During its five decades of service with the Royal Air Force the Canberra would set no less than five new world records. The type would also prove to be a very successful export aircraft and the English Electric Canberra would serve with air forces around the world
First flight 13th May 1949 Entered service May 1951 Total built 901
With the de Havilland Mosquito showing that a bomber which focused on speed over defensive armament were more successful at evading enemy fighters than traditional bombers and with jet power the way forward the Air Ministry issued a specification during 1944 for a medium bomber to be jet powered.
The origins of the Canberra actually lie with Westland and their chief designer at the time W.E.W Petter and the P.1056 design he came up with, and this design followed him when he joined English Electric. Although English Electric had hardly any experience of designing aircraft, during World War 2 they had, under licence, built the Handley Page Hampden and Handley Page Halifax bombers.
Development of W.E.W Petters new aircraft continued under English Electric and was given the designation A.1 and the Ministry of Supply ordered four prototypes on the 7th January 1946. It would still be over three years before the aircraft took to the skies for the first time. After the A.1 completed taxying trials on the 8th May 1949 the 13th May would see Roland Beamont at the controls as the prototype made it's maiden flight and an order for 132 aircraft from the Air Ministry followed. Then the following year the plane was given the name Canberra in recognition of Australia being the first export customer.
Now powered by Rolls-Royce Avon RA.3 turbojets and with modifications the first English Electric Canberra B.Mk 2 flew on the 21st April 1950, with a top speed of 570 mph and a range of 2,659 miles the Canberra featured a crew of either two or three people, featured no defensive armament and a bomb load of 6,000lb. The first of the new aircraft joined No. 101 squadron just over a year after the first flight in May 1951.
Development of the bomber version of the Canberra continued and a single B.Mk 5 prototype was built and despite becoming the first jet to do a double transatlantic crossing on the 26th August 1952 in 10 hours and 3 minutes it never entered production. So the B.Mk 6 would be the next version and this could fly 10 mph faster and had a 2,000lb heaver bombload than the B.Mk 2. These were followed by three more bomber variants, the B(I).Mk 8, Mk 15 and Mk. 16. Other versions of the English Electric Canberra saw the type used for training, photo reconnaissance, target towing and as a pilot-less target drone.
During its long career with the RAF the Canberra would be it's front line bomber until the Vickers Valiant entered service in 1955, but the Canberra's service was far from over. 100 would take part in the Suez Crisis of 1956 with only one shot down, by a Syrian Gloster Meteor. The type also flew over the Soviet Union on clandestine reconnaissance missions. Phased out of Bomber Command service by the 11th September 1961 the Canberra would serve in the photographic reconnaissance role for a further 45 years before finally retiring from RAF service on the 23rd June 2006. During it's time with the RAF it would serve with 35 units in 27 different versions.
The Canberra was also successfully sold aboard with Australia, Sweden, India and Argentina among the buyers, with the latter using the Canberra against the RAF in the 1982 Falklands War. The big success was the manufacture of the type by Martin in the United States, under licence, with 403 built and re-named Martin B-57 Canberra.
During its time the English Electric Canberra set five flight records:
21/1/51 - First jet non-stop unrefuelled transatlantic crossing.
26/8/52 - First double transatlantic jet crossing.
4/5/53 - World altitude record of 63,668 ft.
29/8/55 - World altitude record of 65,889 ft.
28/8/57 - World altitude record of 70,310 ft.
In total 901 Canberras were built.