Sunday 18 March 2018

Cold War Skirmishes: Blackburn Buccaneer

This week we're doing something a little different for Cold War Skirmishes, we're gonna try and stat up an aircraft.

Our candidate is the Blackburn Buccaneer, a British carrier-borne attack aircraft designed in the 1950s for the Royal Navy to counter a new generation of Soviet warships. Used by the Fleet Air Arm, RAF and South African Air Force seeing combat action in both the Gulf War of 1991 and the South African Border War. They also put in appearances at the US' Exercise RED FLAG from 1977 through to 1983.

The Blackburn Buccaneer

The Buccaneer (or 'Bucc' as it was nicknamed) was designed from the outset to fly at low-level in order to approach enemy ships' below their radar horizon, keeping the engagement to less than a minute before quickly flying out of range whilst its weapons struck. Following the demise of the Royal Navy's fleet carriers in the 1970s, a number of Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF where they were used in the maritime strike role as well as the overland strike role with RAF Germany. In 1972, Buccaneers of 809 Naval Air Squadron operating from HMS Ark Royal took part in a 1,500 miles (2,400 km) mission to show a military presence over British Honduras (now Belize) shortly before its independence, to deter a possible Guatemalan invasion. Other missions include supporting British peacekeepers in Lebanon in 1983 and then operations against Iraqi forces in the 1991 Gulf War, the latter conflict saw the aircraft being fitted with designator pods for laser-guided bombs.

The only other operator of the Buccaneer was the South African Air Force which acquired 16 aircraft in 1963, though further orders were blocked by Harold Wilson's Labour government in the late 1960s. The South African Buccaneers, like their British counterparts, were used in both the maritime and overland strike roles. SAAF Buccaneers saw active combat service in the 1970s and 1980s during the South African Border War, often flying close air support missions. Its ability to carry heavy loads over long ranges, in addition to being able to loiter far longer than other aircraft, made it ideal for the CAS role.

The Buccaneer featured a large internal bomb bay, capable of carrying a wide-range of conventional and nuclear weapons, plus four external weapons mounting points. The bomb bay itself rotated as traditional bomb bay doors could not be safely opened into the air stream at low levels and high speeds. Additionally the bomb bay could be configured to carry a fuel tank and many Buccaneers were used as 'buddy tankers' to refuel other aircraft. The hard points could carry bombs, missiles, rockets, fuel tanks or other equipment like flares, later development introduced electronic warfare and laser designator pods. 

Over its service life, the Buccaneer carried a range of self-defence systems. Early systems included chaff and flare ejectors, but later on ECM pods and radar warning receivers were fitted. Sidewinder missiles were another later addition, typically appearing on at least one aircraft in a 'Battle Formation' of up to six aircraft. A truly unique defence system for the Buccaneer was known as 'retard defence' which came about by accident. During an early Ex RED FLAG a Buccaneer was being pursued by a particularly determined F5 at low level and the Buccaneer pilot decided to drop one of his practice bombs, which proved enough to scare the F5 off. Post-sorted video analysis showed that if the bomb had been a real bomb, then the F5 would've been blown out of the sky by the debris. It quickly became standard practice for Buccaneers to carry four retard bombs in their bomb bays for 'air defence', which was called 'Retard Defence' and had the advantage that these weapons could be used if a target of opportunity was spotted whilst on a mission. 

Acc/TS: 20/322; Toughness: 17 (5); Crew: 2; Climb: 3; Notes: AMCM
Weapons: 4x 1,000lb bombs (internal)
4 × Matra rocket pods with 18 × SNEB 68 mm rockets each (external)
2 × AIM-9 Sidewinders for self-defence or 2 × AS-37 Martel missiles or 4 × Sea Eagle missile (external)
Up to 4x bombs (external)

Further Information

Wikipedia Article
Blackburn Buccaneer: The Last British Bomber
RAF Buccaneer - 12 Squadron Training Film - NATO OPEN GATE - 1978

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