On 27 September 1964 prototype XR219, a British Aircraft Corporation TSR 2, took to the skies above Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. Four years earlier, a British Government contract with Electric Aviation Ltd and Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd, both later to become part of the British Aircraft Corporation, was awarded for the manufacture of a Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance aircraft.
After four years of technical development the aircraft was destined to serve with the Royal Air Force as the force's frontline multi-purpose strike aircraft. She was expected to represent a major asset in the United Kingdom's Cold War nuclear deterrent and her design lead meant she was one of the most technically advanced aeroplanes ever conceived.
As XR219 became airborne, under the control of pilot Roland Beamont and navigator Donald Bowen, a significant milestone in the TSR 2 project was reached. The complexities of the project and the ground-breaking design of the airframe and her flight systems had proven a formidable technical and organisational challenge.
However, within weeks a change of Government marked the beginning of the end for the TSR 2. Seven months later, a swift end to the project was announced. Deemed too expensive and too late into production, the death of the TSR 2 represented a severe blow to the British aviation industry and a significant undermining of the Royal Air Force's capabilities for many years.
During May 1951 the Royal Air Force's first jet bomber entered service with No 101 Squadron based at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire. The English Electric Canberra, designed by a team led by William Edward Willoughby Petter, was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon engines producing a top speed of 540 mph. The 63ft long Canberra had a ceiling height of 48,000ft and was able to carry a bomb-load in excess of three tonnes. However, by the mid-1950s the Royal Air Force was aware that the Canberra would need replacing and began considering the most appropriate design to meet their requirements. General Operational Requirement (GOR) 339, issued in 1956 by the Royal Air Force, determined the specification for the Canberra replacement.
The Ministry of Aviation, received a number of submissions for GOR.339 from leading British aircraft manufacturers including A.V.Roe and Company, the Bristol Aeroplane Company and the de Havilland Aircraft Company. In 1960 the ministry awarded a joint-contract to Electric Aviation Ltd and Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd. The differing design philosophies of their proposals were crystallised as Operational Requirement (OR) 343. OR.343 firmed up the original specification for a tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft, capable of carrying a nuclear weapon and able to fly at supersonic speeds. Vickers-Armstrong would produce the forward fuselage, cockpit and landing gear and English Electric the wing, tailplane and engine cowlings.
From the outset the TSR 2 project was beset with severe political interference. The Ministry of Aviation, adopted a 'management by committee' culture which created a suffocating layer of bureaucracy that only served to hinder and delay the project. Instead of letting the designers and manufacturers to develop the aircraft, with an appropriate level of accountability, the Ministry caused serious delays. Just as the second TSR 2 aircraft XR220 was being readied for her first flight on 6 April 1965 the Labour Government presented its first budget since being elected in October 1964. Standing at the dispatch box in Westminster, Chancellor of the Exchequer James Callaghan announced the cancellation of the TSR 2 project.