Bristol 188


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  RESEARCH AIRCRAFTVirtual Aircraft Museum / United Kingdom / Bristol  

Bristol 188

The Bristol 188, sometimes called the 'flaming pencil', was designed to research structures for sustained supersonic flight, particularly in support of the Avro 730 reconnaissance aircraft. This required the aircraft to 'soak' at Mach 2.6 for at least 30 minutes. To achieve the required strength the structure was largely stainless steel, which required new techniques and great expense to fabricate into an airframe.

Take-off speed was nearly 483km/h, but in all other respects the 188's speed was slower than desired, being able to achieve Mach 2.0 for only a couple of minutes. The whole project cost a huge GBP20 million and failed to achieve its objectives. It was wound down rather than develop the engines further. Test pilot Godfrey Auty was voted the 'man most likely to eject in the coming year' by his peers but thankfully never had to.


A new type of stainless steel, joined by a new 'puddle' welding process was needed fot the 188. It took over two years to develop the steel before it could even be ordered for construction use.

The PS.50 (modified Gyron Junior) engines had greater diameter than the fuselage but never developed enough thrust to push the 188 to the high speeds required.

Fuel capacity was usually only enough for 20-25 minutes flight including a high-speed run. By airline standards the 188 was in a fuel emergency situation before take-off.

Bristol 188 on YOUTUBE

Bristol 188

 ENGINE2 x 6350kg de Havilland Gyron Junior DGJ 10
  Wingspan10.69 m35 ft 1 in
  Length21.64 m71 ft 0 in
  Height4.06 m13 ft 4 in
  Wing area36.79 m2396.00 sq ft
  Max. speed1932 km/h1201 mph

Bristol 188A three-view drawing (700 x 641)

Comments1-20 21-40
Ed, 28.05.2020 16:25

One on display at RAF Museum Cosford


John Morris, e-mail, 11.07.2021 Ed

The aircraft at Cosford has a photograph that states it was taken at Farnborough. In fact, this photograph was taken at Filton and the museum at Cosford with supplied with a photograph taken from the same location to demonstrate where the 188 was landing. The museum never replied or changed the caption on their photograph.


Robert W. Horn, e-mail, 05.07.2017 16:03

Looking like the result of an illicit affair between an F-104 (long, slender fuselage,stub wings and "T" tail), and an SR-71 (engines,with spike inlets, in external pods), the BAC 188 is another classic example of what might have been, with a bit more time, a bit fewer complications, and a bit more vision, the latter only possible if Duncan Sandys was to trip and fall in front of a runaway train!


Gareth Atkinson, e-mail, 29.01.2017 23:36

If memory serves me right, the second a /c never flew and ended up on Salisbury Plain and used for target practice for tanks. My father Bob Atkinson was the Dowty rep on the T188 and I remember him saying what a nightmare the legs were to work on as was most of the a /c. I witnessed most of the flights from the Bristol Aeroplane Tech College in the 60s.


Tony Haig-Thomas, e-mail, 23.02.2016 00:31

I was told that it was so late that the later marks of Lightnings were faster than the 188 by the time it flew . Not a great British success story.


Steve Lovell, e-mail, 31.01.2014 22:47

I remember it as a child flying right over our house. We were slap bang on the flight path to Filton Airfield. I swear sometimes if it flew any lower it would have hit our chimney pot ! One of the most beautiful aircraft I ever saw. Designed by men with thick glasses, neckties with very small knots, pipes and a slide rule


David brown, e-mail, 12.11.2013 05:01

the aircraft was supposedly designed to investigate kinetic heating in supersonic flight. most of the world's supply of titanium was controlled by the USSR so stainless steel was chosen. first problem was that stainless could not be riveted so it had to be welded and a lot of research money and time went in how to weld stainless steel. By the time the aircraft (923 & 926) were built information from the US revealed that only the leading edges were susceptible to kinetic heating.
The typical supersonic run lasted only a few minutes. As the 188 had no navigation instruments it would line up on the Hawker Hunter chase plane. The Type 188 sent most of the flight data to the ground control by a radio link - an innovation for the time.
The problem with the 188 was not the engines per se but the air intake control system. The control system was designed and tested at Pyestock - only they tested the system at ground level temperature and pressure. As the aircraft approached target speeds the spill valves in the intake would oscillate and cause extreme vibrations of the aircraft.
As mentioned by another correspondent the cockpit was capable of being refrigerated, eating into the weight budget, yet the aircraft only had the crudest navigation equipment in order to meet the weight budget.


Paul Scott, e-mail, 07.10.2013 17:51

Amazing aircraft!


Bill Joice, e-mail, 30.01.2013 20:52

I saw it in the early 60's near what was the WOOLSINGHAM AIRPORT, NEWCASTLE.
LIKE A LARGE CANBERRA, beautiful silver


Silksheen, e-mail, 05.12.2012 11:44

After my time on Britannia, I worked on 188 at Filton in the late 1950s.


Henry Matthews, e-mail, 29.10.2012 15:25

I produced a detailed history of this aircraft, with complete flight logs and exclusive pictures. Write to the addess above.



roy manix, e-mail, 24.10.2011 01:06

puddle welding???isnt that common place now?????


Kevin Morrow, e-mail, 30.05.2011 16:12

Looks like the Lockheed Martain SR-71 Blackbird.


Mike Rowan, e-mail, 19.06.2020 Kevin Morrow

I wonder if this was a Kelly Johnson rip-off of a British idea. It was said that kelly never like to design a plane from the ground up. He took parts of other planes and incorporated them into a newer design. Too bad they didn't have titanium.


Ron, e-mail, 26.05.2011 02:24

The first flight was a near disater. The forward folding nose gear severed a hydraulic line just after take off. We could see oil vapour spraying out from the nose wheel bay. The pilot had to rely on the emergency nitrogen system for controls. The program was an engineer's dream with enormous cost overruns and delays.


Richard, e-mail, 09.04.2011 03:05

I thought that maybe the Americans had used the engine kow how from the 188 for the Black Bird but after reading this and having read the Skunk Works I feel that Kelly Johnson and his team did it on their own


Barry, 14.01.2011 17:49

The fault of this aircraft was the engines. The Gyron Junior promised so much in all it's applications but delivered so little.It should be noted that the Blackburn NA39 (Buccaneer)only got into it's stride when it was decided to use the Spey in place of the Gyron Junior. De Havilland were one of the great aeroplane designers and aircraft manufacturers but when it came to advanced jet engines they had a lot to learn.


Jock Murray, e-mail, 02.12.2010 05:31

Reminds me somewhat of the land speed record car Thrust SST that Andy Green drove. Could there have been some kind of design rub off here I wonder as the car certainly worked.


John Colbert, e-mail, 29.06.2010 18:10

The trailing edge of the rudder on the Cosford 188 is constructed of small,oddly shaped panels. Why?


Dave Claridge, e-mail, 17.05.2010 15:01

Parts of the structure were sub contracted by Armstrong Whitworth and were welded using a technique called "puddle welding". As a seasoned welder myself I've never come across this process. Is it TIG welding?


John Giles, e-mail, 22.03.2010 10:37

Out of iteresr there is a complet aircrft at the RAF Cosford Museum.


John Merchant, e-mail, 13.03.2010 16:48

Whilst in D.O., did some Instrumentation work on this a /c. I understand main reason for failed performance was lack of correct, promised, engines. A /c was very difficult to work on (ask the fitters!) but design was exemplary.


1-20 21-40

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