Aircraft Profile #54. English Electric Canberra Mk.I & IV
The English Electric company, formed in 1918 by the amalgamation of five Midlands engineering firms, made a brief but scarcely spectacular appearance in the aeronautical arena between 1918 and 1926; after which it suspended its aviation activities until 1938, when it received a contract to build 75 Handley Page Hampdens for the R.A.F. By March 1942 it had completed 770 of these bombers, following with 2,145 Halifaxes between 1942-45 and 1,369 Vampire jet fighters from 1945-50.
A liaison office had been set up at Preston in 1939, and it was here that W. E. W. Petter began to build the team that was eventually to produce Britain's first jet-propelled bomber. Although lacking adequate facilities (the first wooden mock-up of the Canberra was built in a converted garage basement), Petter and his staff began to evolve a design for a high speed, high altitude medium bomber to replace the Lincoln, which later became Air Ministry specification B.3/45. By June 1945 they had decided on a mid-wing layout with a single, large, turbojet engine. To have used two or even three of any existing type of engine would, at that time, have been prohibitive in terms of fuselage size and weight; and talks with Rolls-Royce had established the feasibility of an engine with a 1.68m diameter which could ultimately deliver 5450kg of thrust. However, turbojet development was proceeding at such a pace that later Rolls-Royce engine designs indicated sufficient advantages to cause Petter to forsake his single-engined approach and re-shape the design round a pair of smaller engines buried in the wing roots. This would
In the autumn of 1945, English Electric submitted their design, now bearing the company designation A.1. On 7th January 1946 a contract was placed for four prototypes with the proviso that, as the Avon engine had yet to prove itself, one machine should be powered by Nenes as a precautionary measure. At about this time, English Electric had acquired the disused U.S.A.F.
The first A.1, serialled VN799, began taxying trials early in May 1949, making its maiden flight later that month powered by two 2720kg Avon R.A.2s. English Electric's chief test pilot, Roland Beamont, took up the prototype on the morning of Friday 13th May for a successful 27-minute first flight, attended by John Squier in a Vampire 5 "chase-plane". The new bomber made its public debut at the S.B.A.C. Display in September 1949. Its clean, highly conventional appearance aroused little attention on the ground, but Beamontís flying of the aircraft during the week was one of the most exciting and convincing demonstrations of a new aeroplane ever seen at the display. On 9th November the second machine, VN813, was flown for the first time, also by Beamont. Apart from the installation of 2270kg Nenes in place of the Avons, and (after the first flight of VN799) the squaring-off of the top of the rudder, it was outwardly similar to the first aircraft and was finished in the prevailing Bomber Command colours of grey top and black undersides. The third Mk.1, VN828, flew with Avons on 22nd November. The fourth and last Mk.1, VN850, flew on 20th December 1949 with Avon engines and wingtip fuel tanks, dispensing with the small dorsal strake that had characterised the first three machines. The Canberra was
Progress of the Canberra had been so trouble-free that it had outpaced the development of the radar bombing equipment designed for it, and specification B.5/47 amended the original requirement in calling for the use of visual bombing techniques, thereby necessitating a transparent station in the nose. Two prototypes to this specification, designated B. Mk. 2, were ordered and the first of these (VX165) was flown for the first time on 23rd April 1950 with two 3500kg Avon 101 (R.A.3) turbojets. The crew comprised pilot, navigator/plotter (navigating to the target) and observer/navigator (navigating and bomb aiming over the target); the radio was operated by the pilot. With the outbreak of war in Korea, additional impetus was now given to the Canberra construction programme: in addition to English Electric's initial contract for B. Mk. 2s, orders were placed with Handley Page Ltd., A. V. Roe and Short Bros. & Harland. The first Short-built Mk. 2 (WH853) flew on 30th October 1952, the first from Avro (WJ971) on 25th November the same year, and Handley Page's first (WJ564) on 5th January 1953. Production of the Avon R.A.3, which had commenced in June 1950, was similarly stepped up by subcontracting to Bristol and Napier. Delivery of Warton's first Canberra B.2 to the R.A.F. was made in May 1951. Between 12th March 1953 and 4th May 1955, Handley Page delivered 74 Canberra B.2s (WJ622 being lost on a test flight), orders for a further 75 aircraft having meantime been cancelled. Avro
THE B.2 IN SERVICE
First delivery of a Canberra B.2 was made by Roland Beamont on 25th May 1951, when the type began to replace the Lincolns of No. 101 Squadron at Binbrook, Lincolnshire. Deliveries commenced with WD936. The second aircraft, WD938, which arrived on 28th June, had only a brief career before, on 5th July, both engines became starved of fuel during a familiarisation flight, the aircraft overshot and made a wheels-up landing. Between August and December the squadron was made up to strength with ten Canberras and a full complement of crews. Lincolns subsequently made way for Canberras in Nos. 9. 12, 50, 57, 61, 100, 199 and 617 Squadrons; they replaced the Washington of Nos. 15, 35, 44, 90, 115, 149 and 207; Mosquitos with Nos. 109 and 130; and Venoms in Nos. 6, 32, 45, 73, and 249. Newly-formed Canberra squadrons included Nos. 10, 18, 21, 27, 40, 59, 102, 103, and 104; and B.2s were also supplied to Nos. 51 and 98 Squadrons of Signals Command for calibration duties. The second Canberra squadron to form - No. 617, the "Dam Busters" - received its aircraft in January 1952. Altogether five squadrons received Canberras that year, ten in 1953, and eight more in 1954. From 1955, Valiants began to arrive in Bomber Command service, followed later by Vulcans, and after a suitable transition period many home-based Canberras became available for release to Middle East and Far East squadrons.
The 2nd Tactical Air Force has seen more of the P.R. and interdictor Canberras than of the earlier marks, but three B.2 squadrons (Nos. 149, 102 and 103) were established in Germany with effect from August, October and November 1954 respectively. In March 1957 No. 73 Squadron, at Akrotiri (Cyprus), became the first M.E.A.F. unit to re-equip with the Canberra B.2, and eight months later, the first F.E.A.F. Canberra squadron, No. 45, was established at Tengah, Singapore.
Curiously, although its production had been hastened because of the Korean war, the Canberra never participated in that conflict at all. However, in the late summer of 1956 a crisis was precipitated in the Middle Hast when the Egyptian president, Colonel Gamal Abd-El Nasser, seized the property and assets of the Suez Canal Company as a reprisal for the withdrawal of western financial support for the Aswan High Dam project. Anglo-French intervention to counteract this move and its implications included the transfer of a considerable air strength to the Mediterranean in a very short time, and brought Canberras in some force to the theatre. By the end of the year British bases in Malta and Cyprus were acting as temporary hosts to nearly a dozen Canberra squadrons from England. After a 12-hour ultimatum on 30th October had been ignored, military operations against Egypt began the following day with the aim of rendering the Egyptian Air Force ineffective from the outset. Targets included the air bases at Abu Sueir, Fayid and Kabrit, bases which the R.A.F. had itself quitted less than a year before
THE P.R.3 AND T.4
The R.A.F.'s reconnaissance squadrons were also in need of a faster, higher-flying replacement for the Mosquito P.R.34s which had served them steadfastly for six post-war years, and to meet this need a photographic version of the Canberra was developed to specification P.R.31/46. Among the changes made to the basic design were a 0.35m section built into the forward fuselage, to accommodate a battery of seven cameras for day or night photography; a smaller flare bay, in the forward part of which were stored photographic flares and other equipment, with additional fuel tankage to the rear; a photographic sight in place of the bombsight. and a crew of two instead of three. Thirty-seven P.R.3s. including two prototypes, were completed by the parent company, the first of the prototype (VX181) making its maiden flight on 19th March 1950. The first production P.R.3 (WE135) followed on 31st July 1952, and the type entered service with No. 541 Squadron, Benson, early in 1953. Other home units to re-equip during 1953-54, as part of the U.K. Reconnaissance Force under Bomber Command's Central Reconnaissance Establishment, included Nos. 58, 82 and 542 Squadrons.
The London - New Zealand air race, held in October 1953, provided a golden chance for the Canberra to show its paces; and, apart from the prestige value involved, was of considerable training benefit to the participating crews. The Air Ministry, with GBP 100,000 to spend, entered two Canberra P.R.3s and a P.R.7 in the speed section, the eight-man team (including a reserve crew) being led by Wg. Cdr. L. M. Hodges, D.S.O., a.f.C, and training at Wyton. Photographic equipment was replaced by additional fuel tankage, and standard 1140-litre jettisonable tanks were fitted; otherwise the aircraft were virtually standard service machines. Two Canberra B.20s were entered by the Royal Australian Air Force. A five-stage route (Heathrow - Shaibah - Negombo - Cocos Islands - Perth - Christchurch) of 19750km was flown, during the course of which the Canberras set up several intermediate point-to-point records. The overall race winner was one of the P.R.3s, flown by Flt. Lts. R. L. E. Burton, A.F.C. and D. H. Gannon, d.f.c. The time of this aircraft was 23 hr 51 min. 7.2 sec, average speed 796.1km/h; but it is a tribute to the aircraft's consistent efficiency of operation that all five Canberras, in actual flying time, were separated by less than 15 minutes.
The Canberra entered service at a time when an increasing number of Bomber Command pilots were National Service men with comparatively little flying experience - and that, of course,
The Canberra U. Mk. 10, whose existence was first disclosed in May 1958, was a conversion of the B.2 for unmanned, radio-controlled target drone duties at guided weapons trials units. Design development, conversion and flight testing of the U.10 was handled entirely by Short Bros. & Harland, and included the evolution of a completely self-contained approach and landing system. This operated via VHF radio link to a receiver in the aircraft, the
FOREIGN SALES AND LICENCES
Over GBP 50 million in export revenue for the British aircraft industry has been achieved by sales of British-built Canberras or licences to manufacture the type in Australia and the U.S.A. A visiting U.S. mission had seen Beamont fly the Canberra at Warton in September 1950, and on 2lst February 1951 a standard B.2, VD932,
The first foreign bid for British-built Canberras also came from across the Atlantic, when the Fuerzas Aereas Venezolanas ordered six B.2s in October 1952; these were delivered during the following year. In March
Eighteen ex-R.A.F. machines (fifteen B.2s and three T.4s) were ordered by the Royal Rhodesian Air Force towards the end of 1957, the B.2s being delivered between March and June 1959. Formerly WH867, 653, 662. 672, 707, 855, 871 and 883, WJ571, 572, 578 and 606, WK198, WJ612 and WH644, they initially received serials RRAF159-173 respectively, later being re-numbercd RRAF200-214, on allocation to Nos. 5 and 6 Squadrons. They are currently operated by the former squadron only, No. 6 having disbanded when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved. The T.4s (converted B.2s, formerly WH658, WH674 and WJ613; RRAF serials originally 174-176, later 215-217) were delivered in March 1961.
The South African Air Force has three T.4s as crew trainers for the B(I).12 intruders of No. 12 Squadron, S.A.A.F. India's Canberras are mostly of the later marks, but her GBP 20 million order placed in
The Canberra's straightforward layout and proven performance have made it an ideal choice for experimental work of many kinds, not least of which has been its invaluable record as a flying testbed for an extensive range of British turbojet and rocket engines during the 1950s. Brief details of the more important test beds appear below.
VN799. First B.1, used by R.A.E. July-August 1953 for automatic approach experiments with Smiths Mk. 10 autopilot.
VN813. Second B.1, used by Rolls-Royce November 1950 to September 1951 for development of the Nene R.Ne.2. To T.R.E. Great Malvern until August 1952; to de Havilland June 1953; converted by Folland 1956 to become first aircraft flown in Great Britain with a fully-controllable rocket motor (D.H. Spectre). First airborne firing of the Spectre 18th December 1956.
VN828. Third B.1, converted by Boulton Paul 1955 with Mk. 8-type canopy for trials at R.R.E. Derford of the Canberra T.11 radar installation.
VN850. Fourth B.1, used by Rolls-Royce from October 1950 to 13th June 1951 (crashed) for further development of Avon R.A.2.
WD930. B.2, used by Rolls-Royce as Avon R.A.26 (from August 1951) and R.A.29 (from 1956) testbed. Cut up for scrap August 1960.
WD933. B.2, fitted April 1952 with two 3770kg Sapphire Sa.6; these replaced 1954 by 4630kg (later 5000kg) Sapphire Sa.7, with which it first flew at Bitteswell on 13th August 1954. Crashed
WD943. B.2. used by Rolls-Royce October 1951 to July 1957 as testbed for re-heat system for Avon R.A.7R and R.A.14R.
WD952. B.2, flown 5th August 1952 with 3630kg Bristol Olympus 99s. On 4th May 1953, flown by Wg. Cdr. W. F. Gibb, established a world aeroplane altitude record of 19406m. Subsequently re-engined with 5000kg Olympus 101s and, on 29th August 1955, re-engined with 6480kg Olympus 102s, and again flown by Gibb, it raised this record to 20083m. Olympus programme completed March 1956.
WD953. B.2, used by Ferranti from 1961 for research and development of airborne electronic equipment; still so employed (June 1965).
WD959. B,2, used by Rolls-Royce December 1953 to December 1959 as testbed for re-heat systems for the Avon R.A.7R, R.A.14R and R.A.24R.
WE189. T.4, used for Autoland experiments at B.L.E.U. from April 1955 to September 1956.
WF909. B.2. used by Rolls-Royce from July 1952 for surge tests and general Avon development. To de Havilland Propellers December 1955 for conversion as testbed for 3180kg Gyron Junior DGJ.1, with which it first flew (one DGJ.1, in port nacelle) on 28th May 1957.
WH661. B.2. used by Aircraft Torpedo Development Unit, R.N.A.S. Gosport, from July 1953 to March 1955 for parachuted aircraft mine trials; then to R.A.E. Farnborough.
WH67I. B.2, used by Rolls-Royce (ex-Boulton Paul) from June 1954 for general development of Avon R.A.24 and R.A.28. Cut up for scrap November 1961.
WH699. B.2, used by R.A.F. Flying College, Manby, from 1953 as Aries IV, for navigational research. Numerous trans-Polar flights including, 14th October 1954, the first flight by a
WH734 and WK143. B.2s used by Flight Refuelling for trials with probe and drogue and "buddy" systems.
WH854. B.2, used by Rolls-Royce for re-lighting tests with the Avon series.
WH912. B.2, used by R.A.E. Farnborough from 1958 as testbed for Airpass radar and fire-control system.
WJ576. One of six B.2s from Cyprus engaged, 1959-60, in "Operation Swifter" trials in the Middle East (El Adem) to study high-speed, low-level turbulence problems for R.A.E. and the I.A.M.
WJ627. B.2, formerly with 149 Squadron, used by Ferranti from 1959 to 1963 far research and development of airborne electronic equipment.
WJ643. B.2. used by Ferranti from 1955 for research and development of airborne electronic equipment; still so employed, now Mk. 5 standard, in June 1965.
WJ644. B.2. used by the Ministry of Supply for high altitude firing trials at Aberporth of the de Havilland Firestreak. Weapons launched from underwing pylons, with guidance mechanism and a tracking camera installed in a modified and slightly lengthened nose.
WK141. B.2, used by Bristol Siddeley from September 1959 to March 1963 for continued development of Sapphire Sa.7 and of the Viper Mks. 8 and 11.
WK163. B.2, converted by Napier (Luton) to take a Double Scorpion N.Sc.D.1-2 liquid rocket motor in the bomb bay and first flown in this form on 20th May 1956. The third world aeroplane altitude record to fall to Canberras (21430m) was established by this aircraft, piloted by Michael Randrup, on 28th August 1957. Later to Bristol Siddeley as testbed for short- and long-life Viper 3 (in starboard underwing pod).
Kenneth Munson, 1965
All the World's Rotorcraft