The ten worst British military aircraft

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The Supermarine Swift was a deeply flawed fighter, but was saved from this list by its more successful career in reconnaissance.

If you want something done slowly, expensively and possibly very well, you go to the British. While Britain created the immortal Spitfire, Lancaster and Edgley Optica, it also created a wealth of dangerous, disgraceful and diabolical designs. These are just ten plucked from a shortlist of thirty.  In defining ‘worst’- we’ve looked for one, or a combination, of the following: design flaws, conceptual mistakes, being extremely dangerous, being unpleasant to fly, or obsolete at the point of service entry (and the type must have entered service). Grab a cup of tea, and prepare for ire as you read about ten machines they wanted your dad, grandad or great grandad to fly to war.

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10. Blackburn Beverley

‘The Beverly Hellbilly’
flying dukw

A Beverley gives birth to a cub. Initially born with six wheels, the wings only develop after sexual maturity.

A mere year separates the service entry of the Beverley (1955) and the US’ C-130 Hercules (1956), yet sixty years later one of these is still the best tactical transport – serving with many air forces around the world- and the other only exists in the form of a single lonely museum piece standing in the cold in a village near Hull. There’s a reason for this.
 The Beverley had four Bristol Centaurus capable of generating a total of 11,400 horsepower pulling a fully loaded Beverley weighing 135,000 lb; the C-130A had a maximum weight of 124,200 lb and had 15,000 of turboprop horsepower to move it. The Centaurus also powered the abysmal Firebrand, pitiful Buckingham and the technically brilliant (but conceptually wrong-headed) Brabazon- and, for the sake of fairness, the Sea Fury. Lockheed threw vast resources at getting the Hercules right (so much so that Kelly Johnson thought the project would sink the whole company), whereas Blackburn used warmed-up World War II technology and a dawdling development time to produce an aircraft that was at best mediocre and which did its own small part in teaching the world that America was better at making aeroplanes.
Bev

In defence of the Beverley it performed well in austere conditions and could be procured without spending foreign currency reserves. (Thanks to Jon Lake)

 

9. Supermarine Scimitar

‘Red Beard’s scabbard’
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Take an aircraft so dangerous that is statistically more likely than not to crash over a twelve year period- and arm it with a nuclear bomb. Prior to this, ensure one example crashes and kills its first Commanding Officer, infront of the press. There you have the Scimitar. Extremely maintenance heavy, an inferior fighter to the Sea Vixen and a worse bomber than the Buccanneer; the Scimitar was certainly not Joe Smith’s finest moment. It was the last FAA aircraft designed with an obsolete requirement to be able to make an unaccelerated carrier take-off, and as a result had to have a thicker and larger wing than would otherwise be required. Only once did a Scimitar ever make an unassisted take-off, with a very light fuel load and no stores, and then just to prove that it could be done

Read The 11 Worst X-Planes here
8. Panavia Tornado F.Mk 2
‘The Timcat’
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“Don’t worry sir, I hear the Flankers are not too agile with full tanks”

The Tornado interceptor was a very British development of an international aircraft. In the 1970s the British Aircraft Corporation pushed heavily for an interceptor variant of the Tornado (a ground attack aircraft). The government and partner nations were sceptical that this project would be the low-cost, low-risk, high-performance fighter promised, so BAC massaged the facts a little, deliberately understating what a huge undertaking it would be. Essentially they took a heavy airframe optimised for low-level flight, with engines optimised for low-level flight, with a radar optimised for attacking ground targets from low-level flight, and attempted to turn it into an interceptor intended to attack bombers at medium and high altitudes. To add to the fun, it was decided to develop an extremely ambitious new radar, despite Britain not having created an advanced fighter radar since the Lightning’s 50s technology AI23 (the Sea Harrier’s Blue Fox was a low-performance set derived from a helicopter system). Despite its ‘F’ designation, and the euphemistic ‘interim’ description, the F.Mk 2 did not have a functioning radar and lacked several other vital components for a modern fighter. The centre of gravity issues caused by the absent radar were solved with a large chunk of concrete ballast satirically dubbed the ‘Blue Circle radar’ after a cement brand (the nature of this ballast was probably apocryphal – see comments section). Despite the Tornado’s terrible high altitude performance and poor agility, huge amounts of money and time led to the F.Mk 3 – which eventually matured into a capable weapon system. Quite how many F-15Cs could have been bought for the cost of the Tornado Air Defence Variant programme is a question many RAF crews moaned to themselves as they struggled to refuel at altitudes higher than the Post Office Tower.
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7. Gloster Javelin
‘It’s not time for T’
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It takes a special kind of genius to make an aircraft with a delta wing and one of the highest thrust-to-weight ratios of its generation subsonic, but that’s what Gloster did. The Javelin entered service in 1956, the same year as the dreadful Convair F-102, but even the disappointing American fighter would have smashed the Javelin in a drag race. After a mere twelve years in service, the RAF dropped the type. Unsurprisingly no export orders were received for the ‘Tripe triangle’.
6. Blackburn Firebrand
‘Fleet evil’

Blackburn-B-37-Firebrand-3.jpgThe story of the Firebrand torpedo fighter is a rotten one. The specification for the type was issued in 1939, but it was not until the closing weeks of the war that it began to enter service. Despite a luxiuriously long development, it was an utter pig, with stability issues in all axes and a tendency to lethal stalls. There was a litany of restrictions to try and reduce the risks, including the banning of external tanks, but it still remained ineffective and dangerous to fly. Worse still, instead of trying to rectify the problems the FAA started a witch hunt of those pilots who dared to speak the truth about the abysmal Firebrand. Only two Firebrand squadrons formed, of which the flying complement was heavily, if not entirely made up of qualified flying instructors, suggesting only the most experienced pilots could be trusted with this unforgiving monster.

5. de Havilland Sea Vixen

‘Vixen vapour rub’

Vixen2

The observer sat below and to the right of the pilot in what London estate agents would refer to as a spacious luxury living area; he sat in a cramped space in virtual darkness in a ‘coal hole’ notoriously difficult to escape from.

The Royal Navy’s Sea Vixen fighters were death traps. 145 Sea Vixens were built, of these 37.93%.were lost over the type’s twelve-year operational life. More than half of the incidents were fatal. The Sea Vixen entered service in 1959 (despite a first flight eight years earlier), two years later than the US Navy’s Vought F-8 Crusader. The F-8 was more than twice as fast as the Sea Vixen, despite having 3,000Ibs less thrust. The development of the Sea Vixen had been glacial. The specification was issued in 1947, initially for an aircraft to serve both the FAA and the RAF. The DH.110 prototype first flew in 1951, and one crashed at the Farnborough the following year. This slowed down the project, which was then put on hold as the DH and the RN focused on the alternative DH.116 ‘Super Venom’. Once the project became prioritised again, it was substantially redesigned to fully navalise it. Then when the Royal Navy gave a firm commitment, it requested a radar with a bigger scanner and several other time-consuming modifications. All of which meant it arrived way too late- its peer, the F-8 remained in frontline service until 2000, its other contemporary, the F-4, remains in service today- the Sea Vixen retired in 1972. Fifty-one Royal Navy aircrew were killed flying the Sea Vixen.

Vixen_catapult

4. Saro Lerwick
‘Fat boy swim’
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Despite possessing a decidedly cuddly aesthetic the Lerwick was a killer, difficult to handle in the air or on the water and a miserable combat aircraft. Recommended to be scrapped in 1939, the Lerwicks were pressed into service due to the lack of any alternative and of 21 built, 11 were lost, 10 in accidents and one simply disappeared. Its main problems were the old chestnuts of lack of power coupled with an inexplicable lack of stability. The Lerwick could not be flown hands-off, a serious flaw for a long range patrol aircraft nor could it maintain height on one engine. It was prone to porpoising on landing and take off and possessed a vicious stall. Added to this structural concerns (the floats regularly broke off) and a woefully unreliable hydraulic system and it is amazing that the diminishing number of Lerwicks managed to remain in use until the end of 1942.
3. Blackburn Botha
‘Botharation’
Blackburn_Botha_at_RAF_Silloth_WWII_IWM_CH_1907
Another great Blackburn design, the Botha was damned from a chronic lack of power. Its poor performance meant it was never to enter service in its primary role as a torpedo bomber. Had that been all it would have been nothing worse than an obscure mediocrity but Blackburn had cleverly made it extremely difficult to actually see out of the aircraft except dead ahead. This posed something of an issue for an aircraft now intended for reconnaissance and the Botha was supplanted by the Anson, which it had been supposed to replace. Passed to training units the Botha’s vicious handling traits conspired with its underpowered nature to produce a fantastic amount of accidents. Yet somehow it soldiered on until 1944 and a terrifying 580 were built.
2. Blackburn Roc
‘Death metal Roc’
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The Roc was a fairly innocuous flying machine, however as an example of the wrong concept applied to the wrong airframe to produce a useless combat aircraft it is hard to beat. The ‘turret fighter’ that was so inexplicably popular in Britain just before the war was most memorably realised in the Boulton Paul Defiant, an extremely well-designed machine (considering) that did surprisingly well given that it had to lug around a draggy, heavy turret to no good purpose. The Roc by contrast was lumbered with a massively over-engineered airframe – a legacy of its being derived from a dive bomber – had a less powerful engine and was over 100 mph slower. How an aircraft that could not attain 200mph was expected to survive, let alone fight, in 1940 is one of the enduring mysteries of the early war period, as is the fact that its only confirmed ‘kill’ was a Ju 88, one of the world’s fastest bombers.
1. Blackburn ‘Twin Blackburn’ or ‘TB’
‘The conjoined flip-flop’
BlackburnTB2
Apparently named after a disease, the TB was a bad aircraft that could not perform the one task it was designed for and thus set a precedent for many Blackburn designs to come. The Twin Blackburn nevertheless saw service for a year or so before it was finally put out of its misery and all nine examples were scrapped. Intended to destroy Zeppelins, the floatplane TB was supposed to climb above them and drop explosive Ranken darts on any insolent dirigibles foolish enough to approach its precious airspace. Unfortunately, the poor underpowered Twin Blackburn was unable to drag itself to airship operating altitude, even after its deadly cargo of explosive darts had been cut by two thirds. Furthermore the structure, which consisted of nothing more complicated than a couple of B.E.2 fuselages lashed together with a new set of wings and a vast amount of hope triumphing over experience, was not very rigid and the action of warping the wings flexed the poor TB so much it could end up turning in the opposite direction. The observer sat in one fuselage, the pilot in the other and communication was impossible except through waving, presumably to prevent either expressing to the other their true opinions of the designer of this radical machine. As if tumblr_inline_nj1wv8FNHO1t90ue7that were not enough, the wooden floats were mounted directly below the rotary engines. Rotaries drip out a lot of oil and as a result the TB’s floats would often catch fire. It would be nice to say that despite all this the TB inspired the fantastic Twin-Mustang but of course it didn’t.

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Thanks to all those whose offered opinions. Special thanks to David Donald, Jon Lake, Bill Sweetman, Sunho Beck, Actuarius and Matt Willis. Apologies to Jon Lake for including the Beverley.

Have a look at 10 Best fighters of World War II top WVR and BVR fighters of today, an interview with a Super Hornet pilot and a Pacifist’s Guide to Warplanes. Was the Spitfire overrated? Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read, as is The Strange Story and The Planet Satellite. The Fashion Versus Aircraft Camo is also a real cracker. Those interested in the Cold Way should read A pilot’s guide to flying and fighting in the Lightning. Those feeling less belligerent may enjoy A pilot’s farewell to the Airbus A340. Looking for something more humourous? Have a look at this F-35 satire and ‘Werner Herzog’s Guide to pusher bi-planes. In the mood for something more offensive? Try the NSFW 10 best looking American airplanes, or the same but for Canadians. 

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53 comments

  1. elleetoo

    I bet that you back your dartboard with remaindered copies of the Puttnam ‘Blackburn Aircraft since 1909’.

  2. ghostwhowalksnz

    The Bristol centaurus was no better or worse than any of the US air cooled radials from the end of the war.
    And for the poor Beverley :
    The takeoff run at full load was given as 790 yards, the landing run at full load, 310 yards, try that Hercules!
    A more comparable plane would be the Douglas C-124 Globemaster as the first flight of the Beverley was back in 1950 just after the C-124 in 1949.
    Cant have been such a big deal making a low level strike aircraft into an interceptor as McDD did the reverse with the F-15C to turn it into the F-15E, and still with its high altitude f100 engines.
    Then again the F3 wasnt designed as an air superiority fighter like the F15, but a long range patroller to intercept Tu22/Su24/Tu95 type bombers. A bit easier to go after Tu95 dont you think?
    Im sure if the F15 was suitable they would have bought it ( the F14 was more to their liking with its 2 seats, the F15 could carry the extra seat but it would have to be major redesign operationally and with less fuel)
    Of course the Uk had development problems, often the US was worse but they threw tons of money at their problems ( and still do but the $ have an extra 0 behind the billions)

    • Hush Kit

      Thanks Ghost,
      So many points to respond to, I’ll do my best.
      “The Bristol centaurus was no better or worse than any of the US air cooled radials from the end of the war.” Nor do I claim it was.
      “And for the poor Beverley :
      The takeoff run at full load was given as 790 yards, the landing run at full load, 310 yards, try that Hercules!
      A more comparable plane would be the Douglas C-124 Globemaster as the first flight of the Beverley was back in 1950 just after the C-124 in 1949.” It was not available for actual use until around the time of the C-130; the C-130 and Beverley are close peers in terms of when they actually entered service.
      “Cant have been such a big deal making a low level strike aircraft into an interceptor as McDD did the reverse with the F-15C to turn it into the F-15E, and still with its high altitude f100 engines.” This does not follow, historically it has proven much easier to turn a fighter into a bomber than vice versa, there are a couple of exceptions, but generally this holds true.
      “Then again the F3 wasnt designed as an air superiority fighter like the F15, but a long range patroller to intercept Tu22/Su24/Tu95 type bombers. A bit easier to go after Tu95 dont you think?” Do you think the F-15C would have not performed this magnificently well? This has been proven in the real world. Chasing Tu-22Ms and Tu-160s at medium and high altitude with a high wing loading and low thrust-to-weight ratio cannot be the best way to do it (at the risk of appealing to authority, ask the crews). Arguably, ADV’s advantage was in operating independently at long-ranges in heavy ECM- this it may have had the edge on but it’s hard to imagine crews not wishing they were in F-15s. Note Russia’s interest in long-range escort fighters and you’ll see the concept of an unagile interceptor may have been the wrong one.
      “Im sure if the F15 was suitable they would have bought it ( the F14 was more to their liking with its 2 seats, the F15 could carry the extra seat but it would have to be major redesign operationally and with less fuel)” This calls in to question whether the UK’s requirement was right. Not only would the Eagle have been able to do a good job of protecting the UK in the 1982-1992 timeframe (the Tornado was not viable until 1990, arguably later) – the F-15C, with its many updates, remains viable today against any operational ‘threat’ aircraft (look how many nations have withdrawn it from frontline service compared to those of the ADV).
      “Of course the Uk had development problems, often the US was worse but they threw tons of money at their problems ( and still do but the $ have an extra 0 behind the billions)” Absolutely, and this will be covered in the forthcoming Worst US aircraft article coming. Thanks for your response, I hope I have answered your queries. HK

      • Bruce

        I partly agree with both of you on the F3/F15 debate.

        The Tornado airframe/engine combo was definitely a bad choice for a fighter, even an interceptor. In addition, the Tornado was simply too small for both roles with the RAF. To give it the range & capability they needed, they had to hang far too much fuel & avionics on the outside, ruining it’s otherwise excellent aerodynamics. And the avionics design was made more expensive & time consuming because they had to be crammed into such a tight weight/space margin – hence the F3’s delayed entry to service. But once it was brought up to spec, the F3’s weapons system was excellent for taking on bombers in the heavy jamming BVR regime.

        As for the F15, the 1970’s was too soon to be using a single seat aircraft for difficult BVR engagements IMO. To try & give it this capability, it had a massively complex & expensive weapons system. Yet I’ve heard it described by pilots who flew early F15’s as “barely better then the radar/WS on the EE Lightning”. OK, this was probably just bar talk, but I think it’s fair to say that the F15 would have performed poorly in BVR engagements against a bomber with capable jamming systems. Even against aircraft with minimal jamming capability in GW1, pilots often opted to use Sidewinder instead.

        F14 would probably have been the best choice for the interceptor role, but it was considered unaffordable. Perhaps an ideal “what if” would have been to scale the Tornado around a Spey-sized engine rather than developing the smaller RB199. More range, better payload, cheaper avionics, less stuff hanging off the outside …… but that’s just fantasy talk 😦

        I love your website BTW. I’ve never commented here before but I often drop by to read your interesting + amusing opinionated rants 🙂

  3. Grahame Wills

    The Beverley, Sea Vixen and Javelin may have been less than state-of-the-art, but they did useful work. I always rather liked the Scimater as a big, gutsy aeroplane – I remember seeing a fabulous display at the 1959 Farnborough show (can’t remember the squadron). However, I wouldn’t like to fly in one! I would also suggest the Short Seamew, although I don’t think that actually entered service. As usual, an interesting and thought-provoking article.

  4. Robert Scott

    This was a totally unnecessary and disgusting comment: “Prior to this, ensure one example crashes and kills its first Commanding Officer, infront of the press”

  5. Actuarius

    I have been asked to share my observations on the crew dynamic for the Sea Vixen:
    The Observer is Jeeves toiling away in the dark, unappreciated and with little recognition as he discretely ensures that things turn out as they should. The pilot is Bertie Wooster, head stuck up out the fuselage surveying all around him with genial bewilderment and getting into all sorts of scrapes. The analogy can be extended further as I suspect many an Observer had something to say about his pilot’s socks.

  6. AndrewZ

    “how many F-15Cs could have been bought”

    The main mission for the Tornado ADV was long-range patrols over the sea to intercept Soviet bombers as far away from Britain as possible. Surely the perfect choice for this requirement would have been a land-based variant of the F-14 with the AIM-54 Phoenix long-range missile?

      • Chris Holland

        With reference to the F15 as an alternative. I seem to remember reading somewhere that the RAF would need to have spent a lot more procuring extra tanker aircraft, compared with the Tornado ADV. The phrase actually used was that the ADV was the “most cost-effective solution”. Obviously, hindsight can tell you whether that was correct or not!

        The same vague memory also suggests that the AIM-54 was considered to be ‘too expensive’ or ‘too much’ missile for the RAF requirement?

  7. AndrewZ

    But would the F-14 have taken any longer to fix than the ADV? It was in production first and it would certainly have been cheaper since the US Navy had to make it work to meet their requirements, regardless of any export customers. It would have been a wise decision at the time to say “all advanced new aircraft need a long development time, so let the Yanks pay for this one”. But I suppose that “industrial policy” was paramount and that protecting jobs in the British aerospace industry meant that we had to have a home-grown solution no matter how slow and expensive the development process turned out to be.

  8. duker

    The Brits cant win. They turn a bomber into an interceptor but keep the same engine when you need more of a low BPR turbofan for the fighter role (almost a turbojet) and they are rubbished for that
    But when then do turn a fighter into a better bomber with the Spey turbofan on the F-4K Phantom, ideal sort of engine for that role, they get rubbished for losing some of the top speed at altitude ( hardly ever used.) but better attributes are ignored like higher takeoff thrust, better mid speed acceleration and better fuel economy
    The difficult part is their aviation writers were the worst offenders. Bill Gunston made a well published career out of rubbishing British planes for no good reasons.

    • Hush Kit

      Hi Duker, The powerplant of the Tornado ADV is worthy of criticism and note. I agree with you that the Spey Phantom had some good traits. I do not think your assessment of Gunston is fair. After reading your comment I looked through a couple of his books to check, and found he did not make a career “rubbishing British planes”. His success was a result of his vast knowledge, and his concise – and human- voice. His books, opinionated as they are at times, are far more enjoyable to read than many of the blander offerings from his peers. Many thanks for your response, HK

      • Grahame Wills

        Totally agree with your support of the great Bill Gunston, one of the best aviation writers we’ve produced. Like you I can find no evidence of him rubbishing the UK Aviation industry. On the contrary, he was lavish in his praise of such aircraft as the Harrier and Jaguar. If a project was bad or misconceived, he said so. The fact that an aircraft was developed in these islands doesn’t automatically make it good. We’ve produced more than our fair share of turkeys as your article pointed out. Bill did rubbish some political decisions, but that’s not quite the same thing.

    • drdjp

      From what I recall of a late 70’s RAeS talk at Warton (by a new BAC test pilot, formerly of an RAF Phantom squadron), the Spey Phantom’s real problem was transonic acceleration. The resizing of the back end for the bigger engine screwed up the area ruling, making transonic drag much higher. The airplane was actually better subsonic and in the heart of the supersonic region – it just took longer to get there.

    • Ian Campbell

      “The British! First they have a fighter that takes off vertically, now a rocket ship that takes off horizontally….” – French Minister for Aviation Industry, after being briefed in 1990 about BAe HOTOL air-breathing aerospace SSTO aircraft.

      I seem to remember RR Spey was pretty thirsty. Overall F-K, M was a redesign to provide Brit industry with input for a US-built aircraft, the first such procured since WWII & immediate postwar types. Tornado F2, F3 was to use existing MRCA IDS concept for a wholly-indig RAF ADV requirement, after French pulled out of MRCA & Ital & Ger decided to keep F-104s, F-4s, as neither had long over-water patrol & Air Def in GIUK to contend with. After the morass of the Sandystorm, Skybolt being cancelled by JFK, TSR2 being killed in favour of F-111K, F-111K itself then being cancelled, & the 10-year epic saga of RAAF’s F-111C wait, it’s easy to see why MoD & RAF went with what they had.
      As early as the 1950s Sir Sydney Camm of Hurricane, Hunter & Harrier fame said “modern aircraft have 4 dimensions: length, span, height, & politics.”
      Would F-14s have been affordable for the RAF even if its engine trouble was cured, by 1976, or 1980? Toms were so expensive USN’s own upgrades were delayed, with F-14B emerging slowly & F-14D comparatively briefly before retirement. Only the Iranians could afford them, not Israel or Saudi [each went with F-15, as did Japan, Korea, etc]

      As it was the RAF had to wait for RN FAA to get F-4Ks before it got F-4Ms, then for ex-FAA Buccaneers when no TSR2 successor emerged. Lightnings & Phantoms went soldiering on beside them as Harrier went on developing [largely on USMC & McDD money] until after the Cold War. Eurofighter has emerged, years late & probably highly effective, not that it has much threat by Cold War threat levels. As in all cases, militaries have to prepare for what might happen, not what will, or what already has.

  9. Keith Hayward

    I think you were too kind about the Swift. At nearly half a billion quid into day’s money it stands as in bronze medal position for UK’s worst military aircraft procurement programme. TSR.2 gets silver, with Nimrod (twice over) in gold. Admittedly we’re talking wasted money here not lives lost. Javelin correct on all counts!

    Keith Hayward

    • duker

      Yes the Swift was prematurely pushed into production, but only because the Hawker Hunter seemed to be a lemon. But even with priority their idea of development was leisurely. The Swift F2 problems were because they put 4 Adens on ( to match the Hunter) and that combination caused pitch up problems -eventually solved by a variable incidence tailplane. Then adding reheat before the A/B was properly developed meant it was no use as a high altitude fighter, so that was another development area not really solved by using the Hunter. The FR5 variant seemed to be OK which shows the airframe was by then OK, but the RAF loved the Hunter which was the original problem child. The end of the Korean war meant there was no money for large numbers of fighters.
      The list of US fighters of this era who were lemons was even longer, often the engine being the deciding factor.

    • duker

      When you think about a piston engined predecessor which when it first flew to a British specification was useful but had some pedestrian qualities only made it suitable for fighter reconnaissance ( which was the Swifts niche with about 95 FR5 built).
      Im talking of course about the superlative Mustang, which at first was used by US AAF as a ground attack/dive bomber!, but with a change of engine made it into the superlative aircraft its remembered as.

  10. pjstoddart

    With Blackburn providing five of the ten worst aircraft in the list you wonder how they stayed in business long enough to eventually build the Buccaneer. Bill Gunston commented in ‘Back to the Drawing Board’ on the number of Blackburn efforts he chose for that book (five candidates) but also pointed out that the company often attempted to meet rather demanding specifications. Often Britain spent a great deal of money developing aircraft of debatable value and then bought them in such small numbers as to send the unit price through the roof. The Belfast, whatever its merits, ended at ten units if I recall. The Javelin was built in surprisingly large numbers for its short life though it would have made more sense to have forced the RN/FAA and the RAF to use a common type – perhaps the Sea Vixen, ideally introduced years earlier than its eventual appearance. The Bristol Buckingham might be considered for the list on the grounds of its incredibly long design and development (why let a world war put pressure on you) resulting in an aircraft that was already surpassed when it got into service. Was the Scimitar built so as to keep Supermarine in business as opposed to meeting a genuine requirement? As it did go ahead, why not a two-seat version for the RAF to use as in the attack role (an early Bucc); its naval airframe would have withstood the low level buffeting and I would guess (I might be wrong) that its payload-radius would have exceeded the Hunter’s.

  11. John Griffiths (@Griffiths_John)

    My father enjoyed this article and I thought you’d appreciate the reminiscence it produced:

    “Ah, if you had ever seen them, who could have forgotten the distinctive form of the Beverleys, as they trundled across what was left of the Empire slightly faster than the prevailing winds, loaded in un-airconditioned discomfort with awkward sized loads, e.g. less than a full company of sweaty British soldiers. Try planning deployments to rebellious backwaters with that kind of logistics constraint!

    Ah, what memories!”

    • Andrew Campbell

      I saw a group of retiring Caribou fly over here in Australia just before they retired. I never knew the meaning of high level, low speed pass until then.

  12. Andrew Campbell

    The Tornado F2 was not fitted with concrete in the nose as ballast. It was a slab of metal bolted in pace with coolant couplings and plug breaks.

      • Andrew Campbell

        I served on 229 OCU as an Airframe mechanic from Jan 85 to Oct 86. The Sqn had 2 aircraft F2’s when I arrived, deliveries then commenced with all the F2’s then F3’s. Early aircraft arrived with ballast fitted and there were restrictions on opening radomes with the radar installed. I do remember a tabloid running an article about the aircraft having concrete installed and dubbing it Blue Circle.

      • Andrew Campbell

        Nothing that wasn’t routine aviation development. Developing and building aircraft is a complex process. While the ADV variant of the Tornado was not the best platform for turning a bomber into a fighter it did keep many people employed. Most new miltary aircraft suffer during development and intoduction to service at the hands of the press probably due to political intervention. However by the time they are retired from service they are all reported loyal servents of the nation.

      • Ian Campbell

        >> “Most new miltary aircraft suffer during development and intoduction to service at the hands of the press probably due to political intervention. However by the time they are retired from service they are all reported loyal servents of the nation….”

        F-111 series being a case in point, V-22 Osprey & F-35 series another. All incredibly ambitious programmes for multirole high-performance airframes across multiple services & even nationalities.
        One was the first supersonic variable-geometry nuc-tac-strike aircraft, recce & carrier-based fleet defence interceptor; one the first practical tilt-rotor full-range tactical transport & SpecForces support;
        the last: all possible eggs in one basket: composite structure, Network-driven warfighting, STOL-VTOL, fan-lift, thrust-vectoring, supersonic-cruise without afterburning, *and* Stealth. For USAF, USN & USMC, RAF & RN, RAAF, RCAF, IDF-AF, JASDF, & sundry customers yet to be disclosed, added, dropped or hypothesised. Of course there are going to be delays, rising costs, & maint & reliability issues.
        But no-one in the press was reminding us of F-111’s distastrous debut in Vietnam in 1968 when Aardvarks went PAVE-Tacking in Iraq in Mar. 1991, or tank-plinking with TV-guided ASMs.

        It’s a wonder no-one’s demanded F-35 be a flying submarine to boot, & then derided it for failing when it tried.

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  17. Peter Hardy

    Re the Bev, as a Q/Lodie on both Bevs and Hercs, you have looked at how fast and how far, disregarding the lift capability. The Bev could lift bigger items and land on rougher terrains. I would have thought the Argosy would have come bottom in a battle with he Bev and C130

  18. B J Turner

    Flew in the Beverly in Borneo, 5.5 towed gun and landrover plus’s gun crew. We were told that they only just cleared the end of the runway. But we were young then, big adventure.

  19. Gaz D

    An apocryphal tale of the Blackburn Botha has the Aircraft & Armament Experimental Establishment’s report on the aircraft containing the immortal line “…access to the cockpit is difficult, and it is recommended that it be made impossible . . .”

  20. Tom Beckett

    Admittedly, Blackburn did produce some pretty bad aircraft. However, they truly redeemed themselves by producing the greatest low level strike aircraft of its generation – the Buccaneer. In my eyes, that nullifies all the rubbish that came before (even though most of the time the manufacturers in the UK were hobbled by constant government ‘committee’ meddling and flip flopping.

    Even the aircraft that replaced the Buccaneer (the Tornado) was not as capable an airframe. Indeed, if they had simply fitted the Buccaneer with the Tornado avionics it would have been simply unbeatable as a low level strike aircraft. There was also a supersonic Buccaneer 2* mooted by Hawker Siddeley (who absorbed Blackburn) to fulfil the role that the RAF eventually decided they needed Tornado for, which would have proved a formidable air defence fighter if equipped with suitable avionics.

    • Hush Kit

      Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. Not sure that those who were killed by bad Blackburn aircraft would, if given the chance, have been prepared to lay down their life in preparation for a bomber that largely served in peacetime. The Buccaneer airframe was absolutely superb, despite the abysmally underpowered early variants, matured into an excellent aircraft. It was underinvested in- the comparable A-6, which was an inferior airframe, had a vastly better avionics suite. I agree that an updated Buccaneer could have remained capable for a long time. It suffered from a great deal of prejudice for being subsonic- though at loaded weights it was a fast as most at low-level. A supersonic version could have been a superb naval striker- though using it as a fighter seems a bit optimistic! Not sure I can name many outstanding T-tailed supersonic fighters. Thanks for your interesting comment, HK

  21. VSMUT

    I am afraid I disagree with some of the points made here. The Beverly, Javelin and Sea Vixen were indeed very late in coming into service. The flaw lay not so much in the aircraft though, but with the political indecision and bad management that mired the development and careers of almost all British aircraft of that era. The Javelin and Sea Vixen were both fine aircraft once they were completed. If the political will had been there, they could all have been developed and entered service 5-7 years prior to what they eventually did, in which case they wouldn’t have been so outdated.

    The bad safety record wasn’t limited to these types either. Almost all fighter aircraft back then were notoriously unsafe.

    On the Tornado ADV, I disagree that it was severely hampered by the lack of engine power. The Soviets were unlikely to send long range fighters so far out, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have had the fuel to properly engage a Tornado. Furthermore, none the of the Soviet long range fighters were very maneuverable themselves. Finally, the Tornado partner nations were still looking into replacing the RB199s with the Eurojet EJ200, then in development for the Eurofighter Typhoon. The EJ200 was virtually designed to fit in the Tornado with very few modifications required.

    • Hush Kit

      Hi VSMUT, thanks for getting in touch. I must dispute some of your points. A military aircraft must be judged on how capable it was operationally – not how capable it would have been if it had entered service earlier than it actually did. The rather terrible Tejas would be a wordclass superfighter if it had entered service in 1945 – but it did not. Comparing the Javelin to US aircraft that entered service in the same year is embarrassing to British aviation historians. The Sea Vixen’s safety record was bad – even for the time and type-happy to go through the numbers if you wish. The Beverley is a different case, and I’m happy to say I may have been a little harsh- but let me qualify its inclusion. The aircraft did pretty much what was asked of it operationally – but ask this: how many were produced? How many were exported? How good would a best-selling tactical transport have been for British industry? How many were lost? How long was it service life? Over a twelve year service life (compare this with its peers) over 20% of the fleet was lost (admittedly two through landmine/bombs)- including the terrible Sutton Wick air crash.

      Your point on the Tornado ADV is an unusual position, all ADV crew I have spoken to cite the lack of power at medium and high levels as a serious failing (see the interview with David Gledhill from a few weeks ago in Hush-Kit). Even without the need to fight in a within visual range merge, excess power is valuable for an beyond-visual range interceptor. The F-22 is designed to excel in BVR combat- is it moderately powered? No- it has a monstrously high thrust-to-weight ratio. The option of fitting EJ200s was considered and would have produced a rather exciting aircraft, perhaps comparable to a mini Super Tomcat. But again this re-engining did not happen in reality, so the parsnips remain decisively unbuttered. Thanks for the interesting comment, it’s always fun to try and justify an opinion. All the best, HK

  22. Glen Towler

    I am surprised the Fairy Battle isn’t in this list the worst plane to use a Rolls Royce Merlin engine ever. Or the Defiant the second worst to use a Merlin

  23. Les Jones

    I once travelled in eight hour “hops” from Cyprus to Oxford in a Blackburn Beverley freighter via Benghazi and Orange,France. The clamshell doors didn’t close all the way and so, without oxygen, we piddled along at about 10,000 feet in and out of claggy weather across Europe, lurching and shaking. The hold had about a dozen of us on canvas seats and two small trucks, hardly a profitable payload. 50 years later I still have no love for the horrible machine.

  24. tonyo262

    Sea Vixen…what? surely not…but…but…oh yeah, the slightly dodgy handling coupled with the thirst of a alcoholic who’s been ‘banged up for a stretch’… (as opposed to being banged out with compressed vertebrae).
    This latter inadequacy had its crews looking back wistfully over what little they could see of the tail after a successful cat shot and wondering how far they’d get before the empty light came on.

    But despite all that, It is a truly awesome beast in its post modern awesomeness-ness.
    Sir ‘enry Moore would have hacked something like this out of a lump of duralumin before elevenses and then gone off to the pub for a liquid lunch, satisfied that he’d made a decent fist of things.

    As a non aviation savvy friend pointed out, it looks like it was designed at the behest of George Lucas.

    And actress Kristen Scott Thomas’ ( The English Patient, Four Weddings and Funeral) father was killed in a Sea Vixen.

  25. Anthony Thornborough

    My father was a Navigator on Beverleys at RAF Abingdon when they were introduced to service. They flew slow enough for me, as a one year old tot, to successfully capture the essential Beverleyness on paper.

    I’d love to see a similar list of American post-war aircraft. I’ll kick off by nominating the Vought Cutlass.

  26. Scotty

    The Beverley is one I would describe as average rather than terrible, and I think with turboprop power it could have been a great. Part of the problem with it, and with many others developed in the 50s was that Britain was skint!! It was all done on a shoestring. My ideas were definately changed by “The Quick & The Dead” by Bill Waterton, which I was put on to after read James Hamilton-Pattersons book “Empire of the Clouds”. And of of course Winkles books….

  27. John C Kent

    I liked the comments about the Beverley – I had the misfortune to work on these at RAF Muharraq in 64-65, it was the only ‘plane that almost induced me to desert – I hated this heap, torquemeters were an abomination – 100 feet of capillary tubing from the fromt of the centre console to the engine (who dreamed up this moronic idea ?) changing a cylinder head temp. thermocouple meant removing both plugs and then putting cloth in the holes to stop the 2BA nut going in to the cylinder (engine change and much swearing from the engine fitters, pumping oil to the engines from the overload tanks, a technical abortion of an APU – no don’t laugh, it was a useless Ford ? V-4 that had been probably been rejected for car use. An aerodynamic design that even the great Rutan could not have dreamed up. Not only that try changing 144 plugs in the heat of Bahrain, then try changing the clam-shell doors for so-called “elephant ears” fairings for para dropping. Lastly it was lethal to anybody in the upper boom – toilet was at the rear and with the boom hatch open it was possible to exit the toilet and fall straight through the hatch, this idea had to ba hastily modified after someone was killed.

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