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The English Electric Canberra is a first-generation jet-powered light bomber manufactured in large numbers through the 1950s. It proved to be highly adaptable, serving in such varied roles for tactical bombing, photographic, electronic, and meteorological reconnaissance. The Canberra remained in service with the Royal Air Force until 23 June 2006, 57 years after its first flight.

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 (21,430m) in 1957.

Design and development

The Canberra had its origins in a 1944 Air Ministry requirement for a successor to the de Havilland Mosquito - that is, a high altitude, high speed bomber with no defensive armament. Several Britishmarker aircraft manufacturers submitted proposals. Among the companies shortlisted to proceed with development studies was English Electric, a well-established industrial manufacturer with very little aircraft experience. A desperate need for bombers arose during the early years of World War II, when English Electric began to build the Hampden under licence.

The new English Electric design team was headed by former Westland chief designer W. E. W. Petter. The aircraft was named Canberramarker after the capital of Australia by Sir George Nelson, chairman of English Electric, as Australia was the first export customer for the aircraft.In May 1945 a contract was signed, but with the post-war military reductions, the prototype did not fly until May 1949. It was a simple design, looking like a scaled-up Gloster Meteor with a shoulder wing. 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.

Canberra PR.9 XH135 in flight

Although jet-powered, the Canberra design philosophy was very much in the Mosquito mould, i.e. provide room for a substantial bomb load, fit two of the most powerful engines available, and wrap it in the smallest, most aerodynamic package possible. Rather than devote space and weight to defensive armament — which historically could not overcome purpose-designed fighter aircraft — the Canberra was designed to fly fast and high enough to avoid air-to-air combat entirely.

Basic design

The Canberra is mostly a metal aircraft, only the forward portion of the fin being of wooden construction and covered with plywood. The fuselage is of semi-monocoque construction with a pressurized nose compartment. Each crew member has a Martin-Baker ejection seat except in the B(I)8 and its export versions where the navigator has to rely on a conventional escape hatch and parachute. The fuselage contains two bomb-bays with conventional clam-shell doors (a rotating door was implemented on the Martin-built B-57 Canberra). The wing is of single-spar construction, the spar passing through the fuselage. 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 airbrake on top and bottom surfaces of the wings.

It was designed for a crew of two under a fighter-style canopy but delays in the development of the intended automatic radar bomb sight resulted in the addition of a bomb aimer's position in the nose. Wingspan and length were almost identical at just under 20 metres, maximum takeoff weight a little under 25 tonnes. Thrust was provided by a pair of 30 kN axial flow Rolls-Royce Avon turbojets.

Prototypes and first flights

In autumn 1945, Air Ministry specification B.3/45 requested production of four prototypes. Although construction began in early 1946, the first aircraft flew only on 13 May 1949. In the interim, 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 bombing radar was not ready for production, the engines were upgraded to more powerful Avon R.A.3s, and the distinctive teardrop-shaped fuel tanks were fitted under the wingtips.

The resultant Canberra B 2 first flew on 21 April 1950, and entered squadron service with Royal Air Force (RAF) 101 Sqn in May 1951. In a testament to the aircraft's benign handling characteristics, the transition program consisted of only 20 hours in the Gloster Meteor and three hours in the dual-control Canberra trainer. With a maximum speed of 470 kt (871 km/h), a standard service ceiling of 48,000 ft (14,600 m), and the ability to carry a 3.6 tonne payload, the Canberra was an instant success. It was built in 27 versions which equipped 35 RAF squadrons, and were exported to Argentinamarker, Chilemarker, Ecuadormarker, Ethiopiamarker, Francemarker, Indiamarker, New Zealandmarker, Pakistanmarker, Perumarker, Rhodesia, South Africamarker, Swedenmarker, Venezuelamarker and West Germanymarker.

Other manufacturers

Martin EB-57B

In the United Statesmarker where the US Air Force needed to replace the B-26 Invader, 403 Canberras were manufactured under licence by Martin as the B-57 Canberra in several versions. While these were initially almost exactly the same as the English Electric pattern aircraft apart from the tandem crew seating, later models had a series of substantial modifications. In Australia, the Government Aircraft Factory (GAF) built 48 for the Royal Australian Air Force, broadly similar to the British B 2 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.

In the United Kingdom, the demand for Canberras exceeded English Electric's ability to supply airframes, and so Handley Page and Short Brothers manufactured them under licence. 901 Canberras were manufactured in the UK, total worldwide Canberra production being 1,352.

Operational history

RAF photo-reconnaissance Canberra PR 9; the pilot is standing by the aircraft nose below the offset "fighter" style canopy.
The Canberra B.2 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. Production of the Canberra was accelerated as a result of the outbreak of the Korean War, with the type being designated as "super priority", allowing a further five squadrons to be re-equipped with the Canberra by the end of 1952.

The Canberra replaced Mosquito, Lincolns and Washingtons as front line bombers, showing a drastically improved performance, proving to be effectively immune from interception during air defence exercises until the arrival of the Hawker Hunter.

Canberras remained in front-line service with major air forces throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and continued to serve as bombers and reconnaissance aircraft with minor air forces through the 1980s and 1990s. In the UK, the PR 9 variant remained in service with 39 Squadron until July 2006 for strategic reconnaissance and photographic mapping, seeing service in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and, as recently as June 2006, in Afghanistan. The only Canberras remaining in active service are two American-built B-57 operated by NASAmarker for high altitude research.

An early use for the Canberra is the alleged 1953 spy flight that took place over the Sovietmarker rocket launch and development site at Kapustin Yarmarker, although the UK government has never admitted the existence of such a flight. Further reconnaissance flights are alleged to have taken place over, and along the borders-of, the Soviet Union in 1954 under the code name Project Robin, using the Canberra B 2 WH726. The sorties were no longer required after the introduction of the US Lockheed U-2 purpose-built spy plane in June 1956 and Project Robin was then terminated.

The Canberra played a part in many conflicts, being employed as a bomber by the RAF during the Suez Crisis, with around 100 aircraft involved, flying bombing and reconnaissance missions from both Maltamarker and Cyprusmarker. A total of 278 Canberra sorties were flown, dropping 1,439 1000 lb (450 kg) bombs. While interception of the Canberra was within the capabilities of Egypt's MiG-15 and MiG 17, as shown by the interception of Canberras by MiG 15s prior to the Anglo/French invasion, although these did not result in any losses. The only Canberra shot down during the Suez campaign was a single PR.7 shot down by a Syrian Meteor on 6 November 1956, the last day of war.

In the Malayan Emergency, Canberras were used by the UK, New Zealand and Australia. Ethiopianmarker Canberras were used against Eritreamarker and then Somaliamarker during the 1970s, while both Rhodesia and South Africa used the Canberra in their respective Bush War.

The Canberra was the backbone of the Indian Air Force for bombing raids and photo reconnaissance. It was first used in 1962 by the IAF as part of the UN campaign against the breakaway Katanga republic in Africa. 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 Second Kashmir War, when the Indian Air Force sent in the Canberra to bomb a vital Pakistani radar post in West Pakistan. The raid was a complete success with the radars in Badin being badly damaged and put out of commission. In the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 they flew a very important sortie hitting the Karachimarker oil tanks, helping the Indian Navy to carry out their missile boat attacks. On 21 May 1999, prior to the commencement of the Kargil War, the Air HQ of the Indian Air Force assigned a Canberra PR57 aircraft on a photographic mission near the LOC (Line of Controlmarker), where it took a severe blow from a FIM-92 Stinger infrared homing missile on the starboard engine and with only one operational engine left it still managed to return to base. The Canberras were finally retired by the IAF after 50 years of service on 11 May 2007.

During the Vietnam War, GAF Canberras from 2 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force were valued because of their optical bombsights; these meant they could carry out bombing raids from higher altitudes, often with total surprise. More modern bombers and attack aircraft either used less-accurate electronic targeting equipment and/or dive bombing tactics, which risked greater losses to Viet Cong and North Vietnamese anti-aircraft fire.

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 to 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 Tp85 Caravelle in 1971.

B-108 Grupo de Bombardeo 2
The Argentine Air Force received 10 B 62 and two T 64 trainers at the beginning of the 1970s. During the 1982 Falklands War, eight of them were deployed to Trelew, (a distance of 670 mi (1,080 km) from the islands) to avoid congestion on the closer southern airfields.

From 1 May to 14 June, they made 54 sorties, 36 of them bombing missions, of which 22 were at night against ground troops. Two aircraft were lost, one to a RN Sea Harrier using a AIM9L Sidewinder Air-to-air missile fired by Lt Curtiss 801 Naval Air Squadron on 1 May 1982, (Lt. Ibanez and Lt. Gonzalez ejected but were not rescued, while a second Canberra was damaged) and another, (B-108 see photo) to a Sea Dart missile on 13 June fired by HMS Cardiff. The pilot, Capt. Pastran, ejected safely but Capt. Casado was killed. This was the last Argentine aircraft to be lost in combat during the Falklands War.

Peruvian Air Force Canberras flew combat sorties against Ecuadorian positions during the Cenepa War in 1995. In the early hours of 6 February 1995, a Canberra Mk 68 (piloted by FAP captains Percy Phillips Cuba and Miguel Alegre Rodríguez) disappeared over operations zone. The aircraft apparently struck a hill owing to weather conditions.

The RAF's three-seat trainer Canberra T4s flew their last flights at RAF Marhammarker in September 2005 because of the retirement of the photo-reconnaissance Canberras on 23 June 2006. In the twilight of their service these had been operational over Afghanistan. Sources indicate that there is no prospective replacement for the Canberra for future reconnaissance work such as that over Afghanistan.


A ceremony to mark the closure of No. 39 (PRU) Sqn took place at RAF Marham on 28 July 2006. The ceremony included a flypast by a Canberra PR 9 on its last ever sortie. RAF Canberras made their final flights on 31 July when three were delivered to their new home with Delta Jets at Kemble. They have been purchased by private agencies and will be kept serviceable pending developments which might include contract work.

After the Canberra left RAF service, the other full-time military operator, the Indian Air Force, announced the withdrawal of the Canberra from combat service from March 2007. The last Canberras operated by the Indian Air Force have retired after a 50 year career. Other Canberras are retained by the Air Force of Peru and several ex-RAF machines and RB-57s are flying in the US for research and mapping work.

About ten airworthy Canberras are in private hands today, and are flown at air displays.

The Temora Aviation Museum, located in south-west New South Wales, Australia, has a former RAF Canberra which it acquired in 2001. The aircraft was fully restored to airworthiness and painted to represent the Canberras flown by the Royal Australian Air Force 2 Squadron during the Vietnam war. It is flown regularly at the museum's flying weekends, other airshows and on ceremonial occasions, and is Australia's only airworthy Canberra.

Flight records set by Canberras

  • 1951 - first non-stop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing by a jet.
  • 1952 - first double transatlantic crossing by a jet.
  • 1953 - height record -
  • 1955 - height record -
  • 1957 - height record - : Canberra B 2 (WK163) with a Napier Double Scorpion rocket motor on 28 August 1957


See B-57 Canberra article for the US-built variants.

English Electric A 1
The first Canberra prototype.
Canberra B 1
Pre-production prototype, 4 built.
Canberra B 2
First production version, crew increased to 3 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) including eight for export (Australia, United States and Venezuela)
Canberra PR 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, 36 built.
Canberra T 4
First trainer variant with dual controls and a crew of three, 75 built including seven for export and conversions from B2.
Canberra B 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 6
Production version based on B 5. 1 ft (0.3 m) fuselage stretch, could be fitted with a belly pack with 4x 20 mm Hispano cannon for strafing; 106 built by English Electric (57) and Short Brothers & Harland (49), includes 12 for export.
Canberra B 6RC
RC= Radio Countermeasures - Specialist ELINT version only four produced, extended nose.
Canberra B(I) 6
Interim interdictor version for the RAF pending delivery of the B(I)8. Based on the B2 with a detachable ventral pack housing four canons, also had provision for two wing hard points, 22 built.
Canberra PR 7
Photo-reconnaissance version based on B 6, had similar equipment to the PR3 but had the uprated Avon 109 engines of the B6 and increased internal fuel capacity, 71a built.
Canberra B(I) 8
Third-generation Canberra derived from B 6 as interdictor. 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.
Canberra PR 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 Chilemarker after the Falklands War.
Canberra U 10
Remote-controlled target drones converted from B 2, later redesignated D 10.
Canberra T 11
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) 12
Canberra B(I) 8 bomber built for New Zealand and South Africa, 17 built.
Canberra T 13
Training version of the T 4 for the New Zealand, one built.
Canberra U 14
Remote-controlled target drones converted from the U.10, later designated D. 14.
Canberra B 15
Upgraded B.6 for use in the Far and Near East with underwing hardpoints for 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs or rockets. New avionics and fitment of three cameras. 39 conversions.
Canberra B 16
Similar to B 15 for use in Germany and fitted with Blue Shadow, 19 conversions
Canberra T 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 T 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.
Canberra TT 18
Target tug conversion of B2 for the Royal Navy, 22 conversions.
Canberra T 19
T 11 with radar removed as silent target.
Canberra B 20
B 2 with additional fuel tanks in the wings license-built in Australia, 48 built.
Canberra T.21
Trainers converted from B 2 and B 20
Canberra T 22
Conversion of the PR 7 for Royal Navy's Fleet Requirement and Air Direction Unit, used for training Buccaneer navigators, seven conversions.
Canberra Mk.52
4 refurbished B 2 bombers sold to Ethiopia.
Canberra Mk 56
10 refurbished B(I) 6 bombers sold to Peru.
Canberra PR 57
Tropicalized PR 7 for India, eight built.
Canberra B(I) 58
Tropicalized B(I) 8 for India, 71 built.
Canberra Mk 62
10 refurbished B 2 bombers sold to Argentina.
Canberra Mk 64
2 refurbished T 4 trainers sold to Argentina.
Canberra Mk.66
10 refurbished B(I) 6 bombers sold to India.
Canberra Mk 67
2 refurbished PR 7s sold to India.
Canberra Mk 68
1 refurbished B(I) 8 bomber sold to Peru.
Short SC 9
1 Canberra PR 9 rebuilt by Shorts 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.


*No. 3 Squadron RAF
*No. 6 Squadron RAF
*No. 7 Squadron RAF
*No. 9 Squadron RAF
*No. 10 Squadron RAF
*No. 12 Squadron RAF
*No. 13 Squadron RAF
*No. 14 Squadron RAF
*No. 15 Squadron RAF
*No.marker 16 Squadron RAFmarker
*No. 17 Squadron RAF
*No. 18 Squadron RAF
*No. 21 Squadron RAF
*No. 27 Squadron RAF
*No. 31 Squadron RAF
*No. 32 Squadron RAF
*No. 35 Squadron RAF
*No. 39 Squadron RAF
*No. 40 Squadron RAF
*No. 45 Squadron RAF

*No. 50 Squadron RAF
*No. 51 Squadron RAF
*No. 57 Squadron RAF
*No. 58 Squadron RAF
*No. 59 Squadron RAF
*No. 61 Squadron RAF
*No. 69 Squadron RAF
*No. 73 Squadron RAF
*No. 76 Squadron RAF
*No. 80 Squadron RAF
*No. 81 Squadron RAF
*No. 82 Squadron RAF
*No. 85 Squadron RAF
*No. 88 Squadron RAF
*No. 90 Squadron RAF
*No. 97 Squadron RAF
*No. 98 Squadron RAF
*No. 100 Squadron RAF
*No. 101 Squadron RAF
*No. 102 Squadron RAF

*No. 103 Squadron RAF
*No. 104 Squadron RAF
*No. 109 Squadron RAF
*No. 115 Squadron RAF
*No. 139 Squadron RAF
*No. 149 Squadron RAF
*No. 151 Squadron RAF
*No. 192 Squadron RAF
*No. 199 Squadron RAF
*No. 207 Squadron RAF
*No. 213 Squadron RAF
*No. 245 Squadron RAF
*No. 249 Squadron RAF
*No. 360 Squadron RAF
*No. 361 Squadron RAF
*No. 527 Squadron RAF
*No. 540 Squadron RAF
*No. 542 Squadron RAF
*No. 617 Squadron RAF
*No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit RAF

Specifications (Canberra B Mk 6)

See also


  1. Ransom, Stephen and Robert Fairclough. English Electric Aircraft and their Predecessors. London: Putnam, 1987. ISBN 0-85177-806-2.
  2. Halpenny 2005, p. 59.
  3. Donald 1986, p. 18.
  4. Wilson, Stewart. Lincoln, Canberra and F-111 in Australian Service. London: Aerospace Publications Pty Ltd., 1989. ISBN 0-9587978-3-8.
  5. Barnes and James 1989, p. 508.
  6. Mason 1994, p. 370.
  7. "Kapustin Yar." Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  8. "Project Robin." Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  9. Mason 1994, p. 371.
  10. Delve June 1989, p.305.
  11. Nicolle, David. "Canberra Down!" Acig Journal, 23 September 2003. Retrieved: 18 October 2009.
  12. Delve June 1989, p.306.
  13. Similarly they attacked the Peshawar Air base, which was in the remotest area, however this time, due to poor visibility they bombed the road & BPI instead of the runaway which parked PAF's fully armed B-57 bombers. The Kashmir War, 1965: Raid on Badin - Air Combat Information Group
  14. "Canberra in Indian Air Force Service." Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  15. "Canberra B-57: IAF's 'Wild Weasel' retires after 50 years of service." Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  16. van der Aart 1985, p. 22.
  17. Huertas 1996, p. 61.
  18. Huertas 1996, p.63.
  19. Huertas 1995, pp. 64—65.
  20. "B-57 History." NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston website. Retrieved: 18 October 2009.
  21. "FAI World Records." Retrieved: 18 October 2009.
  22. "Canberra." Centennial of Flight. Retrieved: 18 October 2009.
  23. "FAI World Records." Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  24. "Canberra." British Aircraft Directory. Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  25. "A tribute to the English Electric Canberra." Canberra - PR.9 (Shorts SC.9) - XH132. Retrieved: 9 October 2009.
  26. Jones, Barry. "A Nice Little Earner." Aeroplane, Volume 34, Issue 10, October 2006, pp. 93–97.
  27. Steyn,, Leon. "SAAF Museum News: What happened to the Canberra?" South African Air Force. Retrieved: 9 October 2009.


  • Anderton, David A. "Martin B-57 Night Intruders & General Dynamics RB-57F". Aircraft in Profile, Volume 14. Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1974, pp. 1–25. ISBN 0-85383-023-1.
  • Barnes C.H. and D.N. James. Shorts Aircraft since 1900. London: Putnam, 1989. ISBN 0-85177-819-4.
  • Delve, Ken. "Canberra...fourty years and thriving still". Air International, June 1989, Vol 36 No 6. Bromley, UK:Fine Scroll. ISSN 0306-5634. pp. 296—306.
  • Donald, David. The Pocket Guide to Military Aircraft. London: Temple Press, 1986. ISBN 0-600-55002-8.
  • Gunston, Bill. Bombers of the West. London: Ian Allan Ltd., 1973, pp. 13–30. ISBN 0-7110-0456-0.
  • Heurtas, Salvadore Mafé. "Canberras Over the Falklands: Wartime Exploits of a Venerable Jet Bomber". Air Enthusiast, No 66, November/December 1996, pp. 61—65. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. ISSN 0143-565.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber since 1914. London:Putnam, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
  • Halpenny, Bruce Barrymore. English Electric Canberra, The History and Development of a Classic Jet. London: Leo Cooper Ltd., 2005. ISBN 1-84415-242-1.
  • van der Aart, Dick. Aerial Espionage. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing ltd., 1985, ISBN 0-906393-52-3.

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