You could say the BAC Strikemaster is the powerful cousin of the Hunting Jet Provost T.Mk 5, a light strike, COIN machine, capable of providing a respectable punch in Third World areas of operations. You could even go further and assert that this is the last flowering of the original piston-engined Percival P.56 Provost, of 1950. A few jet trainers have made the transition from a non-belligerent role to that of frontline ‘fighter’ - the Cessna T-37 Tweet to AT-37 Dragonfly, for example – and fewer still are those piston-engined combat aircraft which have been successfully converted to jet power; the Swedish SAAB J21A to J21R is the only one which springs to mind, although the Yak-15 could be said to be a Yak-3 redesigned for a captured German Jumo 004 engine.
By the early 1950s, it was obvious that the Percival Prentice needed replacing. I think the kindest thing that anyone said about the Prentice was that it was underpowered. If the P.56 Provost was an improvement, the Jet Provost (powered by a Bristol-Siddeley Viper engine) was a revelation. The stalky undercarriage of the prototype Jet Provost T.Mk1 can still be seen to this day, as the ex-company demonstrator, G-AOBU is in private hands. The undercarriage having been quickly redesigned, the ‘JP’, as it was known in RAF service, progressed rapidly through its service acceptance trials at RAF Hullavington, and by 1957 was being issued to RAF flying training schools.
The Jet Provost T.Mk 5A was the final service variant, (the first pressurized mark) with a longer nose and more comprehensive avionics. There had been export Jet Provosts (Mks 51, 52, 55) armed with 2 x .303 machineguns, but BAC realized that with the uprated Rolls-Royce Viper 535 (of 3,410 lbs thrust) fitted, and a maximum speed of 472 mph, they had an aircraft that could not just train pilots, but could actually be used on COIN or light attack missions, too. The T.Mk5A airframe was strengthened, with low-level Martin-Baker ejection seats, improved brakes, armour, 2 x .303 FN machineguns, and underwing hardpoints for up to 3,000lbs of assorted stores. The BAC Type 167 Strikemaster was born.
Since the RAF had no major need for a COIN aircraft at this time, the 146 Strikemasters which were built were exported all over the world, particularly were BAC were trying to sell their frontline attack or fighter aircraft (such as the Lightning). The aircraft shown is a Mk.80A – #1133 – of the Royal Saudi Airforce (who bought Lightnings), beautifully displayed at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford. Other users of the ‘Strikey’ included Botswana (Mk 83 -ex-Kuwait, Mk 87 – ex-Kenya), Ecuador (Mk 89/89A), Kenya (Mk 87), New Zealand (Mk 88), Oman (Mk 82/82A), Saudi Arabia (Mk 80/80A), Singapore (MK 82 – ex-Oman, Mk 84), South Yemen (Mk 81) and Sudan (Mk 90). Those aircraft from the airforces of Ecuador and Oman both saw action in regional conflicts (Dhofar, with the SOAF’s ‘Strike Squadron’ of Mk 82s; War of the Condor, 1975, against Peru, for the Mk 89/89As of Esc. de Combate 2313 of the Ecuadorian Air Force – ‘Fuerza Aérea Ecuatoriana’)
The Royal New Zealand Air Force’s Strikemasters (where they were affectionately known as ‘Blunty’s'), and those of the Royal Saudi Air Force suffered progressive fatigue problems, particularly with cracking of the lower spar boom of the wing. Repair schemes, using boron fibre compounds, were only partially successful, and despite British Aerospace reducing the fatigue life of the wing, and modifying flight profiles, the end was in sight. The RSAF replaced their ‘Strikies’ with the Pilatus PC-9, and the RNZAF chose Aermacchi MB-339CB instead (subsequently placed in storage when the NZ Labour Government disbanded ALL fighter/attack squadrons!)
The IWM’s beautifully preserved RSAF Strikemaster Mk 80A is shown carrying a full load of 4 x Matra rocket pods filled with SNEB rockets. A powerful punch from a what was a surprising efficient light-strike aircraft.
Oh, and you can still see ‘Strikies’ at air shows around Europe, as they are relatively economical to run - for a jet, that is!