Handley Page was at the forefront of British bomber design since the First World War when the Royal Flying Corps first started to take the idea of using aircraft to drop bombs on enemy positions seriously. From the O/100 biplane bomber of World War One to the heavy four engined Halifax bomber of World War II, Sir Frederick Handley Page and his people built a succession of successful bomber designs and with the end of the war and the advent of jet technology he was determined to keep his company in its highly prestigious position as one of Britain’s major warplane manufacturers. As early as 1944 the company began to look at possible applications for the jet engine and this early research was advanced by the addition of captured German notes on similar research.
In January 1947 this research was to be put towards practical use as the RAF issued a requirement for a strategic nuclear armed bomber. Avro, Vickers and Shorts all put forward designs but it was Handley Page’s HP80 that was the most radical thanks to a wing design that appeared crescent shaped when viewed from above or below. The crescent wing is a configuration similar to the swept wing but instead of having one continuous angle of sweep it has greater sweep on the inboard section than the outer which results in the unique shape. This dramatically helped to reduce the formation of drag inducing shockwaves near Mach.1 while additionally keeping subsonic performance higher than a continuous sweep wing.
The design was revolutionary and like nearly all revolutionary ideas required a lot of testing and fine tuning. Wind tunnel models can only tell you so much and so Handley Page decided to build a scaled down flying testbed. Lacking the time to build a complete aircraft in the lower scale the company acquired a Supermarine Swift fuselage and went about building the wings and tail sections. The aircraft was also given a tail wheel so as to keep the nose up to improve the angle of attack during take off. Assembly was contracted out to Blackburn aircraft and was completed in 1951. By this time however the Victor design had advanced even further and this raised questions over the validity of the tests expected to be carried out using the H.P.88. It was decided to continue anyway even if to only further explore the crescent wing concept for future application.
On June 21st 1951 the aircraft took off for the first time from Carnaby, Bridlington. As they had assembled it, initial testing was carried out by Blackburn’s test pilots. These early tests revealed pitching oscillations at speeds above 230 knots that threatened to render the aircraft uncontrollable. It was a disappointing discovery but modifications to the tailplane largely addressed this problem reducing the oscillation up to 450 knots or Mach 0.82.
The aircraft and the early test results were handed over to Handley Page in August 1951 for further testing and for Handley Page to demonstrate the aircraft at the forthcoming Farnborough air show. Then on August 26th 1951, whilst practicing a series of high speed passes for the air show, at a height of 300ft and at a speed of 525 knots the aircraft commenced a series of uncommanded oscillations which resulted in a violent nose up movement. Experiencing well over 12g (the maximum the onboard equipment could record so it’s possible it was even more) the aircraft began to break up killing the pilot, Flight Lieutenant D.J.P. Broomfield DFM, Handley Page’s deputy chief test pilot.
- Crew: One
- Role: Aerodynamic Testbed
- Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Nene 102 turbojet, 4,770 lbs thrust
- Maximum speed: Mach 0.85
- Length: 40 ft (12.2 m)
- Wingspan: 40 ft (12.2 m)
- Wing area: 284 ft² (26 m²)