“ When I want to stop feeling inadequate, I think of pole vaulters. Most of us don’t want to be found out to be rubbish, so we stick to the things we’re good at. But pole vaulters, whose only job is to vault over a pole, repeatedly don’t…their only job” Armando Iannucci
I love the incapable and that’s why I love the Bristol 188. Britain’s ‘SR-71’, was a ‘double-barrelled’ monster made to explore prolonged flight at over Mach 2.6. Aluminium cannot tolerate the heats experienced at such high speeds, so what material should be used?
Faced with the same problem, the US chose titanium for the triumphant SR-71 Blackbird.
Britain had better ideas, and built the 188 from far heavier stainless steel. Instead of adapting the powerful Olympus engine, the rather weedy Gyron was selected.
It didn’t fly until 14 April 1962 (twelve days before the Lockheed A-12, precursor to the SR-71). The 188 proved barely able to get to Mach 2, let alone flying for extended periods at 2.6. Since its commission in 1954 the project had become the most expensive British research aircraft ever made. It failed to carry out its only job.
Alexander Shchemelev is an engineering historian
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