English Electric Canberra

English Electric Canberra

A first generation British jet-powered medium bomber, the English Electric Canberra was designed by W. E. W. ‘Teddy’ Petter. It could fly at a higher altitude than any other bomber throughout the 1950’s and set a world’s altitude record of 70,310 ft (21,430 m) in 1957.


It all began in 1944 when the Air Ministry issued a requirement for a successor to the De Havilland Mosquito ‘with no defensive armament and a high-altitude capability to evade interceptors’.


A number of British manufacturers submitted proposals and amongst those short-listed were Lancashire-based English Electric. At the time, the company had little experience in the design of military aircraft having spent most of their formative years building aircraft for the likes of Handley Page.  This all changed when Petter arrived from Westland Aircraft and immediately set up his own Design Team.


Initial designs produced a centrally-mounted single-engine concept although this was quickly replaced by a two wing-mounted engine concept and on 7th January 1946 the Ministry of Supply placed a contract (B.3/45) for the further development and production of 4 aircraft, project named EE A.1.


After numerous post-war political and economic delays, the initial A.1. prototype (VN499) flew on 13th May 1949 by which time the Ministry had actually pre-ordered 132 production aircraft in various configurations.  The aircraft continued on as the A.1 until it was eventually renamed Canberra in 1950 by the then English Electric Managing Director Sir George Nelson (Australia was the first export customer).


The addition of a glazed nose (for a bomb aimer), twin Rolls-Royce Avon R.A. 3 engines and teardrop wingtip fuel tanks resulted in the Canberra B2 which took to the air at Warton on 21st April 1950 in the hands of EE Chief Test Pilot Roland Beamont. 


Such was the ease of transition from propeller aircraft into the Canberra that it entered full service with 101 Squadron RAF on 21st May 1951.


The success and adaptability of the design was such that it was built in 27 versions which equipped 35 RAF squadrons and it 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. 


Additionally, 403 ‘Canberras’ were manufactured under licence by Martin (Glen L Martin Company) as the B-57 Canberra, again in several versions.


The Canberra was retired by its first operator (the RAF) in June 2006, 57 years after its first flight.  Meanwhile 3 of the Martin B-57 variant remain in service, performing meteorological work for NASA.




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.[185] All nuclear weapons were carried internally.






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