Blackburn Buccaneer

Last update: 6 June 2017

Blackburn Buccaneer



The Blackburn Buccaneer was a British low-level, high-speed, carrier-borne strike aircraft designed in the late 1950's. For its day, Buccaneer was a highly advanced and tough aircraft, well suited for the demanding low level flying regime. When it entered service, the Buccaneer put Britain years ahead of the rest of the world in the technology of low level attack. It was produced in two main variants, the S1 and the much improved and more powerful S2, the latter serving with both the RN and RAF from 1965 to 1994.


With the ending of World War II, the Royal Navy found itself needing to respond to the emerging threat posed by the rapid expansion of the Soviet Navy, especially the large Sverdlov-class cruisers that were in production in the mid 1950s. As a counterbalance to this threat, the Royal Navy decided to introduce a specialized strike aircraft employing conventional or nuclear weapons and attacking at high speed and low level. A detailed specification (M.148T later known as NA.39) was issued in June 1952, calling for a two-seat ship borne strike aircraft with folding wings, capable of flying at 550kts at sea level and with a combat radius of 400 nautical miles at low-level. A weapons load of 8,000lbs was also required including conventional bombs, the "Red Beard" free-fall nuclear bomb or the "Green Geese" antiship missile.

Almost all of the major British aircraft manufacturing companies tendered for NA.39 specification but the award went to Blackburn's Project B.103 (YB.3 in the SBAC aircraft nomenclature system). The first prototype (XK486) made its maiden flight on 30 April 1958, just over two and half years after the order had been placed and exactly on schedule. Further pre-production aircraft (20 in total) followed over the next few years, testing flying characteristics, flight systems, weapons systems and carrier compatibility. The first production Buccaneer model, the Buccaneer S.1, entered squadron service with the Fleet Air Arm in January 1963. The original Buccaneer S.1 was rather underpowered by a pair of De Havilland Gyron Junior turbojets, and as a consequence it could not take-off fully loaded with both fuel and armament. A temporary solution to this problem was the "buddy system" that allowed Buccaneers to take off with a full load of weaponry and minimal fuel and refuel in flight with a Supermarine Scimitar. In January 1962, Hawker Siddeley announced the production order for the S.2 and all Navy squadrons had converted to the S.2 by the end of 1966. The use of Sprey turbofans in the Buccaneer S.2 provided 40% more thrust, improved the range and reduced the fuel consumption.

In 1957 RAF issued specification OR.339 in order to replace the Canberra light bombers. Blackburn proposed two designs, the B.103A, a simple modification of the Buccaneer S.1 with more fuel, and the B.108, a more extensively modified aircraft with more sophisticated avionics. Although Buccaneer was widely recognized as being the best in its class, the Royal Air Force refused to buy it, mainly on the grounds that it was not supersonic, and the TSR.2 was eventually selected in 1959. However, after the cancellation of the TSR.2, and then the substitute American F-111K, the RAF finally adopted the Buccaneer in 1968. A total of forty-six new-build aircraft came from Blackburn’s successor, Hawker Siddeley, designated S.2B. The new aircraft differed only in details from the FAA Buccaneers. Various carrier-specific features such as the catapult stop points were deleted, although the arrester hook and wing-fold facility were retained as still useful. S.2B's had RAF-type communications and avionics equipment, Martel ASMs, and could be equipped with a bulged bomb-bay door containing an extra fuel tank. RAF also took over the Fleet Air Arm’s Buccaneers as the carriers were retired. Some Fleet Air Arm Buccaneers were modified in-service to also carry the Martel anti-ship missile and were later re-designated S.2D. RAF aircraft were given various upgrades, and self-defense was improved by the addition of the AN/ALQ-101 ECM pod chaff and flare dispensers and the AIM-9 Sidewinder. In 1979, the RAF obtained the AN/AVQ-23E "Pave Spike" laser designator pods and Paveway laser guided bombs; allowing the aircraft to act as target designators for other Buccaneers, Jaguars and later Tornados. From 1986, No.208 Squadron and the then No.12(B) Squadron replaced the Martel ASM with the Sea Eagle missile. The Buccaneer was officially withdrawn from RAF service on 31 March 1994.


Early in 1963, the South African Air Force ordered sixteen Buccaneer. Designated S.50s, these aircraft were broadly similar to the S.2 aircraft but were fitted with a pair of Bristol Siddeley BS.605 rocket engines of 8,000 lb mounted behind the bomb bay. The additional boost enabled the aircraft to take off at maximum weight in hot weather conditions. The S.50 was also equipped with strengthened undercarriage and higher capacity wheel brakes, and had manually folded wings. They were also equipped to use the AS-30 air-to-surface missiles, in flight refueling probes and under-wing tanks.

Operational History

In 1983, six Buccaneer S.2s were sent to RAF Akrotiri base in Cyprus to support British peacekeepers in Lebanon as a part of Operation "Pulsator". The aircraft remained in Cyprus until March 1984 when they finally returned to RAF Lossiemouth.

The Buccaneer took part in combat operations during the 1991 Gulf War as part of Operation "Granby". The Buccaneers performed in the target designation role, for the Tornadoes. In all Buccaneers flew 218 missions during the Gulf War, in which they designated targets for other aircraft and dropped forty-eight LGBs. It had originally been planned for the Buccaneer to remain in service until the end of the 1990s, but the end of the Cold War stimulated major changes in British defense policy. In addition a number Tornado GR.1s were modified to use the Sea Eagle missile and took over the RAF’s maritime strike mission. The last Buccaneers were withdrawn early in March 1994 when 208 Squadron disbanded.

General Informations

Country of Origin:  United Kingdom
Manufacturer:Blackburn Aircraft
First flight:1958
First Delivery:1962
Total Production:211 
Landing gear:Tricycle (retractable)

Military Operators

Operators:2 countries
  •  South Africa
  •  United Kingdom


Variant: Buccaneer S.2
Crew: 2 (Pilot and Observer)
Length: 19.33 m (63 ft 5 in)
Height: 4.97 m (16 ft 3 in)
Wingspan: 13.41 m (44 ft 0 in)
Wing area: 47.82 m2 (514.7 sq ft)
Weight Empty: 14,000 kg (30,000 lb)
Weight Loaded: 28,000 kg (62,000 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 28,123 kg (62,000 lb)
Model: Rolls-Royce Spey Mk 101
Type: Turbofans
Number: 2
Max speed: 1,074.0 km/h (580.0 kn, 667.0 mph)
at 60 m (200 ft)
Range: 3,700 km (2,300 mi) (2,000 nmi)
Service Ceiling: 12,200 m (40,000 ft)
Wing Loading: 587.6 kg/m2 (120.5 lb/ft2)
Thrust/Weight: 0.36
  • 12 x 1,000 lb bombs
  • WE177 tactical nuclear weapon
  • rocket pods


Blackburn NA.39
Prototype and pre-production development aircraft.
Buccaneer S.1
Production model powered by De Havilland Gyron Junior 101 turbojet engines.
Buccaneer S.2
Development of the S.1 improvements, powered by the Rolls-Royce Spey turbofan engines
Buccaneer S.2A
Modified Royal Navy S.2 aircraft for RAF.
Buccaneer S.2B
Variant of S.2 for RAF squadrons with increased capability for anti-radar or anti-shipping missiles.
Buccaneer S.2C
Royal Navy aircraft upgraded to S.2A standard.
Buccaneer S.2D
Royal Navy aircraft upgraded to S.2B standard, operational with Martels from 1975.
Buccaneer S.50
Variant for South Africa with manually folding wings and could be equipped with two single-stage rockets to assist take-off from hot-and-high airfields.

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