For aircraft enthusiasts: when the Royal Air Force flew stopgaps or were refused planes they deserved.


Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Dec 2, 2003
The Netherlands

Yeah, I guess everybody, even the ones who don't know a thing about aviation, knows this roundel or at least is aware of it existing. If only for the MOD culture adopting it in the sixties, and it has been plastered on clothing scooters and cars ever since.

The Who, with Keith Moon brandishing an RAF roundel on his sweater.

The Royal Air Force is the world's oldest independent Air arm which still survives today, having evolved from the Royal Flying corps into the RAF at the ending of the first world war in 1918. Throughout its existence, the RAF has flown some legendary planes.

But what also happened throughout its history is that it was flying stopgap hand-me-downs, of were DENIED what could have been some really groundbreaking planes. And that happened quite often, in fact it happened so many times that it makes one wonder what they hell those people in the UK Parliament were drinking, certainly not tea…


This is the Gloster Meteor, a first generation Jet fighter which was the only Jet on the allied side which saw action in the second world war. It was while I was reading up on the history of this jet that I came up with the idea for this thread.

Because as groundbreaking as the Meteor was, it quickly became apparent that it was hopelessly obsolete when conflicts such as the Suez Crisis and the Korean War saw it going into battle again. It simply couldn't compete with the more advanced types it was going up against, such as the MiG-15 and the IL-28 jet bomber, which were both faster and could fly higher than the Meteor could muster.

And after mock scramble interceptions against the English Electric Canberra (More about that later…) and the Boeing B-47 showed that even strapping on more powerful engines to the Meteor didn't make a difference, the writing was on the wall. But the RAF didn't have a replacement for the meteor yet, as both the Hawker Hunter and the Supermarine Swift were still in development and wouldn't be available for a couple of years. Leaving a serious gap in the RAF's capabilities.

And so, using the Mutual Defence Assistance Act, the RAF had to eat crow and got their hands on Off-the-shelf Canadian made F-86 Sabres to fill the gap. Which, although far superior to the meteor, was quite the compromise, certainly for an Air Force who prided themselves on flying indigenous types.

Here's something that not many people are aware of.

Yes, the RAF operated the B-29, naming theirs the “Washington.” Well, nothing wrong with that, right, the B-29 was a good plane, can't blame the RAF for adopting them.

Except for the fact that the RAF didn't WANT the Washington. Because, as the case was with the Sabre, it was an off-the shelf stopgap which was financed by that Mutual Defence Assistance Act I mentioned earlier. The Washington entered service because the Avro Lincoln, which was a development of the famous Lancaster Bomber was readily obsolete and the types that were developed to replace it weren't ready yet.

Regardless, the Washingtons soldiered on until the mid-fifties when they were replaced by the English Electric Canberra jet bomber. The RAF wasn't shedding any tears when the Washington bowed out.

Ah yes, the Canberra one of the very few times that the UK got it so right that even the USAF bought it and the type is still flying today.

But seeing how fast technology was continuing to advance, the RAF and the Ministry of Defence were already looking at a replacement and as impressive as the Canberra was, the intention was to take it up a notch. All the way to 11, that's one louder, innit?

Yeah, I guess all the propeller heads will be shuddering when they see the unmistakable shape of the TSR-2. Even almost 60 years later, people are still going, “They shouldn't have cancelled that one.”

So what was the deal?
Well, that all started before TRS-2 even flew, when the infamous 1957 “White Paper” issued by Minister of defence Duncan Sandys stated that guided, surface-to-air missiles were the future of aerial warfare, what do you need manned aircraft for? Senior RAF officers argued against the White Paper's premise, stating the importance of mobility, and that the TSR-2 could not only replace the Canberra, but potentially the entire V-Force bomber fleet. It had THAT much capability.

But another thing that came up were the development costs of the TSR-2, which were running over budget. (Which again is something you will see coming up again in this thread…) Which caused the people in power to get cold feet. The Chief of the defence staff at the time was the famed former Chief of Naval staff, Lord Mountbatten, a WW2 veteran, who was championing the Blackburn Buccaneer to enter RAF service. Because, “One could buy five Buccaneers for the price of one TSR-2!”

The USA was also offering the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark as an off-the shelf option for the RAF to buy when the Canberra was to be replaced. Both the Buccaneer and the Aardvark, as impressive as they were, couldn't hold a candle to the TSR-2's performance or service ceiling. As both were designed to be low level strike aircraft, not high-flying supersonic, tactical strike and reconnaissance platforms.

In the end, Lord Mountbatten got his wish, the RAF began flying the Blackburn Buccaneer. But not in the way he envisioned. Because in order to get the air frames, the Royal Navy had to phase out their aircraft carriers, which made the Buccaneers available.

Even more bitter, was that it took twenty years with the Panavia Tornado that the RAF finally got the supersonic jet bomber they were denied when the TSR-2 was cancelled.

So, am I done? Oh no, there's more and this time it's about THIS plane…

The Hawker Siddeley Nimrod, maritime patrol aircraft. Developed from the DeHavilland Comet airliner, the Nimrod was a tough and dependable air frame which replaced the Avro Shackleton and gave RAF's coastal command a capable and well liked plane.

Serving for over 30 years, the Nimrod was a great asset, not only in Cold War duties, but also in search and rescue missions, many sailors regarded the Nimrod a very welcome sight indeed.

Having mentioned the fact that the Nimrod replaced the Shackleton in the Maritime patrol role, it was logical that the Nimrod could replace the Shackleton in the airborne early warning role too. And thus the Nimrod was developed into a dedicated AEW platform.

The Nimrod AEW-3, might look ungainly but for the time it had the most advanced Radars that money could buy, and they certainly weren't cheap. Which meant running over budget and that, once again, led to people in the parliament getting cold feet.

So, the decision was made to buy off-the-shelf Boeing E-3 Sentry aircraft, which was an older design, lacked the capabilities of the Nimrod but was right there.

… Or was it?

It took over five years before the Sentry entered service, during which the Avro Shackleton continued to provide the airborne early warning duties. Which it had been doing for over 20 years by that point.

So the millennium comes around, and the Nimrod is getting tired and is in need of replacing, the boffins at British Aerospace go: “No problem, we have THIS!”

The Nimrod MR-4, which updates the design with a glass cockpit, more efficient engines (Note the larger intakes) and even more capabilities to do the Maritime Patrol duties. One ought to think that the politicians would be going “Ah, thanks lads, that will do nicely thank you very much!”

And once again those DREADED words show up, “Running over budget”

After six years of fine-tuning the design and ironing out all the kinks, the project was axed, and the decision was made, to once again…

— Drumroll please -

Buy Off-the-shelf aircraft, which in this case was the Boeing P-8 Poseidon, which again… lacked the capabilities of the Nimrod MR-4 and ended up costing more than the Nimrod MR-4.

AND because Boeing couldn't deliver the Poseidon air frames straight away, it left a NINE YEAR gap in the UK's Maritime patrol capability. So hastily converted Lockheed C-130 Hercules airframes were used as a stopgap, which again ended up costing more than the Nimrod MR-4.

Needless to say, those politicians who made that decision to cancel the Nimrod MR-4 found themselves, quite ironically, in rough seas. As an enquiry into the matter revealed that they never truly got into the matter and flushed £3.4bn down the drain with the cancellation.

Nimrod MR-4's being scrapped.
Last edited:


Friend of Leo's
May 8, 2019
I vaguely remember the fuss about the TSR-2 being cancelled. Only one ever flew?
There was a model kit, complete with roundels:


Oct 16, 2014
Oxfordshire England
Blazer, again great stuff and this time a subject close to my heart. I was in the RAF in the seventies at RAF Wyton. Famous WW11 base and we had PR9 Canberras and the top secret R1 Nimrod,, the electronic reconnaissance version. Great planes.

Not mentioned, but our Lightnings were replaced by Phantoms and now our Harriers have been replaced by F35s. Better aircraft maybe, but it has been the politicians who have destroyed our aircraft industry as you so clearly show.. A great shame.
Thanks Blazer.


Gold Supporter
Feb 12, 2011
I posted recently a seaplane festival. Those were cool too. Didn’t know they crawled up on land.

Bob Womack

Friend of Leo's
May 28, 2016
Between Clever and Stupid
A short muse will take you back to the fact that both the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire were privately, independently developed by concerned aircraft manufacturers during the time leading up to WWII because the government didn't see the need to fund the projects. Of course, on the other side of the pond, Boeing did the same with the B-17. They gambled their entire fortune on the plane because they could see that their country were going to need it.


In the 1980s I went to an airshow in the USA Mid-Atlantic and saw one of Britain's premiere stopgap aircraft, the Handley Page B.1A Victor Tanker. Well, it was just about as close a design to a guppy as you could ever have seen. It was converted from a bomber to a tanker after the demise of the previous stop-gap, the tanker mod of the Vickers Valiant bomber. The Victor stood in until tanker versions of the Vickers VC10 and Lockheed Tristar could be worked up. It was retired in 1993.

The crew door was "ducted." It opened on the port side, just ahead of the engine intake, and was hinged at the top. The door had side panels that forced the crew downwards if they had to bail out, instead of back into the engines. Yeah. Good idea. Not a joke, either.



Mar 22, 2022
One of my favourite English war invention names was 'Miss Shilling's orifice' 😂

A modification to the Spitfire's carburettor to stop flooding in a dive.

KeithDavies 100

May 19, 2021
Cambridge, UK
We could probably stick the Harrier in this thread. It's been phased out in British use, for reasons I've never understood, but was, and I believe still is, built in the US under licence and used by the US Marine Corps. It's short/vertical take-off and landing capabilities were of huge value in the Falklands War, and whilst that's obviously some time ago, we no longer have anything with that technology.

On the TSR2, my father always had a view that it was dropped under pressure from the Americans, to get the UK to buy US-made aircraft - the "sweetener" in the deal being access to US-built nuclear warheads without which the UK would have struggled to maintain its own nuclear deterrence. Might be nonsense - I have no idea. My dad wasn't in a position to have inside knowledge, but he was always interested in aviation technology and was well read, followed politics etc, so he may well have been on the right lines.

Complete digression, but I live just about ten miles from RAF Duxford, where the Battle of Britain Flight Spitfire(s?) is/are based. From the first good sunny day each spring, I'll catch the sound of an aero engine that sounds like a Ferrari compared to the little Cessnas up for flying lessons. Step outside and you get your own little airshow, as it is put through its paces, wheeling across the sky, the engine dropping almost out of earshot and then rising to thunder as its angle changes. Never fails to make me smile.


Oct 16, 2014
Oxfordshire England
The V bombers became obsolete overnight with the advent of the ground to air missile. The Valiant was scrapped first as the airframe could not take low level flying as well as the Victor and Vulcan. The Vulcan continued as a bomber until it was retired. The Victor was planned, and eventually converted into tankers but a flight of them were briefly used as photo reconnaissance aircraft at Wyton before being converted. 543 Squadron if memory serves.
Back in the day, us ground crew thought the idea of the three crew at the back of a Victor had no chance, much like those in the back of a Vulcan. I believe the crashes that did occur bears this out.


Friend of Leo's
Silver Supporter
Jan 18, 2010
Old England
A well-researched and balanced account of the British military aircraft industry's battles with politics... thanks Blazer!
I saw Nimrods many times - they were doing a lot of development work on the aircraft nearby at Woodford aerodrome in Cheshire and the aircraft would regularly overfly us...


Poster Extraordinaire
Apr 17, 2007
Big D
I love it when Politicians who have no idea of air combat flight or even flight for that matter make decisions for the best of the military aviation community.


Mar 8, 2022
Thank you, takes me back to when I was a child in Norfolk (UK) - we’d see Canberras occasionally, and English Electric Lightnings from RAF Coltishall (very exciting - they would sometimes break the sound barrier as they crossed the coast where we lived - the sonic boom would rattle the garage door).
And the RAF historic flight was also based at Coltishall in those days so we’d see Spitfires, Hurricanes and the Lancaster (my dad knew someone at the base who gave us a tour and we went inside the Lancaster - and also had a go on the flight simulator for the Jaguar which replaced the Lightning in the mid-seventies).
Anyway, nostalgia- I don’t recall the politics at the time other than the decision to scrap Nimrod was controversial. I think we have a history of not always getting it quite right- I believe the new aircraft carriers went into service carrying a compliment of 800 microwave ovens but no aircraft (that might not in itself be quite right).

Old Deaf Roadie

Friend of Leo's
Oct 11, 2017
Goonieville, OR
The Nimrod was an excellent ASW platform. As a P-3C sensor operator, I had the opportunity to fly with the Brits on a mission while deployed to Keflavik, Iceland aboard a Nimrod. We won the cold war using P-3's and Nimrods. The Brits were without airborne ASW for a bit, but are now acquiring Boeing P-8's.