Personal Interest - RAF Unbuilt Projects


This blog post looks at the different groups of cancelled RAF projects. It will focus on the 50s, 60s, 90s/00s and a brief look at hypersonic research projects. While these projects were often cut or cancelled for budget or austerity reasons, they were also pushed by the changing nature of warfare firstly from conventional style WW2 warfare to the predicated quick, short scale nuclear war which was expected from 1947 to 1989. Later from the 90s and into the 21st Century a change from state on state conflict to facing insurgencies, counter-terrorism and peacekeeping missions again led to a change in how wars are fought. Though the work and research done on these projects would rarely go to waste with it being used and applied in other projects and works even if sometimes it could take another ten or twenty years before anything operational came of that work. There won't be large amounts of text explaining or exploring the designs there are far better sources for that which these catch your interest you should check. List at the bottom. 


The 1950s saw a massive reorganisation in the UK aircraft industry and many projects were cancelled. With the 1957 defence review being the key event. Overall it was a painful but necessary rationalisation since the RAF and industry had too few resources spread across too many projects and manufactures. 

Upgraded/Supersonic versions cancelled:
Swift - Supermarine Type 545
The Supermarine 545 was a British supersonic jet fighter project of the mid-1950s. It was a development of the Swift for intended operation as a naval fighter to meet Air Ministry specification F.105D2. It had a crescent shaped wing and was intended to fly at supersonic speeds. It was powered by a single afterburning Rolls-Royce Avon turbojet fed from an elliptical nose air intake with a central, bullet shaped centre body. The intake was the most obvious difference between the Type 545 and its precursor, which had side intakes.


Gloster Javelin - Gloster F.153D Thin Wing Javelin [P.376]
Designed as a follow up able to carry a larger heavier missile and be supersonic. 

Short Seamew

The Short Seamew was selected to fulfil Admiralty Specification M.123D for a simple, lightweight anti-submarine aircraft capable of unassisted operation from any of the Royal Navy's aircraft carriers in all but the worst of conditions, in particular escort carriers which the UK still had in considerable numbers from World War Two. Although specifically designed for naval operations, the Seamew was also intended for land-based use by the RAF. It was to be suitable for mass production and operation by the Air Branch of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). This specification was in response to the alarming increase in capabilities of the Soviet submarine forces following WW2. Cancelled in part because in the event of full-scale nuclear war large numbers of conventional forces couldn't be brought into action in time to make any difference.

Saunders-Roe SR.177 - RAF/Royal Navy

The SR.177 was a 50s project to develop a combined jet and rocket-powered interceptor aircraft for the RAF and Royal Navy. It was an enlarged derivative of the SR.53. The SR.177 principally differed from the smaller SR.53 in its adoption of a nose-mounted airborne interception radar unit, which allowed it to scan for and lock onto its own targets; a more powerful turbojet engine was also incorporated. In addition to British interests in the aircraft, the German Navy had also expressed their interest in the project and closely evaluated its progress with an eye towards its potential procurement. However, the SR.177 was ultimately cancelled as a result of changes in Britain's military policies in 1957. A much larger derivative of the SR.177 had been studied, which was designated as the SR.187, and was being developed with the intention of meeting the requirements of Operational Requirement F.155. However, this work was also cancelled in 1957. 

Operational Requirement F.155: It was a specification issued by the British Ministry of Supply for an interceptor aircraft to defend the United Kingdom from high-flying supersonic bombers. Although a nuclear threat from Soviet nuclear-armed bombers was identified as early as in 1955, F.155 calling for supersonic interceptors (in service by 1962) was superseded by the 1957 Defence White Paper. The paper was a major review of military spending and one of its elements was the cancellation of nearly all manned fighter projects as a radical change had occurred in strategic threats with the expectation that intercontinental ballistic missiles and low-level strike would replace high flying bombers. Which did broadly happen. 

English Electric P.8 - With development work on the P.1 research aircraft well advanced and the F.155T in-service date looming, EE designed an interceptor which effectivly a modified Lighting.

SR.187 - Was a no comprimised design planned to carry out the specifactions in full. 

AW.169 - The Armstrong Whitworth AW.169 was the closest any of the F.155T competitors got the RAE's ideal aircraft shape for mach 2 interceptor. 

Fairy Delta III - Bulding on previous work done by Fairey on supersonic research. It had the most potential to move from being a pure interceptor to weapons system concept. Carrying out other roles such as reconnaissance and bombing. 

Avro CF-105 - The Hawker Siddeley group owned two of the seven companies competing firectly for F.155T. (Hawker and Armstrong Whitworth). But A V Roe Canada, a third HSG firm, was also working on an aircaft which it thought would meet the specifactions. 

Supersonic Bombers: Replace V-Bombers. With improvements to Soviet air defences it was thought going higher and faster was the way to go. But with the launch of Sputnik and the shooting down of the U-2 spy plane put paid to any ideas of that. Instead going below, the radar would become the norm.

Avro 730 - It was a planned Mach 3 reconnaissance aircraft and strategic bomber that was being developed by Avro Aircraft for the RAF. It had been originally envisioned as a very high-speed aircraft to perform aerial reconnaissance missions, conforming with the requirements of Air Ministry Specification OR.330. Avro subsequently decided to modify the design of the proposed 730 in order to accommodate its arming with nuclear weapons; this change therefore meant that the type would be able to perform the nuclear weapons delivery mission as well, which had been called for under Air Ministry Specification RB.156T which sought a high speed reconnaissance-bomber aircraft.

EE.P10 - An interesting concept for a reconaisance/bomber aircraft. It had an integrated Ramjet wing (12 burners on each wing spread over half the span) with turbojets at the roots to provide takeoff power and acceleration through Mach 1.2. Designed to fly at Mach 3 at 90k feet.


During the 1960s an operating concept of air mobility and quick reaction using vertical or short take-off and landing (V/STOL) were studied. Partly as a response to counter Warsaw and Soviet armies in case of war breaking out. Also, it was put forward as an alternative to aircraft carriers East of Suez. In 1964 both the RAF and the Royal Navy lost in the defence review to the treasury though it may a been a slight blessing in disguise because there are doubts if Britain could afford these new aircraft projects which were the state-of-art at that time and new large aircraft carriers. 

TSR-2 - It was a cancelled Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft developed by the BAC for the RAF in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The TSR-2 was designed to penetrate a well-defended forward battle area at low altitudes and very high speeds, and then attack high-value targets in the rear with nuclear or conventional weapons. Another intended combat role was to provide high-altitude, high-speed stand-off, side-looking radar and photographic imagery and signals intelligence, aerial reconnaissance. Some of the most advanced aviation technology of the period was incorporated in order to make it the highest-performing aircraft in the world in its projected missions. 
The TSR-2 was the victim of ever-rising costs and inter-service squabbling over Britain's future defence needs, which led to the controversial decision to scrap the programme in 1965. With the election of a new government, the TSR-2 was cancelled due to rising costs, in favour of purchasing an adapted version of the General Dynamics F-111, a decision that itself was later rescinded as costs and development times increased. The replacements included the Blackburn Buccaneer and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, both of which had previously been considered and rejected early in the TSR-2 procurement process. Eventually, the smaller swing-wing Panavia Tornado was developed and adopted by a European consortium to fulfil broadly similar requirements to the TSR-2.

Hawker Siddeley P.1154 - It was a planned V/STOL fighter aircraft designed by Hawker Siddeley Aviation. 
Developed alongside the subsonic and smaller Hawker Siddeley P.1127/Kestrel. This Mach 2-capable design used plenum chamber burning. Although the technical winner of eleven submissions, follow-on testing and production for the P.1154 did not proceed as a result of political strife.
Meanwhile, Hawker Siddeley considered modifying the airframe for a joint specification for an aircraft by the RAF and Royal Navy. Between 1961 and 1965 the two services harmonised their specifications to preserve design commonality. However, the RAF's desired configuration was to take precedence over that of the Royal Navy's. A number of proposals were submitted – at one stage, a twin-Spey design was considered, then rejected. Following the Labour government's coming to power the project was cancelled in 1965. The Royal Navy would acquire the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, while the RAF continued to foster development of the P.1127, leading to the successful Harrier Jump Jet family.

Armstrong Whitworth AW/HS.681 - The Armstrong Whitworth AW.681, also known as the Whitworth Gloster 681 or HawkerSiddeley HS.681, was a projected long-range STOL military transport aircraft design of the early 1960s by Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft and was to be capable of development to VTOL performance. Designed to replace the Beverley and Hastings transport aircraft when the Labour government cancelled it, they chose the Lockheed Hercules instead. 

Hypersonic research has come full circle first as studies in the 60s as they aimed to continue trend for higher flying and faster aircraft. This research was eventually shelved but work done on ramjets, materials and aerodynamics would be used on other projects including missiles and led to BAe gaining contractual work for NASA on the Space Shuttle program. Within the recent years BAe Systems have building on work done by Reaction Engines. With the recent showcase of the Hypersonic Response Plane though it is unlikely to become an operational aircraft.

English Electric P.42 – These were a series of research studies for hypersonic vehicles in four distinct categories, which hinted at potential operational roles without being too specific. These were: long-range high-speed cruise aircraft; recoverable launcher; boost-glide vehicles; and space planes. Pictured is the P.42 Scheme 4 EAG 3280, powered by enigmatic Rolls-Royce ‘O’-type engines, most likely to have been turbo-rockets.

TSR-2 Replacement Studies –The fighter-bomber P.42, the EAG 4426 design for Mach 4 strike aircraft. A half-scale version was also considered as for use on aircraft carriers. 

Hawker Siddeley 1034S Fighter – One of the design responses from the Kingston company into hypersonic designs. A future Mach 4 fighter designed for the strike/reconnaissance role. 

BAe Systems Hypersonic Response Plane – A concept that is based around the Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine (SABRE) by Reaction Engine’s Ltd, which Bae have invested in. Bae describe the concept as supporting future armed forces with rapid response aircraft capable of hypersonic speeds, which would allow them to reach their targets quickly and the deploy their payloads. The same plane has also been shown to demonstrate the idea of the Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL) to enable surveillance from extremely long distances, using the Earth’s atmosphere as a tool. 


The projects here are broader in scope or at least timescale with the cold war draw down leading to extended times for projects to come to fruition and for replacements to be considered. 

Sea Harrier FA2/Harrier GR.9– The replacement these aircraft go back to late 80s but in 1994 the UK decided to join the USA in developing a common fighter to replace the cast of in-service aircraft which would have 3-varients a land-based, carrier-based and a STOVL version. Eventually, Lockheed Martin won with the F-35 which is slowing coming into service. Also, it’s interesting to note the BAe proposed a final assemble line to be built in the UK for the aircraft. It was not taken up by the UK government. At the beginning of the program there were 3 designs from Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and a joint BAe/McDonnell Douglas. The Flight Global and Aviation Week online archives are good places to read-up on these designs. 

Phantom FGR.2(retired beginning 90s)/ SEPECAT JaguarTornado F3 - Eurofighter Typhoon– Originally the Typhoon was meant to replace during the 90s the Phantom and Jaguar in their respective roles and serve alongside the Tornado. But with the end of the cold war and the peace dividend the Phantom was retired without replacement and instead the Typhoon replaced the Tornado and the Jaguar. 
TheTempest/Future Combat Air System is planned to replace the Typhoon at point from 2035 onwards. Designed to be more capable, connected, flexible, upgradeable and affordable. It will aim to act as a ‘force multiplier’, interoperating with a wide range of other civil and military platforms and services across air, land, sea, space and cyber domains – as well as unmanned systems.

Tornado GR4FOAS– Originally the FOAS was planned to replace the Tornado but was cancelled. The strike and reconnaissance role it served has been replaced by a combination of the Typhoon, F-35 Lightning II and the MQ-9 Reaper which will be replaced the Predator B. Though the work on FOAS was not wasted since it helped inform the Tempest design and also Taranis which may at some point have a version that will enter RAF service as an operational aircraft.
Taranis - It is an unmanned combat aircraft system advanced technology demonstrator programme. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the Taranis concept aircraft represents the pinnacle of UK engineering and aeronautical design. The aircraft was designed to demonstrate the UK’s ability to create an unmanned air system which, under the control of a human operator, is capable of undertaking sustained surveillance, marking targets, gathering intelligence, deterring adversaries and carrying out strikes in hostile territory.

Nimrod MRA.4 - The BAE Systems Nimrod MRA4 was a planned maritime patrol and attack aircraft intended to replace the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod MR2. The rebuilt aircraft would have extended the operating life of the Nimrod fleet by several decades and significantly improved the aircraft by installing more efficient Rolls-Royce BR700 turbofan jet engines to almost double the flight range. The conversion of the flight deck to a digital glass cockpit would have simplified control operations and reduced crew requirements. New detection systems were to be installed, as well as additional weapons for anti-submarine warfare. Cancelled due to many issues related to costs increasing, difficult of refurbishment and other problems. BAe did note at the start of the project that going for a complete new built aircraft instead of refurbishing while would cost more initially would better for the long run and would have allowed them to compete for export orders. Though they also said a minimum of 25 aircraft would need to be ordered and no less for it to be cost-effective. 


British Secret Projects 1 - Jet Fighters since 1950 by Tony Buttler
British Secret Projects 2 - Jet Bombers since 1949 by Tony Buttler
British Secret Projects 5 - Britain's Space Shuttle by Dan Sharp
On Atlas's Shoulders - RAF Transport Projects Since 1945 by Chris Gibson
RAF - Secrets Jets of Cold War Britain by Dan Sharp


Popular posts

Balancing functionality, usability and security in design

Personal Interest - Unbuilt fleets of the Royal Navy