De Havilland Propellers (later Hawker Siddeley Dynamics or HSD) was of course the largest contractor, building up to 18 flight models of Blue Streak (not all of which were completed) as well as several non-flight vehicles. Large test stands had also to be erected at Hatfield for proving purposes. Rolls Royce developed the prototype RZ 1 engines (copies of the American S3 engine) then designed and built the RZ 2.

De Havilland was also responsible for the Sprite and Super Sprite, designed to assist take-off for the likes of the Comet and the V bombers, and also the Spectre, used in the rocket interceptors and early test models of Blue Steel.

Armstrong Siddeley, which became Bristol Siddeley Engine (BSE) before being absorbed into Rolls Royce, was one of the first of the firms to be involved in rocket development, with the Snarler and Screamer motors. They were then chosen to develop the Gamma motor for Black Knight, the Stentor motor for Blue Steel and the later Gamma motors for Black Arrow. Their test site was at Anstey, near Coventry.

Napier was also involved in HTP work, producing the Scorpion, installed in Canberra reconnaissance aircraft, and a rocket pack intended for the Lightning fighter.

Many other firms were also involved as subcontractors, and in particular Sperry and Ferranti were responsible for inertial guidance platforms.

All these were mainstream aircraft manufacturers, and as such, their involvement in these projects is immediately obvious. What is less obvious, however, is the large part played by an otherwise rather obscure subcontractor and builder of somewhat indifferent flying boats: Saunders Roe (taken over by Westland in 1959, becoming the British Hovercraft Corporation in 1964, the Westland Aerospace in 1985, before being finally absorbed into GKN Aerospace).

Why Saunders Roe? Their previous history had been that of a small but enterprising firm, involved both in marine work and in aviation, and thus, not surprisingly, concentrating in the main on flying boats. It would be fair to say that many of the flying boat designs were rather indifferent. It would also be fair comment to say that later, from the 1950s onwards, throughout their existence as Saunders Roe and later in various Westland guises, they worked on idiosyncratic and often quite advanced projects that would reach prototype stage, but rarely ever reached production. A review of the projects they undertook reveals programmes with technological fascination, but which were often dead ends. These include:

• the SRA/1, a jet engined flying boat fighter. Three prototypes were built, the first of which flew on 16 July 1947.

• the Princess, a very large turbo prop passenger flying boat. Three prototypes were built, the first of which flew on 22 August 1952.

• the SR53, a mixed power plant (rocket/jet) supersonic interceptor. Two prototypes were built. The project had its inception in 1952, and the first flight was on 16 May 1957.

• the SR177, an extended version of the above. Prototypes were being built at the time of cancellation. Inception 1954, cancelled 1957.

• a design for the specification of F155, producing what would have been the very last word in rocket powered interceptors.

• a ‘hydrofoil missile’ for the Admiralty. This was a design for a large hydro-foil craft, powered by a jet engine driving a large wooden airscrew, under radio control, and carrying sonar and a torpedo. Design study 1957.

• the Black Knight research ballistic rocket. More than 25 built; 22 flown. Inception 1955, first flight 1958, last flight 1965.

• the design brochure for Black Prince (see Chapter 8) 1960.

• a design brochure for a liquid hydrogen stage for the Blue Streak satellite launcher (1961).

• the Black Arrow satellite launcher. Five vehicles built, four launched. Inception 1963, first flight 1969, last flight 1971.

• the SRN-1, Britain’s first hovercraft. Indeed, the firm for some years was known as the British Hovercraft Corporation, developing and building all the British hovercraft.

This is not an exhaustive list. Ironically, all these projects fulfilled their requirements. If Saunders Roe were asked to produce a design, they did so, and it would be fair to say that the designs were exactly what was asked for. If that is the case, then it has to be asked whether the requirements were reasonable to begin with. Hindsight is very valuable, but it is pointless to castigate others for not foreseeing the future. However, a more polite way of rephrasing this would be to say that the projects investigated possibilities which might have had a fruitful outcome, and which were worth investigating for their potential.

In addition, the firm undertook a large number of design studies for other projects. Any firm of this sort will always be thinking of new designs, many of which will never see the light of day, but the Saunders Roe team produced an astonishing array of ideas. Again, most of these, like the ones listed above, are noted as much as anything for their eccentricity. Highest on such a list, second only to the hydrofoil missile, might come a study for a nuclear powered flying boat undertaken for the US Navy.

Money values

It is almost impossible to convert from 1950s and 1960s prices to current prices. One measure is the Retail Price Index (RPI). The RPI in 1960 was 12.6; in 2009 it was 218.0, an increase of more than seventeen fold. At a very rough estimate, multiply by twenty. Thus, Black Prince at £35 million could be obtained for the price of the Millennium Dome!

It can be argued that inflation with regard to defence projects has been higher. The cost of deploying Blue Streak was put at perhaps £600 million, or perhaps £20 billion in today’s currency. On the other hand, the cost of replacing the present Trident system is put at somewhere around £80 billion over twenty years. [1]