Blackburn / Hawker Siddeley


Along with the Phantom, Sea Vixen and Gannet, the Buccaneer represents the pinnacle of Cold War British Carrier power.  As the Blackburn Advanced Naval Aircraft (BANA - hence the nickname “Banana Jet”), it was designed to Naval Specification NA.39, first flying in April 1958.  

With the run-down of the British carrier force in the late 1960s and 1970s, the Buccaneer was also adopted (somewhat reluctantly) by the RAF to fulfil the additional maritime roles it had inherited from the Fleet Air Arm and as a nuclear strike aircraft instead of the failed F-111K and TSR.2.  In these latter roles, Buccaneers remained operationally effective and served with the RAF until 1994, when they were replaced by the Panavia Tornado.

Royal Navy Buccaneers

In RN service, the Buccaneer’s main role was to combat the threat of the latest large Soviet Navy Sverdlov class Cruisers in the North Atlantic, requiring it to fly very long ranges at high subsonic speeds, carrying a large conventional bomb load (8,000lbs) or a single Red Beard nuclear bomb of up to 25 Kilotons yield.  The Red Beard was replaced with up to 2 WE.177 nuclear weapons in the 1970s (carried inside the rotating bomb bay) and the advanced Anglo-French MARTEL anti-radar/TV guided anti-ship missile was introduced for the final years of RN Service.

Complex aerodynamic features were incorporate din the design, including extreme area ruling with boundary layer control on wings and tailplane to enable lower take-off and landing speeds.  The initial underpowered S.1 version was replaced by the S.2 with Rolls Royce Spey engines, in 1964. The first production S.2 made the very first non-stop, (unrefuelled)  crossing of the Atlantic by an RN aircraft ion October 1965.

With HQ and training Sqns based at RNAS Lossiemouth, Fleet Air Arm Buccaneers served onboard HM Ships VICTORIOUS, EAGLE, ARK ROYAL and HERMES, with 700B, Sqn, 736 Sqn, 800 Sqn, 801 Sqn, 803 Sqn and 809 Sqn.   With an active worldwide role, Buccaneers saw service over Aden in 1967, over Belize in 1972 (requiring a 1,500 mile round trip from their carrier to Belize) and (less successfully), against the stricken oil tanker Torrey Canyon off the Cornish coast in 1967.  The last RN Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF when HMS ARK ROYAL was decommissioned in 1978.

Blackburn Buccaneer S.1, 800 Sqn Fleet Air Arm


Airfix NA.39 converted to an S.1.  Converting an S.2 back would be a better option. Xtradecal markings

In its original form the Buccaneer was designed as a Naval Nuclear Strike Aircraft, specifically targeted against Soviet Sverdlov Class Cruisers, which, it was deemed, posed a real threat to NATO surface ships. For this role it carried Red Beard, the UK's first tactical nuclear weapon (15-25 Kiloton). Red Beard was a large and unsophisticated fission weapon; it had to be fully armed before launch, clearly not sensible for carrier operations (indeed Buccaneers were forbidden to land on carrying a live weapon), and at an all-up weight of around 1700 Kg, it placed significant limits on the Buccaneer's range. For normal operations the Buccaneer's bombs would be carried in an internal rotating bomb bay, but for Red Beard, a conformal tray was loaded instead, with the single bomb remaining in a position where it protruded into the slipstream, but was relatively protected from the elements and from buffeting.

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.2A /B 12 Sqn RAF

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2, 801 Sqn Fleet Air Arm


FROG with Modeldecal markings.

The S.2 variant of the Buccaneer introduced the larger and more powerful Rolls Royce Spey engine, finally allowing the Buccaneer to reach its true potential. Widely and affectionately known as the "Banana Jet" due to its initial title of "NA.39 Blackburn Advanced Naval Aircraft (BANA)", the S.2 Buccaneer transformed the capabilities of the RN's carrier force.

Operating at very low level over sea or land, the Buccaneer was a superb strike aircraft, capable of carrying a wide range of Nuclear or conventional weapons over a remarkable range. Initial S.2 aircraft were finished in a white and extra dark sea grey finish as a compromise between the anti-nuclear-flash whites of the S.1 and over-sea grey, that proved to be badly matched to an increasingly low-level strike role and was quickly replaced by overall dark grey.

This model carries the AGM-12 Bullpup air to surface stand-off missile and two 1000lb bombs. The massive rear air brakes are open - as well as their use in theair, together with a folding radome and folding wings, they helped with lift size limitations and hangar stowage space onboard RN Carriers

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2, 801 Sqn Fleet Air Arm


FROG with Xtradecal markings.

As the smallest of the RN’s modernised carriers, HMS HERMES was never able to operate the F-4 and could only carry a limited air group of Buccaneers and Sea Vixens.  Once the Sea Vixen became obsolete, her days as a conventional fixed wing carrier were numbered, cost outweighing her operational usefulness, but she remained a modern and reliable ship, even though her keel had first been laid down in 1944.

After a period of service as a Commando and then ASW carrier, “The Happy H” finally regained a fixed wing complement in the form of the Sea Harrier and saw her most important operations as Flagship of the 1982 Falklands  Task Force. Although her RN days ended in 1984, she went on to serve for even longer with the Indian Navy as the INS VIRAAT until 2017.

HERMES’ saw 3 Buccaneer squadrons during the brief period that she carried them - firstly 809 Sqn then 801, with 803 joining for  a short period in the far east to prove the feasibility of deploying a fully operational Squadron directly within 48 hrs from the UK to the ship anywhere in the world.

The Buccaneer S.2 currently on display at  the FAA Museum at Yeovilton is painted in the colours it wore whilst part of HERMES’ air group.

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2D, 800 Sqn Fleet Air Arm

HMS EAGLE, 1971.

Airfix (1980s mould) with Modeldecal markings.

EAGLE was the most modern, largest and most capable of the Cold War RN Carriers, although she was de-commissioned before ARK ROYAL as a cost saving measure, since she had not yet had the costly deck modifications needed to operate the F-4.  800 Sqn spent much of their time with her in the Far East, including Singapore and Aden, plus providing overwatch and protection to Far Eastern UK interest whilst the Vietnam war was in progress.  

Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.2A (interim),

12 Sqn Royal Air Force, RAF Honington, 1970.

FROG 1/72.

From 1970 onwards, surplus RN Buccaneers (and their anti-shipping role) began to transfer to the RAF, with the first 4 aircraft, including that depicted here) arriving at RAF Honington in 1970.

This aircraft is loaded with four AS-37 MARTEL anti radiation missiles; in operational mission profiles, these would be joined by the AJ-168 TV guided version of MARTEL, usually with 2 ARM variants and one TV variant on each aircraft (the 4th pylon was occupied by the TV guidance pod). The Buccaneers, flying in packages of 3, would approach their target at very low range, using sea clutter and earth curvature to avoiding detection or engagement, then bunt up to acquire the target and launch their missiles.    This would leave the Soviet ship with the unenviable choice of leaving their radars on and trying to down 9 missiles, or switching the radar off and facing the 3 follow up TV guided missiles instead.

MARTEL was equipped with a very large warhead and was certainly more capable and reliable than the US Shrike equivalent, with a much greater range (about 40 miles)  although it was much slower.