August 1977.Â Nellis Range – Nevada. The flight lead of a section of F-4E’s is searching in vain for the intruders. Flying CAP, their mission is to intercept ingressing strike aircraft as part of the large scale exercise known as ‘Red Flag.’Â Normally an exceptionally challenging environment, meant to replicate the skies over Central Europe, today finds the Phantom lead especially vexed because they can’t find the ingressing bandits.Â A disturbance on the desert floor below catches the lead’s eyes, a dust devil perhaps?Â No — there, at an impossibly low altitude were two of the raiders screaming along in the sanctuary of extreme low altitude.Â Were these some new top secret designs from up around”Dreamland” come down to play in the exercise?Â Nope – bounding along the desert floor, kicking up dust and occasionally scraping a wingtip was a twenty-something year old design with the roundels of the RAF marking the nation of origin – the Blackburn Buccaneer, and this was its first Red Flag.
In 1953, the US and UK were looking to the future and a growing conventional and nuclear threat as embodied by the armed forces of the Soviet Union.Â At the time, nuclear weapons technology had reached the stage where each country’s labs were able to design and deliver the first generation of so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons which made it possible to break the hammerlock the big, land-based bombers had held, to that point, on the nuclear mission.Â On the west side of the Atlantic, the US Navy was well on its way to developing and deploying a credible nuclear strike capability from the big decks of the Forrestal-class super carriers, the first of which was set for commissioning in 1956.Â From her decks would fly either the Douglas A3D Skywarrior (aka ‘Whale’) and the A4D Skyhawk – which, like their carrier, were designed with the nuclear mission foremost in mind.
On the other side of the Atlantic, smilar steps were in motion.Â Also in 1953, a new Naval Requirement was let (NA.39) which called for an ambitious new aircraft – one designed to fly well under enemy radar, carrying conventional and nuclear ordnance, at speeds in excess of 550kts.Â This aircraft would operate from Royal Navy carriers like the Eagle and would replace the Scimitar and Sea Vixen.Â The proposal was shopped out to several manufacturers, including DeHavilland and others with extensive experience in building carrier-based aircraft.Â Interestingly enough, it was a more obscure manufacturer, Blackburn, that received the nod.
Now Blackburn was no stranger to manufacturing aircraft, including aircraft for the FAA.Â Indeed, it got the nod to build a (then) radically different, all metal/enclosed cockpit torpedo bomber as the replacement for the long-in-the-tooth Fairey Swordfish.Â Named the Skua, it had a checkered record of mixed success, eventually suffering grievous losses in the face of heavy AAA and enemy aircraft – not unlike it’s American contemporary, the Devastator.Â Still, at this point in production history, Blackburn was only producing a four-engine transport.
It was clear that the demands of the mission – high speeds, low altitude and a complex weapons system would demand the services of a second crewman.Â Additionally, being carrier-based would demand cetain concessions as far as size and ability to work in confined spaces.Â And in the case of the Eagle, for example, it was aggravated by the use of a center line elevator to move aircraft to and from the hangar bay (unlike the Forrestal class which planned to use deck edge elevators).Â Among the new design ideas and technology that Blackburn would employ was a concept called Boundary Layer Control, which used blown flaps and leading edge slats to improve lift, especially critical in the high-Î± environment of the carrier approach.Â Additional features included Martin-Baker “0-0” ejection seats, an area-rule fuselage and a simple, fixed in-flight refueling probe.Â Powered by a pair of de Havilland Gyron Junior turbojets producing 7,100 pounds of thrust, the first prototype flew in 1958 with sea-trials starting in 1960.Â Delivery to the fleet of the production model S.Mk.1 began shortly thereafter. Â One thing that became immediately evident was that the trbojets were seriously underpowered and fairly thirsty.Â Fortunately a solution was at hand via the new turbofan engine (Rolls Royce Spey) developed for the BAC Tri-star passenger jet.Â With modifications to the inlets and internally to support the larger engine, the S.Mk.2 began to outfit the fleet in 1964 and soon became the definitive version of the Buccaneer.
Operationally, the Buccaneer flew with the FAA in both conventional and nuclear missions until 1978 when the last of the conventional carriers, the HMS Ark Royal, was decommissioned.Â From then, they were transferred ashore for service with the RAF which had been left in the lurch with first the cancellation of the TSRadvanced strike fighter, and then the F-111K which was supposed to be the fill-in replacement.Â Upgrades continued to the weapons suite with the addition of laser-designation and increased range.Â In addition to service with the FAA and RAF, the Buccaneer would also be flown by the South African air force until 1991.Â Eventually, the Buccaneer would see combat, in the first Gulf War, but time was fast running out.Â Despite exceptional performance in the Gulf, the last Buccaneer was withdrawn from service in 1994 after thirty-plus years of service.Â Today many examples can be found in museums, and one, Buccaneer S.Mk2B XX885, is being returned to a flight status.
Specifications (Buccaneer S.2)
Data from: The Observer’s Book of Aircraft
- Crew: 2
- Length: 63 ft 5 in (19.33 m)
- Wingspan: 44 ft (13.41 m)
- Height: 16 ft 3 in (4.97 m)
- Wing area: 514.7 ftÂ² (47.82 mÂ²)
- Empty weight: 30,000 lb (14,000 kg)
- Loaded weight: 62,000 lb (28,000 kg)
- Powerplant: 2Ã— Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 101 turbofans, 11,100 lbf (49 kN) each
- Maximum speed: 645 mph (560 knots, 1,040 km/h) at 200 ft (60 m)
- Range: 2,000 nautical miles (2,300 mi, 3,700 km)
- Service ceiling 40,000 ft (12,200 m)
- Wing loading: 120.5 lb/ftÂ² (587.6 kg/mÂ²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.36
- Up to 12,000 lb (5,400 kg) of ordnance carried in the internal bomb bay and on four underwing hardpoints