GEAR & TECH

This 'pirate' was the unsung hero of British carrier operations during the Cold War

Believe it or not, during the Cold War the British had a number of real carriers, not just the V/STOL carriers that have served for years.


These vessels were primarily a mix of two post-World War II classes: The Audacious-class fleet carriers (HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal), one World War II-era fleet carrier (HMS Victorious), and the Centaur-class light carriers.

One of the planes that the fleet carriers relied on most was the Blackburn Buccaneer. According to MilitaryFactory.com, this strike plane was fast (a top speed of 667 miles per hour), was equipped with an in-flight refueling probe, and could fly up to 1,108 miles on internal fuel. It could carry up to 7,000 pounds of bombs, and upgrades gave it the ability to use laser-guided Paveway bombs and stand-off missiles.

A Blackburn Buccaneer in flight. (Youtube Screenshot)

The Buccaneer also was equipped with the Martel air-to-surface missile which came in two variants — the AS 37 for attacking enemy radars, and the AJ 168 anti-ship version. Either version had a range of just over 32 nautical miles and came with a 330-pound warhead. The Buccaneer later was able to carry the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile, which had a range of just under 60 nautical miles.

The Buccaneer flew off the Royal Navy's fleet carriers until 1978, when the Ark Royal was retired. They were then handed over to the Royal Air Force, where a dozen saw action during Operation Desert Storm, providing laser guidance for RAF Tornados and Jaguars. The RAF retired its Buccaneers in 1991 at the end of Desert Storm.

A Blackburn Buccaneer on HMS Eagle in the Mediterranean Sea. (Wikimedia Commons)

The only export customer was the Republic of South Africa, which acquired 16 Buccaneers. These planes saw action from 1965 to 1991 in the minor wars that country had with its neighbors.

The Buccaneer is now gone, but it served well when it was in the British fleet.

You can see a video about this fascinating plane below.

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