Why were the Brits always always subsonic?

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Admiral Beez

Captain
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Oct 21, 2019
Toronto, Canada
English Electric Lighting aside, has any British designed military aircraft been capable of supersonic speed? Certainly aircraft made in partnership with the Europeans, namely the Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter exceed Mach 1, but the British-only aircraft seem to be slugs when the US, USSR, French and even Swedes were supersonic. Why?
 
The 1957 Defence White Paper has a lot to do with it.

It killed off many supersonic aircraft projects and forced a reorganisation of the industry.

All that was left at that point was the EE Lightning and TSR.2 from then into the mid-1960s.

Edit:- this article has reference to some of the earlier supersonic programmes

And let's not forget the EAP prototype of the 1980s that fed into the various projects that led to Eurofighter Typhoon
 
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English Electric Lighting aside, has any British designed military aircraft been capable of supersonic speed? Certainly aircraft made in partnership with the Europeans, namely the Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter exceed Mach 1, but the British-only aircraft seem to be slugs when the US, USSR, French and even Swedes were supersonic. Why?
Yeah but when you can break the sound barrier in a pure vertical climb, you already "won" at supersonic. 🤣

Sorry I couldnt resist a joke.
 
English Electric Lighting aside, has any British designed military aircraft been capable of supersonic speed? Certainly aircraft made in partnership with the Europeans, namely the Jaguar, Tornado and Eurofighter exceed Mach 1, but the British-only aircraft seem to be slugs when the US, USSR, French and even Swedes were supersonic. Why?
They served the purpose they needed to.
 
I think it is true that, as in WWII, the post-war AM/RAF/FAA had (relatively) specific/tight requirements set forward in their Specifications. Whether this was to control costs or simply that they felt it had worked in the past - or some combination of the two - they continued the trend of designing for the Specification and not too much more. The US threw money at the problems for 40 years or more, and while it paid off in many ways it also cost a lot more for the effect - not per specific airframe unit cost but in terms of ~20x the overall expenditure on aircraft development.
 
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Yes, the reasons are mostly covered. Firstly, it was cost. UK was seriously broke after WW2 and money for development of more advanced military aircraft was lacking. The mentioned 1957 review by Duncan Sandy's further sank the manned aircraft policy. You can see that UK Gov wanted better equipment but just could not afford the development, so there was a period of buying F-4 and trying to buy F-111 because the TSR-2 was cancelled (money). The Lightning filled the interceptor role but, it had very short range and limited firepower.
Harrier provided the Worlds only really effective V/STOL combat platform and the supersonic development P.1154 failed the magic money tree test. However UK/France did show the world how to do SST.
But when it comes down to it, money was and is the main factor.

Eng
 
I think it is true that, as in WWII, the post-war AM/RAF/FAA had (relatively) specific/tight requirements set forward in their Specifications. Whether this was to control costs or simply that they felt it had worked in the past - or some combination of the two - they continued the trend of designing for the Specification and not too much more. The US threw money at the problems for 40 years or more, and while it paid off in many ways it also cost a lot more for the effect - not per specific airframe unit cost but in terms of ~20x the overall expenditure on aircraft development.
I think it's also a lack of expertise. Look at the Supermarine Scimitar's complete ignorance of the area rule. Introduced in 1957, the Scimitar was a slug compared to the Vought F-8 Crusader introduced that same year, both shown below.

A-3B_VAH-5_refueling_Scimitar_803_NAS_with_RF-8A_c1962.jpeg


There was a plan to try again.... but it came to nothing. A classic case of DRIFT: do it right the first time or not at all.

103424-3c14ef07c5cb3ff10a1f476e14a5c1c1.png
 
I think it's also a lack of expertise. Look at the Supermarine Scimitar's complete ignorance of the area rule. Introduced in 1957, the Scimitar was a slug compared to the Vought F-8 Crusader introduced that same year, both shown below.

View attachment 746335

There was a plan to try again.... but it came to nothing. A classic case of DRIFT: do it right the first time or not at all.

View attachment 746334
AB
Perhaps before being so critical of the aerospace industry in a cash strapped Britain of the period it would be worth your while looking at the development history of these aircraft and when their development BEGAN relative to the general acceptance of the Area Rule.

Background to orders for these aircraft.
Aircraft development in the early postwar years needs to be viewed against a background that Govt thought that there was little chance of war before about 1957 (the year of maximum danger). So with money tight and aircraft development rapid they did not want to rush to production of types that would be rapidly out of date. So loads of prototypes to keep industry ticking over.

Then came a massive shock to the system in 1950 in the shape of the Korean War forcing production of the best types then available. For the RN that meant the Scimitar & the Sea Vixen (see below). For the RAF the Hunter (service entry July 1954), Swift (service entry Feb 1954) & Javelin (service entry 1956). Unfortunately the timing of all this was just too early for the Area Rule to be applied.

On the outbreak of the Korean War the RN had only placed orders for the Attacker in 1948 (front line service entry Aug 1951) and the Sea Hawk at the end of 1949 (service entry March 1953). The all weather Sea Venom was only ordered in late 1950 as a stop gap pending the development of the delayed Sea Vixen.

Scimitar
Scimitar can trace its ancestry back to Jan 1945 when the proposal for a flexible (rubber) flight deck and an aircraft to operate from it first arose. So from the undercarriageless Supermarine Type 505, came a Spec N.9/47 for a naval fighter with an undercarriage from which the prototype straight wing Type 508 & 529 arose. That produced a new in 1949/50 for a swept wing version (via the swept wing Attacker derivative Type 510), to create the Type 525 which eventually flew in April 1954. The sole prototype Type 525 then crashed in 1955, setting the programme back by some 2 years.

Due to the Korean War development of this aircraft was pushed forward and a Naval Requirement N.113 issued in 1951 and a contract for 2 prototypes on 29 March 1951, the first of which flew in Jan 1956 and the second in Oct that year, delayed as they were by the loss of the Type 525. The first production Scimitar flew in Jan 1957 and, after trials, the type reached its first operational squadron in June 1958.

Sea Vixen
This aircraft can trace its ancestry back to a proposal for a new radar equipped all weather fighter for the RAF & RN in 1946. This finally flew in Sept 1951 but the whole project was set back a year later when one of the prototypes crashed at the Farnborough Air Show killing 31 people and forcing a redesign of the wings. Along the way the RAF dropped out of the project leaving the RN to continue under a new spec issued in 1953. The new prototype flew in June 1955 and the type entered front line service in July 1959.

Area Rule
Despite the work done in Germany during WW2 the research seems to have gone unnoticed in the West (not sure when the USSR came across it). Then in 1952 Richard Whitcomb, at the NACA Langley Research Center had his Eureka moment, and the "Area Rule" was rediscovered.

That information was immediately shared with certain US aircraft companies but was not generally known of as it remained classified until 1955. The initial benefactors of this were Grumman & Vought who had just begun to design new aircraft in response to a 1952 USN requirement for a new fighter. From that emerged the F11F Tiger (first flight July 1954) and the F8 Crusader (first flight March 1955). It was also the saviour of the Convair Model 8-82 YF-102 which was in deep trouble in 1952. Late 1953 saw that aircraft being completely redesigned with the Model 8-90 YF-102A flying in Dec 1954.

According to a response given in the British Parliament and recorded in Hansard, the British Govt was advised of the Area Rule in Jan 1953 and then passed that on to the relevant British aircraft companies.


Britain's position in early 1953.
So having received this new information, and allowing for the wheels of bureaucracy to grind, just what was Britain to do? Designers needed time to digest the new information, at a time when they were busy moving the latest existing designs into production and service. With the risk of a future war far higher than it had been, it needed new types as fast as possible. Halting them to apply the Area Rule would lead to even longer delays meaning obsolete types would have to remain in service or a purchase from abroad with hard earned dollars. So the decision was made to proceed with the existing types on the drawing board and applying the Area Rule to the next generation. Unfortunately that next generation then fell foul of the Sandy's axe in 1957 so few of the designs were turned into hardware.

Application of the Area Rule in the British aircraft industry
One of the first British designed aircraft to benefit from the Area Rule was the Blackburn Buccaneer. It began life with a Staff Requirement NA.39 in Aug 1952 and refined the following year in M.148T. The earliest 1952 design iteration was modified to incorporate this new information long before it got to the stage of actually cutting any metal. The Buccaneer took to the air for the first time on 30 April 1958.

One lesson learned from earlier projects was not to rely on 1-3 prototypes. June 1955 saw 6 prototypes and 14 development batch Buccaneers ordered. The first production order followed in Sept 1959 with front line service entry in July 1962.

The other aircraft to benefit from the Area Rule was the English Electric Lightning. Beginning life in the early postwar years as a supersonic research aircraft project the EE P.1 flew for the first time in May 1954. In P.1B form with a fuel tank added under the original fuselage, which helped the Area Ruling, it flew in Nov 1958 becoming the second Western European aicraft to exceed M2.0 (the Mirage III beat it by about a month).
 

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