Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.50 - "Easy Rider"

Would you like to see the Buccaneer S.50 in game?
  • Yes, as a tech tree vehicle
  • Yes, as a premium vehicle
  • Yes, as an event vehicle
  • Yes, as a squadron vehicle
  • No, I would not like the Buccaneer S.50 in game.

0 voters

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This photo shows an extremely rare example of a Buccaneer S.50 with its rocket boosters active while also having been upgraded with the ARI.18228 radar warning receiver. The rocket boosters would have been removed very soon after the RWR’s installation.


Introduction

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      The Buccaneer should need no introduction to fans of British aviation, but it’s worth introducing anyway. It was an elegant yet portly low-level strike aircraft, and arguably one of the only good aircraft Blackburn ever made, which makes it extremely ironic that Blackburn went defunct just one year after the Buccaneer reached service. The woes for the Buccaneer don’t end there, as despite being quite good at what it was made for, the Buccaneer only ever attracted one foreign customer - South Africa. What began as a mild tweak of the Buccaneer S.2 ended up becoming an icon of the SAAF and a potent strike plane in its own right. Over its three decades of service, the Buccaneer S.50 saw many improvements to cope with rapidly evolving threats. To illustrate this, a comparison to the Buccaneer S.2B would be helpful.

Feature

Buccaneer S.50

Buccaneer S.2B

Engines Rolls-Royce Spey Mk.101 x 2 Rolls-Royce Spey Mk.101 x 2
Takeoff boosters Bristol BS.605 (removed in 1976) None
Vortex generators Yes Yes
Radar warning receiver Yes, ARI 18228 (modified) Yes, Sky Guardian 200
Countermeasures Yes, behind bomb bay Yes, near arrestor hook, on wing
pylons or under engine nacelles
Ballistic computer Yes, CCIP/RP Yes, CCIP/RP
Maximum bomb load 8,000 lb 8,000 lb (S.2 in game has 16,000 lb
due to trials configuration)
Bomb types British G.P., French G.P.,
American L.D.G.P.
British G.P., British L.D.G.P.
Rocket types 68mm SNEB 68mm SNEB
Air-to-air missiles None 2 x AIM-9G/L
Guided missile types 4 x AS.30 (MCLOS) 3-4 x MARTEL (Manual control by
TV datalink or anti-radiation)
Guided bomb types 3 x Raptor 1 glide bomb
(TV guided)
3 x 1,000 lb Paveway (Laser guided)
Anti-ship missile types None 4 x Sea Eagle
Targeting pod None AN/AVQ-23E Pave Spike
Datalink pod Raptor 1 datalink MARTEL datalink (for TV guided)
ECM pod ELT-555 “Bikini” AN/ALQ-101(V)-10
Integrated bomb bay
fuel tank
Yes Yes
Additional fuel tanks 430 gallon slipper tanks and
440 gallon bomb bay tank
250 gallon slipper tanks and
440 gallon bomb bay tank

      As can be seen, while the Buccaneer S.50 is not quite as advanced as the S.2B was by the time it retired, it still provides interesting options and is overall enough of an improvement over the S.2 to be an excellent fit in the 9.7-10.0 range. While such a vehicle could be argued to be good for squadron or premium status, I think it would be a lot more fun as an addition to the main research line, either in a folder with the Buccaneer S.2 or preceding an eventual (hopefully) Buccaneer S.2B.

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The Buccaneer handled very well at low level, earning it the nickname “Easy Rider” among SAAF airmen. This photo shows an example of a Buccaneer S.50 before it received most of its upgrades flying at a death-defying height of just a few meters. Despite what one might think, according to attrition records, antics like this typically did not lead to accidents.



TL;DR:

  • High subsonic speed, low level strike aircraft with ballistic computer and guided munitions
  • Various types of bombs including British, French and American
  • Respectable load of up to 8,000 lbs of bombs
  • Strong engines give good acceleration
  • Powerful AS.30 missiles provide substantial upgrade to the AGM-12
  • TV-guided bombs would be a first for the British tree
  • Good radar warning receiver
  • Countermeasures behind bomb bay mean no loss of payload unlike S.2
  • No self-defense weaponry


The first SAAF Buccaneer constructed, labeled ‘G-2-1’, was used for testing the changes that the SAAF requested for their aircraft including the enlarged slipper tanks it carries in the photo. Before delivery, Blackburn used it to test weapons including the AS.30 missile. Note the panels on the rear of the plane under its identifying number where the BS.605 rocket booster would hide when not in use. At this time, it lacks in-flight refueling and vortex generators.


History

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      The history of the Buccaneer in service with the RAF as well as the SAAF is relatively well publicized. Even so, some historical background is necessary. Despite having become fully independent from the United Kingdom in 1931, South Africa continued to procure most of their military vehicles from Britain and maintained relatively close ties with the former motherland. This trend continued through World War II, where South Africa would fight as an ally of the UK, and into the postwar era, where they continued to generally rely on the UK for military procurement and assisted them during the Korean War. As this period of cooperation continued, it was natural that South Africa would turn to the UK when investigating a strategic requirement for strike bombers.


The Shackleton MR.3s operated by the SAAF were adequate for maritime patrol, but were quite unsuited for traditional strike operations by the time new strategic requirements were laid out. In addition, SAAF MR.3s lacked the Viper jet boosters added to the type, without which the MR.3 was much more of a hotbox.


      As the waters near Western Cape were essential to shipping, not least of all to the United Kingdom, the British government made an agreement with South Africa in 1955 called the Simonstown agreement (though the actual town is called Simon’s Town). The agreement was not particularly formal, but entailed the agreement of South Africa to provide facilities and assistance to Royal Navy officers and vessels in the event of war, while also turning over control of the SAN to the Union of South Africa. Thusly, South Africa assumed responsibility for ensuring security of the nearby waters, but Britain also would sell South Africa British equipment to accomplish these goals. All this is to say that when South Africa was looking for a strike bomber, the first place they turned was the United Kingdom, with extra emphasis on a maritime attack capability.

      After investigating the Dassault-Breguet Mirage IVA, Handley-Page Victor B.2, Blackburn Buccaneer S.2 and English Electric Canberra B(I).12, the SAAF decided to procure the latter two in quantities of 16 and 9 respectively (with the Canberra being split into an order of six interdictors and three trainer T.4s). The Canberra was intended to be an interim aircraft pending the arrival of the Buccaneer, which would be known under the export designation S.50. Some minor modifications to the SAAF Buccaneers before delivery would include integration and testing of French weaponry. Around this time, France had become more of a major supplier for the SAAF as they sold the Mirage III along with air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons including R.550s, R.530s, 400 kg bombs, SNEB rockets, and AS.XX series missiles such as the AS.30. Other requirements included larger slipper tanks for enhanced range, an in-flight refueling probe, and the biggest addition, a BS.605 twin-nozzle rocket booster buried in the rear fuselage. This retractable booster was a precautionary measure against takeoffs during certain adverse conditions such as the high altitude Waterkloof Air Force base, and apparently at one point was planned to be fitted beneath the engine nacelles before reaching its final configuration.


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While the exact date of this photo is impossible to pin down, it displays what would comprise the Buccaneer S.50’s “early” weapons fit. Oddly, it seems to have “old”-type bullet fairings toward the end of each wing. These would have been used with the Buccaneer’s early radar warning system before new bullet fairings with a revised shape appeared as a result of the installation of the ARI.18228. As of now it is unclear whether this image was taken during testing by Blackburn or if the SAAF procured an example of this early RWR.


      The deal for the delivery of the Buccaneers was imperiled by the rise to power of the Labour government in the United Kingdom, headed by Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He took a hardline stance against Rhodesia’s government headed by Ian Smith, so it made sense that he would also be displeased with the then-current policy of apartheid in South Africa. As such, he enforced the voluntary arms embargo levied against South Africa by the United Nations from 1962. This put the standing order of sixteen Buccaneer S.50s in grave danger of cancellation before they had even been delivered. Some believed that the Buccaneer order would be diverted to India after a visit from Indian officials in 1964, but South Africa successfully managed to obtain their original order of Buccaneer aircraft. However, one plane, ‘417’, was lost in its transit flight, which Wilson’s government blocked replacement for. In addition, a follow-up order for 14-20 more Buccaneers was barred. As such, South Africa’s Buccaneer fleet would start at fifteen planes and would receive no more. 24 Squadron SAAF, which had previously been a bomber squadron in World War II before its disbandment, reformed around the Buccaneer in 1965, and would be the only SAAF squadron to operate the plane.

      The crews of the Buccaneer S.50 discovered a few things about it when they finally got their hands on their new aircraft. Firstly, they were apparently quite finnicky with slight variance between each aircraft due to hand assembly. This meant that once an aircrew were attached to a specific Buccaneer, it was important that they stay with the plane. It was also found that the takeoff rocket boosters were practically useless due to the fact that the main base they had been envisioned for use with, Waterkloof AFB, had such a long runway that the boosters were unnecessary even with maximum load. Speaking of maximum load, the SAAF Buccaneers could carry a maximum of 8,000 pounds of bombs, which put them on par with the Canberra B(I).12 in terms of raw bomb tonnage. However, the Buccaneer was significantly more advanced and had access to the precision AS.30 missile. Perhaps because it was so advanced and difficult to maintain, the Buccaneer had an unfortunately high rate of attrition. By 1980, only six of the fifteen Buccaneers remained, while the rest had been lost due to various circumstances.


Buccaneer ‘421’ is seen from the side in flight over the brush. The visible upgrades to the aircraft date this picture to somewhere in the late 70’s. Note the integrated fuel tank added to the bomb bay door - it seems that the S.50 upgrades took some inspiration from the RAF’s S.2B.


      The admirable low-altitude handling and precision strike capabilities of the Buccaneer S.50 proved themselves invaluable to SAAF operations, even while losses mounted. Despite everything, the SAAF never lost a Buccaneer in combat, which shows that its low level flight regime was well suited to maritime and strike operations. In March 1971, two Buccaneer S.50s were called in to help scuttle a damaged oil tanker. For this mission they were equipped with AS.30s. However, due to poor weather and the suboptimal attack profile required to safely sink the vessel, the attempts of 24 Squadron to sink SS Wafra were thwarted, with a Shackleton being called in to deliver the final blow. At the same time, the Buccaneers demonstrated their finesse by landing hits with seven of the twelve fired AS.30s, and in 1972 they were given a chance to show off their impeccable bombing ability by scuttling the Silver Castle, hitting with 19 of 27 1,000 lb dumb bombs.

      Of course, maritime strike operations were not the only thing the Buccaneers would be used for. As operations over Angola continued in the 70’s, the Buccaneers were sent for strike missions, the most prolific of which was the Battle of Cassinga. Working with other SAAF aircraft in the first major air assault of the SANDF, the Buccaneer S.50s were able to devastate SWAPO forces as well as a Cuban armored column with their precision bomb strikes. It was noted as the worst single-day casualty rate for Cuba in the entire conflict. The Battle of Cassinga is noteworthy for other, less savory reasons, but I will leave it to the reader’s discretion as to whether they wish to conduct further research. Before this, in the mid-1970’s an upgrade program had been conducted on the surviving Buccaneers in a similar pattern to the RAF’s Buccaneer S.2B. This included various minor changes, but the biggest additions were the ARI.18228 radar warning receiver and an integral fuel tank built into the bomb bay door to add even more range to the Buccaneer’s already impressive endurance.


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This Buccaneer, which appears to be ‘421’, is flying c. 1980 after receiving its countermeasures dispenser but before the modification of the radar warning system. Its bombs are painted bright orange for testing, perhaps to see if release would be compromised by the countermeasures pack. Along with the Canberras, the Buccaneers were some of the earliest to adopt active countermeasures among the SAAF inventory.


      The upgrades didn’t stop as the 70’s turned into the 80’s. As skies over Angola became more hostile, active countermeasures became necessary to protect the SAAF’s aircraft, and around 1980 “Project Mason” was undertaken to accomplish exactly that. This comprised the rather unceremonious addition of a chaff/flare dispenser directly behind the bomb bay. Very shortly afterwards, either as part of the same project or as a different undertaking, the RWR of the Buccaneer S.50s was presumably modified. Details are scarce, so I can’t draw a certain conclusion, but it appears the wide-band homing component of the ARI.18228 system was repositioned into “blocks” jutting out next to the countermeasures pack on each side, while the RWR antennae appear to have been repositioned to either side of the bomb sight below the nose. Whatever the reason for the change, Buccaneers modified in this way had the wing fairings for the ARI.18228 wide-band component removed. Around this time Buccaneers would also begin carrying the Mk 81 and Mk 82 low-drag bombs, with the old British and French munitions being phased out of service.

      At this time, the five remaining Buccaneers out of the starting total of fifteen aircraft remained in SAAF inventory, with the last Buccaneer to be written off crashing while taxiing due to a hydraulics failure in 1982. These five Buccaneers had been tempered by their years of service, with the capability to mount the ELT-555 external ECM pod and the Raptor 1 glide bomb giving it true precision strike capability. The Raptor 1 was a TV-guided glide bomb which was controlled by the weapons officer of the Buccaneer. He operated the camera through a datalink during flight, and when the target was sighted, the bomb would fly toward the designated target locked by the operator using automatic piloting. On January 3, 1988, this bomb was used during Operation Hooper in a precision strike against the bridge spanning the Cuito River in southern Angola, which was the only point of access for heavy vehicles to reach Angola’s forward positions.


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From left to right: Raptor 1 datalink pod, Raptor 1 glide bomb, Raptor 1 glide bomb, ELT-555 ECM pod. The Raptor 1 would be developed into the rocket-boosted Raptor 2 with new seeker modes, and it is believed that the weapon was exported to Pakistan under the name ‘H-2’ for the Raptor 1 and ‘H-4’ for the Raptor 2. These weapons would be carried by Mirage F1AZs following the Buccaneer’s retirement.


      The very battle where the Buccaneer’s precision strike capability reached its zenith was the beginning of the end for the aging type. Peace talks had begun, and with the Cold War coming to a close with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Buccaneer’s time had ended. The rationalization efforts of the SAAF in 1991 led to the retirement of the five remaining Buccaneers as the Mirage F1AZ had been chosen to carry on for the next several years as the main strike aircraft of the SAAF. The good news is that the beloved aircraft have been well taken care of by volunteers - all five Buccaneer S.50s in the world have been preserved in various forms between gate guardians and exhibits at museums. Despite a rocky service career, the Buccaneer S.50 never suffered a single combat loss and remains an icon of the SAAF thanks to the dedication of the brave men who piloted the portly metal beasts all those years ago.



Specifications

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Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer S.50


Dimensions:

  • Span: 44 ft (13.41 m)
  • Length: 63 ft 5 in (19.33 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 3 in (4.95 m)
  • Wing area: 514.7 ft2 (47.82 m2)

Weight:

  • 33,374 lb (15,138 kg) empty1
  • 58,000 lb (26,308 kg) maximum

Propulsion:

  • 2 x Rolls-Royce Spey Mk.101 turbofan jet engine
    • 11,255 lbf (5,105 kgf) thrust each
    • 22,510 lbf (10,210 kgf) thrust total
  • 2 x Bristol Siddeley BS.605 liquid propellant rocket engine (30 seconds burn time)
    • 8,000 lbf (3,629 kgf) thrust each
    • 16,000 lbf (7,257 kgf) thrust total

Thrust to weight ratio (MTOW, static thrust):

  • 0.39 (Spey engines only)
  • 0.66 (Spey engines and BS.605 boosters)

Maximum speed: 645 mph (1,038 km/h) at sea level

Service ceiling: 40,000 feet (12,192 m)


Armament:

  • Bombs:
    • Up to 20 x Mk 81 250 lb bomb
    • Up to 14 x Mk 82 500 lb bomb2
    • Up to 8 x SAMP Type 21 400 kg bomb
    • Up to 8 x G.P. 1,000 lb bomb
  • Guided bombs:
    • Up to 3 x Raptor 1 glide bomb3
  • Rockets:
    • Up to 4 x Matra 155 rocket pod (18 SNEB 68mm rockets each, 72 total)
  • Missiles:
    • Up to 4 x AS.30 air-to-ground missile4
  • Fuel tanks:
    • Up to 2 x 430 gal (1,627 liter) fixed tanks on the inner wings
    • Up to 1 x 440 gal (1,666 liter) fixed tank in bomb bay
  • ECM:
    • Up to 1 x ELT-555 active ECM pod

Crew: 2 (pilot, bombardier)

Additional equipment:

  • Ejector seats
  • Chaff/flare dispenser
  • ARI.18228 (mod.) radar warning receiver5
  • Bomb sight
  • Ballistic computer:
    • Bombs: CCIP/RP
    • Rockets: CCIP
  • Airbrake

Notes:

  1. Weight based on empty weight of Buccaneer S.2B plus the weight of two (dry) BS.605 engines.
  2. Some sources say sixteen Mk 82 could be carried, but I haven’t seen any pictures that show this.
  3. A theoretical maximum of three Raptor 1s could be carried as one pylon is needed for the datalink. The in-game Buccaneer S.2 could handle an asymmetric load like this, but I have only ever seen a picture with two maximum.
  4. Some sources say that AS.20s can be carried, but they appear to have been inert and used for training only.
  5. The exact details of the RWR that Buccaneer S.50s had after the early 1980’s is unclear. I believe it is a modified version of the ARI.18228 system but I am not 100% certain.



Image Gallery

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Buccaneer S.50 ‘412’ is one of the five remaining S.50s. This photo was taken in 1975, shortly before the Buccaneer fleet would have received the bomb bay fuel tanks and RWRs. The strakes on the back of the bomb bay were a unique fixture for the SAAF’s Buccaneers and may have had something to do with the rocket boosters. The outline of the panels that cover the BS.605 nozzles’ hiding place is faintly visible.


‘412’ survives as a gate guardian at Waterkloof AFB. Originally it was in a different position, but following complaints from 24 Squadron, it was adjusted to be in a more thrilling pose. Looking very closely will allow you to see the “blocks” that protrude behind the bomb bay, presumably part of the S.50’s ECM system.


Buccaneer S.50 ‘413’ is seen here with SNEB rockets c. 1980 after receiving its countermeasures dispenser. One upgrade not previously mentioned in this post was the addition of a new radio aerial under the cockpit, seen in sheer white in this photo. ‘413’ would be the last Buccaneer lost after a hydraulics failure sent it into a crash with five Impalas - thankfully, everything was already on the ground.


Buccaneer S.50 ‘422’ is one of the five survivors and is resting at a museum in Johannesburg. This shot provides a good view of the RWR antennae that were attached to the bomb sight in the early 80’s. To the right of the plane sits the ferry tank that could be kept inside the bomb bay at the cost of weapons carriage. Because it was internal, it didn’t need to look very pretty.


This Buccaneer, ‘423’, is in a more undertoned color scheme compared to the Buccaneers when they originally were put into service. Interestingly, this photo is said to be from late 1977, but the aircraft lacks the ARI.18228 fairings on the wings’ leading edges. ‘423’ was written off when it was lost after a double flame out during a night bombing exercise.


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This Buccaneer S.50 is presumably testing the carriage of 250 lb Mk 81 bombs. With triple racks on all four wing pylons, and space for eight in the bomb bay, the Buccaneer could comfortably carry twenty of these bombs. The protruding nature of the countermeasures pack can easily be seen.


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Two Buccaneers are seen here practicing in-flight refueling. The Buccaneer already had quite good range, but with IFR as an option, as well as enlarged slipper tanks, SAAF Buccaneers were capable of extreme distances.


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The man in this picture is not holding a missile - this is the datalink pod for the Raptor 1 TV-guided glide bomb. The bomb itself is on the pylon next to him. The Buccaneers were the first to have this precision strike capability, and the Mirage F1AZ would inherit the glide bombs when the Buccaneers retired. However, with the arms embargo against South Africa being lifted in the mid-90’s, the preferred weapon of choice for the Cheetah jet fighters was the Paveway laser guided bomb kit.


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This Bigfoot-esque screenshot of a video shows a rare sighting of a PAF Mirage 5 carrying their H-2 glide bomb. This bomb is believed to be either a derivative or locally produced copy of the Raptor 1, with the PAF’s H-4 being similar to Denel’s Raptor 2. Because of limited capacity on the Mirage 5, two aircraft are required to deliver the weapon - one with the datalink pod and one with the actual bomb.


Buccaneer ‘414’ is being restored in this picture. It was one of the five surviving Buccaneer S.50s upon 24 Squadron’s disbandment in 1991. Thanks to the work of volunteers, recent photographs show it in a much better condition and carrying the slipper tanks.


Besides the weapons fit, this cutaway of the Buccaneer S.2B is relatively accurate to how the S.50 would have been in its middle life. Both the S.2B and S.50 upgrades occurred in the mid-1970’s, perhaps suggesting some discreet connection to RAF activities.



Sources

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+1, would be a welcome addition to the UK tree