Like the Messerschmitt Me163 ‘Komet’ (which can also be seen at Cosford), the SR53 interceptor used a rocket motor to climb rapidly to high altitudes, but it was also fitted with an Armstrong-Siddeley Viper jet engine, allowing it to remain at altitude with lower fuel consumption.
One of several projects designed to meet an Operational Requirement for a rocket interceptor, work on the SR53 started in 1952. However, due to development delays the first prototype, which is the aircraft shown here, did not fly until 16 May 1957. In trials the SR53 reached Mach 2 (twice the speed of sound) at high altitude.
In December 1957 a setback occurred when the second prototype crashed and exploded at the end of RAF Boscombe Down’s runway in mysterious circumstances, after failing to take-off. The test pilot, Squadron Leader John Booth RAF, was killed.
It became clear before the SR53’s first flight that the aircraft was too small to carry the radar and missiles required in modern interceptors and a more powerful derivative was designed, the SR177. This project was developed for the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm but fell victim to the notorious 1957 Defence White Paper, which led to numerous aircraft projects being scrapped. Development continued for a possible German order, but when this fell through the SR177 project was dropped and the surviving SR53 retired, marking the end of fixed-wing aircraft development at Saunders-Roe.