It is an old adage within the New Commonwealth that anything is for sale within the USA and for once it seems that this was completely true.
The UK intelligence community was approached by a frustrated design engineer shortly after President Carter announced that the B-1A would be cancelled in favour of ICBMs, SLBMs, and a fleet of modernized B-52s armed with ALCMs (June 1977) with an offer to provide the UK with a full set of design plans and flight data so far collected and a full and continuing supply of all material that came across his desk. All that this gentleman asked for was the lump sum of £20 million and £1million a year thereafter. He also asked for a passport, a new identity and protection for the rest of his life, all easily grantable requests.
DevelopmentEditThe work on the aircraft was to be rushed through and it was given to the Blackburn company who had experience with larger aircraft (after their Blackbeard) and close ties with the French Dassault company. Work commenced well and by the time of President Reagan's 2 October 1981 announcement that a new version of the B-1 was being ordered to fill the LRCA role, the UK had its own flying copy and still a direct conduit to the Rockwell design office.
The now renamed Blackburn Kingston, following the long UK tradition of naming bombers after cities, was modified to a standard broadly equivilent to the US B1-B standard. Ready to fly, it was decided to show the USA what the UK had on the one day to rub salt into the wounds and cause the maximum of publicity and fuss.
The Kingston did have subtle differences from the B-1, the canopy layout was different and of course British and French systems and electronics filled the airframes, no airborne refuelling capability was initially available to the Kingston but this was remedied in later marks.
As usual on July 4th 1985 the US Navy was holding televised events from its carriers around the world, part of a series of events to celebrate the US’s independence from the UK and something taking on a new and more inflammatory note as rivalry with the New Commonwealth continued to rise.The USS Enterprise was cruising off the coast of Malta dragging its coat tails well within site of the Royal Navy and well within TV lens range of the harbour. The Admiral in charge couldn’t believe his luck, and with his escorts tucked in close he continued this game for the next couple of hours.
The TV crew upon the carrier were getting some classic pictures, especially of the Royal Navy’s lack of response, and they had been interviewing wildly excited naval ratings all morning with it seems the same response when suddenly klaxons roared into life and men ran everywhere over the flight deck. The stunned TV crew stood on the deck unsure what to do when unexpectedly eight large white painted bombers swept low over the formation of US ships, dropping flares from their open bomb bays.
Into the GlareEdit
The world had caught its first glimpse of the Blackburn Kingston, in squadron service some 3 months before its US equivalent and to the embarrassment of the US Navy and Air Force all caught live on TV around the world. Whilst this happened the UK was good to its word and a joint SAS/MI6 team extracted the engineer and took him to his new life in the UK.
The Kingston entered limited service with the RAF with 36 airframes produced and operated by 87, 94 and 193 Squadrons in the nuclear deterrent role right up to the 91 disaster where they saw service over North America and China. The 15+ survivors stayed in RAF service post 1991 and helped form the core of the reconstructed UK armed forces.