Intruduction to the Blackburn Buccaneer - a Beautiful Aircraft.
[Sketch by Joe Bosher: "Buccaneer flying Low level over the sea."]
How It All Started.
In the early 1950's, when the Russian Navy introduced the Sverdlov class cruiser into service, the capability of this heavily armed surface raider to wreak havoc on merchant shipping in any future conflict gave the Royal Navy (RN) a rude awakening.
Rather than build more battleships to counter this threat the Navy decided that the most cost effective solution was a new specialised strike aircraft employing conventional or nuclear weapons, attacking at high-speed and low-level, operating from their Fleet Carriers.
The Naval Aircraft NA39 Specification.
In June 1952 the detailed specification NA39 for a new aircraft was issued.
This called for a two-seat aircraft with folding wings, capable of flying at Mach Number 0.85 at 200ft whilst carrying a nuclear weapon internally over a radius of action exceeding 400 Nautical miles .
Basically the aircraft was to be designed to a Royal Navy requirement for a bomber to fly subsonic, under-the-radar missions to penetrate enemy airspace without detection and deliver conventional or nuclear weapons.
By February 1953 the first responses from industry began to be returned.
Blackburn Win the Contract for the NA39 Aircraft.
The design submitted by Blackburn Aircraft Company soon emerged as the favourite submission. Known initially as B103 (Buccaneer), the Blackburn design featured a relatively small wing, ideal for high-speed low-level flight which, thanks to a boundary layer control system in which hot air was drawn from the engine and then blown across the trop of the wing and in front of the flaps and ailerons, allowed the take-off and landing speeds to be lowered by 25 Knots. The original prototypes were powered by two de Havilland Gyron engines of 8000lbs thrust each.
More Advanced Features of the Buccaneer.
Other advanced features incorporated in the design included splitting the rear fuselage in half to act as airbrakes, an internal bomb bay with rotating bomb bay door to reduce drag when dropping ordnance, powered controls, and very compact dimensions when wings and tailcone were folded. These features made the Buccaneer exceptionally well-suited to its primary roll as a carrier-based bomber on Britain's large aircraft carriers of the day. Its clean exterior allowing the aircraft to cruise at higher speeds and with lower fuel consumption than the Mirage 3 or Phantom F4.
Why the Full Bodied Curves?
The curvy body helps to make the Buccaneer a beautiful looking aircraft from all angles but there is a technical reason for the curves which you may not know.
The B.103 Buccaneer design incorporated the new area rule aerodynamics of Richard Whitcomb from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the USA. The principle being that if abrupt changes in the cross-sectional area of the aircraft were avoided then this would improve the high-speed handling of an aircraft. Area ruling means that the fuselage shrinks where the cross-section includes the wings, and then expands again after the wings, giving the fuselage a graceful wasp waist or coke bottle appearance.
Blackburn engineers used area-ruling to improve the design's aerodynamics, while also increasing the storage capacity of the aircraft's fuselage, giving the aircraft a distinctive set of full-bodied curves.
20 Development Aircraft?
I wondered why so many? Before I joined Blackburn Aircraft a total of twenty development batch (DB) aircraft had been built. This was an unusually high number of pre-production aircraft, but apparently the Royal Navy was in a hurry and wanted to ensure that loss of a prototype would not delay the program. And there were losses. The service also wanted to pursue development of various subsystems in parallel. The first prototype aircraft XK486 had first flown on 30 Apr 1958 from RAE (Royal Aircraft Establishment) Bedford having been transported there by road from the Blackburn factory at Brough, on the banks of the Humber. For further flight trials, subsequent aircraft were towed on their own wheels from Brough to the nearby airfield of Holme-on-Spalding Moor which had a longer runway.
Some Losses to Development Aircraft.
All 20 development (DB) aircraft had flown by the end of 1961, during which time there were losses. One Buccaneer went down in October 1960 due to a flight instrumentation failure, the two crewmen ejecting safely. Another was lost in August 1961 on takeoff during carrier trials, with both crewmen drowning because they were unable to escape from the aircraft. There was also a non fatal incident when an aircraft from Lossiemouth crashed on a pig farm in Scotland.
Short History of Operational Buccaneer Aircraft.
The history of the Buccaneer as quite extensive. In August 1960 the aircraft was officially named the Buccaneer S Mark1. By early 1961 the first Buccaneers were delivered to the Royal Navy at Lossiemouth where Flight 700Z carried out flying trials. On 17th July 1962 801 Squadron became the first operational squadron equiped with Blackburn Buccaneers at Lossiemouth.
While discussions on a Mark 2 Buccaneer had begun in late 1959, conversion work did not start until January 1962, being completed in May 1963. This new Buccaneer S 2 had first flown in May 1963, but carrier trials only began in April 1965 The South African Air Force wanted to use the Buccaneer for antishipping strikes.
The South African Buccaneers were designated S 50. They were similar to the S 2, with various modifications. In the late 1960s when the RAF also chose the Buccaneer for service as a low-level strike bomber, they received 62 ex-Royal Navy aircraft (S 2A) and 51 new-build planes (S 2B). The RAF career of the Buccaneer started in July 1970. The RAF designated the aircraft the S Mark 2A; it carried conventional or nuclear weapons and the S Mark 2B carried the Martel anti-ship missile.
Epilogue to a Much Loved Aeroplane - the Buccaneer.
The Buccaneer was an aeroplane much loved by those who served on the various squadrons, but having been designed in the 1950's and never really updated, it's hardly surprising that by the 1980's it was suffering from its poor avionics and could only ever operate at low-level in good weather. In Jan 1991, long after the aircraft should have been withdrawn from service 14 aircraft were rapidly prepared for the Operation Granby (Gulf War) - the deployment of UK forces for the retaking of Kuwait. 12 of the aircraft were send to Bahrain, all painted in ARTF (Alkali Removable Temporary Finish) Desert Pink over their standard camouflage. With the beginning of Desert Storm it was the Buccaneers purpose to provide Pave Spike laser designation for RAF Tornado GR.Mark 1s laser guided bombs.
The Buccaneers flew a total of 226 sorties in their guise as the Sky Pirates, most of them sporting a Jolly Roger flag on the left fuselage side under the windshield.
It says something about the miss-management of the Defence budget that such an antiquated aircraft had to be called at this crucial time upon because the RAF Tornadoes then lacked the ability to designate targets themselves. Eventually, after long and successful service, all the Buccaneer squadrons were re-equipped with the Tornado and in March 1994 the last Buccaneer was retired from RAF service at RAF Lossiemouth.
I would be pleased to hear from anyone who has any stories about this aircraft; humorous, technical or historical. Please use the Feedback Form to contact me briefly, in the first instance.
Joe Bosher (74th).