SR-177 Rocket Jet Fighter – A combined rocket & jet engine fighter jet. The Saunders-Roe SR.177 was a 1950s project to develop a combined jet- and rocket-powered interceptor aircraft for the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Royal Navy.
It was an enlarged derivative of the Saunders-Roe SR.53, which was itself an experimental combined jet-and-rocket interceptor aircraft.
During the 1950s NATO faced a new threat from the Soviet Union, western intelligence believed they were building a fleet of supersonic nuclear bombers that could fly higher and faster than anything NATO had including its interceptors.
The UK’s response was to create a groundbreaking fighter that not only would outperform the Soviet threat but would also be an ideal interceptor to equip the front line NATO countries in Europe. But in a twist of fate worthy of any cold war espionage novel it would be brought down by not only the UK government, again but also some really rather unfriendly competition from a rival aviation company.
With the front line NATO countries like West Germany being so close to the Soviet aircraft based in East Germany, no more than a few minutes away, any fighters would need to go from runway to the 50-60,000ft in under 3 minutes, something which none of the NATO fighters could do at the time.
The problem with the Jet engines of the early 1950s was that they couldn’t accelerate fast enough and was running out of power at the high altitudes required where the Soviet bombers would be. The British looked at a purely rocket-powered plane like the Komet, this would have the acceleration but whichever way they did it, they couldn’t fit enough fuel capacity in the airframe to achieve the range required. A rocket engine also didn’t provide the power to run the electrics and hydraulics to control the plane when come back to land, making the first rocket planes effectively gliders when the fuel ran out.
The breakthrough came when they decided to use both types of engine in the same plane. A small jet engine for takeoff and landing which would also power the rest of the systems and a rocket motor for the high-speed acceleration.
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The SR.177 principally differed from the smaller SR.53 in its adoption of a nose-mounted airborne interception radar unit, which allowed it to scan for and lock onto its own targets; a more powerful turbojet engine was also incorporated. In addition to British interests in the aircraft, the German Navy had also expressed their interest in the project and closely evaluated its progress with an eye towards its potential procurement. However, the SR.177 was ultimately canceled as a result of changes in Britain’s military policies in 1957.
A much larger derivative of the SR.177 had been studied, which was designated as the SR.187, and was being developed with the intention of meeting the requirements of Operational Requirement F.155, however, this work was also canceled in 1957. By the time of termination, approximately 90 percent of the first prototype had been completed, while several other prototypes were in various states of completion. The prototypes were stored for several years while attempts were made to revive the project; while interest was present, including from Japan, nothing more came of the project and the remaining assets were broken up.