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Short Stingray

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The world entered the nuclear age on 16 July 1945 with Trinity, the first nuclear bomb test in New Mexico. The following month, two devices were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, causing the immediate deaths of almost a quarter of a million people. The sheer destructive potential of the atom bomb led British military planners to begin planning for its eventual use.
    It was obvious from the start that the state of the art meant that air dropping was the only viable method of delivery in 1945. While the threat of a nuclear warhead being placed on a ship and detonated in port was seriously considered, even the Royal Navy realised that aircraft were the solution. The only problem was, how to build a warplane capable of dropping a nuclear weapon that was also small enough to operate from an aircraft carrier.
    Facing a similar problem the US Navy just ordered aircraft big enough to carry the 10,000lb weight of early nukes. This gave the world behemoths like the AJ Savage and A3D Skywarrior, in their day the largest aircraft to ever operate from a ship, and even a plan to use rockets to fire a Lockheed Neptune off a carrier deck. In the UK, the Admiralty were not of this same make-do attitude in terms of carrier safety and compatibility. Realising that such designs would never have a hope in hell of operating from anything shy of the Audacious-class carriers then under construction, the Fleet Air Arm issued requirement NA.15 on 17 September 1946 for a gas turbine-powered carrierborne bomber.

The requirement was somewhat exacting. It required an aircraft capable of carrying an internal 5,000lb store at 40,000 feet and 450 mph, for a minimum of 1,500 miles. Size was important and, with wings folded, the type was not to exceed the standard British carrier elevator dimensions. Unlike the RAF’s plans for B.14/46 and B.35/46, the Admiralty were not focusing on the 10,000lb weight of then-existing nuclear weapons. Rather, they took a more considered approach that, if a 10,000lb Mark 3 ‘Fat Man’ bomb could produce a 22-kiloton blast, then a 5,000lb bomb of a similar design could produce an 11-kiloton explosion, still enough to take out a fleet at anchor or carve the heart out of a major city. Despite the physics of nuclear weapons not quite working like that, this was what the Navy went with.
    The powerplant and layout of the aircraft was left up to the designers, but the Admiralty specified gas turbine propulsion. Armstrong-Whitworth and Short Bros & Harland responded, both basing their proposals on the S.11/43 naval strike aircraft they had prepared designs for three years earlier.
    S.11/43 had been cancelled immediately after VJ Day. It was intended to be a twin-engined long-range reconnaissance and strike aircraft and would prove a perfect basis for the Navy’s requirements. Short’s originally winning entry, the Sturgeon, was already taking to the air as NA.15 was issued, with the company planning it to meet a target tug requirement. The fact that the company had hardware already flying gave it the edge over Armstrong-Whitworth and the SB.2 proposal was confirmed the winner in March 1947.

The SB.2 combined elements from both the reconnaissance bomber and target tug variants of the Sturgeon, with new elements of its own. The engine selected for the new bomber was the Napier E136 Naiad II (Developed) turboprop, driving contra-rotating three-bladed props. This engine was smaller and lighter than the Rolls-Royce Merlin it replaced, and with a forecast power level approaching 3,000ehp, almost 50% more powerful. To counteract the lighter engines, the extended nose of the target tug was further enhanced by moving the cockpit forward. The extended nose would now house a visual bomb aimer’s position and an ASH radar scanner above it. This cockpit section would be pressurised, with the rest of the space in the fuselage given over to either self-sealing fuel tanks or the bomb bay.
    The weapons bay on the SB.2 was designed around a single 6,000lb store or several Mark IX 18-inch torpedoes. The overall shape of the bomb was unknown but Admiralty planners simply scaled down the dimensions of the Mark 1 “Little Boy” bomb by 40%, made an educated guess and hoped for the best.

The second Sturgeon prototype was rebuilt to act as the first SB.2, taking to the air on 21 October 1949 in its new configuration. As the Napier E136 was still under development, the prototype was powered by the 1,500ehp E128 Naiad I. The SB.2 retained the Sturgeon’s pleasant handling characteristics and an order for 60 production aircraft was immediately placed.
    Officially named the Stingray, the new aircraft entered service with 700K Naval Air Squadron in January 1953. This was some time before the bombs intended to arm them could possibly be ready, resulting in the type being operated in the conventional bombing role in the short term. In this capacity the Stingray S.1 was deployed operationally during the Suez Crisis.
    Plans were in hand when Project E was finalised in 1957 to arm the Stingray with the American Mark 7 lightweight fission bomb. While the type was cleared with the weapon it was never equipped due to the inevitable problems with dual-key arrangements for bombs deployed on aircraft carriers. In fact the only nuclear capability for the Stingray S.1 would come in the form of the first operational Red Beard bombs, given an emergency operational capability in 1959.

The S.1 model of the Stingray would not last much longer in its nuclear role and was replaced in the nuclear strike role by the Blackburn Buccaneer by 1963. Stingrays armed with Red Beard were deployed aboard HMS Ark Royal off the Kola Peninsula during the Cuban Missile Crisis, with orders to attack Murmansk and Arkhangelsk if the need arose.
    Other models of Stingray remained in service longer than this. A second production order for a carrier onboard delivery (COD) variant was placed in 1957, based on problems encountered at Suez with resupplying carriers in the field. The COD.2 variant featured no radar or observer’s position and the bomb bay space was taken up by a fuel tank. In-fuselage fuel tanks were replaced by space for passengers or light cargo.
    The otherwise redundant strike bombers got a new lease of life as the Stingray K.3 tanker. The early Buccaneers had encountered problems with their asthmatic Gyron Junior engines not developing enough thrust to get them off carrier decks with at full load. The solution was to have the Buccaneers take off with a minimum fuel load and refuel from a Stingray tanker. In this way the Stingray continued in service during the Borneo Crisis and into the 1970s.

This would prove to be the end of Stingray operations. Defence cutbacks in the 1970s meant that the ageing Stingray with its antiquated tail-dragger layout was in the sights of civil servants ordered to find savings. The COD.2 was replaced with converted Gannet AS.4 airframes, which although less capable than the Stingray were cheaper to operate. Likewise the K.3 was phased out and replaced by buddy-pod equipment for use on the Buccaneer. The last of the Stingrays was officially retired on 31 March 1972.

General characteristics (S.1):
Crew: 3
Length: 44’ (13 m)
Wingspan: 60’ (18.28 m)
Height: 13' 6” (4.08 m)
Wing area: 518.4 sq ft (48.16 sq m)
Empty weight: 16,967 lb (7,696 kg)
Gross weight: 21,700 lb (9,843 kg)
Max takeoff weight: 27,000 lb (12,247 kg)
Powerplant: 2 x Napier E136 Naiad II, 2,900 hp (2,207 kW)
Propellers: 6-bladed Rotol, 10 ft (3.0 m) diameter contra-rotating constant-speed fully feathering propellers

Maximum speed: 475 mph (764 km/h, 413 kn)
Cruise speed: 366 mph (589 km/h, 318 kn)
Range: 1,480 mi (2,380 km, 1,290 nmi)
Ferry range: 2,600 mi (4,200 km, 2,300 nmi)
Service ceiling: 41,500 ft (12,600 m)

Internal bomb bay and 2 x underwing hardpoints for maximum of 6,000 lbs (2,724 kg) disposable stores. Weapon options include free-fall bombs, Mark XVII torpedoes, RP3 and Red Angel rockets or single Red Beard nuclear store.

ASV Mark 9 (ASH) radar
Gee-H and TACAN navigation aids

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And so to this idea. Came up with the Stingray based on the idea that the Royal Navy really never had an offensive aircraft until the Buccaneer came along. This is based fairly closely on the Sturgeon, albeit with some heavy re-drawing. Still not sure about those engine nacelles...
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Emilion-3's avatar
Very interesting airplane concept.
PelinalWhiteStrake99's avatar
Great Work Dave !!!! Nice to see someone giving the Royal Navy the love it deserved during the Cold War.
RobiS89's avatar

Nice! Maybe that's just me, but the shape has a certain A-6 Intruder feel to it.

dave-llamaman's avatar
Kinda, I guess. It's purely unintentional, since the nose is pretty much just a smoothed-out version of the Sturgeon target tug with the cockpit moved forwards, props moved back and a few other tweaks.