Thunderbird I parked at Filton, UK, following a tow vehicle breakdown (1960)
|Place of origin||UK|
|Used by||British Army|
|Length||20 ft 10 in (6.35 m)|
|Diameter||1 ft 8.7 in (0.527 m)|
|Warhead||Continuous-rod HE warhead|
|Wingspan||5 ft 4 in (1.63 m)|
|Maximum speed||mach 2.7|
|semi-active radar homing|
|Single rail, ground mounted (not mobile)|
The English Electric Thunderbird was a British surface-to-air missile produced for the British Army. Thunderbird was primarily intended to attack higher altitude targets at ranges up to approximately 30 miles (48 km), providing wide-area air defence for the Army in the field. AA guns were still used for lower altitude threats. Thunderbird entered service in 1959 and underwent a major mid-life upgrade to Thunderbird 2 in 1966, before being slowly phased out by 1977. Ex-Army Thunderbirds were also operated by the Royal Saudi Air Force after 1967.
Thunderbird had performance similar to other semi-portable missiles like the US MIM-23 Hawk and fully mobile Soviet 2K11 Krug, although it pre-dates both of these systems. After its mid-life upgrades, which shared several components with the RAF's Bristol Bloodhound, Thunderbird featured a continuous-wave radar semi-active homing system that was highly resistant to radar jamming and deception, and was able to track targets even at very low altitudes.
Thunderbird was the Army's only heavy anti-aircraft missile. As missile systems like Thunderbird made flight at medium and higher altitudes practically suicidal, nap-of-the-earth flying became the norm and even shorter-range, faster acting systems were needed. Thunderbird's role was taken over by the much smaller BAC Rapier as it became available.
Thunderbird traces its history to the 1947 reorganization of British missile projects. At the time there was a wide variety of concepts under study among various groups in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. All of these were handed to the Ministry of Supply (MoS) with the Royal Aircraft Establishment (REA) providing technical direction.
In 1944, a panel known as the GAP Committee formed within the MoS to consider the possibility of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). The group was reformed several times, growing each time as the topic grew more important. They eventually developed a requirement for a medium-range SAM with a maximum range of 100,000 yards (57 mi) based on concepts being developed under the LOPGAP experimental program. This became the Red Heathen project in 1947, and English Electric won the development contract.
The MoS was also working on a second SAM project, the somewhat shorter-ranged Sea Slug with performance on the order of 30,000–60,000 yards (17–34 mi). This was initially worked on using LOPGAP technology using a liquid-fueled rocket by a team led by Armstrong Whitworth. The RAE was interested in seeing ramjet technology applied to this role, and asked de Haviland to submit an entry for Sea Slug as well. They were too busy working with Red Hawk, so the contract was offered to Bristol Aerospace instead.
Due to the way radar signals spread out in space with increasing range, beam riding is only useful at shorter ranges. A paper produced by the RAE suggested that there was no way Red Heathen's accuracy requirements could be met by a beam riding system at the desired range with existing radars. This meant new Gun Laying radars would have to be developed for this role, and that, in turn, led to a re-evaluation of the Red Heathen concept. Red Heathen re-emerged in 1949 with the same required range as Sea Slug, and Bristol's ramjet-powered Sea Slug design was redirected to this new requirement. In 1952 the projects were once again split, with Bristol's effort becoming Red Duster while English Electric's became Red Shoes.
The Thunderbird was intended to provide ground-based air defence to the British Army in the field. As such, it was intended to replace the 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft gun that fulfilled this role during World War II. Like the 3.7, the new missile would be operated by the Royal Artillery. English Electric created a Guided Weapons Division to work on the project.
While the project was starting, the Ministry of Supply (MoS) began work on what would become known as the "Stage Plan", which envisioned a multi-stage program to provide an integrated air-defence network including new radars, interceptor aircraft, and missiles. As the missiles were the least understood technology, the MoS decided to implement their deployment in two stages. "Stage 1" called for missiles with a range of only 20 miles with capabilities against subsonic or low-supersonic attacking aircraft, which were assumed to be at medium or high altitudes. The Stage 1 missile would be used to protect the V bomber bases in the UK, as well as the British Army in the field.The Stage 1 missile would be later replaced with a much higher-performance and longer-range "Stage 2" system in the 1960s, based on the Green Sparkler missile. The Stage 2 missile was to have greatly increased range, speed, and altitude capabilities. After a minor change in its specifications, it became the Blue Envoy project.
Two entries were accepted for the original Stage 1 proposal, English Electric's existing project under the name "Red Shoes",and Bristol's "Red Duster". The two systems were very similar in design and performance, with the Bristol model differing primarily by offering somewhat longer range at the cost of being less mobile. Given the similarities, a single set of radars was developed that could be used with either design. This consisted of a Ferranti developed search radar and the target illuminating radar was the RRDE's "Yellow River" fire control radar built by British Thomson-Houston.
EE's design quickly developed into a fairly simple cylindrical fuselage with an ogive nose cone, four cropped-delta wings just behind the middle point of the fuselage, and four smaller control surfaces at the rear, in-line with the mid-mounted wings. The fuselage had a slight boat-tail narrowing at the extreme rear under the control surfaces. The sustainer was to be a liquid fuel rocket developed for the missile, and was launched by four large "Gosling" solid fuel rocket boosters lying between the control surfaces and wings. The boosters featured a single oversized fin of their own, and are particularly easy to spot due to a small flat surface at the end of every fin. This surface provided an outward drag component that help pull the booster away from the main body when released, helped by the booster's asymmetrical nose cone. Guidance was via semi-active radar homing, the Ferranti Type 83 "Yellow River" pulsed radar serving both as an acquisition and illumination system. The same radar was used with the competing Red Duster.
The test programme used development vehicles D1 to D4. D1 and D2 established some of the basic configuration issues, whilst D3 and D4 were used to test the aerodynamics of the design. The Army rejected the idea of using a liquid fuel rocket because of the difficulty in handling the highly reactive fuel in the field, so a solid rocket sustainer had to be chosen instead. Several different models of sustainer were tried, most of them known as the "Luton Test Vehicle", or LTV.
While testing of the Red Shoes was underway, the "competition" in the form of Red Duster was also entering testing. Red Duster demonstrated several serious problems, and the Army ended any interest in it. In the end the Red Duster problems were sorted out fairly quickly, and it entered service slightly before Red Shoes, as the Bristol Bloodhound Mk. I.
The production Red Shoes missile was officially named Thunderbird. It entered service in 1959 and equipped 36 and 37 Heavy Air Defence Regiments, Royal Artillery. It was the first British-designed and produced missile to go into service with the British Army.
While development of the Stage 1 missiles was still ongoing, work on the Stage 2 systems was proving to be too far in advance of the state of the art to realistically enter service while the Red Duster and Red Shoes were still useful. In the meantime, advances in radar technology were proceeding rapidly, so it was decided to produce interim designs using new continuous wave radars which would dramatically improve the performance of the existing missiles.
In the case of the Thunderbird, the "Stage 1½" design utilized the new Type 86 "Indigo Corkscrew" radar. As this was developed it changed names several times, becoming "Green Flax", and after some paperwork with that name on it was lost and assumed compromised, "Yellow Temple". In service it was known as Radar, AD, No 10 (fire control). The new radar greatly improved performance against low-level targets, as well as providing considerably better performance against electronic countermeasures.
To support Thunderbird operations in the field the regiments were equipped with the new Radar, AD, No 11 (tactical control, usually called 'Big Ears') and Radar, AD, No 12 (height finder, usually called 'Noddy') radar, giving them a longer range surveillance system. These radars were also known to Marconi as the S303 and S404, or to the RAF as Type 88 and Type 89. After leaving Army service in 1977 they were turned over to the RAF who used them for tactical control.
Several changes to the basic missile were undertaken as well. Although the size remained the same, the new version featured much larger boosters, mid-mounted wings with sweep on the front and back, and a new nose cone with a much higher fineness ratio. The boosters lost their asymmetrical nose cones, but the surfaces on the end of their fins grew much larger. Overall the missile still looked much like the Mk. I version, as opposed to the Bloodhound which became much larger as it was upgraded.
The improved missile was known in service as Thunderbird 2. They entered service in 1966 and were removed in 1977.
Negotiations were also held with Libya and Zambia.
Thunderbird remains a popular museum item in the UK. One of the missiles is now displayed outside the Midland Air Museum, Warwickshire, England. Another example on a launcher is displayed in The Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich, England. A Thunderbird Mk1 is also on display at the National Museum of Flight located at East Fortune, just outside Edinburgh, Scotland. (http://www.nms.ac.uk/our_museums/museum_of_flight.aspx ) A Thunderbird is also stationed outside the Combined Services Military Museum at Maldon in Essex. A Thunderbird nose cone and parts of main body on display at Predannack Anti-Aircraft Battery and museum, Cornwall, UK
Two of the Finnish missiles survive, one missile is located in Museo Militaria, Hämeenlinna, another in the Anti-aircraft Museum, Tuusula.
A Thunderbird is displayed in Woomera township of the Woomera Rocket Range, South Australia.
A surface-to-air missile (SAM), also known as a ground-to-air missile (GTAM) or surface-to-air guided weapon (SAGW), is a missile designed to be launched from the ground to destroy aircraft or other missiles. It is one type of anti-aircraft system; in modern armed forces, missiles have replaced most other forms of dedicated anti-aircraft weapons, with anti-aircraft guns pushed into specialized roles.
The Shang You or SY-series, and the Hai Ying or HY-series were early Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles. They were derived from the Soviet P-15 Termit missile.
Project Nike was a U.S. Army project, proposed in May 1945 by Bell Laboratories, to develop a line-of-sight anti-aircraft missile system. The project delivered the United States' first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Ajax, in 1953. A great number of the technologies and rocket systems used for developing the Nike Ajax were re-used for a number of functions, many of which were given the "Nike" name . The missile's first-stage solid rocket booster became the basis for many types of rocket including the Nike Hercules missile and NASA's Nike Smoke rocket, used for upper-atmosphere research.
Black Knight was a British research ballistic missile, originally developed to test and verify the design of a re-entry vehicle for the Blue Streak missile. It was the United Kingdom's first indigenous expendable launch project.
The Bristol Bloodhound is a British ramjet powered surface-to-air missile developed during the 1950s. It served as the UK's main air defence weapon into the 1990s and was in large-scale service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the forces of four other countries.
Sea Dart or GWS30 was a British naval surface-to-air missile system designed by Hawker Siddeley Dynamics in the 1960s, entering service in 1973. It was fitted to the Type 42 destroyers, Type 82 destroyer and Invincible-class aircraft carriers of the Royal Navy. Originally developed by Hawker Siddeley, the missile was built by British Aerospace after 1977, and was withdrawn from service in 2012.
Seaslug was a first-generation surface-to-air missile designed by Armstrong Whitworth for use by the Royal Navy. Tracing its history as far back as 1943's LOPGAP design, it came into operational service in 1961 and was still in use at the time of the Falklands War in 1982.
Fireflash was the United Kingdom's first air-to-air guided missile to see service with the Royal Air Force. Constructed by Fairey Aviation, the missile utilised radar beam riding guidance. Fireflash had relatively limited performance and required the launching aircraft to approach the target from a limited angle astern.
The S-75 is a Soviet-designed, high-altitude air defence system, built around a surface-to-air missile with command guidance. Following its first deployment in 1957 it became one of the most widely deployed air defence systems in history. It scored the first destruction of an enemy aircraft by a surface-to-air missile, with the shooting down of a Taiwanese Martin RB-57D Canberra over China on 7 October 1959 that was hit by a salvo of three V-750 (1D) missiles at an altitude of 20 km (65,600 ft). This success was credited to Chinese fighter aircraft at the time to keep the S-75 program secret.
Operational Requirement F.155 was a specification issued by the British Ministry of Supply on 15 January 1955 for an interceptor aircraft to defend the United Kingdom from Soviet high-flying nuclear-armed supersonic bombers.
Bristol Aerojet (BAJ) was a joint venture between the Bristol Aeroplane Company of the United Kingdom and Aerojet General of the US begun in 1959 using the existing factory at Banwell near Weston super Mare, England.
David J. Farrar is an English engineer who led the Bristol team that developed the Bristol Bloodhound surface-to-air missile, which defended Britain's nuclear deterrent for many years and was widely sold abroad. His main achievements in cost engineering were confidential until 2000. He saved two companies from bankruptcy, achieved cost reductions of over £1 million, and trained engineers in cost engineering. His methods are the basis of a major Australian product cost reduction initiative.
The Fairey Aviation Stooge was a command guided surface-to-air missile (SAM) development project carried out in the United Kingdom starting in World War II. Development dates to a British Army request from 1944, but the work was taken over by the Royal Navy as a potential counter to the Kamikaze threat. Development was not complete when the war ended, but the Ministry of Supply funded further development and numerous test launches into 1947, assisting in the development of more advanced successor missiles.
Brakemine was an early surface-to-air missile (SAM) development project carried out in the United Kingdom during World War II. Brakemine used a beam riding guidance system developed at A.C. Cossor, while REME designed the testbed airframes. Trial launches were carried out between 1944 and 1945, and the effort wound down as the war ended. Although Brakemine would never be used in its original form, its use of the "twist-and-steer" guidance method would later be used on the more capable LOPGAP design, which, after major changes, emerged as the Bristol Bloodhound. A single Brakemine survives in the REME Museum.
Blue Envoy was a British project to develop a ramjet-powered surface-to-air missile. It was tasked with countering supersonic bomber aircraft launching stand-off missiles, and thus had to have very long range and high-speed capabilities. The final design was expected to fly at Mach 3 with a maximum range of over 200 miles (320 km).
The United States Army's Nike Ajax was the world's first operational surface-to-air missile (SAM), entering service in 1954. Nike Ajax was designed to attack conventional bomber aircraft flying at high subsonic speeds and altitudes above 50,000 feet (15 km). Nike was initially deployed in the US to provide defense against Soviet bomber attacks, and was later deployed overseas to protect US bases, as well as being sold to various allied forces. Some examples remained in use until the 1970s.
Boeing's Ground-to-Air Pilotless Aircraft (GAPA) was a short-range anti-aircraft missile (SAM) developed in the late 1940s by the US Army Air Force, and then the US Air Force after 1948. It was given the reference number SAM-A-1, the first Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) in the 1947 tri-service designation system. By 1950 over 100 test rockets had been launched using a variety of configurations and power plants, with one launch in 1949 setting the altitude record for a ramjet powered vehicle at 59,000 ft (18,000 m).
Violet Friend was the Ministry of Supply rainbow code for an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system developed in the United Kingdom. The project began in 1954 with study contracts for an early warning radar system, which was followed by the February 1955 release of Air Staff Target 1135 (AST.1135) calling for a system to counter intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) being fired at the UK from eastern Europe. AST.1135 required the system to be able to attack six targets at once and be ready for initial deployment in 1963.