North East Aircraft Museum   

English Electric Canberra

The North East Aircraft Museum's exhibit TT.18 (B2) WJ639 was purchased from British Aerospace, Samlesbury, and was transported by road from there in 1988. It was actually built, under contract, by Handley-Page at Radlett as a B2 and first served with 57 squadron. It was converted to a TT18 towed-target aircraft and served with The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment and with No. 7 Squadron at St. Mawgam in Cornwall. It was sold to British Aerospace on 9. December 1981.



The Canberra had the distinction of being the first jet bomber to enter RAF service. It was designed by W.E.W. (Teddy) Petter, formerly of Westland, who came to English Electric in 1944, to head the new design bureau. Previously English Electric had only built aircraft for other manufacturers, they had never designed aircraft of their own. Petter went on to design also the Lightning and the Gnat.

The Canberra was intended as a replacement for the Mosquito, and was a first-generation jet-bomber with straight wing layout, but was nevertheless a very successful aircraft (the Mosquito was the fastest aircraft in service with Bomber Command by the end of the war and was, in fact, only eclipsed by the introduction of the Canberra).

Because it had no guns, the Canberra had to rely on speed and height alone to evade enemy aircraft. The broad, low aspect ratio allowed for highest possible cruising altitude, maximum fuel economy, and maneuveribility.

Several British manufacturers had engaged in jet-bomber research from 1944 onwards. English Electric received a contract in May 1945 - their aircraft was originally known as the A1 and the first prototype was flown on 13. May 1949. It entered RAF service with 101 squadron in May 1951 in its B2 form. Due to a disagreement, Petter had moved to Folland in March 1950, and he had been replaced by Freddy Page.

RAF Service


The Korean War showed there were weaknesses in the existing bomber types , and therefore some Canberras were pushed into a strategic role for which it was not intended, a role which lasted until the introduction of the V-bombers. In total, about 60 squadrons were equipped with the Canberra.

At the end of 1954, there was a proving flight to Malaya, to 101 Squadron, and it was first used in anger, in Malaya, from 23. February 1955 (until 1960). This was the first attack by an RAF jet bomber. In 1958, the RAF Canberras were joined by B2s of the New Zealand Air Force, flying from Tengah in Singapore. English Electric Canberra

From 31. October 1956 it carried out bombing raids in the Suez conflict, continuing into early November. During this period the aircraft were based in Cyprus and Malta. The Canberra bore the main brunt of bombing in the Suez campaign, although some was also borne by the new Valiant which was replacing it in this role. Apparently techniques were fairly crude, using visual methods similar to World War 2 methods. One Canberra was shot down by a Syrian Mig-15. The targets were airfields (many built by the British, and which they had been occupying until recently), other military bases and railways.

In early the 1960s, the aircraft took part in the Malaysian campaign against Indonesia. Here the RAF aircaft were joined by Canberras from the New Zealand Air Force.

The last aircraft entered service in 1956. The last aircraft ceased front-line service with the RAF on 11. September 1961, but the B(I)8 light-bomber/intruder variant continued in its originally-intended tactical role (including a primary low-level nuclear role, some with Air-to-Surface missiles) until July 1972. It was originally to be replaced by the TSR2 but that was scrapped, then by the F-111K but that was scrapped also, it eventually being replaced by 50 ex- Navy Bucaneer S2s.

About 140 were updated and refurbished between 1960 and 1983 for export.

Some were used by Britain in the Falklands War. In 2000, some still remained in British service - PR.9 photo-reconnaissance versions, T17 electronic jamming training aircraft or conversions to TT18 target tugs. At the same time, only Argentina and India still flew bomber Canberras.

Other Countries



Ten re-conditioned B2s were sold to Argentina in 1970/1, as the B62. Two were lost in the Falklands War. Australia

License-built as the Mk.20 by GAF (Government Aircraft Factories), first flying on 29 May 1953. The RAAF used it from 1967 in Vietnam, losing only one aircaft in four years, during 12.000 sorties.


In 1975, Ethipoia used it in Eritrea and in 1977/78 against Somalia.


In the 1965 23-day war against Pakistan, India lost 3 Canberras to ground fire. The Indian Air Force had previously, in 1962, used five Canberras in the UN campaign against the breakaway Katanga republic in Africa. In the 1971 war with Pakistan, they lost four aircraft.


Rhodesia used it against ZANU/ZAPU in Mozambique, Angola and Botswana.

South Africa

South Africa used it against the ANC and SWAPO in Angola and Namibia.

New Zealand

Already mentioned above, with respect to Malaya.


The Air Force used Canberras against rebels at San Cristobal Airport, in April 1960. The rebellion was led by an Air Force general and Vampires had been used on the rebel side. The rebels surrended the day after the Canberra attack.

Other countries who bought it were Chile, Ecuador, France, Sweden, Pakistan, Peru, West Germany.



Links to other Canberra sites