Dedicated Two-Seat, Single-Engine Strike Aircraft
The Strikemaster was developed into two distinct versions and both saw service with foreign operators.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
At its core, the Strikemaster was a jet-powered training platform with inherent light ground attack facilities as secondary. This appealed to many-a-budget conscious shopper around the world where the dedicated pilot trainers could be armed for the low-level, counter-insurgency role if required. As such, the Strikemaster family line led a lengthy operational lifespan throughout the Cold War years, even seeing direct combat action in the hands of a few operators. Sudan became the last known frontline operator of the type while others have gone on to see extended life in private hands. As of this writing, less than a dozen of the aircraft were noted as air worthy due to structural issues involving the wings, a setback that plagued the series and forced its untimely retirement.
Origins of the Strikemaster lay in the Percival Provost, a single-engine, piston-powered monoplane produced by the Percival concern and serving as a military trainer for several air forces of the world. Some 461 of the type were delivered beginning in 1953 and these served well into 1969. With the Percival Provost design a proven commodity, attention was given to modifying the aircraft as a jet-powered mount a short time later. This initiative produced the "Hunting Jet Provost (JP)" which fitted an Armstrong Siddeley Viper Mk 202 turbojet engine into its airframe. The type went airborne for the first time in 1954 and was formally introduced into service the following year, seeing activity into 1993 and production totals numbering 741. Some of this type were armed for the light ground attack role in its military guise.
The Jet Provost was initially produced on a quantitative scale with the arrival of the Jet Provost T.3 production mark. The T.4 then arrived in 1961 and introduced the much-needed side-by-side ejection seat system as well as conformal wingtip fuel tanks. The definitive T.5 mark appeared in 1967 and sported a larger pressurized cockpit set within a lengthened nose. The T51, T52 and T55 marks all served as successful armed export marks clearing the way for the much improved militarized form in the "BAC Strikemaster". The Percival Aircraft Company, having changed its name to the Hunting Percival Aircraft firm in 1954, became "Hunting Aircraft" in 1957 and then merged with Bristol, English Electric and Vickers-Armstrong in 1959 to become the "British Aircraft Corporation" - otherwise abbreviated to BAC (BAC, itself, would later become "British Aerospace" in 1999, today known as "BAe Systems").
The armed Jet Provost T.5 served as the starting point for the new BAC 167 Strikemaster. Several key differentiating features included the installation of a more powerful Rolls-Royce Viper series turbojet for improved performance. Four underwing hardpoints were added for external fuel and ordnance and her internal structure was reinforced for the rigors of military service. The initial Strikemaster prototype went airborne in October of 1967, clearing development hurdles en route to serial production the following year as the "Strikemaster Mk 80". The Strikemaster series went on to see modest success on the export market, though none were fielded by the British themselves.
Externally, the Strikemaster was of a highly conventional form. The streamlined fuselage managed all of the critical internal components including the cockpit, avionics, fuel stores and engine installation. The cockpit was set well-forward in the design to promote excellent vision for both pilots. The nose assembly was short and sloped downwards away from the cockpit windscreen. The cockpit canopy was lightly framed to help with vision all the more. The fuselage spine was raised aft of the cockpit which degraded vision to the absolute rear of the aircraft. The single engine was buried deep within the fuselage which, itself, tapered off to the extreme aft end to encase the engine exhaust ring. The engine was aspirated by a pair of shallow, smallish, half-moon air intakes located to either side of the cockpit. The bulge created by these assemblies also served as the wingroots for the main wings which were straight along their leading edge and angled forward along their trailing edge. Conformal fuel tank pods were affixed to the wingtips and hardpoints dotted the underside of each wing for ordnance carrying. The empennage was of traditional design with a single straight vertical fin and a pair of horizontal tailplanes to complete the look. The undercarriage was simple, consisting of a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg under the nose and two single-wheeled main legs under each wing. The legs were rather short in their design, promoting a very shallow ground stature for the aircraft when at rest. In some ways, this limited the ordnance carrying capabilities of the type along the fuselage centerline but made for managing such ordnance more acceptable.
General characteristics of the Strikemaster included a wingspan of 36.9 feet, a length of 33.7 feet and a height of 10.10 feet. Her empty listed weight was in the vicinity of 6,200lbs with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 11,500lbs. Power was supplied via a single Rolls-Royce Viper Mk 535 series turbojet engine delivering a maximum speed of 480 miles per hour with a range equal to 1,382 miles and a service ceiling of 40,000 feet at a 5,250 feet per minute rate-of-climb.
Beyond its training capabilities, the Strikemaster could be armed with an array of light ordnance. 2 x 7.62mm FN internal machine guns were fitted as standard while up to 3,000lbs of external stores could be carried under the wings. This ordnance could include 7.62mm machine gun pods, 20mm cannon pods, unguided air-to-surface high-explosive rocket pods, lightweight conventional drop bombs and napalm. Operational distances could be increased by the carrying of 2 x external drop tanks in lieu of some of the underwing armament. For bombing training purposes, the Strikemaster could be fitted with training drop bombs.
Production of the Strikemaster spanned from 1967 to 1984 to which some 146 examples were ultimately delivered. Two major production types eventually emerged and these included the original "Strikemaster 80" series and the follow-up "Strikemaster 90" produced in numbers of 136 and 10 respectively. Operators included Botswana, Ecuador, Kenya, Kuwait, New Zealand, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Yemen and Sudan and these were assigned specific designations to reflect the customer.
The Strikemaster Mk 80 was 25 aircraft sent to Saudi Arabia and these were followed by 20 more as the Strikemaster Mk 80A. The Strikemaster Mk 81 was sent in four examples to South Yemen. A dozen Strikemaster Mk 82s were delivered to Oman and these were followed by 12 more Strikemaster Mk 82A models. Kuwait received 12 examples of the Strikemaster Mk 83 and Singapore took on delivery of 16 Strikemaster Mk 84s. Kenya received six Strikemaster Mk 87s. New Zealand stocked 16 Strikemaster Mk 88s and these were affectionately known as "Blunty". 22 Strikemaster Mk 89s made their way to Ecuador and these were followed later by several Strikemaster Mk 89As. Sudan became the last Strikemaster customer, receiving their last airframe in 1984 and operating the type as the Strikemaster Mk 90 into the new millennium - though only three aircraft were deemed "air worthy" by this point.
In the 1970s, a revised Strikemaster was considered with a more powerful Rolls-Royce Viper turbojet but this endeavor fell to naught.
In practice, the Strikemaster proved successful in export hands. Its rather low procurement cost ensured that it would stock the inventories of several developing air forces around the world. The Strikemaster exuded rugged field qualities and good low-level handling. It could operate from make-shift air fields if needed and could serve a dual purpose in both pilot training and light attack. Oman utilized their Strikemasters in anger during the Dhofar Rebellion (1962-1975) against "liberation" fronts, resulting in a coalition victory (alongside Britain, Iran and Jordan) against insurgent forces. Other notable actions placed the Strikemaster in combat service with Ecuador to which the aircraft was used against Peruvian targets.
As such, the Strikemaster family line enjoyed a solid presentation throughout its decades of service. It was not until structural fatigue-based cracking was found at the wings of New Zealand Strikemasters that the type was forced into limited service from there on and, ultimately, forced into retirement. The fatigue issue caused several accidents including one incident involving a civilian-owned Strikemaster that crashed, killing both occupants, on October 5th, 2006. The crash was blamed on a separation of the right wing assembly from the fuselage due to cracking.
Today, most Strikemasters were flown in civilian hands or are under the care of museums and few, if any, are being flown by active militaries.