In late 1944, English Electric commenced work on the design for an unarmed, high altitude, fast jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft to replace the highly successful wartime De Havilland Mosquito.
Almost resembling a scaled up Gloster Meteor jet fighter, the Canberra incorporated twin Rolls Royce Avon turbojet engines with the fuselage tapering fore and aft and teardrop fuel tanks at its wingtips.
The aircraft’s original two man crew of pilot and navigator sat side by side in their martin Baker ejection seats in a fighter-style cockpit under a large blown canopy.
The original design called for the latest automatic radar bombsight to be housed in its nose but lengthy delays in the radar development resulted in the addition of a hinged, pressurised bomb aimer position being housed there instead. Apart from the crew compartments, the semi-monocoque fuselage was largely taken up by its sizeable twin bomb bays which could carry up to 4,500 kg of bombs from 250lb, 500bl or 1000 lb with additional stores of up to 2000lb bombs being carried on pylons under each wing.
First flown in 1951, the Canberra could fly at a higher altitude than any other aircraft of the day, establishing a world altitude record of over 21,430 m and then setting another as the first jet aircraft to make a non-stop transatlantic flight.
With its extraordinary ability to evade all early jet interceptor fighters and its significantly enhanced speed and manoeuvrability over contemporary piston-engined bombers, the Canberra became a popular export to airforces around the world.
Due to its limited range of just 3200 km and its inability to carry the early, bulky nuclear bombs, the Canberra was mainly used as a tactical bomber and while many of the British Canberras were stationed overseas, they were not modified to carry the new generation of smaller tactical nuclear bombs until the late 1950s.
It was during this period that the role undertaken by the RAF’s large, high-altitude nuclear ‘V’ bombers as the country’s primary independent nuclear deterrent was transferred to the Royal Navy’s new class of ICBM carrying Polaris submarines.
This change in priority, allowed for a new low level force of bombers carrying smaller, low yield nuclear weapons using the Low Altitude Bombing System (LABS). While many of the large ‘V’ bombers were modified for low altitude bombing, it was the Canberra bomber that took on the majority of this role with RAF Germany’s force of four squadrons equipped with the B6 and B8 Canberras could carry US-designed Mk 7 nuclear bombs from 1960, which were replaced by B43 nuclear bombs, from 1965. Three squadrons based on Cyprus and one at Singapore were armed with British designed Red Beard nuclear weapons.
Impressed by its performance and versatility, both the US and Australia ordered the Canberra, with the RAAF equipping No 1, 2 and 6 squadrons with 48 bombers in 1953. In recognition of being the first export customer, the bomber was named the Canberra but the Australian government, keen to continue building its domestic avaition industry insisted that the bomber be constructed at the Government Aircraft factories in Avalon Victoria.
The Canberra served in Vietnam with 2 Sqn RAAF under US Air Force 35th Tactical Fighter Wing Command and while US Commanders in Vietnam regarded the Canberra as obsolete, the RAAF 2 Sqn Canberras achieved over 16% of the total bomb damage recorded by the 35th Wing but only flew 6% of the total bomber sorties.
In reality, the RAAF Canberras were some of the most effective strike aircraft in South Vietnam. A twist of fate which had them equipped with a “bombardier” station meant that they were one of the few types that could do “level” bombing. This was extremely valuable when cloud layers prevented the standard dive bomb run that was normal for more “advanced” types such as the F-100 and F-4.
Over the course of its deployment with airforces around the world, the Canberra bomber underwent many modifications with numerous variations taking to the air including the PR9 high speed reconnaissance bomber featuring an off-centre pilot cockpit with the navigator's position below and forward, The cockpit offset was necessary to provide room for the navigator to eject safely.
Australia retired its Canberra’s in 1982 as it was gradually replaced by the new ‘swept-wing’ F111’s
All Canberra Bomber Instruments listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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