On 4th April 1957 the British Defence Minister Duncan Sandys (pronounced sands) published a Defence White Paper which, if implemented spelt the end for military aircraft design and manufacture in Britain and a represented a radical shift in day-to-day operations for the Royal Air Force.
His paper advocated the belief that manned aircraft were obsolete, and any British fighter aircraft projects should be cancelled in favour of missile technologies, which the paper affirmed had considerable cost savings. The publication of the White Paper raised a question mark over the need for GOR339. Although the policy was reversed after publication it was too late, within a few years, a number of manufacturers went out of business as projects were cancelled. The Saunders-Roe SR.177 - an interceptor aircraft powered by jet and rocket engines - was just one such victim along with nearly one-thousand five hundred employees of the company. The situation only served to destabilise the British aviation industry, effectively forcing the amalgamation and consolidation of the numerous manufacturers into one umbrella company, the British Aircraft Corporation.
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 submitted 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, based at Weybridge in Surrey would be responsible for the design and manufacture of the forward fuselage, cockpit and landing gear whilst English Electric at Warton In Lancashire would be responsible for the wing, tailplane and engine cowlings. Although the use of multiple manufacturers was a precursor to the Anglo-French Concorde project and the modern day European Airbus consortium, the award of a joint contract would lead to problems and ultimately delayed the project.
Elements from the Vickers-Armstrong Type 571, designed by George Henson, and those from the English Electric P.17, designed by Freddie Page were fused to become the TSR 2. The initals stood for Tactical Strike and Reconnaissance Mach 2, with Mach 2 referring to the operational speed requirement specified in OR.343.
Both designs proposed the inclusion of Rolls-Royce Medway jet engines, yet the engine contract was awarded to Bristol-Siddeley (Bristol-Siddeley and Rolls-Royce's aero-engine operations merged in 1966). The Bristol-Siddeley Olympus 22R-320 twin spool turbojet would be used to power the TSR 2, each of the two engines produced some 30,610lb of thrust. The construction of the TSR 2 utilised aluminium alloys and titanium, for "hot" areas.
On 4 March 1964 the first prototype TSR 2 aircraft, designated XR219, was rolled out of the Vickers factory at Weybridge. Immediately the aircraft was dismantled for transportation to the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Boscombe Down in Wiltshire to begin testing. Boscombe Down was a compromise location; the runways at Brooklands and Wisley owned by Vickers were too short for any realistic testing programme and the use of English Electric's Warton runway was politically unacceptable to Vickers. However the infrastructure at Boscombe Down wasn't appropriate, neither manufacturer had any resources at RAE and the reassembly of XR219 took a number of months.
The project was running behind schedule; the engine development had suffered a major setback when an engine attached to the underside of Avro Vulcan XA894 for in-flight testing suffered a catastrophic failure at the Bristol-Siddeley test facility at Filton near Bristol. A low pressure turbine failed during a ground test while the engine was running at full power. A turbine blade was ejected from the engine, penetrating outwards through the engine cowling and rupturing the Vulcan's fuel tanks, causing a major fire which consumed the aircraft. The manufacture of components was also delayed and problems occurred with the installation of the engines into the prototype fuselage. The delays in the project meant a successful round of trials was of paramount importance and were fundamental before any test flight.
XR219 undertook a series of taxi trials to evaluate the aircraft prior to first flight. These tests, conducted over a three week period beginning on 2 September 1964, examined steering, braking, restricted engine performance and the deployment of the braking parachute. On 27 September 1964, after nine taxi-runs, pilot Roland Beamont and navigator Donald Bowen took to the skies in the first flight of a TSR 2. XR219 performed as envisaged in a flight which lasted twenty-seven minutes.
The second prototype aircraft, XR220 had by this time been completed. The sections of the aircraft were transported to Boscombe Down on 9 September 1964, yet one section was damaged in transit delaying her maiden flight.
Due to engine problems the second test flight didn't take place until 31 December 1964. Over the next few months an additional twenty-two test flights were undertaken. The complexity of the design caused problems during testing. For example, the overly-extended landing gear and large-diameter low pressure tyres were designed for rough airfields, but were a headache for the designers and it took until the tenth test flight before the gear could successfully be retracted in flight.
On 22 February 1965, whilst flying from Boscombe to the English Electric factory at Warton, pilot Roland Beamont took XR219 supersonic, reaching Mach 1.12 (approximately 850mph/1,370kph). The aircraft comfortably achieved supersonic flight, at nowhere near its maximum power output. It would turn out to be the only occasion when a TSR 2 flew supersonic, faster than the speed of sound. Two days later, on 24 February 1965 XR220 carried out her first successful engine ground tests.
By 6 April 1965 XR220 was being readied for her first flight. Six days previously, pilot Jimmy Dell had completed the twenty-fourth test flight in XR219, amounting to a total of thirteen hours and three minutes of flying time. A minor fault delayed the first flight of XR220 and it was postponed until the afternoon. In the early afternoon, 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 immediate cancellation of the TSR 2 project.