English Electric Canberra

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Canberra T.4 WJ874 in 2005, it had been painted in 1999 to represent the first prototype VN799, first flown in 1949
Role Bomber/Reconnaissance
Manufacturer English Electric
First flight 13 May 1949
Introduction 25 May 1951
Retired 23 June 2006 (RAF)
Status Retired from service
Primary users Royal Air Force
Indian Air Force
Peruvian Air Force
Royal Australian Air Force
Number built 900 (UK)[1]
49 (Australia)[1]
Variants Martin B-57 Canberra
Canberra PR9 XH135

The English Electric Canberra is a British first-generation jet-powered medium bomber manufactured in large numbers through the 1950s. The Canberra could fly at a higher altitude than any other bomber through the 1950s and set a world altitude record of 70,310 ft (21,430 m) in 1957. Due to its ability to evade the early jet interceptors and its significant performance advancement over contemporary piston-engined bombers, the Canberra was a popular export product and served with air forces of many nations.

In addition to being a tactical nuclear strike aircraft, the Canberra proved to be highly adaptable, serving in varied roles such as tactical bombing and photographic and electronic reconnaissance. Canberras served in the Suez Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Falklands War, the Indo-Pakistani wars, and numerous African conflicts. In several wars, each of the opposing sides had Canberras in their air forces. The Canberra was retired by its first operator, the Royal Air Force (RAF), in June 2006, 57 years after its first flight. Three of the Martin B-57 variant remain in service, performing meteorological work for NASA, as well as providing electronic communication (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node or BACN) testing for deployment to Afghanistan.[2][3]



The Canberra had its origins in a 1944 Air Ministry requirement for a successor to the de Havilland Mosquito – a high altitude, high-speed bomber with no defensive armament. Several British aircraft manufacturers submitted proposals. Among the companies short-listed to proceed with development studies was English Electric, a well-established industrial manufacturer with very little aircraft design experience, though when a desperate need for bombers arose during the early years of the Second World War, English Electric had built the Handley Page Hampden and later the Handley Page Halifax four-engined bomber under licence.[4]

In 1944, Westland Aircraft's technical director and chief designer W. E. W. Petter prepared a design study for a twin-engined fighter bomber, the P.1056, based on two fuselage-mounted Metrovick F.2/4 "Beryl" engines. The authorities doubted its suitability for operations from unprepared fields and at low altitude but could see its potential as a bomber design; numerous manufacturers refused to take on the design.[5][6] Petter left Westland to join the English Electric company in December 1944, where he was encouraged to develop his design,[6] EE formed its own in-house aircraft design team in the following year.[4]

In June 1945, the aircraft that was to become the Canberra bore many similarities to the eventual design, despite the placement of a single, centrally mounted turbojet engine; two wing-mounted engines were adopted later that year.[7] On 7 January 1946, the Ministry of Supply placed a contract for the development and production of four English Electric A.1 aircraft.[8] It continued to be known as the English Electric A.1 until it was given the name Canberra after the capital of Australia in January 1950 by Sir George Nelson, chairman of English Electric, as Australia was the aircraft's first export customer.[9] Although jet powered, the Canberra design philosophy was very much in the Mosquito mould, providing room for a substantial bomb load, fitting two of the most powerful engines available, and wrapping it in the most compact and aerodynamic package possible. Rather than devote space and weight to defensive armament which historically could not overcome fighter aircraft, the Canberra was designed to fly fast and high enough to avoid air-to-air combat entirely.[10]

Prototypes and first flights

The first Canberra B2 prototype, VX165.
The first Canberra B2 prototype, VX165

The Air Ministry specification B.3/45 had requested the production of four prototypes. English Electric began construction of these in early 1946. All the prototypes were built on jigs.[11] However, due to post-war military reductions, the first aircraft did not fly until 13 May 1949.[12] By the time the first prototype had flown, the Air Ministry had already ordered 132 production aircraft in bomber, reconnaissance, and training variants. The prototype proved vice-free and required only a few modifications. A new glazed nose had to be fitted to accommodate a bomb-aimer because the advanced H2S Mk9 bombing radar was not ready for production, the turbojet engines were upgraded to the more powerful Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.3s, and distinctive teardrop-shaped fuel tanks were fitted under the wingtips.[12]

The resultant aircraft, designated the Canberra B2, first flew on 21 April 1950, piloted by Roland Beamont. Proving to be fairly free of problems, this first flight was almost immediately followed by the manufacturing of production Canberras, entering squadron service with RAF No. 101 Squadron in May 1951.[8] In a testament to the aircraft's benign handling characteristics, the transition programme consisted of only twenty hours in the Gloster Meteor and three hours in the dual-control Canberra trainer.[13]

With a maximum speed of 470 knots (870 km/h; 540 mph), a standard service ceiling of 48,000 ft (14,600 m), and the ability to carry a 3.6-tonne (7,900 lb) payload, the Canberra was an instant success. It was built in 27 versions that equipped 35 RAF squadrons, and was exported to more than 15 countries, including Australia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Rhodesia, South Africa, Sweden, Venezuela and West Germany.[13]

Photo-reconnaissance and conversion roles

The strategic reconnaissance role within the RAF had been carried out by the de Havilland Mosquito; in 1946 the Air Ministry issued Specification PR.31/46 as a jet-powered replacement for the Mosquito.[14] To meet the requirement, the B2 design was modified by adding a 14-inch (36 cm) bay forward of the wing behind the cockpit to house seven cameras.[14] It also had an additional fuel tank in the forward part of the bomb bay and only needed a two-man crew.[15] The prototype, designated PR3, first flew on 19 March 1950, followed by the first of 35 production aircraft on 31 July 1952.[14] It entered service in December 1952 when No. 540 Squadron RAF began to convert from the Mosquito PR.34.[14] The Canberra PR3 was the first aircraft designed for the RAF purely for photo-reconnaissance.[8]

To enable crews to convert to flying the Canberra, a trainer version was developed to meet Air Ministry Specification T2/49.[16] The prototype designated T4 first flew on 12 June 1951.[17] It was the same basic design as the B2 apart from the introduction of side-by-side seating for the pilot and the instructor and the replacement of the glazed nose with a solid nose.[17] The first production T4 flew on 20 September 1953 and the variant entered service with No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit RAF in early 1954.[9][18] As well as the operational conversion unit, all the B2-equipped bomber squadrons received at least one T4 for training.[18]

Manufacturing abroad

Martin EB-57B

In the United States, where the US Air Force needed to replace the B-26 Invader and no home-produced aircraft designs could get close to what the British aircraft could offer, 403 Canberras were manufactured under licence by Martin as the B-57 Canberra in several versions.[19] The first examples were the same as the original English Electric aircraft, following which tandem crew seating was introduced, but later B-57 models were considerably modified. In Australia, the Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) built 48 for the Royal Australian Air Force,[12][19] broadly similar to the British B2 but with a modified leading edge, increased fuel capacity and room for three starter cartridges, although in practice all three cartridges would sometimes fire, leading to the triple starter units being loaded singly.[20]

In the United Kingdom, the demand for Canberras exceeded English Electric's ability to manufacture the aircraft and several other British aviation firms, Handley Page, Avro and Short Brothers, manufactured the Canberra under licence.[21] A total of 901 Canberras were manufactured in the UK, of world production of 1,352 aircraft.[19]


Rolls-Royce Avon engine on display, Temora Aviation Museum, 2011

The design of the Canberra has been described as being of a simple nature, somewhat resembling a scaled-up Gloster Meteor fighter, except for its use of a mid-wing.[22] The fuselage was circular in cross section, tapered at both ends and, cockpit aside, entirely without protrusions; the line of the large, low-aspect ratio wings was broken only by the tubular engine nacelles.[22] The Canberra had a two-man crew under a fighter-style canopy, but delays in the development of the intended automatic radar bombsight resulted in the addition of a bomb aimer's position in the nose. Each crew member has a Martin-Baker ejection seat, except in the B(I)8 and its export versions where the navigator has an escape hatch and parachute provided.[citation needed]

The wing is of single-spar construction that passes through the aircraft's fuselage; the wingspan and total length of the Canberra were almost identical at just under 20 metres. Outboard of the engine nacelles, the wing has a leading-edge sweep of 4° and trailing-edge sweep of −14°. Controls are conventional with ailerons, four-section flaps, and airbrakes on top and bottom surfaces of the wings.[23] The use of swept-wings was examined but decided against as the expected operational speeds did not warrant it, and it would have introduced unresolved aerodynamic problems to what was aimed at being a straightforward replacement for the RAF's Hawker Typhoon and Westland Whirlwind fighter-bombers.[7]

The fuselage of the Canberra is of semi-monocoque construction with a pressurised nose compartment. Due to the use of a new alloy, DTD683, the undercarriages of the Canberra suffered from stress corrosion, which caused them to decay within a few years.[24] The extreme hazard posed of undercarriages collapsing during landings, especially if the aircraft were carrying nuclear weapons, led the RAF to institute regular inspections, at first using radiography before moving to more effective and reliable ultrasound technology.[25] The Canberra is made up mostly of metal, only the forward portion of the tail-fin is made from wood.[26]

Thrust was provided by a pair of 30 kN axial flow Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets. The manufacturer specified that Coffman engine starters should be used to start the engine. An improvised method of starting the engine using compressed air was heavily discouraged by Rolls-Royce, but some operators successfully operated the Canberra's engines in such a manner, the benefit being significant cost savings over cartridges.[27] The aircraft's maximum take-off weight was a little under 25 tonnes.

"The value of the Canberra experience cannot be over-estimated. It is the only modern tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft in service with the RAF and many other Air Forces. More Canberra aircraft are in service with foreign countries than the Viscount, which holds the record for British civil aircraft. This is due to the flexibility of the Canberra in its operational roles and performance ..."

Manufacturer's brochure, 1957.[28]

The Canberra could deploy many conventional weapons, typical weapons used were 250-pound, 500-pound, and 1000-pound bombs,[29] the total bomb load could weigh up to 10,000 pounds (4.5 t).[30] Two bomb-bays are housed within the fuselage, these are normally enclosed by conventional clam-shell doors; this was substituted for a rotating door on the Martin-built B-57 Canberras. Additional stores up to a total of 2,000 pounds (0.91 t) could be carried upon underwing pylons.[31] Operators often developed and installed their own munitions, such as Rhodesia's anti-personnel bomblets, the Alpha bomb, a varied range of munitions were employed on Canberra fleets around the world.[32] Anti-personnel flechette bombs were tested successfully from the Canberra by Rhodesia, but not used operationally due to international agreements.[33]

In part due to its range limitation of just 2,000 miles (3,200 km), and its inability to carry the early, bulky nuclear bombs, the Canberra was typically employed in the role of a tactical bomber as opposed to that of a strategic one.[34][N 1] In British service, many of the Canberras that were stationed at remote overseas locations did not undertake modifications to become nuclear-capable until as late as 1957.[36]

Operational history

Royal Air Force

A flight of three RAF Canberra B2s flying in formation during the 1950s

The Canberra B2 started to enter service with 101 Squadron in January 1951, with 101 Squadron being fully equipped by May, and a further squadron, No. 9 Squadron equipping by the end of the year. The production of the Canberra was accelerated as a result of the outbreak of the Korean War, orders for the aircraft increased and outpaced production capacity,[37] as the aircraft was designated as a "super priority".[38] A further five squadrons were able to be equipped with the Canberra by the end of 1952;[38] however, production in the 1951–52 period had only been half of the level planned, due to shortages in skilled manpower, material, and suitable machine tools.[39]

The Canberra replaced Mosquitos, Lincolns and Washingtons as front line bombers, showing a drastically improved performance, and proving to be effectively immune from interception during air defence exercises until the arrival of the Hawker Hunter.[38] The Canberra also replaced the RAF's Mosquitos in the reconnaissance role, with the Canberra PR3 entering service in December 1952.[40] The improved Canberra B6, with more powerful engines and a greater fuel capacity, started to supplement the B2s in the UK based squadrons of Bomber Command from June 1954, when they replaced 101 Squadrons B2s. This freed up older B2s to allow Canberra squadrons to form overseas, with bomber and reconnaissance Canberra wings forming in RAF Germany and on Cyprus, with squadrons also being deployed to the Far East.[41]

Canberra PR3 of No. 540 Squadron RAF at London Heathrow in June 1953

The PR7 variant of the Canberra, equipped with longer, fuel-filled wings and the Avon 109 engines, executed a 1953 reconnaissance flight over the Soviet rocket launch and development site at Kapustin Yar, although the UK government has never admitted the existence of such a flight. Warned by either radar or agents inside the British government, the Soviets damaged and almost shot down the aircraft.[42][43] Further reconnaissance flights are alleged to have taken place along, and over, the borders of the Soviet Union in 1954 under the code name Project Robin, using the Canberra B2 WH726. The USAF also used the Canberra for reconnaissance flights.[44] The aircraft were no longer required after June 1956, following the introduction of the US Lockheed U-2 purpose-built reconnaissance aircraft; Project Robin was then terminated.[45] These RAF Canberra overflights were later featured in the 1994 BBC Timewatch episode; "Spies in the Sky", and included interviews with some of the Soviet MiG-15 pilots who had attempted to intercept them.[46]

The Canberra was the victorious aircraft flown in The Last Great Air Race from London to Christchurch in 1953, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Roland (Monty) Burton, which touched down at Christchurch 41 minutes ahead of its closest rival – after 23hr 51min in the air; to this day the record has never been broken.[47]

British Government public information film on the Canberra and its contribution to NATO

The Vickers Valiant entered service in 1955,[48] capable of carrying much heavier weapon loads (including the Blue Danube nuclear weapon) over longer ranges than the Canberra. This led to the Bomber Command force of Canberras equipped for high-level conventional bombing to be gradually phased out. This did not mean the end of the Canberra in front line service, as it proved suitable for the low-level strike and ground attack role, and versions dedicated to this role were brought into service.[49] The interim B(I)6, converted from the B6 by adding provision for a pack of four Hispano 20 mm cannon in the rear bomb bay and underwing pylons for bombs and rockets, entered service in 1955, with the definitive, new build B(I)8, which added a new forward fuselage with a fighter-style canopy for the pilot, entering service in January 1956.[49]

An important role for the new low-level force was tactical nuclear strike, using the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS) to allow a nuclear bomb to be delivered from low level while allowing the bomber to escape the blast of the weapon. RAF Germany's force of four squadrons equipped with the B(I)6 and B(I)8 could carry US-owned Mark 7 nuclear bombs, while three squadrons based on Cyprus and one at Singapore were armed with British-owned Red Beard nuclear weapons.[50]

Bomber Command retired the last of its Canberras on 11 September 1961,[51] but the Germany, Cyprus and Singapore based squadrons continued in the nuclear strike role. The Cyprus-based squadrons and one of the RAF Germany squadrons disbanded in 1969, with the Singapore-based unit followed in 1970. The three remaining RAF Germany units, which by now had replaced the old Mark 7 bombs with newer (but still US-owned) B43 nuclear bombs, remained operational until 1972, the last Canberra bombers in RAF service.[52]

Group of RAF Canberra B15s of No. 45 Squadron at RAF Tengah, Singapore, 1963

The RAF continued to operate the Canberra after 1972, employing it for reconnaissance (with Squadrons equipped with PR7s and PR9s being based at RAF Wyton in the UK and RAF Luqa in Malta). The PR9s were fitted with special LOROP (Long-Range Optical Photography) cameras, reportedly based on those used by the Lockheed U-2, to allow high-altitude of targets deep into Eastern Europe while flying along the inner German border, as well as infrared linescan cameras for low level night reconnaissance.[53][N 2] The RAF used Canberras to search for hidden arms dumps using false-colour photography during Operation Motorman in July 1972, when the British Army re-took Irish republican held "no go areas" in Belfast and Londonderry.[55] Canberras were used for reconnaissance during the Bosnian War during the 1990s, where they were used to locate mass graves and during the Kosovo War in 1999. They were also operated from Uganda during the First Congo War, where they were used to search for refugees.[56] Small numbers of specially equipped Canberras were also used for signals intelligence, being operated by 192 Squadron and then 51 Squadron from 1953 to 1976.[57]

During the Falklands War, a plan to supply two PR9s to the Chilean Air Force, and secretly operate them with RAF crews over the war zone, was abandoned for political reasons. The aircraft got as far as Belize before the operation was cancelled.[58][59] The PR9 variant remained in service with No. 39 (1 PRU) Squadron until July 2006 for strategic reconnaissance and photographic mapping, seeing service in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and, up to June 2006, in Afghanistan. During a ceremony to mark the standing down of 39 (1 PRU) Squadron at RAF Marham on 28 July 2006, a flypast by a Canberra PR9 on its last ever sortie was conducted.[60]

Royal Australian Air Force

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Australian government began reorganising the armed forces. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) developed Plan "D" for its postwar structure, built around the concept of a small, agile air arm employing leading edge technology.[61] The RAAF decided to acquire the Canberra to replace or complement the Avro Lincoln,[N 3] though fears were raised that the new design was not especially advanced.[62] While Australia never introduced nuclear weapons into service, the Canberra's ability to carry such a payload was a factor in its acquisition;[63] Australia's planned force of 48 Canberras, with the potential for being nuclear-armed, was viewed as far more potent and deterring than the RAAF's entire wartime forces of 254 heavy bombers.[64][N 4] The first Australian-built Canberra first flew on 29 May 1953 at Avalon and was delivered to the RAAF for service trials a few weeks later.[9] The Canberra entered Australian service in December 1953.[66]

A RAAF Canberra B20 of No. 2 Squadron during a strike out of Phan Rang Air Base, Vietnam, March 1970

From July 1950 to July 1960, during the Malayan Emergency, Canberras from Australia, New Zealand and the UK were deployed into the Malaysia to fight against Communist guerillas.[67] In 1967, the RAAF deployed eight Canberras from a squadron of B20s to the Vietnam War.[68] The unit, No. 2 Squadron, was later commended for its performance by the United States Air Force.[68] The Canberras were typically operated in the low-level bombing role, taking over South Vietnam's southern most military regions III and IV responsibilities allowing USAF bombers to deploy their aircraft to the Ho Chi Minh trail. While USAF Canberras were equipped with .50 caliber machine guns or 20mm cannon for strafing, Australian Canberras were deployed to South Vietnam without guns, hence were deployed strictly for low level bombing missions.[69][70][N 5] Upon their re-deployment from Vietnam in 1971, No. 2 Squadron had flown approximately 12,000 sorties and dropped 76,389 bombs, and lost two of their aircraft to missiles and ground fire during the course of the war.[66][72][73]

As early as 1954, Australia recognised that the Canberra was becoming outdated, and evaluated aircraft such as the Avro Vulcan and Handley-Page Victor as potential replacements.[74] The Canberra was incapable of providing adequate coverage of Indonesia from Australian bases, and was evaluated as having a "very low" chance of survival if it encountered modern fighters like the MiG-17.[75] Political pressure for a Canberra replacement rose to a head in 1962.[76] Australia evaluated the BAC TSR-2, Dassault Mirage IV, McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and North American A-5 Vigilante, and initially appeared to favour the TSR-2, but chose to procure the General Dynamics F-111C in October 1963.[77][78] Due in part to delays in the delivery of the F-111Cs, the Canberra continued to be used by Australia for a total of 29 years before its retirement in June 1982.[62][66][76]

Indian Air Force

English Electric Canberra T4

The Canberra was the backbone of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for bombing raids and photo-reconnaissance for many decades. Negotiations to acquire the Canberra as a replacement for the obsolete Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers then being used by India began in 1954.[79] During the extended negotiations between Britain and India, the Soviet Union is alleged to have offered their own jet bomber, the Ilyushin Il-28, at a significantly lower price than that asked for the Canberra;[79] by April 1956, however, the Indian government was in favour of the purchase. In January 1957 India placed a large order for the Canberra; a total of 54 B(I)58 bombers, eight PR57 photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and six T4 training aircraft were ordered, deliveries began in the summer of that same year.[79] A total of 12 more Canberras were ordered in September 1957, as many as 30 more may have also been purchased by 1962.[79]

First used in combat by the IAF in 1962, the Canberra was employed during the UN campaign against the breakaway Republic of Katanga in Africa.[80] During the Indo-Pakistani Wars of the 1960s and 1970s, the Canberra was used by both sides. The most audacious use of the bomber was in the "Raid on Badin" during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, when the Indian Air Force sent in the Canberra to attack a critical Pakistani radar post in West Pakistan. The raid was a complete success, the radars in Badin having been badly damaged by the bombing and put out of commission.[81] A later raid by the IAF was attempted on Peshawar Air base with the aim of destroying, amongst other targets, several Pakistani B-57 bombers, American-built Canberras. Due to poor visibility, a road outside of the base was bombed, instead of the runway where PAF B-57 bombers were parked.[82]

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, Indian Canberras flew a strategically important sortie against the Karachi oil tanks, this had the effect of helping the Indian Navy in their own operations, a series of missile boat attacks against the Pakistani coast.[81] On 21 May 1999, prior to the commencement of the Kargil War, the Indian Air Force Air HQ assigned a Canberra PR57 aircraft on a photographic mission near the Line of Control, where it took a severe blow from a FIM-92 Stinger infrared homing missile on the starboard engine; the Canberra successfully returned to base using the other engine.

The entire Indian Air Force Canberra fleet was grounded and then retired following the crash of an IAF Canberra in December 2005. After 50 years of service, the Canberra was finally retired by the IAF on 11 May 2007.[83]


File:Canberra B12 - 453.jpg
SAAF Canberra B12 with inertial navigation and special sensors package over Transvaal

During the Suez Crisis the RAF employed around 100 Canberras, flying conventional bombing and reconnaissance missions from airfields in Malta and Cyprus.[1] A total of 278 Canberra sorties were flown, dropping 1,439 1000 lb (450 kg) bombs;[84] however low-level strikes by smaller fighters were judged to be more effective than the night time bombing operations performed by both the Canberra and the Vickers Valiant.[85] In addition, many of the bombs, intended to hit Egyptian airfields, missed their targets, failing to inflict much damage to the Egyptian Air Force or to badly demoralise the enemy.[86] While interception of the Canberra was within the capabilities of Egypt's MiG-15s and MiG-17s, as shown by the interception of Canberras by MiG-15s prior to the Anglo-French invasion, these did not result in any losses. The only Canberra shot down during the Suez campaign was a PR7 shot down by a Syrian Gloster Meteor fighter on 6 November 1956, the last day of the war.[87][88]

The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland considered the Canberra an important objective to holding greater diplomatic sway in the African continent, and ongoing negotiations over the Baghdad treaty, and a step towards decolonisation.[89] The Suez Crisis caused a delay in the sale, but in August 1957 18 Canberras had been earmarked to be refurbished and transferred from the RAF to the Royal Rhodesian Air Force (RRAF).[89] Both Rhodesia and South Africa used Canberras in their respective Bush Wars; numerous aircraft were lost in the conflicts.[90] Rhodesian B2 Canberras together with South African B(I)12 Canberras carried out attacks on insurgents in Mozambique, usually armed with 'Alpha' cluster bombs,[91] several raids on Zambia, and attacks upon multiple insurgents bases in Angola.[92] Ethiopian Canberras were used against Eritrea and again against Somalia during the 1970s.


The Swedish Air Force purchased two Canberras from the RAF in 1960 and had these modified to T11s by Boulton Paul. The aircraft were secretly modified in Sweden as espionage aircraft for eavesdropping on primarily Soviet, Polish and East German military radio transmissions, although this was not publicly admitted until 10 years later. The Canberras were given the designation Tp 52, and taken into service as "testing aircraft", until they were replaced by two Tp 85 Caravelles in 1971.[93]

South America

On 20 April 1960, the Venezuelan Air Force used its Canberra B2 and B(1)8s to bomb the airport at San Cristóbal, Táchira, which had been seized by rebels, led by General Jose Maria Castro León. The rebels surrendered shortly afterward.[94]

Peruvian Air Force Canberras flew combat sorties against Ecuadorian positions during the Cenepa War in 1995. On 6 February 1995, a Canberra Mk.68 disappeared over the operations zone; the aircraft had apparently struck a hill in poor weather conditions. Peru retired its Canberras in June 2008.


B-108 on its last mission

The Argentine Air Force received 10 B62 bombers and two T64 trainers at the beginning of the 1970s,[95] replacing the Avro Lincoln in the bomber role. Argentina retired its last Canberras in April 2000.

During the Falklands War in 1982, eight of them were deployed to Trelew, 670 miles (1,080 km) from the islands, to avoid congestion on the closer southern airfields. Although within operating range of the British task force, the Canberra was judged to be a limited threat due to its poor maneuverability compared with the British Sea Harriers.[96]

From 1 May to 14 June 1982, Argentine Canberras made 54 sorties; 36 of them bombing missions, of which 22 were at night against ground troops.[97] Two aircraft were lost in combat, the first to a Sea Harrier's AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile on 1 May 1982.[97]

On 13 June 1982, a second Canberra Mk.62 of Grupo de Bombardeo 2, B-108 was shot down at 12,000 m (39,000 ft) when it was struck by a Sea Dart missile fired from HMS Cardiff.[98] The pilot ejected safely but the navigator was killed.[99] It was the last Argentine aircraft to be lost in combat during the Falklands War, with Argentine forces surrendering the next day.[100]

Development and trials aircraft

Wide view of jet aircraft. The fin is red; short black stripes running perpendicular to and on top of the fuselage.
A former Canberra D14 used for development and trials work
Canberra B2 (WV787) used for development trials, 2006

A number of Canberras were used by English Electric for development work and trials on new equipment. It was also used by government establishments such as the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Royal Radar Establishment. The Canberra proved to be a useful platform for such work and was used by a number of British tests and trials establishments. As well as those operated by English Electric, a number of engine manufacturers were also loaned Canberras as engine test beds; Armstrong Siddeley for the Sapphire, Bristol Siddeley for the Olympus, de Havilland Engine Company for the Gyron Junior turbojet and Rolls-Royce Limited for the Avon. Ferranti used four different Canberra B2s for avionics development work.

One example is WV787 which was built as a Canberra B2 in 1952, it was loaned to Armstrong Siddeley and was fitted with Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines.[101] It was later transferred to Ferranti for trials for the Blackburn Buccaneer radar and fitted with a B(I)8 type nose and a Buccaneer style radome.[101] It next was moved to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment where it was modified to be used as a water-spray tanker aircraft for de-icing trials.[101] It would fly in front of the aircraft being tested which would fly into the artificial cloud created by the sprayed water to induce icing.[101] It was retired in 1984 and later preserved at the Newark Air Museum and is a National Benchmark airframe on the National Aviation Heritage Register.[102]

Flight records set by Canberras

  • 21 January 1951 – first non-stop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing by a jet.[103][104]
  • 26 August 1952 – the prototype B5 made the first double transatlantic crossing by a jet, with a total time of 10 hr 3 min.[105]
  • 4 May 1953 – Canberra B2 WD952, fitted with Rolls-Royce Olympus engines set a world altitude record, flying at 63,668 ft (19,406 m)[106][107]
  • 29 August 1955 – altitude record, 65,889 ft (20,083 m)[106]
  • 28 August 1957 – altitude record, 70,310 ft (21,430 m): Canberra B2 (WK163) with a Napier Double Scorpion rocket motor.[108][109]


See Martin B-57 Canberra article for the US-built variants.
English Electric A.1
Company designation for the first four aircraft before being named Canberra.[110]
Canberra B Mk.1
Prototypes for type development work and research at first known by the company designation A.1, four built.[111]
Canberra B Mk.2
First production version, crew increased to three with addition of bomb aimer, Avon R.A.3 engines with 6,500 lbf (28.91 kN) of thrust, wingtip fuel tanks. 418 built by English Electric (208), Avro (75), Handley Page (75) and Short Brothers & Harland (60)[112] including eight for export (Australia, United States and Venezuela).
Canberra PR Mk.3
Photo-reconnaissance version of B2, it had a 14-inch section added to the fuselage to house the camera bay, internal fuel was increased and flat panel in the nose was removed. Needed only two crew. The prototype was flown on 19 March 1950 and the variant entered service in 1953.[113]
Canberra T Mk.4
First trainer variant with dual controls and a crew of three.[113]
Canberra B Mk.5
Prototype of second-generation Canberra with fuel tanks in the wings and Avon R.A.7 engines with 7,490 lbf (33.32 kN) of thrust, one built.
Canberra B Mk.6
Production version based on B5 with a 1 ft (0.3 m) fuselage stretch, 106 built by English Electric (57) and Short Brothers & Harland (49), includes 12 for export.[113]
Canberra B6(RC)
RC = Radio Countermeasures (also known as B6(Mod) or PR16) – Specialist ELINT version with enlarged nose and Blue Shadow Side Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR). Only four produced, extended nose.[114]
Canberra B(I) Mk.6
Interim interdictor version for the RAF pending delivery of the B(I)8. Based on B6 with a detachable ventral pack housing four 20 mm Hispano cannon for strafing; also had provision for two wing hard points. LABS (Low-Altitude Bombing System) for delivery of nuclear bombs. 22 produced.[49]
Canberra PR Mk.7
Photo-reconnaissance version based on B6, had similar equipment to the PR3 but had the uprated Avon 109 engines of the B6 and increased internal fuel capacity, 74 built.[115]
Canberra B(I) Mk.8
Third-generation Canberra derived from B6 as an interdictor.[113] Fitted with a new forward fuselage with teardrop canopy on the port side, and Navigator station forward of pilot (early marks had the navigator behind the pilot. Provision for a ventral pack similar to the B(I) 6 with 4 x 20 mm Hispano cannon, one external hardpoint under each wing for up to 1,000 lb (454 kg) of bombs or unguided rockets, LABS (Low-Altitude Bombing System) for delivery of nuclear bombs. Prototype converted from the only B5 and first flown 23 July 1954, 72 built including 17 for export and two converted from B2s.
Preserved PR9 XH135 at Kemble Airport. Note the offset pilot's canopy. The navigator sits inside the nose section.
Canberra PR Mk.9
Photo-reconnaissance version based on B(I)8 with fuselage stretched to 68 ft (27.72 m), wingspan increased by 4 ft (1.22 m), and Avon R.A.27 (Avon 206) engines with 10,030 lbf (44.6 kN) of thrust. Had the offset canopy of the B(I)8 with a hinged nose to allow fitment of an ejection seat for the navigator. A total of 23 built by Short Brothers & Harland with three transferred to Chile after the Falklands War.
Canberra U10 (later designated D10)
Remote-controlled target drones converted from B2. 18 converted.[116]
Canberra T11
Nine B2s converted to trainers for pilots and navigators of all-weather interceptors to operate the Airborne Intercept radar, crew of four.
Canberra B(I) Mk.12
Canberra B(I)8 bombers built for New Zealand and South Africa.[113]
Canberra T Mk.13
Training version of the T4 for New Zealand, one built new and one conversion from T4.[111][117]
Canberra U Mk.14 (later designated D14)
Remote-controlled target drones converted from the B2 for Royal Navy. Six converted.[116]
Canberra B Mk.15
Upgraded B6 for use in the Far and Near East with underwing hardpoints for 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs or rockets. New avionics and fitting of three cameras, 39 conversions.
Canberra B Mk.16
Similar to B15 for use in Germany and fitted with Blue Shadow, 19 conversions
Canberra T Mk.17
Electronic warfare training variant used to train surface-based radar and missile operators and airborne fighter and Airborne Early Warning crews in handling jamming (including chaff dropping) aircraft. 24 conversions from B2 with extended nose for sensors.
Canberra T17A
Canberra T Mk.17A
Updated version of the T17 with improved navigation aids, a spectrum analyser in place of the previously fitted AN/APR-20, and a powerful communications jammer.[113]
Canberra TT Mk.18
Target tug conversion of B2 for the RAF and Royal Navy, 22 conversions.
Canberra T Mk.19
T11 with radar removed as silent target.[113]
Canberra B Mk.20
B2 with additional fuel tanks in the wings, licence-built in Australia.[113]
Canberra T Mk.21
Trainers converted from B2 and B20.[113]
Canberra T Mk.22
Conversion of the PR7 for Royal Navy's Fleet Requirement and Air Direction Unit, used for training Buccaneer navigators.[113]
Canberra B Mk.52
Refurbished B2 bombers sold to Ethiopia.[113]
Canberra Mk.56
Refurbished B(I)6 bombers sold to Peru.[113]
Canberra PR Mk.57
Tropicalized PR7 for India.[113]
Canberra B(I) Mk.58
Tropicalized B(I)8 for India.[113]
Canberra B Mk.62
10 refurbished B2 bombers sold to Argentina.[113]
Canberra T Mk.64
2 refurbished T4 trainers sold to Argentina.[113]
Canberra B(I) Mk.66
10 refurbished B(I)6 bombers sold to India.
Canberra PR Mk.67
2 refurbished PR7s sold to India.
Canberra Mk.68
1 refurbished B(I)8 bomber sold to Peru.[113]
Canberra B Mk.92
1 modified B2 for Argentina, not delivered and embargoed in 1982.[118]
Canberra T Mk.94
1 modified T4 for Argentina, not delivered and embargoed in 1982.[118]
Short SC.9
1 Canberra PR9, modified by Shorts as SC.9 and fitted with an AI.23 radar, plus IR installation in the nose for Red Top air-to-air missile trials. Continued in use for radar missile development work, until broken up sometime between 1986 and 1998.[119]
Short SD.1
1 Canberra PR3, modified by Shorts as SD.1 to be launch vehicle carrying two Short SD.2 variants of the Beech AQM-37A high-speed target missiles, apparently called Stiletto in the UK, for trials by the Royal Aircraft Establishment.[120]


Canberra (dark blue) and B-57 (light blue) operators[121]
Canberra Mk 20 (A84-235) in RAAF No. 2 Squadron livery
One of three Canberras operated by the Luftwaffe at the museum at Gatow Airport
Wreckage of a crashed Indian Air Force Canberra in Agra, India on 19 December 2005
  • Argentine Air Force purchased 10 refurbished ex-RAF B2s and 2 T4s (redesignated B62 and B64 respectively) in 1967. Two further aircraft were ordered in 1981 but were not delivered owing to the Falklands War.[122]
 New Zealand
 South Africa
 United Kingdom
 United States
 West Germany


  • Several ex-RAF machines and RB-57s remain flying in the US for research and mapping work. About 10 airworthy Canberras are in private hands today, and are flown at air displays.


Argentine Air Force Canberra Mk.62 at Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica in Buenos Aires
  • At least three Canberras retired from the Argentine Air Force have been preserved in Argentina:
    • B Mk.62 B-102 (ex-RAF WJ713). Retired in 1998, and assigned to "Museo Nacional de Malvinas", Oliva, province of Córdoba.[128]
    • B Mk.62 B-105. On display at Mar del Plata Air Base, province of Buenos Aires.[129]
    • B Mk.62 B-109, the last one to complete a mission in the Falklands War, is on display at the Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina.[130]


The Temora Aviation Museum, in Australia, has a former RAF Canberra acquired in 2001. The aircraft was fully restored to airworthiness and painted to represent the Canberras flown by No. 2 Squadron RAAF during the Vietnam war. It is Australia's only airworthy Canberra.[citation needed]


  • All three of the Luftwaffe Canberra B.2 aircraft have survived. 99+34 (ex WK137) is preserved at Schwenningen, 99+35 (ex WK138) at Berlin-Gatow, and 99+36 (ex WK130) is at the Sinsheim Auto and Technik Museum


  • A B(I)58 Canberra, serial IF907 is on display at the Indian Air Force Museum, Palam in Delhi, India; it is one of several diverted off an RAF contract as part of a 68 aircraft deal for India placed in January 1957.[135][136]
  • A Canberra B(I)58, marked with serial IF908, is on display at the Shri Shivaji Preparatory Military School (SSPMS) in Pune. This is possibly former Royal New Zealand Air Force serial F1188, acquired by the Indian Air Force in November 1980[137]
  • One more B(I)58 Canberra is preserved at Pune at the Lohegaon Air Station. Marked serial IF910, it is located on an active military base and is thus not open to the public.[138]
  • Another Canberra (mark and serial number not identified) is located inside Kheria Air Force Station, Agra.[citation needed]


  • A Canberra is parked outside the Control Tower of Malta International Airport, as a static display. However it is not accessible to the public due to being behind a security gate.

New Zealand

  • A Canberra is on static display at Wanaka Airport, New Zealand.

South Africa

United Kingdom

  • A PR.7 Canberra (WH773) is on static display at the Gatwick Aviation Museum in West Sussex, United Kingdom. WH773 was the first production PR.7 Canberra.[142]
  • A PR.9 Canberra (XH134) has been restored at Cotswold airport. It undertook its first flight in July 2013, and Midair plans to have a special display team (XH134 and two Hawker Hunters for the 2014 airshow season.[citation needed]
  • A PR.7 Canberra (WH791), a T.19 (WH904) and a modded B2 (WV787) Canberra's are on static display at Newark Air Museum in Nottinghamshire.[144]

United States

  • Two British-built Canberras are registered to High Altitude Mapping Missions, Inc. of Spokane, Washington.[148][149] These are N30UP, a Canberra B(I)8/B.2/6, originally operated as WT327,[150] and N40UP, a Canberra B6, originally operated as XH567.[151] These two aircraft were previously operated by Air Platforms Inc in Lakeport California.[citation needed]
  • One British-built RAF Canberra B2, subsequently converted to TT18 (target tug) by Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) is displayed outside at Airbase Arizona of the Commemorative Air Force at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona. This aircraft, originally WK142 in RAF and RNAS days, was sold in 1995 to an American buyer and carries N76764 as its US registration.[152]

Specifications (Canberra B(I)6)

Orthographically projection of English Electric Canberra

Data from Combat Aircraft Recognition[153]

General characteristics



  • Guns: 4 x 20 mm Hispano Mk.V cannon mounted in rear bomb bay (500 rounds/gun), or 2 x 0.30 in (7.62 mm) machine gun pods
  • Rockets: 2 x unguided rocket pods with 37 2-inch (51 mm) rockets, or 2 x Matra rocket pods with 18 SNEB 68 mm rockets each
  • Missiles: A variety of missiles can be carried according to mission requirements, e.g: 2 x AS-30L air-to-surface missiles
  • Bombs: Total of 8,000 lb (3,628 kg) of payload can be mounted inside the internal bomb bay and on two underwing hardpoints, with the ability to carry a variety of bombs.
    Typically, the internal bomb bay can hold up to 9 x 500 lb (227 kg) bombs, or 6 x 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs, or 1 x 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) bomb; while the pylons can hold 4 x 500 lb (227 kg) bombs, or 2 x 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs.
    Nuclear Weapons: in addition to conventional ordnance, the Canberra was also type-approved for tactical nuclear weapon delivery, including the Mk 7, B28 (Mod 2, 70 kiloton yield), B57 and B43 (as part of a joint program with the United States) plus the Red Beard and WE.177A (Mod A, 10 kiloton yield) nuclear bombs.[154] All nuclear weapons were carried internally.

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists



  1. The inability of the Canberra to perform the nuclear mission led to American Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers being loaned to Britain as a stopgap measure until the domestically produced V bomber trio of medium bombers entered service.[35]
  2. The linescan equipment came from reconnaissance pods which were used by RAF Phantoms before they were replaced by Jaguars in the reconnaissance role.[54]
  3. The Avro Lincoln was a development of the famous Avro Lancaster bomber, the Lincoln would be the last piston-propelled bomber for several nations as jet-powered bombers quickly rendered them obsolete.[62]
  4. In September 1956, Minister for Air Athol Townley wrote of the Canberra bomber being limited by conventional weapons, and that the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons would noticeably increase its effectiveness; Prime Minister Robert Menzies was an opponent to their acquisition.[65]
  5. To help protect against ground anti-aircraft fire, armour plating was designed and fitted to Canberras deployed to Vietnam.[71]


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External links

External video
Canberra bomber at Avalon Airshow, 2003
Pathe News report on the Canberra, 1951
1998 documentary on the Canberra