The first TSR.2 (XR219) was rolled out at Weybridge on March 4th 1964, then disassembled into major components and taken to Boscombe Down by road for re-assembly. Boscombe was a compromise; Vickers had wanted test flying to begin at their airfield at Wisley, but programme's chief test pilot, Roland Beamont, objected because of its short runway. EE would have prefered to use Warton.

The choice of Boscombe meant more delays; neither company had facilities there, and it took two months to reassemble the prototype. On May 6th 1964 the aircraft was finally removed from its hangar to begin testing, including taxi trials. Various minor problems occurred, including the failure of the braking parachute to deploy on one fast taxi run (where the long runway came in useful, vindicating Beamont's objection to the shorter one at Wisley). Most of the problems were overcome.

The first flight was repeatedly delayed, mainly due to problems with the Olympus engines. When the engines were first offered up to the prototype they literally would not fit in the fuselage because of changes to various accessories which did not tally with the airframe drawings. Furthur modifications were needed to get even the minimum clearance. In addition, there was still an engine power limitation as a result of the "bell-mode" problem. This was not identified until a few days before the first flight.

With pressure on the project increasing all the time (the 1964 SBAC show at Farnborough came and went), it was decided to go ahead with the first flight. The then-Conservative government was in serious trouble; a general election was looming and Labour was widely expected to win. BAC must have hoped that presenting a new government with a flying prototype would make the project harder to cancel. The final decision was down to Beamont. Despite the engine problems (the manufacturers would not guarantee them lasting beyond five hours of use at a maximum of 97% power), many items of equipment not being ready, and problems expected with the undercarriage and braking parachute, he decided that the risk was acceptable for a single flight.

On September 27th Beamont lifted XR219 (call sign Tarnish 1) off Boscombe's runway. Don Bowen was in the back seat. For this flight, the undercarriage was left extended and the engine intake configuration fixed. Beamont found that the TSR.2 was pleasant to fly, without any major deficiencies. The behaviour was very close to that predicted by design studies and the simulator. The flight lasted for 27 minutes.

The second flight was not made until the end of December, because the engines had to be replaced. During the second and third flights there was significant engine-related vibration. The undercarriage was also troublesome. On the fifth flight it suffered a serious malfunction and Beamont considered ejecting, but in the end he elected to attempt to land the aircraft, which he did although the undercarriage was stuck in the wrong position. It was not until the tenth flight on February 6th 1965 that a successful undercarriage retraction was achieved.

Freddie Page
XR219 with Lightning at Warton, 22 Feb 1965
(Photo courtesy of Wendy Graham)
Freddie Page (on right)
(Photo courtesy of Wendy Graham)

On February 22nd 1965 Beamont lifted XR219 from the Boscombe runway for the 14th time, with Peter Moneypenney in the back seat, and proceeded to bring the aircraft home to Warton, flying at supersonic speed (Mach 1.12) through bumpy air. XR219 achieved this with only the No.1 engine at one-third afterburner. The full performance envelope could not be investigated during this flight, because of a problem in the No.2 engine which prevented the selection of afterburner. XR219 remained completely controllable, with only a small trim change required. It is interesting to note that Jimmy Dell, who was flying the chase Lightning, was unable to keep up even with both Avons in full 'burner. This was the only time that XR219 flew supersonically.

The TSR.2 was directionally very stable, stable in pitch, and somewhat unstable laterally at subsonic speeds. Supersonic flight was reached with only mild buffet between Mach 0.93 and Mach 1, and no trim change was needed. At supersonic speeds it became laterally stable, and behaved flawlessly.

While everything was fine on the aerodynamics side, there were numerous teething troubles with other elements of the TSR.2. The undercarriage continued to cause problems, with serious (1.5g) oscillations on touch-down. The cabin air conditioning failed to operate in any reasonable way. The engines were a source of constant problems.

After the cancellation on April 6th 1965, the three TSR.2s built were immediately grounded (XR220 had been scheduled to make its maiden flight the same day). XR219 had flown 24 missions, totalling 13 hours and 9 minutes. 49 aicraft were in various stages of production. These comprised the remaining eight development aicraft, eleven pre-production machines and the first 30 for squadron service.

All production tooling was destroyed; on the line, as workers completed assembly of some airframes prior to their transport to the scrap yard, the tooling was being destroyed with cutting torches behind them. A wooden mockup of the aircraft was burned at Warton while the workers looked on. All technical publications were ordered to be destroyed; even photographs of the aircraft were destroyed. Boscombe Down's official records of test flights were 'lost'. A greater act of vandalism has never been perpetrated on the British aviation industry.

Roland Beamont, who knew the TSR.2 better than anyone, believed that it was "one of the most remarkable designs in aviation history", and like so many others regarded its demise as a very great loss to the RAF.

Sorties Flown By XR219

(NB: times are actual flight times)

Sortie Date Duration Pilot Navigator Notes
1 24-Sep-1964 00:14 Beamont Bowen Call sign Tarnish 1; Boscombe Down
2 31-Dec-1964 00:14 Beamont Bowen Boscombe Down
3 02-Jan-1965 00:08 Beamont Bowen Boscombe Down
4 08-Jan-1965 00:20 Beamont Bowen Boscombe Down
5 14-Jan-1965 00:22 Beamont Bowen Major undercarriage malfunction. Boscombe Down
6 15-Jan-1965 00:24 Dell Bowen Boscombe Down
7 22-Jan-1965 00:28 Beamont Moneypenny Boscombe Down
8 23-Jan-1965 00:27 Dell Moneypenny Boscombe Down
9 27-Jan-1965 00:22 Beamont Bowen Boscombe Down
10 06-Feb-1965 00:29 Beamont Bowen Successful undercarriage retraction. 500 knots IAS achieved. Boscombe Down
11 08-Feb-1965 00:38 Dell Moneypenny Boscombe Down
12 10-Feb-1965 00:36 Knight Moneypenny Boscombe Down
13 16-Feb-1965 00:45 Dell Bowen Boscombe Down
14 22-Feb-1965 00:41 Beamont Moneypenny First (and only) supersonic flight, reaching Mach 1.12. Aircraft arrived at BAC Warton after taking off from Boscombe Down.
15 25-Feb-1965 01:12 Dell Moneypenny Warton
16 26-Feb-1965 00:47 Beamont Moneypenny Warton
17 08-Mar-1965 00:52 Dell McCann Warton
18 08-Mar-1965 00:35 Dell Moneypenny Warton
19 11-Mar-1965 00:33 Dell McCann Warton
20 12-Mar-1965 00:46 Dell Moneypenny Warton
21 26-Mar-1965 00:33 Dell McCann Warton
22 26-Mar-1965 00:35 Dell McCann Warton
23 27-Mar-1965 00:34 Knight Moneypenny Warton
24 31-Mar-1965 00:32 Dell McCann Warton
Total 13:07

Total Time on Type (hh:mm)

Pilot Navigator/Observer

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© David Hastings