Upon entering service on 25 May 1951, the English Electric Canberra became the Royal Air Force’s first jet-powered bomber

In 1944, as World War II entered its final stages, the British Air Ministry issued requirements for a new type of bomber aircraft, which could travel at higher speeds and at higher altitudes. The planners could not have imagined that the aircraft of choice, the English Electric Canberra, would be in service more than 70 years later. It became famous not only for its unique configuration but for its performance and handling. It was widely exported to allied forces around the world, even the United States produced a licensed version, the B-57 Canberra, with 403 built.

English Electric Canberra
English Electric Canberra

Upon entering service on 25 May 1951, the English Electric Canberra became the Royal Air Force’s first jet-powered bomber. 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 Suez Crisis, Vietnam War, Falklands War, Indo-Pakistani wars and numerous African conflicts. In several wars, each of the opposing sides had Canberras in their air forces.

The British aircraft had a length of 65 ft 6 in, a wingspan of 64 ft, a height of 15 ft 8 in, an empty weight of 21,650 lb, and a maximum take-off weight of 55,000 lb. It was powered by two Rolls-Royce Avon Mk 1 0 9 turbojet engines, with 7,400 lbf thrust each. Its top speed is 580 mph, or Mach 0.88, range is 810 miles, service ceiling is 48,000 ft, and rate of climb is 3,400 ft/min.

Various avionics were installed on the Canberra, many with their origins during the Second World War. They included Gee-H navigation, Rebecca beacon-interrogation distance-measuring equipment, very high frequency radio, radio compass, radar altimeter, identification friend or foe, and Orange Putter radar warning receiver. Perhaps the most crucial of the mission systems was the H2S automatic radar bombsight, which was mounted in the nose.

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 lb. Two bomb-bays are housed within the fuselage, these are normally enclosed by conventional clam-shell doors; a rotating door was substituted for these on the Martin-built B-57 Canberras. Additional stores of up to 2,000 pounds could be carried upon underwing pylons.


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