English Electric Canberra PR.3
Twin-engine three-crew photo reconnaissance jet bomber, U.K.
Archive Photos 1
English Electric Canberra PR.3 (WE139) on display (c.1994) at the Royal Air Force Museum London, Hendon Aerodrome, London, England (Photos by John Shupek)
The English Electric Canberra is a first-generation jet-powered light 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 early interceptors, and its significant performance advancement over contemporary piston-engined bombers, the Canberra was a popular export product and served with 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 Vietnam War, the Falklands War, the Indo-Pakistani Wars, and numerous African conflicts. In several wars, both of the opposing forces 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. Two 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.
Development - Background 2
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 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 under licence.
In 1944, Westland Aircraft’s technical director and chief designer W. E. W. Petter prepared a design study for a Twin-engine 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. Petter left Westland to join the English Electric company in December 1944, where he was encouraged to develop his design, EE formed its own in-house aircraft design team in the following year.
In June 1945, the design of the aircraft that was to become the Canberra bore many similarities to the eventual design, albeit the placement of a single, centrally-mounted turbojet engine; the use of two wing-mounted engines were adopted later that year. On 7 January 1946, the Ministry of Supply placed a contract for the development and production of four English Electric A.1 aircraft. It continued to be known as the English Electric A.1 until it received the name Canberra after the capital of Australia in January 1950 by Sir George Nelson, chairman of English Electric, as Australia was the first export customer for the aircraft.
The Canberra had a simple design, looking like a scaled-up Gloster Meteor with a mid 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. 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.
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 purpose-designed fighter aircraft, the Canberra was designed to fly fast and high enough to avoid air-to-air combat entirely.
Prototypes and First Flights 2
The Air Ministry specification B.3/45 had requested the production of four prototypes. English Electric began construction of these in early 1946. However, due to post-war military reductions, the first aircraft did not fly until 13 May 1949. 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 Mk.9 bombing radar was not ready for production, the turbojet engines were upgraded to the more powerful Rolls-Royce Avon R.A.3’s, and distinctive teardrop-shaped fuel tanks were fitted under the wingtips.
The resultant aircraft, designated the Canberra B2, first flew on 21 April 1950, piloted by Roland Beaumont. Proving to be fairly free of problems, this first flight was almost immediately followed up by the manufacturing of production Canberras and entered squadron service with RAF No. 101 Squadron 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 (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.
Photo-reconnaissance and Conversion Roles 2
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. 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. It also had an additional fuel tank in the forward part of the bomb bay and only needed a two-man crew. The prototype, designated PR3, first flew on 19 March 1950, followed by the first of 35 production aircraft on the 31 July 1952. It entered service in December 1952 when No. 540 Squadron RAF began to convert from the Mosquito PR.34. The Canberra PR3 was the first purely photographic aircraft ever designed for the RAF.
To enable crews to convert to flying the Canberra, a trainer version was developed to meet Air Ministry Specification T2/49. The prototype designated T4 first flew on 12 June 1951. 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. The first production T4 flew on 20 September 1953 and the variant entered service with No. 231 Operational Conversion Unit RAF in early 1954. As well as the operational conversion unit, all the B2-equipped bomber squadrons received at least one T4 for training.
Manufacturing Abroad 2
In the United States, where the US Air Force needed to replace the Douglas 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 featured 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 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.
In the United Kingdom, the demand for Canberras exceeded English Electric’s ability to manufacture the aircraft; thus several other British aviation firms, Handley Page, Avro and Short Brothers, also manufactured the Canberra under licence. A total of 901 Canberras were manufactured in the UK, making a total worldwide Canberra production of 1,352.
The Canberra is mostly constructed of metal, only the forward portion of the tail-fin is made from wood. 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 meters. 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.
The fuselage of the Canberra is of semi-monocoque construction with a pressurized 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. 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.
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. 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.
It was designed for a crew of two 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 makes use of an escape hatch and parachute.
The Canberra could deploy many conventional weapons, typical weapons used were 250-pound, 500-pound, and 1000-pound bombs, the total bomb load could weigh up to 10,000 pounds (4.5 t). 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.
Operators such as Rhodesia developed their own munitions such as anti-personnel bomblets, the Alpha bomb, and adapted these for use by their Canberra fleets. Anti-personnel flechette bombs were tested successfully from the Canberra by Rhodesia, but not used operationally due to international agreements.
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 acted as more of a tactical bomber than a strategic one. Many Canberras that were stationed at remote overseas locations did not undertake modifications to become nuclear-capable until as late as 1957.
Operational History 2
Royal Air Force
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, as the aircraft was designated as a super priority. A further five squadrons were able to be equipped with the Canberra by the end of 1952; 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.
The Canberra replaced Mosquitos, Lincolns and Washingtons as front line bombers, showing a drastically improved performance, proving to be effectively immune from interception during air defense exercises until the arrival of the Hawker Hunter. The Canberra also replaced the RAF’s Mosquitos in the reconnaissance role, with the Canberra PR3 entering service in December 1952. The improved Canberra B6, with more powerful engines and a greater fuel capacity, started to supplement the Canberra B2’s in the UK based squadrons of Bomber Command from June 1954, when they replaced 101 Squadrons Canberra B2’s. This freed up older Canberra B2’s 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.
The Canberra 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. 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, however the aircraft were no longer required after June 1956, the introduction of the US Lockheed U-2 purpose-built reconnaissance aircraft; Project Robin was then terminated. These RAF Canberra overflights were later featured in the 1994 BBC Timewatch episode; &ldquoSpies in the Sky, and included interviews with some of the Soviet MiG-15 Fagot pilots who had attempted to intercept them.
The Canberra was the Victorious plane 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 â€ after 23 hr 51 min in the air, to this day the record has never been broken.
The Vickers Valiant entered service in 1955, capable of carrying much heavier weapon loads, including the Blue Danube atomic bomb, 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, however, as it proved suitable for the low-level strike and ground attack role, and versions dedicated to this role were brought into service. The interim B(I)6, converted from the B6 by adding provision for a pack of four 20mm 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.
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 were equipped to 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.
Bomber Command retired the last of its Canberras on 11 September 1961, 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.
The RAF continued to operate the Canberra after 1972, employing it for reconnaissance (with Squadrons equipped with PR7’s and PR9’s being based at RAF Wyton in the UK and RAF Luqa in Malta. The PR9’s 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. The RAF used Canberras to search for hidden arms dumps using false-color photography during Operation Motorman in July 1972, when the British Army re-took Irish republican held "no go areas" in Belfast and Derry. Canberras were used for reconnaissance over Bosnia during the 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. 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.
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.
Royal Australian Air Force
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, the Australian government began reorganizing 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. The RAAF decided to acquire the Canberra to replace or complement the Avro Lincoln, though fears were raised that the new design was not especially advanced. While Australia never introduced nuclear weapons into service, the Canberra’s ability to carry such a payload was a factor in its acquisition; Australia’s planned force of 48 Canberras, with the potential for being nuclear-armed, was viewed as far more potent and deterring than the entire RAAF’s wartime forces of 254 heavy bombers. 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. The Canberra entered Australian service in December 1953.
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. In 1967, the RAAF deployed a squadron of Canberras to Vietnam War. The unit, No. 2 Squadron, was later commended for its performance by the United States Air Force. The Canberras were typically operated in the low-level bombing role. They were withdrawn from Vietnam in 1971, two of the aircraft having been lost in combat.
As early as 1954, Australia recognized that the Canberra was becoming outdated, and evaluated aircraft such as the Avro Vulcan and Handley-Page Victor as potential replacements. 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 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 &lfquo;Fresco. Political pressure for a Canberra replacement rose to a head in 1962. 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 favor the BAC TSR-2, but chose to procure the General Dynamics F-111C Aardvark in October 1963. Due in part to delays in the delivery of the General Dynamics F-111C Aardvarks, the Canberra continued to be used by Australia for a total of 29 years before its retirement in June 1982.
Indian Air Force
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 short-lived and obsolete Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers then being used by India began in 1954. 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; by April 1956, however, the Indian government was in favor of the purchase. In January 1957 India placed a large order for the Canberra; a total of fifty-four Canberra B(I)58 bombers, eight Canberra PR57 photo-reconnaissance aircraft, and six Canberra T4 training aircraft were ordered, deliveries began in the summer of that same year. A total of 12 more Canberras were ordered in September 1957, as many as 30 more may have also been purchased by 1962.
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. During the Indo-Pakistani Wars of the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Canberra was used by both sides. One of the worst combat loss incidents occurred on 1 September 1965, when four Indian Canberras were shot down by Pakistani fighters. 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 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. 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 Martin B-57 Canberras. Due to poor visibility, a road outside of the base was bombed, instead of the runway where PAF Martin B-57 bombers were parked.
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. 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.
During the Suez Crisis the RAF employed around 100 Canberras, flying conventional bombing and reconnaissance missions from airfields in both Malta and Cyprus. A total of 278 Canberra sorties were flown, dropping 1,439 1000 lb (450 kg) bombs; 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. 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 demoralize the enemy. While interception of the Canberra was within the capabilities of Egypt’s Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagots and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 Frescos, as shown by the interception of Canberras by Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 Fagots prior to the Anglo-French invasion, these did not result in any losses. The only Canberra shot down during the Suez campaign was a Canberra PR7 shot down by a Syrian Gloster Meteor fighter on 6 November 1956, the last day of the war.
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 decolonization. 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). Both Rhodesia and South Africa used Canberras in their respective Bush Wars; numerous aircraft were lost in the conflicts. Rhodesian Canberras carried out attacks on Mozambique, often armed with cluster bombs, more limited raids on Zambia, and an attack upon a terrorist base in Angola. Ethiopian Canberras were used against Eritrea and again against Somalia during the 1970’s.
The Swedish Air Force purchased two Canberras from the RAF in 1960 and had these modified to Canberras T11’s 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 Canberras, and taken into service as testing aircraft,, until they were replaced by two Tp 85 Tp 85 Caravelles in 1971.
The Argentine Air Force received 10 Canberra B62’s and two Canberra T64 trainers at the beginning of the 1970s. 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. They were within operating range of the British task force, but the Canberra was judged to be a limited threat due to its poor maneuverability compared with the Sea Harriers on air defense duties. On 1 May 1982, during an attack on the British ships sailing towards the islands by several Israeli-built Daggers and 3 Canberras, one of the bombers and at least one Dagger was shot down by responding Sea Harriers, firing AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles, for no losses on the British side. Following this engagement, Argentina stopped using the Canberra on such missions.
Nonetheless, 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. Two aircraft were lost in combat, the first to a Sea Harrier by an AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile on 1 May 1982. On 13 June 1982, a single Canberra Mk.62 of Grupo de Bombardeo 2, B-108 was shot down while flying at 12,000 m (39,000 ft). It had been en route to bomb British troops at Port Harriet House when it was struck by a Sea Dart missile fired from HMS Cardiff. The pilot ejected safely but the navigator was killed. It was the last Argentine aircraft to be lost in combat during the Falklands War, the Argentine forces surrendering the next day. Argentina retired its last Canberras in April 2000.
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.
Development and Trials Aircraft 2
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 B2’s 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. It was later transferred to Ferranti for trials for the Blackburn Buccaneer radar and fitted with a Canberra B(I)8 type nose and a Buccaneer style radome. 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. 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. 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.
Flight Records Set by Canberras 2
Specifications (Canberra B.Mk.6) 2