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Cold War, Hot Jets

Fri Nov 8, 9-10pm, BBC2

Episode one
A documentary of two halves, this one. The early stages feel very niche as a procession of lavishly moustachioed elderly pilots reminisce about fighter planes and presenter James Holland goes up in in a Meteor Jet courtesy of the very Partridge-sounding ‘Classic Air Force’. But soon, subtext becomes pretext and things get much more intriguing.

Postwar Britain was skint. But we were world leaders in aviation technology. So given our financial desperation and our already huge debts to the USA, who would we sell to? Surely not the USSR? Well yes, actually. Those deadly emblems of Cold War peril, the Russian MIG fighters contained Rolls-Royce engines. And yet at the same time, we happily provided pilots to fly U2 spy planes, a policy still never admitted by British governments.

In the end, a decent film, albeit much better on the ambiguous morality plays of the Cold war than on the simplistic backslapping patriotic boosterism. Part two, which concentrates on the putative delivery of armageddon, should be well worth catching.


P. Jenkins

The Wilson Labour government did not scrap the TSR2 as political decision on its own. Wilson negotiated a loan from America that came with strings attached. First scrap Concorde, we could not do that without massive financial penalties with France. Second scrap the TSR2 and buy Phantoms from America instead, well at least the MOD insisted they be fitted with Rolls Royce engines. Third, give America the plans and rights to manufacture Harriers. Fourth, since we were unwilling to get out of Concorde, the Americans insist we scrap the VC10 programme. At the time there was on the drawing board plans for a wide bodied VC10. In exchange for that loan, Wilson virtually destroyed Britain's aircraft industry and bolstered Americas. Nothing was said about our air launched cruise missile, Blue Streak, carried by the V Bombers, this allowed the V Bombers to deliver their nuclear load as far away as 250 miles from target. The low level navigation system deveoped for TSR2 is used in the Tomahawk cruise missile. Such was the outrage amongst the military chiefs there were plans for a military style take over of the government.

C Sutherland

Accepting that the Cold War focus allows discounting of the significant omission that Nazi Germany had numerous squadrons of the world's first operational jet fighters, this is a distorted insular history with a confusing timeline. V bomber design started in 1946 and yet in episode one we are presented with the failure of the DH Comet. The MiG 15 story was well presented but predictable references to 'boffins in Nissen huts' gives little credit to the outstanding intellectuals of mathematics and engineering such as Sir Stanley Hooker and others who drove jet engine development in the UK once it was realised finally that Whittle had something worth pursuing