The Buccaneer, built by Blackburn (BAe) at Brough, epitomises the fast, low-level ground attack concept with its inherently stable ride famously being likened to that of a “Ball bearing on glass”. Having enjoyed a successful, albeit relatively uneventful, career with the Royal Navy, the Buccaneer realised its true potential with the RAF and S African Air Force where it soon proved itself to be an immensely strong, manoeuvrable and reliable aircraft with a better speed, range and weapons carrying capability than many others. This was borne out during the many NATO exercises but came to public attention during Operation Granby, Gulf War One. Here 12 Buccaneers were despatched at 3 days notice, initially to laser designate targets for Tornado Bombers. Later in the campaign, they acted as both Tornado designators and bombers in their own right whilst carrying out missions dropping their own 1000 lbs LGB’s.
In total the type flew 216 Gulf sorties, destroying numerous bridges, aircraft shelters, runways, command bunkers, ammunition stores and even other aircraft. The Buccaneer was prematurely withdrawn from service in 1994 as a result of arms reduction talks and the subsequent rationalisation of RAF assets, it being replaced in the maritime strike role by the arguably less capable but more modern and surplus Tornado aircraft.
The Buccaneer was designed in the late 1950’s as a low-level, long range, high speed, strike / attack / recce aircraft for carrier and land operations. 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.
The type is powered by two Rolls-Royce Spey Mk101 axial flow bypass turbojet engines mounted in the wing roots. It normally has two crew positions, pilot and navigator / observer, but can be safely operated by the pilot alone. The crew is seated in tandem in a cabin which is pressurised for high altitude flight.
A large bomb bay is located in the centre fuselage with a rotating door. This also serves as a fuel tank. This bay, in addition to 4 underwing hard points can carry a variety of stores and fuel tanks. The landing gear is hydraulically operated and comprises two main units, which retract inwards, and a steerable nose wheel unit which retracts rearwards. Hydraulically operated disc brakes with anti skid control are fitted to the main wheels. A hydraulically operated arrester hook (and tail skid) are fitted which can engage any of the standard cables at military airfields.
The fuselage was designed on the “area rule principal” where abrupt changes in the cross-sectional area of the aircraft were avoided to improve high-speed handling. Area ruling means that the fuselage shrinks where the cross-section includes the wings, and then expands again after the wings, giving the fuselage a “coke bottle” appearance. The tail unit is a large fin surmounted by an all-moving tailplane. To facilitate storage in the confined space of an aircraft carrier, the mainplanes incorporate a hydraulic wing-fold mechanism; the nose can be folded back parallel to the fuselage and the tail-mounted airbrakes can open to 90 degrees.
HHA operate one Buccaneer S2b to accommodate extremely long range taskings.
XX885 / G-HHAA was built as an S2b and delivered on 20th May 1974 to the RAF. As such, it was one of the last Buccaneers to be built. It is worth noting that is direct predecessors on the production line were three ‘special’ aircraft for the RAE, which, coincidentally, are now being operated by a civilian company in South Africa.
XX885 served in Germany with No’s 15 & 16 Sqns; then at Lossiemouth with 12 Sqn until 1980. Then, following a main spar failure on an S2 in the USA, XX885 was transferred to St Athan for a main spar transplant and returned to the somewhat reduced-in-size fleet to serve with Sqns No’s 12, 208 and 237 OCU both at Lossiemouth, Cyprus and from Bahrain during the first Gulf War until its retirement in 1994. It was the very last Buccaneer cycled through the factory at Woodford to receive the ASR1012 mid life update in 1989 and was then further modified in 1991 for Gulf war participation. XX885 embodies the very latest Mod state of the RAF Buccaneer fleet.
All of the Lossie Wing Buccaneers carried logos from famous Whiskey’s with XX885 adopting “Famous Grouse” and also carried the names Carolyn and Hello Sailor in addition to the Sky Pirates emblem. XX885 flew seven ‘ops’ and was credited with the destruction of and Iraqi Antonov AN-12 Cub transport on the ground. Key is the fact that the aircraft is relatively young and was originally intended for an extra 10-15 years of high utilisation service life.
Although retained by the RAF at Lossiemouth as an instructional airframe (9225M), it was in fact never used for instructional purposes. Instead XX885 was stored in hangar K20 where it was overseen by Engineering Wing staff. The aircraft was put up for disposal in 2000 and was purchased at auction on the 16th March by HHA, inhibited and then shipped by road and sea to HHA’s maintenance base at RAF Scampton.
After over 2750 hours of design verification and critical system analysis work by HHA staff, the aircraft was classified in the BCAR A8-20 ‘Complex’ category for civilian use.
XX885 is currently in storage at HHA’s RAF Scampton facility undergoing regular anti-det maintenance and custodial ground runs. The aircraft, it’s systems and spares are maintained in such a condition that it can readily be reactivated to flight status should a contractual tasking arise which requires the performance & flight envelope of the Buccaneer platform.