Thursday, 24 February 2011

Aircraft Miscellany

Here's a controversial thought: the Avro Shackleton ought not have been replaced by the HS.801 Nimrod. If the Nimrod had been a commercial threat to P-3 sales, the Americans would have stopped the project in the mid sixties when Britain was wanting an IMF loan with Uncle Sam's support: the Shorts Belfast production run was curtailed and C-130s were bought instead for that reason. Instead, the Vickers Vanguard should have been re-engined with RR Speys in overwing nacelles to provide additional lift and reduced stall speed by upper surface blowing. Jet flaps to create the Coanda effect had been successfully developed on the Hunting H.126 and the Boeing QSRA mod. of the dHC Buffalo proved the concept used on the Boeing YC-14 and Antonov An-72/74. A similar underfuselage fairing to that used on the Nimrod could have been fitted onto the Vanguard. The advantage of the Vanguard MR would have been a more modern base design with more scope for growth, and a smaller wing area with higher wing-loading (similar to the P-3 Orion) which would provide much smoother flight at low level. But BAC was too busy with the VC-10 and One-Eleven whereas Hawker-Siddeley's workload was low due to the end of both the Avro Vulcan and de Havilland Comet programmes. (Edit: I've just checked my copy of Tony Buttler's British Secret Projects: Jet Bombers Since 1949 and the story of the RAF's Shackleton replacement requirement needs a bit more explanation. The NATO Maritime Patrol Aircraft competition in 1957-8 produced the Breguet Atlantique but that wasn't good enough for the RAF.  In the early sixties OR350/Specification MR218 was issued for which variants of the Comet, Trident and Shackleton were offered by Avro and BAC's versions of the Vanguard and VC-10 (with underwing panniers a la Wellesley). However AST.357 superseded OR350 in 1963 and the Shorts PD.69 was also tendered. It looked as though the Avro 776 trijet would win until the RAF realised its Shackletons wouldn't last until it came into service. And the Treasury wanted something cheaper.  Consequently AST.357 was replaced in June 1964 by the panic ASR.381/MR.254 as good as an off-the shelf Atlantique, so long as it's ready by 1970 spec - without telling Hawker Siddeley! Avro schemed a minimum cost, minimum risk Comet development within a week which became the HS.801 Nimrod. The HS.800 development of the Avro 776 was rejected. as was the Atlantique and the P-3 Orion.

The end of organic naval AEW in 1978 due to the retirement of Ark Royal and the Fairey Gannet AEW3 could have been prevented by the conversion of, say, eight new Westland Sea Kings into AEW helicopters in the early 1970's. The rush job to convert two in 1982 took 11 weeks, consisting of attaching a modified version of the Nimrod Searchwater radar scanner in an inflatable radome to the starboard rear fuselage. As the Sea King entered RN service in ASW configuration in 1969, why wasn't even eleven years long enough to develop the AEW version in time? If cost had been such a driver, surely refitting the ex-Douglas Skyraider/ex-Fairey Gannet AN/APS-20F radar into a retractable fairing on the underside of an HC4-like airframe (like that fitted to the ASW Gannets or MR Shackletons) would have been better than nothing.

But the RAF claimed that it could provide long-range AEW for the Fleet by having the third-hand radars fitted into a dozen re-sparred Shackleton MR2s. MR2s had been replaced by MR3s which had been replaced by Nimrods. They were old, very noisy aircraft that could trace their ancestry back to the Avro Manchester (via Lancaster and Lincoln). The radar "suite" carried by the Shackleton AEW2 was unable to detect the altitude of targets. The USAF and USN had, since 1954, operated a version of the Lockheed Super Constellation known, eventually, as the EC-121 Warning Star. This had the same AN/APS-20 under the fuselage for air search and a height-finder AN/APS-45 antenna in a dorsal hump radome. The operators worked in a converted airliner environment. If only the RAF had decided to convert a dozen of their Bristol Britannia C Mk 1's into AEW aircraft instead. The newer, low hours Britannias went in the 1975 defence cuts whereas five of the Shackletons shook on until 1991.

Update: I've just read this excellent book and the story about MR and AEW aircraft for the RAF is a bit more complicated. Read the book: Amazon can actually obtain it in under a week. I can't wait to read the next book I find on the topic that makes this post even wronger!

9 comments:

Jim Baxter said...

I recall a flypast of a Vulcan at the Edinburgh Turnhouse airshow in 1969. It was low, really low. My teeth have never been the same since.

The Vanguard was the first aircraft I ever flew in, in 1968. BEA night flight from Edinburgh to London. I sat near the front of the cabin - moonlight on the props, cruising at 17,000 feet. £7 10-/- for the flight. A bloody fortune.

Brian said...

4 x RR Olympus engines, probably at near max thrust prior to her doing the trademark near vertical climb. Wow! Vulcans make everyone look up, just like Concorde. As for noise levels, three Lightnings in a vic down the RNAS Culdrose runway (airshow of course) under low cloud cover.
I envy your first flight in the Vanguard, sounds wonderful, like an old film. Mine was a 20 minute round the lighthouse from Land's End Aerodrome in a de Havilland Dragon Rapide.

Jim Baxter said...

I was overawed by the Vanguard. I always listened for that special pneumatic-drill note that distinguished the turbo-prop from the rest after that.

Interesting stuff on defence procurement. It's always seemed to me that the British are especially bad at it, from our exploding battle-cruisers to our useless tanks in WW II. My father was acting troop commander in 44-45 of three M10 tank destroyers and always said they were the only match for the 88, unlike anything the British designed, rather than adapted, themselves.

Brian said...

Defence procurement is a tricky thing. A country needs a defence industry to safeguard supply but is then obliged to buy from that industry to keep it in being.
Would they have been Achilles versions with 17 pounders fitted? British tank design was hampered by the infantry/cruiser tank doctrine and the lack of a decent tank engine until the Rolls-Royce Meteor. Didn't the early 2 and 6 pounder equipped tanks suffer from a lack of HE ammunition to take on the 88s - tanks were meant to fight tanks and so only had AP rounds?

Jim Baxter said...

I believe it was the Achilles, which I understand was a British adaptation.

Have you ever visited the Museum of Flight at East Fortune, about 20miles east of Edinburgh. It still looks like the RAF station it was in the 40s, apart from the Concorde they have. Oh, they have a Vulcan too.

Duxford, of course, is the main event. Still not visited Duxford. It's on the schedule though.

Brian said...

Haven't been to East Fortune yet, though I ought to as I'm also an airship fan - the R34 departed from and returned there on the first East-West and return crossing of the Atlantic by air in 1919.
Have you been to Cosford?

Jim Baxter said...

Cosford, no. Is that the airship hangar near Bedford? I flew over that hangar once in a light aircraft piloted by one's own missus on the way from Leicester to Le Touquet. Also aboard was Stormin Norman, her former instructor and ex-Tornado pilot. Tha man took no prisoners. Mrs Jim once bought me an aerobatic session with Norman. We did the lot - loops, stall turns, barrel rolls, more loops. As we came out of the first loop all Norman said to me was, 'Still with us?'. Yes, was the answer. 'Ok then, let's roll'. Roll we did.

Mrs Jim let me drive around a cloud once. Man, that was fun.

Brian said...

You mean Cardington. I've been in both sheds there, one occupied by the BRE and the other (No 1 shed) by an awful lot of dark with little holes in it high up. It was used to try out full size stage sets.
Mrs Jim sounds a jolly good sport, and I bet Stormin Norman had that clipped, calm, precise way of speaking beloved of the RAF, "In front of you to your left, you're about to see your breakfast again ... now."
Flying is a wonderful passion and I do wish I'd been able to do more. My scant few flights learning in a K-13 glider are among the happiest minutes of my life.

Jim Baxter said...

Brian, yes indeed, that's exactly how Norman speaks. He was signing the Cessnas out and timing them for financial purposes one morning when Mrs Jim took me for a drive around a cloud. On the return approach I noticed she hadn't flipped the big grey switch which I'd learned about earlier. Not wishing to be a front-seat co-pilot I said nothing. Result: we landed more than once - lesson - always remind the pilot to put the flaps down.

Norman had been watching. He said, 'So, when did you land? Time it from the first bounce.'