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Role Maritime patrol aircraft
Manufacturer Avro
First flight March 1949
Introduced April 1951
Retired 1990
Primary users Royal Air Force
South African Air Force
Produced 1951-1958
Number built 185
Developed from Avro Lincoln

The Avro Shackleton was a British long-range maritime patrol aircraft for use by the Royal Air Force. It was developed by Avro from the Avro Lincoln bomber with a new fuselage. It was originally used primarily in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) roles, and was later adapted for airborne early warning (AEW), search and rescue (SAR) and other roles from 1951 until 1990. It also served in the South African Air Force from 1957 to 1984. The type is named after the polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.


Design and development

The aircraft was designed by Roy Chadwick as the Avro Type 696.[1] It was based on the Lincoln, itself a derivative of the successful wartime Lancaster heavy bomber, one of Chadwick's earlier designs which was the then current ASW aircraft. The design took the Lincoln's wings and landing gear and mated them with a new fuselage, and was initially referred to during development as the Lincoln ASR.3. The engines were Rolls-Royce Griffons with 13 ft (4 m)-diameter contra-rotating propellors, creating a distinctive engine noise and adding high-tone deafness to the hazards of the pilots. The first test flight was in March 1949 and front-line aircraft were delivered to Coastal Command in April 1951 and had their operational debut during the Suez Crisis. In the ASW role, the Shackleton carried both types of sonobuoy, ESM, an Autolycus (diesel fume detection system) and for a short time an unreliable magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) system. Weapons were nine bombs, or three torpedoes or depth-charges, and 20 mm cannon.

The MR.2 was improved with feedback from operations and is considered by aficionados to be the definitive type. The radome was moved from the nose to a ventral position, to improve all-round coverage and minimise the risk of bird-strikes. Both the nose and tail sections were lengthened, the tailplanes were redesigned and the undercarriage was strengthened.

The MR.3 was another redesign in response to crew complaints. A new tricycle undercarriage was introduced, the fuselage was increased in all main dimensions and had new wings with better ailerons and tip tanks. As a sop to the crews, on fifteen hour flights the sound deadening was improved and a proper galley and sleeping space were included. Due to these upgrades the take-off weight of the RAF's MR.3s had risen by over 30,000 lb (13,600 kg) (Ph. III) and assistance from Armstrong Siddeley Viper Mk.203 turbojets was needed on take-off (JATO).[2] This extra strain took a toll on the airframe, and flight life of the RAF MR.3s was sufficiently reduced that they were outlived by the MR.2s. Due to the arms embargo against South Africa the SAAF's MR.3s never received these upgrades but were maintained independently by the SAAF.

Operational history

A total of 185 Shackletons were built from 1951 to 1958: around twelve are still believed to be intact, with one still flying (SAAF 1722 based at AFB Ysterplaat). [3]


Royal Air Force

8 Sqn RAF flew the Shackleton AEW2 from 1973 to 1991

All marks suffered from using the Griffon engines — thirsty for fuel and oil, noisy and temperamental with high-maintenance needs. In 1961, MR.2's engines needed top overhauls every 400 hours and went through a spate of ejecting spark plugs from their cylinder heads. It was not unusual to see an engine changed every day in a unit of six aircraft. They were constantly on the cusp of being replaced, but the potentially beneficial Napier Nomad re-engine did not happen.

The need to replace the Shackleton was first raised in the early 1960s. The arrival of the Hawker-Siddeley Nimrod in 1969 was the end for the Shackleton in most roles but it continued as the main SAR aircraft until 1972. The intention to retire the aircraft was then thwarted by the need for AEW coverage in the North Sea and northern Atlantic following the retirement of the Fairey Gannet. With a new design not due until the late 1970s the existing AN/APS-20 radar was installed in Mk. IIs as an interim measure, the AEW.2, from 1972. The Nimrod AEW replacement programme dragged on and the eventual successor to the Shackleton did not arrive until the RAF finally abandoned the Nimrod AEW and purchased the E-3 Sentry in 1991.

South African Air Force

SAAF 1722, the last flying Shackleton.

After evaluating four RAF MR.2s in 1953, the South African Air Force ordered 8 aircraft to replace the Short Sunderland in maritime patrol duties. Some minor modifications were required for South African conditions and the resulting aircraft became the MR.3.[4] These Shackletons remained in maritime patrol service with 35 Squadron SAAF up to November 1984.[3] The aircraft received SAAF designations 1716 to 1723. The SAAF Shackletons never received the jet engines like the RAF ones did.

Although the joke has been applied to several aircraft, the Shackleton has been described as "a hundred thousand rivets flying in close formation"[5]


A Shackleton AEW.2 on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester
Shackleton GR.1
The first production model for the RAF, later redesignated Shackleton MR.1.
Shackleton MR.1A
Version powered by four Griffon 57A V12 piston engines, equipped with a chin mount radome. In service from April 1951.
Shackleton MR.2
Version with longer nose and radome moved to the ventral position.
Shackleton MR.2C
Number of Shackleton MR.2s, fitted with the navigation and offensive equipment of the Shackleton MR.3.
Shackleton MR.3
Maritime reconnaissance, anti-shipping aircraft. The tail wheel was replaced by a tricycle undercarriage configuration. Fitted with wingtip tanks. Eight exported to South Africa.
Shackleton MR.3 Phase 2
Similar to Shackleton MR.3 but fitted with two Viper turbojet engines for assisted take off.
Shackleton MR.4
Project of new maritime reconnaissance version, none built.
Shackleton AEW.2
Airborne early warning aircraft. MR.2s converted to take ex-Fairey Gannet airborne early warning radar.
Shackleton T.4
Navigation trainer conversion.


Retired Mk 3, SAAF 1721, on permanent display at Swartkop
 South Africa
 United Kingdom



Static display


Orthographic projection of the Avro Shackleton MR Mk.1A, with profile views of all the other major variants.
Armed with two 20 mm Hispano cannon in the nose

Data from[citation needed]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 10
  • Length: 87 ft 4 in (26.61 m)
  • Wingspan: 120 ft (36.58 m)
  • Height: 17 ft 6 in (5.33 m)
  • Wing area: 1,421 ft² (132 m²)
  • Airfoil: modified NACA 23018 at root, NACA 23012 at wingtip [8]
  • Empty weight: 51,400 lb (23,300 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 86,000 lb (39,000 kg)
  • Fuel capacity: 4,258 imperial gallons (19,360 L))
  • Powerplant:Rolls-Royce Griffon 57 liquid-cooled V12 engine, 1,960 hp (1,460 kW) each
  • Propellers: contra-rotating propeller, 2 per engine
    • Propeller diameter: 13 ft (4 m)



  • Guns: 2 × 20 mm Hispano Mark V cannon in the nose
  • Bombs: 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) of bombs, torpedoes or mines

See also

Related development

Comparable aircraft

Related lists


  1. ^ Billings, Bill. "The Shackleton Story." The Shackleton Association. Retrieved: 10 July 2008.
  2. ^ "Shackletons in the SAAF - Retirement." The Shackleton Project. Retrieved: 10 July 2008.
  3. ^ a b "Shackleton 1722 Video Launch." South African Air Force, 19 September 2007. Retrieved: 3 July 2008.
  4. ^ "Shackletons in the SAAF - Birth of a Legend." The Shackleton project. Retrieved: 10 July 2008.
  5. ^ Loose formation
  6. ^ "Pelican 16". South African Air Force Museum. Retrieved 2008-08-03. 
  7. ^ "Avro Shackleton 1716 forever missing-in-action." South African Air Force, 23 November 2006. Retrieved: 3 August 2008.
  8. ^ Argosy Air - History - Development
  • Howard, Peter J. "Avro (Hawker Siddeley) Shackleton Mks. 1 to 4". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 13. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1973, pp. 193–217. ISBN 0-85383-022-3.

External links


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