Ex-Westland chief designer, Teddy Petter, joined the English Electric firm in Preston in 1944 and, responding to the publicised need for a Mosquito replacement, began work on his ideas for a high altitude jet bomber. A contract was signed in 1945 but owing to post-war reductions progress was slow. It was not until 13th May 1949 that the prototype, VN799, took to the air for the first time with test pilot Roland Beaumont at the controls. In the meantime, the Air Ministry had ordered 132 production aircraft in bomber, reconnaissance and training versions. The Canberra entered service with No 101 Squadron RAF on 25th May 1951 and was an immediate success.
The aircraft could carry a wide variety of armaments. Internal ordnance comprised a belly gun pack with 4 x 20mm cannon plus bomb load of 6,000 lbs whilst the external options were 2 x 7.62mm gun pods, 2 x AS30 air-to-ground missiles, 2 x rocket pods or 2 x 1000 lb bombs. It was also capable of carrying a tactical nuclear weapon internally. Photo-reconnaissance variants could be fitted with a wide range of cameras and sensors.
RAF Tangmere’s association with the Canberra began on 25th August 1958 when No 245 Squadron arrived to undertake duties as a Signals Command unit tasked with the calibration of radio and navigational aids. It was re-numbered No 98 Squadron in April 1963 and departed for Watton in October of that year.
The Canberra saw operational service in many conflicts. In particular, it was deployed by the RAF at Suez and in the Malayan Emergency, the USAF and RAAF in Vietnam and Argentina in the Falklands War, and was used by both sides during the Indo-Pakistani Wars of the 1960s and 1970s. In more recent times, the RAF’s photo-reconnaissance PR9 saw service in former Yugoslavia, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan,
During its first 10 years of service, the Canberra broke 19 flight records and 3 altitude records; it was the first jet aircraft to cross the Atlantic non-stop, the first to cross the Atlantic in both directions in a day, the first to fly from the UK to Australia in under 24 hours and the first to exceed altitudes of 60,000 ft and 70,000 ft. It was produced in 27 variants, equipped 35 RAF squadrons, served in the RAF for 55 years, and was exported to 14 other countries. A total of 406 aircraft were built under licence for the USAF as the Martin B57 and a further 48 in Australia for the RAAF. A total of some 1350 were manufactured worldwide.
Just 2 aircraft remain in service today, both American-built B57s operated by NASA. Another 10 or so Canberras remain airworthy and in private hands.