to deploy in under 72 hours, including the adoption of desert camouflage and additional equipment, and departed from Lossiemouth for the Middle Eastern theatre early on 26 January 1991. In theatre, it became common for each attack formation to comprise four Tornados and two Buccaneers; each Buccaneer carried a single laser designator pod and acted as backup to the other in the event of an equipment malfunction. The first combat mission took place on 2 February, operating at a medium altitude of roughly 18,000 feet, and successfully attacked the As Suwaira Road Bridge.
Operations continued on practically every available day; missions did not take place at night as the laser pod lacked night-time functionality. Approximately 20 road bridges were destroyed by Buccaneer-supported missions, restricting the Iraqi Army's mobility and communications. In conjunction with the advance of Coalition ground forces into Iraq, the Buccaneers switched to airfield bombing missions, targeting bunkers, runways and any aircraft sighted; following the guidance of the Tornado's laser-guided ordnance, the Buccaneers would commonly conduct dive-bombing runs upon remaining targets of opportunity in the vicinity. In one incident on the 21 February 1991, a pair of Buccaneers destroyed two Iraqi transport aircraft on the ground at Shayka Mazhar airfield. The Buccaneers flew 218 missions during the Gulf War, in which they designated targets for other aircraft and dropped 48 laser-guided bombs.
It had originally been planned for the Buccaneer to remain in service until the end of the 1990s, having been extensively modernized in a process lasting up to 1989; the end of the Cold War stimulated major changes in British defence policy, many aircraft being deemed to be surplus to requirements. It was decided that a number of Panavia Tornado GR1s would be modified for compatibility with the Sea Eagle missile and take over the RAF's maritime strike mission, and the Buccaneer would be retired early. Squadrons operating the Buccaneer were quickly run down and re-equipped with the Tornado; by mid-1993, 208 Squadron was the sole remaining operator of the type. The last Buccaneers were withdrawn in March 1994 when 208 Squadron disbanded.
Crew: 2 (Pilot and Observer)
Length: 63 ft 5 in (19.33 m)
Wingspan: 44 ft (13.41 m)
Height: 16 ft 3 in (4.97 m)
Wing area: 514.7 ft² (47.82 m²)
Empty weight: 30,000 lb (14,000 kg)
Loaded weight: 62,000 lb (28,000 kg)
Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 101 turbofans, 11,100 lbf (49 kN) each
Maximum speed: 667 mph (580 kn, 1,074 km/h) at 200 ft (60 m)
Range: 2,300 mi (2,000 nmi, 3,700 km)
Service ceiling: 40,000 ft (12,200 m)
Wing loading: 120.5 lb/ft² (587.6 kg/m²)
Hardpoints: 4× under-wing pylon stations & 1× internal rotating bomb bay with a capacity of 12,000 lb (5,443 kg) and provisions to carry combinations of:
Rockets: 4× Matra rocket pods with 18× SNEB 68 mm rockets each
Missiles: 2× AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defence or 2× AS-37 Martel missiles or 4× Sea Eagle missile
Bombs: Various unguided bombs, Laser-guided bombs, as well as the Red Beard or WE.177 tactical nuclear bombs
Other: AN/ALQ-101 ECM protection pod, AN/AVQ-23 Pave Spike Laser designator pod, Buddy refuelling pack or Drop tanks for extended range/loitering time
Finest naval bomber of its era, pity it wasn't appreciated more by the RAF. Could have been developed further, updated avionics and possible new engines then the RAF would not have needed to spend a fortune on MRCA, instead the money could have gone to develop a proper fighter. Then we wouldn't have ended up with the Tornado ADV.
Couldn't agree more. A new engine was only an option, new avionics was the only real requirement.was a superb platform even without new engines it still went further and faster than tornado.